Unrealistic fuel reduction targets won’t guarantee better community protection

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Heat on: The area the Victorian National Parks Association says would be burnt annually under a 20 per cent fuel reduction target.

IT’S time to move beyond extravagant claims in the fire debate and have a good look at all of the evidence and options before us.

 src=It might sound good to call for fuel reduction burns over 20 per cent of public land each year, as proposed by the East Gippsland Wildfire Taskforce.

But has the taskforce actually looked at how big that is on the map and what that might cost? And have they considered if it’s remotely possible to burn that amount of bush without threatening the rural population when burns escape in marginal weather?

The 2009 Victorian Bushfires Royal Commission’s target of 5 per cent of public land has only been reached once in Victoria’s history.

That was in 1981, when burning forest ridge lines counted as burning the whole area.

And we know that attempting to reach the 5 per cent burn target discourages burns close to towns, because they are costly but contribute little to the total burn area.

That’s why Victoria, thankfully, is moving towards a strategic fuel program that actually aims to minimise risk.

But there is another big step we must take, and we should take it soon.

We need to look at all of the management options available and see what mix of those is appropriate in each location.

The endless debate about how much to burn has stolen attention from many other useful risk management tools.

In the Dandenongs, for example, where fuel reduction has minimal ­effect, we need a secure rapid attack capability and a strong police presence where fire bugs operate.

On Black Saturday, in a little-­reported event, a fortuitously located helicopter extinguished a fire at its ­ignition point in Ferntree Gully.

But no one has looked at the cost in lives and money if that fire had taken hold, or measured the cost-­effectiveness of that intervention.

We need to strengthen planning regulations across Victoria, because people continue to build in highly fire-prone areas.

And we know that very few people leave early before a fire, so we should encourage well-designed private bushfire shelters in vulnerable homes.

We need local assessments of fire threats and local solutions.

Hopefully, that will lead to much better protection for the community and much better management of our natural heritage.

That’s what the Royal Commission, and Victoria’s Code of Fire Practice, both call for.

• Phil Ingamells is Victorian National Parks Association spokesman

Originally Published at http://www.weeklytimesnow.com.au/news/opinion/unrealistic-fuel-reduction-targets-wont-guarantee-better-community-protection/story-fnkerdb0-1227629476050

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