The flaming obvious – the misuse of fire

Journalist and writer, James Woodford, recently wrote of his concerns about the level of pyromania within our land management agencies and the lack of science behind the hype for more burning.

The annual sensationalist stories predicting a horrendous bushfire season ahead are about to begin. Fearful unprepared farmers and townies alike will blame the DSE for not burning enough bush. The media will use this hype to fill in slow news days.

But does anyone stop to ask two crucial questions: do “hazard reduction burns” really do anything to save homes or the forest, and what’s the cost to native plants and animals and their habitat?

A recent paper on this by Michael Clarke, an associate professor in the Department of Zoology at LaTrobe University, shows we don’t know.

But we do know that a lot of precious wild places are set on fire, understorey destroyed and altered, soils dried out and wildlife scorched and killed, mostly for political purposes rather than to stop fires in summer.

Clarke says that land agencies like the DSE need to be confident their fire prevention methods work. And we need to be sure they don’t lead to irreversible damage to native wildlife and habitat.
He argues we need to show some humility, and writes,

“The capacity of management agencies to control widespread wildfires ignited by multiple lightning strikes in drought conditions on days of extreme fire danger is going to be similar to their capacity to control cyclones.”

In other words, sometimes we can do zip.
We need to know whether deliberate burning can be done without adding extra survival stresses on our wildlife, already battling to cope with climate change.

Clarke says the massive burn-offs must be scrutinised much more closely and a more sophisticated discussion be held about burning and how best we should deal with climate-induced fire.

Ecological data about burns should be collected routinely but aren’t. The few small sample plots being looked at only look at plants, not soil life, invertebrates or larger birds and animals. Without it, management burns are flying scientifically blind and are a threat to wildlife.

James Woodford
September 8, 2008
(summarised by Jill)

“Much prescribed burning is to create a false sense of security rather than to reduce fire risks, and the effect on wildlife is virtually unknown.”
“With all due respect, I do not think ” this was the biggest bushfire in 100 years ? I think it’s the biggest back-burn in living memory”
Quote from Charles Slade, Channel Nine reporter in the Federal enquiry into the 2003 fires. 28.7.03
“40-60% of the ’03 and ’06 wildfires were due to backburns carried out by the DSE”.
Protected source.

We’d love to have the government deny this by providing maps of their back-burns and subsequent areas burnt.

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