PAGC Grand Chief Brian Hardlotte.  File Photo.

A program designed to mitigate the risk of forest fires in northern Saskatchewan is getting the praise of the grand chief of the Prince Albert Grand Council.

Two years ago the provincial and federal government’s provided PAGC with $6.3 million to begin the FireSmart program.

Under the program, the PAGC is responsible for clearing out the underbrush in high-hazard forest areas in northern Saskatchewan.

PAGC Grand Chief Brian Hardlotte commended all levels of government for committing to the program. He says with an increase of fires in the north recently this is a much-needed program.

“It is a result of climate change,” said Hardlotte on the recent fires in the north. “With warmer and drier weather the fires become bigger and more intense especially given the age of the forest.”

Chief Hardlotte spoke about a forest fire situation that had come up near Stanley Mission in an area where these thinning efforts were undertaken.

“If it wasn’t for the FireSmart program we could have lost houses in the community,” he said.

Since PAGC began the FireSmart program 440 workers have been hired and they have treated 420 hectares of land so far. Many of these workers also had the opportunity to complete programs for wildland firefighter and chainsaw certification. Chief Hardlotte says they are also in the process of including the FireSmart program in school curriculum.

The program was also featured on the United Nations website during a day devoted to Disaster Risk Reduction.

“We are certainly proud of the work that has been done so far,” said Hardlotte.

The grand chief says he expects the mitigation efforts though FireSmart to continue for years to come.