Seeing the curl of smoke from the chimney or smelling the scent of a fire may seem natural or even romantic, but burning wood and other forms of organic biomass can release harmful pollutants into the air we breathe and should be managed properly to ensure human exposure is kept to a minimum. The latest research has found that many of these pollutants, such as fine particulate matter and ultrafine particles have no safe exposure threshold and may cause harm to human health at lower than previously thought levels.  In addition to potential impacts on air quality and human health, burning biomass results in smoke that can reduce visibility, cause regional haze and negatively impact tourism values. Burning purely as a means of disposal also represents a waste of resources and a missed opportunity to utilize that biomass for secondary products and bioenergy.

Despite these disadvantages, burning is still a common method of disposing of forest and agricultural residues as well as land clearing debris and in some corridor communities, even yard waste. Managing sources of smoke is challenging, primarily because there are so many sources and because in some instances, like abating fire hazards, there are no viable alternatives to burning.

These complex issues are part of the reason airshed stakeholders have contributed to the creation of a Burning and Smoke Control Strategic Framework (BSCSF) for the Sea to Sky / Howe Sound Airshed.  Over the course of 3 months, over 50 stakeholders (the Stakeholder Advisory Group) met and helped to shape the Framework, drawing from diverse backgrounds and areas of expertise.

The BSCSF they developed outlines and describes a cross-sector approach to reducing biomass burning (i.e. wood smoke) and human exposure to smoke, in large part by recommending viable burning alternatives. The Framework seeks to harmonize existing policies and regulations over recommending new regulations and policies. Cost-effective and environmentally sound uses for waste materials (i.e. wood residues) are recommended as an alternative to biomass burning aiming to reduce burning and the smoke it causes.

The Vision for the BSCSF is for stakeholders to work collaboratively to develop and implement strategies throughout the airshed that manage biomass burning and smoke control towards 1) protecting public health and safety, 2) supporting flourishing local economies and environments, and; 3) moving communities and industries closer to ‘zero waste’ are the key values underlying this vision.

To achieve this vision, and contribute to an over-arching management strategy for the airshed, the Stakeholder Advisory Group developed two key objectives that guide six recommendations and numerous actions. The objectives are to: 1) Reduce the amount of biomass disposed of through burning, notably wood residues, as well as land and garden debris, while continuing to abate fire hazards, and; 2) Apply appropriate technology and burning methods to unavoidable burns, in order to reduce smoke emissions and human exposure to smoke emissions.

The stakeholders, representing a cross section of regional industry, multiple tiers of government and non-profit groups, are committed to moving the process along towards implementation. The Sea to Sky Clean Air Society with the support of the Ministry of Environment led the process and will continue to play a lead role as the plan is rolled out. The BSCSF is the first part of a smoke plan, one of the actions set forth by the Air Quality Management Plan.

Clean air is a priority in the Sea to Sky Region as it is essential to the health of visitors and residents and is a vital component of the regional tourism-based economy that relies on scenic vistas and clean outdoor recreational spaces. This BSCSF is an important step to protecting the health of our airshed. The Framework will soon be available for download from this website…stay tuned!