Doomed Planet

The Fire Experts from Central Casting

Seventeen years ago, after 500 homes burnt and people died in Canberra, a federal inquiry chaired by Gary Nairn MHR came up with the right answer, as recorded in its report, A Nation Charred : we need to do more mild burning. It noted that local knowledge and experience is being ignored by an increasingly top-heavy emergency bureaucracy. A dissenting report submitted a city-based Greens member quoted Wollongong University’s Professor Robert Whelan, who had written a book on fire ecology despite what I would regard as very limited experience in management of land and fire. Whelan asserted “broad scale hazard reduction is threatening biodiversity conservation and must therefore be avoided by land managers and resisted at a political level.”

The Council of Australian Governments (COAG) receives advice directly from the top-heavy bureaucracy criticised by the Nairn Inquiry and was disinclined to adopt its recommendations. Instead, they turned to Whelan, together with Professor Peter Kanowski — his Conversation articles illustrate his views and sympathies — and former Special Forces Officer Stuart Ellis, none of whom seem to have much experience in forest management and prescribed burning, if any at all. This trio was charged with conducting another inquiry which produced a document which posits that educating the public about bushfires was more important than reducing hazards. They claimed that we don’t really know how prescribed burning affects biodiversity across the landscape, and they added insult to injury by questioning the effectiveness of hazard reduction burning.

In the decade after the COAG Report of 2004 a further 186 human lives were lost, mostly on Black Saturday. Untold environmental damage has been caused by megafires that are a consequence of unscientific and antisocial green theories and philosophies. Despite overwhelming evidence that prescribed burning maintains ecosystem health, resilience and biodiversity, as well as fire safety, green academics and bureaucrats still don’t ‘get it’. Fire ecologists such as Professor Ross Bradstock argue that megafires are natural, and are not reducing biodiversity. Indeed, they claim that high intensity wildfires can increase biodiversity! Bradstock took over from Whelan at Wollongong.

About two years ago Bradstock got another four million dollars for research about fire management (click the ‘funding’ link on his university profile page). He has produced models purportedly demonstrating that burning doesn’t work in most areas, and in the few where it does you have to burn 30 per cent of the landscape every year. This is based on a false assumption that mild burning is supposed to stop fires dead in their tracks. He’s apparently ignorant of the simple fact, known to everyone who has worked with fires in the bush, that wildfires can be controlled in a managed landscape.

More than half a century of real world data from Western Australia shows that mild burning reduces wildfires so long as you burn around 10 per cent each year. It is decades since New South Wales achieved this tally in some coastal and highlands areas of state forest and private lands, with assistance from grazing.

NSW Environment Minister Matt Kean has now announced that we need to do more burning because of climate change, qualifying that statement with the view that “it’s no silver bullet“. Apparently there’s going to be another review by an ‘expert’, and several scientists are being considered. Last week, Professor Bradstock was quoted as saying that expenditure on burning needs to jump to $500 million in NSW — quite a turnaround for a bloke with his name on a scientific paper saying that burning doesn’t work in most areas.

The government could save a lot of money and lives and homes and wildlife and soil and water resources by talking to someone experienced in the management of the bush and its fire risk — someone experienced in the use of fire to manage the bush. It’s not just about risk. The forests that aren’t burning are dying for want of mild fire.

As I wrote in my book, Firestick Ecology:

Climate hysteria conveniently absolves green academics from culpability for the human, environmental and economic disasters that they have visited on Australia through their bad advice to governments on land and fire management.

Vic Jurskis, a veteran forester and fire expert, is the author of Firestick Ecology: fair dinkum science in plain English, which can be purchased here.

7 comments
  • lhackett01

    I have been a member of a rural fire brigade in Queensland. This was back in the 1990s and early 2000s. We always had difficulties with fuel reduction burns. The climate variability often thwarted our plans; too wet or to dry. This problem persists today across Australia. A major factor in the damage caused by fires is the increasing population densities throughout Australia, particularly in bushland, not that the present fire intensities are unprecedented.

