FOR three years the Victorian Bushfires Royal Commission’s independent monitor Neil Comrie has strongly advised the Victorian Government to abandon one of the commission’s recommendations: the call to burn 390,000ha of public land annually for fuel reduction.
Yet Environment Minister Ryan Smith is sticking to that target and, even more puzzling, DEPI plans to increase that annual target to an extraordinary 450,000ha.
Former police chief commissioner Comrie understands the importance of fuel reduction, but he sees the target as unachievable, and that it compromises a strategic burn program.
He says it “will not necessarily reduce the bushfire risk to life and property, and may have adverse environmental outcomes”. That’s an expensive lose-lose situation.
Minister Smith says he is listening to the latest science, but is he?
Five leading fire behaviour scientists in Australia, Canada and the US have demonstrated that managing the ignition point of a fire through increased capacity for rapid attack, and by closing public access to remote areas during high fire danger days, was more effective in reducing the extent of fire than fuel management.
And other published papers, from leading Australian fire scientists and ecologists, convincingly show that fuel reduction burns are most effective when performed close to the assets they are meant to protect. This is the sort of strategic effort, small, difficult and expensive local burns, that Neil Comrie says is less likely to happen when managers are struggling to sign off on a large area target.
Many studies show that we now have very little long-unburnt bush left in Victoria, even in remote areas such as the Mallee, and that the impacts on native wildlife are serious and growing.
One of the best ways to survive a severe bushfire is to have your own well-designed bunker at your home. That crucial fact never made it to the commission’s final recommendations.
We need to develop a more comprehensive strategy for bushfire management and direct more attention to the whole range of available tools, including building a serious rapid attack capability, encouraging well-designed bunkers in existing homes, and developing a far more strategic burn program. Lives would be saved, and our great natural heritage would benefit.
Phil Ingamells is Victorian National Parks Association spokesman