Fire history: filling in the facts

The Victorian National Parks Association has released a graph showing the control burn and bushfire history of Victoria in the last 75 years. The graph is based on Forest Commission and Parliamentary records, and can be seen with explanatory comments by Phil Ingamells on the VNPA Website

Among other things, Phil Ingamells points out that there have been ‘only four occasions since 1934 (when management burn records started) when the reported figure exceeded 300,000 hectares in a year…The future statewide target of 390,000 ha is setting us on a level of management burning unprecedented in Victoria’s history.’

On the Stretton Royal Commission into the 1939 fires, he comments:

‘The Royal Commission into the 1939 fires, so eloquently penned by Judge Stretton, nevertheless sent mixed messages for controlled burns. In the introductory pages, he had no sympathy for ‘settler’ burns.

“They burned the forest floor to promote the growth of grass and to clear it of scrub… The fire stimulated grass growth; but it encouraged scrub growth far more… The scrub grew and flourished, fire was used to clear it, the scrub grew faster and thicker, bushfires, caused by the careless or designing hand of man, ravaged the forests… And so today in places where our forefathers rode, driving their herds and flocks before them, the wombat and the wallaby are hard put to find passage through the bush.”

‘Yet Stretton asked for a greatly increased rate of fuel reduction burning by the Forests Commission which, in the period before the 1939 fire, was burning an average of just 7,500 hectares per year.’

The VNPA is urging a more strategic approach to management burning, in preference to the crude policy of burning a set number of hectares per year. This reflects the thinking of environment groups generally–for example, FOBIF and he North Central Victorian Combined Environment Groups [see Richard Goonan’s report on the Bendigo Round Table below].

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