    As for fire and the environment, the subject is not as simple as it might appear. The South East Queensland Fire & Biodiversity Consortium, Fact Sheet 3, at http://www.fireandbiodiversity.org.au/publications.html under the heading Publications and Resources specifically describes the impact of fire on many ecosystems. It describes how often and at what intensity fires should be used to control fuel without permanently damaging the vegetation types involved. The same principles apply across Australia.

    The aborigines did change the vegetation cover across Australia by their burning, caring more about day-to-day survival than anything else. Aborigines had no ability to extinguish fires. They moved out of the way if needed. Today, science allows us to know better about the impact of fire and how it should be managed.

  • Wayne

    So aborigines cared more about day to day survival than anything else whereas we care more about protecting vegetation than anything else like lives and property.

  • PT

    Indeed lhackett01, the aboriginals have been burning this way for many thousands of years. In fact they’ve created a fire adapted system, which belies the claim
    that perscribed burns “threaten biodiversity”. The damage has been done regarding that (it possibly did away with the megafauna). Greens just want the bush “left alone”, ignoring that it’s been managed to some degree for thousands of years now.
    .
    I take your point about the number of people living in bushfire areas. But it’s also true that fewer and fewer fuel reduction burn happen over east.

  • Alistair

    Self determination for Aborigines turned quiet mission stations into dysfunctional hell holes. Alcohol abuse, drug abuse, child abuse, domestic violence, FAS, etc. So the very group of people responsible for that massive fail are given the task of coming up with the solution. And what they want is Recognition! We have just witnessed a massive fail in Bush fire management. No guesses then who they will turn to to do an inquiry – the same “‘experts” all over again. Do not expect to see any sensible solution – maybe constitutional recognition of firefighters?

  • ianl

    Alistair

    >”Do not expect to see any sensible solution …” [your quote]

    Nor do I, of course. There is not a single current State Govt that is saying anything sensible about framework change beyond the immediate tragedies. [For example, Andrews (Vic) and his Fire Commissioner are persisting with the notion that CO2 starts fires, rather than extinguishing them.] This is despite the States having direct Constitutional responsibility for framework controls.

    I suggest Morrison will only be PM within 12 months if he does a complete 180. It’s easy to see the wets in his Cabinet sense an ascendency in the politics of feelz. Imagine the MSM shrieks to come from about next October.

  • DG

    Any RC into the bushfires will likely produce similar results to the absurd advice prizing ‘biodiversity’ (whatever that means…I mean in a scientific, quantifiable, reproducable way, and not just as a greenist trope) over protection of life and property. Notwithstanding which, good would come from an RC if it recommended the fire protection practices of the NSW Bushfire Bulletin Autumn 1973 (and thus known since then) and required councils to set about rapidly implementing these. Of course there’d be squalls of protest as the bush got pushed back from the built perimeter of townships, but best ignored. Governments have to take tough decisions from time to time.

  • ianl

    Just to underline my comment above, we now have all the various State Fire Commissioners saying: “not a panacea … limited winter window … smoke hazard for the city population … limited resources …” and so on, exactly as predicted.

    About 20 years ago, Koperberg, retired NSW Fire Commissioner, retired ALP politician, had seated himself together with a then prominent ALP Cabinet member (NSW) on the footpath outside a local cafe in my little mountain town. His purpose was to campaign for State election on his reputation as Fire Commissioner from a then recent, active bushfire season. I stopped briefly and asked about increased hazard reduction. The answer was a glib straw man: “We can’t hazard reduce the entire National Park”. When I pointed out this was a straw man – just hazard reduce around the various town and hamlet edges, I was treated to a grumpy silence … surprise, surprise.

    That was about twenty years ago. Nothing has changed, despite three more disasterous fire seasons since, including this one.

Post a comment