Better planned bush burns needed

A controlled burn at Warnett on Western Port Bay. Photo: Justin McManus Victoria must use risk-based land management burns to prevent bushfires, and dump an annual target, national parks groups say.

Last month Environment Minister Lisa Neville asked the Inspector-General for Emergency Management to conduct a review of performance targets for a future bushfire fuel management program on public land.

The Black Saturday Royal Commission recommended a long-term program of prescribed burning based on an annual rolling target of 5 per cent of public land.

The review will examine a risk-based approach to bushfire fuel management against the existing hectare-based performance target program. The report is due at the end of the month.

The Victorian National Park Association wants the government to move to a risk-based approach to fuel reduction burn. Spokesman Phillip Ingamells said there was a lot of nonsense talked about arbitrary targets.

“A decision to move to a risk-based approach for fuel reduction burning will allow Victoria to use our growing knowledge of fire management in the best ways possible,” Mr Ingamells said.

“The 5 per cent burn target is an overly simple fire management tool that doesn’t work well for public safety or for protection of many native species.”

There have been reports that some areas that are easy to burn, because they remote, are repeatedly burnt to help meet targets.  

“Repeated big burns in places like the Mallee do little for public safety, but can cause considerable harm to natural areas.”

The association believes targeted burns in “foothill forests” would be more effective, following evidence to the royal commission.

The Bushfires Royal Commission Implementation Monitor, Neil Comrie, has pushed for a dumping of the target.  In his 2012 report he called on the state government to reconsider the planned burning rolling target of 5 per cent and replace it with a risk-based approach focused on the protection of life and property.

The next year he warned the 390,000 hectare target “may not be achievable, affordable or sustainable”.

And in his report last year he said “area-based hectare targets alone will not necessarily reduce the bushfire risk to life and property in Victoria and may have adverse environmental outcomes”.

Greens environment spokeswoman Ellen Sandell said burning needed to happen where it was most needed to save lives and protect property.

“Arbitrary burning can be dangerous for people and damaging to ecosystems just to meet a target,’ Ms Sandell said.

She said burning of land could risk endangered biodiversity and kill some species.

“While other important areas might not be being burnt enough to protect lives and property,” Ms Sandell said.

Ms Neville said the review would not affect the department’s planned burning program for 2014-2015.

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