Victoria’s Fuel reduction burning program

Following the Royal Commission into the Black Saturday bushfires, the targets for controlled burning have been increased, and subject to considerable criticism by many environmentalists. Because of the way community fear of fire risk has played out, there is a perceived political ‘need’ to burn large areas in order to reduce fuel loads and hence provide asset protection.

Fires have been a defining feature of much of the Australian continent for many millions of years. The fire management regimes of Indigenous people were disrupted with colonisation, and in recent years the question of how and where to burn our landscapes has become increasingly politicised.

Following the Royal Commission into the Black Saturday bushfires, the targets for controlled burning have been increased, and subject to considerable criticism by many environmentalists. Because of the way community fear of fire risk has played out, there is a perceived political ‘need’ to burn large areas in order to reduce fuel loads and hence provide asset protection.

In December 2012, the CFA reported that “Victoria’s planned burning program has started strongly, with more than 45,000 hectares treated so far this financial year”.

However, we argue that the 5% statewide burn target – which sets the necessary number of hectares to be burn each year – does not necessarily lead to good fire planning, and in some cases it may significantly and adversely affect biodiversity. And given the strong focus of burning in the north west of the state in recent times – well away from areas with high human populations - it is hard not to see this process as being about ‘ticking the box’ of meeting burn targets rather than a really strategic approach to managing fire risk.

Additionally, we have been hearing from many people that the Department of Sustainability and Environment is not providing sufficient information to the public to allow informed comment on planned burning operations before they start.

According to the DSE,

The principle of fuel-reduction burning is that the resulting decrease in fuel quantity will slow or stop the spread of a fire which originates inside, or spreads into, a fuel-reduced area. That a decreased fuel quantity leads to a reduced rate of fire spread, and therefore fire intensity, has been clearly demonstrated by studies of fire behaviour in eucalypt forests.

Fuel-reduction burning is conducted within strategic areas to hinder the development of major fires, and also to provide close protection for specific high-value assets. The most dramatic examples of the impact of fuel-reduction burning can be found where fires have spread to barriers created by intensive burning. Such burns, usually of relatively small area, have played a vital role in settlement protection in particular.

Large fuel-reduced areas have also provided substantial assistance during fire control operations although, because the total fuel quantities left are usually greater than after a small-scale operation, their effectiveness is more closely linked with fire intensity. They have frequently helped to minimise the spread of lightning-caused fires and therefore assist fire control in often difficult and remote terrain. However, under conditions of very high to extreme fire danger, where a fire has entered on a broad front, such areas have sometimes had little impact on spread rates. Because it is clear that the present standard of fuel-reduction is not always adequate, operational techniques which achieve greater reductions in fuel quantity need to be implemented.

You can see a map of where burns are being carried out here.

The DSE program is explained here.

You can provide feedback on the burning program here.

Please tell us your experience of living with the program.

 

You can post on our facebook page or email cam.walker@foe.org.au and we will post on this site (let us know if you want this posted anonymously).

We are keen to hear from people about their lived experience of the fuel reduction burns. Given this process will be with us for a long time, with potential negative ecological impacts if we get it wrong, it’s important that regional people’s experiences are heard. We will compile the feedback and send to DSE.


A report from the Bendigo Advertiser:

A fuel-reduction burn-off has destroyed an area designated as a flora reserve in Bendigo.

“People should know what they have done here,” resident Bill Humphreys said.

“The problem is they burn willy nilly, including stuff that will not come back.

The story is available here.