The blitz burn gamble

In late June 2008, the government enquiry into bushfires (how many is this now?) recommended to State parliament to triple its burn program to almost half a million hectares annually. This would be a gamble, a waste of money and ultimately counter productive.

Governments should instead be funding programs to help landowners and townships be better prepared to withstand fires rather than using slap-dash plans of torching thousands of hectares of forest in the vain hope it might stop a big one. It’s a popular method not based on science, and achieves little. More emphasis should be given to personal protection measures and carefully burning some areas.

The tripling of burns from 150,000 ha a year to 440,000 ha has been shown to be pointless. Recently control burnt areas didn’t slow or stop the last two drought induced fires in ’03 and ’06.

Funds used to employ hundreds of people to burn orblic forests in a one-size-fits-all blitz-burn plan, would be better spent helping landowners be fire-ready. In an age of escalating climate extremes, retaining the millions of tonnes of carbon in the soil and understorey and protecting the damp, fire-resistant forests would be a more sensible gamble. The big fires of ’03 burnt just over a million hectares. Plans to deliberately burn half a million hectares a year will be adding more fuel to the fire by drying out large areas of damp healthy forest.

Some places still need to be burnt but these must be carefully chosen, not just draw circles on a map regardless of forest type or necessity. The forests are too precious to use as political vote-catchers. We are gambling with an immensely important part of the water and carbon cycle


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