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4 November, 2020

'We can't afford politicians who prevaricate on fire mitigation'

"After decades of neglect, (neglect which farmers and foresters had warned for years would eventually lead to the type of fires that we had), fuel loads were very high, minimal efforts had been made to reduce those loads, and the resultant fires were very intense."

By Joanne Rea PROPERTY RIGHTS AUSTRALIA

AS I write this, there are more than 25 fires burning across Queensland with the most concerning being on Fraser Island and Kooralbyn in the Gold Coast hinterland.

There were many column inches written across all media about last summer’s horrendous fire season. For the first time the media gave extensive coverage to experienced foresters and fire scientists who had actual on-ground experience and who educated us not just about the extent of the fires but their intensity which is germane in forming policies for both mitigation and suppression.

Their comments had a common theme. After decades of neglect, (neglect which farmers and foresters had warned for years would eventually lead to the type of fires that we had), fuel loads were very high, minimal efforts had been made to reduce those loads, and the resultant fires were very intense. Very hot, dry weather made them difficult to impossible to control.

For those who live in close proximity to the Australian bush this news coverage gave some hope that next fire season, as a community, we would be more prepared, with fire mitigation being carried out with determination and visibility so that we the public understood that at least, something would be done to minimise the fire risk as well as could be expected.

After all, the fires, which were mostly started by lightning, will make no allowance for COVID.

What happened instead is that various groups, including a clutch of foreign funded ex-fire chiefs and some politicians stole the headlines, vocally touting climate change as the main cause and absolving themselves of all blame. This allowed government at all levels to sit on their hands with few taking any visible mitigation steps to prepare for this summer’s fires.

A considerable amount of time at the Royal Commission into National Natural Disaster Arrangements and the various State Inquiries has been devoted to Climate Change with a decades-long timeframe.

Buried in the various reports, fuel loads and hazard reduction are discussed but we have had little time devoted to the immediate need to enact mitigation strategies for this year’s fire season which is already upon us.

The NSW Bushfire Inquiry did say that climate change had a role to play but that it did not explain everything. The Inquiry found that, “the extreme dryness of forested regions over large continuous areas was the determining factor in the size of the fires.” The “large continuous areas” is a subject for more discussion.

For those of us who expected action in reducing fuel loads on government land, firebreaks around national parks and the restoration, maintenance and construction of fire trails in broadacre government holdings, action has been disappointing in most states.

Instead, both Queensland and NSW have introduced habitat restoration programs for koalas. While this may pull at the heartstrings of the concrete jungle dwellers it will do nothing to reduce the danger the koalas and other wildlife are in given a wildfire in that protected habitat. It will very probably increase the risk.

Similarly, a plan to increase the number of protected koala habitat tree species, species which included exotic flammable species such as Camphor Laurel, across NSW, was only modified after an outcry.

 In NSW a plan to allow an increase in allowable fire breaks from an inadequate 10 metres to an only slightly less inadequate 25 metres was branded as “controversial”.

One needs to wonder what sense of collective amnesia we have, to have watched multiple stories every day in all media for months and yet have largely remained immobile for what little preparation time we had at our disposal.


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