Safer not to burn at all? Report shows burns are ineffective

Lancefield escaped burn 2015Yet again a DELWP burn turned into a catastrophic 3,000 ha bushfire in early October. It burnt most of the Cowbar Forests, much of its wildlife was burnt alive, four homes were lost, as well as sheds, fences and pasture. We are told by DELWP that it didn’t have the resources to ensure this planned burn was blacked out properly. But what is the logic behind burning in the first place?

The effectiveness of the 5% burn target (summary here)  was investigated by the Inspector General for Emergency Management and the report released in April. It didn’t quite say burning was pointless – after decades of telling the public we must burn it would be too politically tricky – but its evidence is clear; the $30+ million annual bill to carry out burns achieve a 13/48 score for effectiveness in keeping communities safe!

The report also recommended moving from the purely hectare-based fire management to a risk-based strategy, which scored a more effective 40/48 (details in summary link above).

East Gippsland’s fire experience of the 170,000ha fires in 2014 reflected this as well. If the government is unable to implement the more effective recommendations of this report this year, we might all be better off not burning at all, saving DELWP accidents and saving us all millions of precious dollars.  

Knowing that burning has not affected the occurrence or severity of bushfires over the decades (table on page 11-12 of report) is criminal enough, but also the report acknowledged that the burns destroy environmental resilience, and so makes this unquestioned practice unforgiveable. In the past burning was done conveniently, in ignorance, and was an easy political placebo to calm a fearful public. But now the evidence suggests it’s a damaging waste of time and money, we must ask why the government is continuing to burn another 300,000ha this season.

It appears that after so many years of convincing the public that we need to burn to be safe, reversing this myth to bring in more effective fire safety measures could be difficult.

The recommendations are in the report – if safety is truly the government’s intention, we urge the Premier and Minister Neville to adopt the recommendations of the report immediately, before more damage from planned burns occur – whether contained or escaped.


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