Out of the media frenzy to get ratings out of the Victorian bushfires, a 'so-called' bushfire expert on an ABC 730 Report panel (David Packham) advocated a 6 to 7 fold increase in prescribed burning for Victoria.
Another neo-Dreamtime wizard?
The effectiveness of this strategy is undermined by the live evidence shown (on ABC 730 Report Thursday 12-Feb-09) of local resident Jim Baruta in his home video. Over 200m of clear paddock stood between the bush and his house. This represents hazard reduction to an extreme degree (no trees or undergrowth for 200 m). Yet it was ineffective defence. Only his bunker saved his life.
As the 'heat' of the tragedy cools down, one of the overlooked impacts that needs to be considered in a balanced way is the impacts of broad scale fire (prescribed, wild, arson or otherwise) is having on the habitat of ground dwelling mammals. In the search for answers to avoid a repetition of the firestorm it is important that natural areas of high conservation value including old growth forests receive due recognition as natural assets worth protecting. Its integrity is not being measured and is probably disappearing through fire at a rate comparable to what logging is causing in SE Asia. That the bush grows back is not an indicator of its biodiversity health.
One must recognise that the bush (habitat) is also the innocent victim of these horrific fires. Dense ground cover is a fuel for fire but also home for wildlife. Keep removing the fuel and one removes the wildlife- eventually to its mass extinction. The underlying causes of the fires are the ignition, the lack of non-burnable material to create a buffer between good bush and human settlement, the slow detection of ignitions, the slow response to these while still manageable (remote country or otherwise) and the inadequate resources to suppress many spot fires. As to the ignition cause being arson – Australia needs a serious permanent criminology unit dedicated to this crime. The media and our leaders need to be careful not to incite dormant serial arsonists – just like one read and watched in the days preceding the first arson attack at Delburn on 29 Jan. The media frenzy just fuelled the copy cats’ excitement.
Bushfire management is a complex issue, so poorly under resourced, so poorly disconnected from bushfire research, yet so integrated into the lives of so many Australians. The public deserve a say into the Royal Commission. Those who tragically died and lost everything deserve billions not just in recovery but in the whole task of bushfire management.
See also: "Victorian bushfires by arson" of 26 Mar 09.
Matthew (not verified)
Fri, 2009-04-17 07:05
RE: Prescribed Burning
I don't doubt your commitment to the environment, but you've got it exactly backwards. Increased burning is exactly what we need. Not just for human safety, but because the Australian ecology depends on fire at the very least as a means of recycling dead matter (The Australian ecology is different from many others in that our lack of water tends to inhibit microbial decomposition - as a result fire takes on that role).
There are many other reasons, as well. The natural adaptation of Australian plants to fire means that fire suppression actually helps drive native species to extinction, as they are outcompeted by faster growing, more prolific seed spreading imported weeds. This is often accompanied by native animals being pushed out in the same fashion.
But the weeds, by putting their effort into spreading widely, have few resources left to recover from periodic annihilation events (like bushfires), meaning that where the bush burns periodically, native plants and wildlife have a natural advantage. Strange as it may sound, continual fire protects native species.
So long as the fires are not the huge events that just happened, of course. Continual small fires (such as aboriginals lit - look up "firestick farming") has proven to be best. This is not to say that exactly the same areas should be burned each time, of course.
An early paper of Tim Flannery's on the subject would be a good introduction to the historical importance of fire, and how it relates to the rest of the Australian environment - please don't be put off by the windy title: "The Timing, Nature, and Aftershock of Pleistocene Extinctions in Australia" (www.amnh.org/science/biodiversity/extinction/Day2/bytes/FlanneryPres.html)
Fri, 2009-04-17 22:36
Great bushfire resource
Sun, 2009-04-19 22:01
Lies, damn lies, and bushphobic myths
Matt (not verified)
Thu, 2015-01-22 15:36
Burning native habitat is State-sanctioned arson.