With DSE starting burns around Castlemaine, it’s worth clarifying what the Department’s targets are. The following has been supplied to us by DSE for land within the Murray Goldfields district:
|Zone:||1. Asset protection||2. Bushfire management||3. Landscape management||4. Planned burning exclusion|
|Area total||8,322 ha||59,119||227,846||56,716|
|Burn rotation||Every 5 years||Every 10 years||37 years plus||0|
In his reply to FOBIF’s question of the safety value of the five percent target, DSE Executive Director, Fire [Lee Miezis], sought to create the impression that Asset Protection burns, those most directly concerned with human safety, had been vigorously pursued, while Landscape Management burns in remoter areas were relatively softly pursued.
It’s clear from the above table that nearly half DSE’s fuel reduction burns in the Murray Goldfields district are in remoter areas. FOBIF’s view [like that of the Royal Commission Monitor], is that the effort put into these exercises would be better spent doing a more effective job in areas closer to settlements.
This more effective work might, for example, involve fuel reduction through methods other than burning [grooming and slashing, for example]–but these can be time consuming and labour intensive.
Part of the problem is that Royal Commission recommendation 56 was for ‘prescribed burning’, not ‘fuel reduction’. There are other ways of reducing fuel than setting fire to the bush, but we have found that there is confusion in the DSE itself about whether fuel reduction by, for example, grooming 50 hectares of gorse, counts towards the five per cent target. The result is a drive to burn regardless, and the government is apparently unwilling to review this policy.
I am interested in the Planned Burning Exclusion Zones shown in the above table. 56,716 hectares, or roughly one sixth of the land in all the zones, totally protected from fire. I wonder what is necessary for land to be classified in this way, and what is lacking about the land that has not been. I also wonder what proportion this is of all the land in the region – including private land. I’m sure it is much less than one sixth. Is it even one sixtieth?
I note that in his reply to FOBIF on behalf of his minister, LeeMiezis, Executive Director, Fire (what a wonderful title!) for the Minister for Environment and Climate Change, wrote:
“Planned Burning is excluded from identified zones (Planned Burning Exclusion Zones) mainly to protect the environment – for example fire sensitive ecological communities.”
In his letter, this statement sits, rather oddly, immediately after a passage that states:
“it is important to recognise that fire is a vital part of our environment – in fact Victoria is one of the most fire prone areas in the world and many of our plants and animals depend on fire for their ongoing survival. Planned burning can help the environment to regenerate and maintain health, while having benefits of reducing the risk of bushfire causing significant change to natural ecosystems.”
I wonder if the “Executive Director, Fire” is conscious of the contradiction in what he has written, or if perhaps the ecological communities within the planned burning exclusion zones are in fact so different from those in other zones that there is no contradiction. In either case it would be good to know more. I wonder also if the Minister, whom the Executive Director serves, has a better understanding of this than I do.
But, if such contradictions really do lie (un-noticed) at the heart of our statements about fire, I wonder if our faith in our knowledge of such things, and in the benefits (or potential benefits) of the monitoring and science that is applied to them, is well founded.