By The Canadian Press
Edmonton - The Alberta government plans to reduce funding for preventing and fighting wildfires this year to save money.
Alberta Environment's budget calls for $6.5 million less in spending for Firesmart, a program that includes cash for clearing brush and trees away from communities in forested areas.
The department's business plan also cuts the number of air-tanker groups the government will hire this year to eight from nine to save $2 million.
An air-tanker group usually consists of a spotter aircraft and one or more air tankers that can drop water or fire retardant on flaming timber.
The province also plans to hire one less ground firefighting crew.
Department spokeswoman Carolyn Stuparyk said if there is a wildfire emergency, the province will still be able to quickly hire more firefighters or bring in staff and equipment from across North America.
"Whenever anything like wildfire threatens our communities, we will take whatever steps are necessary to protect Albertans,'' she said.
"We have some of the best-trained wildfire fighters in North America and we're confident that we would be ready to manage any emergency.''
The department could request emergency funding if the wildfire season turns out to be bad, Stuparyk said.
Alberta's wildfire season began March 1 and more than two dozen fires have been recorded so far.
The government has been getting ready early for wildfires since the May 2011 blaze that destroyed about one-third of the town of Slave Lake.
Last season, crews responded to more than 1,400 wildfires in Alberta's forest zone that burned up about 230 square kilometres of timber.
Alberta Environment faces a total of $35 million in budget cuts. Stuparyk said about half the savings will come from not filling 150 jobs throughout the department.
The government also plans to save $3 million by delaying work on a land-use plan for a huge area of northern Alberta known as the Lower Peace region.