Open Burning Smoke Control Regulation
The Open Burning Smoke Control Regulation (OBSCR) was first enacted in 1993. Following an extensive development process and wide consultations, a new OBSCR came into effect on September 15, 2019, and replaced the old regulation.
The OBSCR governs the burning of vegetative material associated with a range of activities, such as land clearing, forestry operations and agriculture. It sets out the conditions under which open burning of vegetative debris can be authorized. The revised regulation mainly supports the objectives of reducing impacts on human health, enabling and encouraging compliance, and minimizing undue costs to industry.
The regulation does not generally prohibit burning but rather aims to ensure that open burning is conducted with minimal risk to air quality. While facilitating some necessary open burning practices, the new regulation also maintains air protection measures and alternatives to burning are strongly encouraged.
Important Changes in the New Regulation
- Province is divided into three smoke sensitivity zones: High, Medium and Low.
- Burning requirements are strictest in the “High” zone immediately around communities, while burning is made easier in the “Low” zone away from population centers.
- Increases to mandatory setbacks from residences, businesses, schools and hospitals.
- New provisions to facilitate burning required for community wildfire risk reduction.
- New provisions to facilitate burning diseased debris.
- New provisions to encourage the use of cleaner-burning technologies.
- Exemptions for backyard burning and agricultural burning are defined.
- Flexibility to various regulatory requirements through substitution orders.
- Use of custom ventilation forecasts to increase burn windows.
OBSCR Frequently Asked Questions
Open burning is the largest source of fine particulate matter (PM2.5) pollution in BC. Fine particulates released into the air can impact health and contribute to poor air quality in communities.
- The old regulation did not always protect community air quality.
- The old regulation had very little flexibility to facilitate important burning, such as burning for community wildfire risk reduction, forest industry operations, and diseased vegetative debris.
- The old regulation contained no flexibility or incentives for using better, less polluting burning technology.
- The old regulation had dated references and has some provisions that are challenging to enforce.
There was extensive development of the new regulation with several consultation periods with the public, communities, forest industry, agriculture industry, and engagement with First Nations stakeholders. The Ministry of Environment and Climate Change Strategy worked closely with the Ministry of Agriculture and the Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development (FLNRORD) in drafting the regulation. A timeline of the public consultation process can be found on an archive of the Open Burning Smoke Control Regulation Review.
New requirements to better protect air quality are shorter burn periods and a requirement to season (dry out) debris before burning in the high smoke sensitivity zone around communities, and new larger setbacks from neighbours, schools and hospitals.
When burning under a plan for community wildfire risk reduction (CWRR):
- The new regulation contains specific provisions for relaxing the required setbacks and the ventilation index.
- The new regulation authorizes a statutory decision-maker to issue approvals for burning under a CWRR plan, which can have different requirements than the regulation.
The new regulation relaxes some requirements in the low smoke sensitivity zone away from communities. Smoke generated in these areas has a low chance of affecting populated areas. The Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development (FLNRORD) may still apply waste reduction targets in these areas that will reduce the amount of material burnt.
Although open burning produces air pollutants and greenhouse gases, it is also an effective way to reduce fire hazard by disposing of debris from logging and other activities. It is also an effective way to manage diseased vegetative debris from agricultural operators. The purpose of the new OBSCR is to ensure that when burning takes place it does not create a risk to air quality.
Alternatives to burning are strongly encouraged. Under the new regulation, a person who performs open burning must ensure they have used every reasonable alternative to minimize the open burning amounts, such as: reducing, reusing or recycling the vegetative debris, and increasing the utilization of post-harvest material/fibre.
Forestry companies and other operations that create a fire hazard through their operations are required by the Wildfire Act and Regulation to reduce that hazard. The burning remains a cost-effective way to abate fire hazard from vegetative debris. The Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development (FLNRORD) has implemented a Forest Carbon Initiative to make better use of residual fibre and to reduce the burning of wood waste. Additionally, FLNRORD is also implementing policies such as Fibre Recovery zones that include penalties for licensees who leave fibre above allowable waste benchmarks. This is an alternative pricing mechanism to encourage less slash piling and burning.
Yes, local governments will continue to regulate smaller scale backyard burning. In addition, communities can add stricter requirements to larger-scale open burning.
The burning of smaller debris, with each branch or piece less than three centimetres in diameter, is exempt from OBSCR. For burning material less than ten centimetres in diameter in an agricultural or domestic context, only a few provisions apply. In some communities, local governments may have more stringent bylaws that prohibit or restrict backyard burning.
Campfires are not covered by the new regulation.
The Ministry of Environment and Climate Change Strategy has taken several steps to manage wood smoke from a variety of sources across the province. These include:
- Regulating emission standards for new wood-burning appliances sold in BC through the Solid Fuel Burning Domestic Appliance Regulation.
- The Provincial Wood Stove Exchange Program to encourage the replacement of old, smoky wood stoves with cleaner heating appliances.
- Supporting municipalities that want to limit or ban backyard burning through local bylaws that regulate the nuisance, fire hazard or air quality impacts of open burning.
- Public education and awareness about the need to manage wood smoke in BC.