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NPAACT Home > News Items > Burning Victoria will not secure our future

Burning Victoria will not secure our future

04-August-2010

Burning Victoria will not secure our future
GAVAN MCFADZEAN
August 4, 2010 - 6:49AM

After a tragedy like Black Saturday, people look for answers to ensure
something like it doesn't happen again. The primary goal of the Bushfires
Royal Commission had to be to make recommendations that protect human lives.
The Wilderness Society understands the push for a Victoria-wide fuel
reduction target of 5 per cent. But scientists also tell us to beware of
simplistic solutions. Victorians deserve a more sophisticated approach from
their fire agencies than a massive, simplistic ''one-size-fits-all''
statewide fuel-reduction target.

Although fuel reduction burning cannot prevent firestorms in extreme weather
conditions such as on Black Saturday, conservationists have long supported a
targeted, effective, and scientifically-based burning program to reduce fuel
loads around human settlements, increase public safety and maintain healthy
forests and ecosystems.

In practical terms, that means using fire management around towns and the
urban fringe that prioritises protecting lives and property. In remote and
wilderness areas, fire management should prioritise the protection of nature
and biodiversity.

That said, if achieved, the 5 per cent target represents a 300 per cent
increase in planned burning. This is a big jump that will have significant
implications on flora and fauna and the ecosystems on which they depend. It
could push some wildlife towards extinction.

It is critical to note that the expert panel that advised the commission on
fuel management issues could confidently support a fuel reduction target of
5 per cent only for foothill forests, rather than all public land. There are
more than 300 different habitat types in Victoria. They all require fire at
different times and different frequencies, both to minimise fuel loads and
maintain biodiversity.

The commission has also recommended careful development of improved planning
prescriptions, and improved guidelines for roadside clearing.

This is why, in implementing this target, the commission has put
considerable emphasis on the need to gather further data, undertake further
research and monitoring and establish a National Centre for Bushfire
Research so that future fuel reduction is scientifically based, and so state
governments, their agencies and the community are well informed about its
impacts.

There is no silver bullet. We need specific targets that suit vegetation
types and situations. This work is essential if we are to get the fuel
reduction program right to protect people, property and the environment. The
National Bushfire Research Centre is a tangible and substantial initiative,
which federal Labor and the Coalition should commit to before the August 21
poll.

Additionally, we are willing to work with the government, land managers and
communities to ensure that where increased burning is necessary, it is done
in a way that is scientifically based, targeted and effective, and minimises
the impacts on nature and wildlife.

Importantly, the commission has also accepted evidence from CSIRO and the
Bureau of Meteorology that the risk of firestorms will grow as a result of
climate change. This adds even more weight to the urgent need to cut
pollution and protect our forests as water catchments and carbon stores.

A joint CSIRO and Bureau of Meteorology study in 2007 of the impact of
climate change in bushfires found parts of Victoria faced up to 65 per cent
more days of extreme fire risk by 2020, and 230 per cent more by
mid-century. The implications of this increased risk to people, property,
animals and their habitat is a major issue that must form the basis of
future planning and preparations by future state governments.

The debates of the past about how to prepare for and manage bushfire in
Victoria are just that - debates of the past. We need a new plan and a new
approach to how we are going to live in this new environment. Declaring war
on the environment will only make climate change, water security and drought
worse.

What we do know is that the weather conditions that led to the events of
February 7 and 8 were unprecedented. Victoria experienced its universally
hottest day on record, accompanied by high winds and low humidity. These
conditions followed a decade of almost uninterrupted dry conditions in
Victoria. Some scientists are now saying we are not witnessing a drought but
a permanent trend of drier conditions in Victoria as a result of climate
change.

As we know, as well as the tragic loss of life, properties and townships,
these bushfires will also have taken an unimaginable toll on our native
wildlife and their habitat.

There is widespread agreement for the need for fire management to have an
ongoing priority focus on protection of people and property. It is also
vitally important to carefully consider the impact of fire on animals and
the natural environment they call home.

Gavan McFadzean is the Wilderness Society's Victoria campaigns manager.


 

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