Kelowna’s FireSmart Community Chipping Program

The City of Kelowna developed the FireSmart Community Chipping Program to encourage removal of hazardous vegetation from private properties within the city. The city has a long history of completing forest fuel mitigation in greenspace, interface and intermix areas, and has more recently supported policy, interagency collaboration and education initiatives to address high-level wildfire risk within the community. With funding through the Community Resiliency Investment program, Urban Forester Tara Bergeson saw an opportunity to address what has been an outstanding challenge for the City; the risk that resides on private properties and within Priority Zone 1 for homeowners. 

The program provides curbside chipping and removal of specific and hazardous vegetation by a contractor, eliminating barriers posed by cost and inconvenience. Acceptable material includes cedar hedges, juniper shrubs, pine shrubs and coniferous prunings from mature trees. The contractor follows a set schedule of streets within a neighbourhood each day, and material is disposed of at a local landfill where it is converted to organic compost. 

What set this program apart from similar initiatives was the choice to focus on specific neighbourhoods for the pilot year. This provided two benefits: it allowed more efficient use of funds and reduced greenhouse emissions by restricting pickup to specific areas each day, and it targeted neighbourhoods that had an abundance of highly flammable residual landscaping from original subdivision development. Chipping was provided on two sets of dates for each neighbourhood, with a small portion of time at the end of the project dedicated to individual pickup requests from across the city. The results and feedback have been incredible, and they will be seeking annual funding to run this program each spring for a shorter timeframe.

Concurrently, they have created a FireSmart Demonstration Garden that has also undergone removal of hazardous vegetation and has been planted with fire resistant plants. The garden is intended to highlight the diversity of alternative landscaping and support the switch from hazardous vegetation to FireSmart and WaterSmart options. 

The Community Chipping pilot project has received extremely positive response from the community, the media and from the Kelowna Fire Department. Between April 19 and June 20, they have deposited over 70 metric tonnes of chipped debris at the landfill. This material includes cedar hedges, juniper, pine shrubs, and coniferous prunings from mature trees.  

Effective communication about the existence, intent, and parameters of the project was the biggest challenge they faced, to ensure both good uptake by homeowners and ease of pickup by the contractor. They used a multi-faceted communication strategy, including the development of a new city webpage, radio advertising, and targeted social media campaigns to provide clear and easy-to-follow instructions about what material would be accepted and when pickup was occurring in each neighbourhood. They also created a hotline phone number and a new dedicated email address by which to receive questions/comments about the program and provide ongoing information.

The City of Kelowna is thankful to have had the opportunity to provide this service, supported by the Province of BC and by the Union of BC Municipalities. Kelowna residents have also expressed much gratitude, saying that the chipping program helped them remove debris that would’ve been expensive and time-consuming to clear otherwise.