City and country residents have had to cope with choking air during April as DSE lit up over 150,000 hectares of healthy forest in its “management burns”. The EPA does not take air quality readings in regional areas – they don’t want to know how bad it is. In the city a reading of 150 is considered poor. These smoky fires, which contribute thousands if not millions of tonnes of CO2 to the greenhouse problem, were pushing air quality readings above 237 in Melbourne. Imagine what the rural areas were measuring!
The EPA is meant to deal with serious air pollution, but with government generated pollution, they simply suggest people stay indoors and take their medication! The EPA warned of bad air quality for days on end. Smoke mixed with pollution is a toxic cocktail that can cause burning eyes and severe respiratory problems.
We meet with the bureaucrats
April is the traditional choke and gasp month for many locals. Native species lose their ground cover, habitat and food source. With a lack of anything resembling ecological concern, EEG and the Bairnsdale-based Gippsland Environment Group organised a meeting with the chief of Land and Fire Manage-ment, Alison Stone, in early April. Alison came from Melbourne, two head guys came from Traralgon and a smattering of local fire managers attended.
Our arguments and photographic evidence of cowboy mis-management couldn’t be denied. They did admit there had been stuff-ups in the past – both during ’03 and ’06 fires, as well as general fire-fighting routines, but we were assured it wouldn’t happen again (we heard that after ’03).
Lazy rednecks rule
We didn’t get any argument against our point that the local “rough and ready” culture was a major problem – both in and outside the department. But when these attitudes are overlayed on top of burn plans that are merely a numbers game, the damage is multiplied. They told us they hoped that new codes and plans will solve this – but people don’t read codes and management protocol goes by the wayside amongst testosterone-fuelled mates.
We translated the bureaucratic speak into something like, “Govt policy is driven by a bunch of redneck whingers who won’t take responsibility for their own assets and property.” It was clear that ecological considerations were not getting much of a look-in and that the burns are politically driven by a handful of noisy backward farmers worried about their fences.
Burn near towns, leave the wet forests alone
We can understand the need to burn near town boundaries that could be vulnerable in a big fire, but to torch every forest miles from anywhere is insanity, especially when those forests are ecologically sensitive to regular burns and tend to be wet and fire-proof with a healthy damp understorey. We suggested they have regular burns (zone one) near towns and that the rest be managed for ecological values only. We also suggested that the DSE burning program money would be better spent encouraging people to look after their assets themselves rather than expecting the landscape around them to pay the price.
Check it out for yourself
That was on a Friday. On the Monday, I had a call from our local fire officer inviting me to witness them burning the wet forests of Waratah Flat / Wrong Creek the next day! Not quite the response I was after for these sensitive areas.
To give him credit, our local Bendoc fire officer has some grasp of the importance of leaf litter and the connected workings in the forest. He does try to minimise the damage and only burn what is dry, but we still have problems with the choice of areas – Waratah Flat area is not a forest that needs torching, however sensitively. The fire actually burnt very hot through some normally damp forest types, and it was still scarred and balck a year later.
While we are told that environmental care is a part of fire plans, we are also told that larger areas will be burnt annually. DSE will not be happy until they have turned every forest into a sea of bracken under struggling blackened tree trunks with no soil life and no biodiversity.