Local enviro groups have been briefed on the progress of Strategic Fuel Breaks in the region. As with most things to do with fire and biodiversity management, the picture so far is patchy and its final effects hard to assess.
On the one hand, the quality of DELWP consultation on the project has been unusually good, and every attempt seems to have been made to adjust works to local conditions.
On the other, we have to face the fact that, like every state wide project, this one has a kind of juggernaut effect: lines have been drawn on maps, and local adjustments to these lines—if any adjustments are possible—are going to have to be hard fought.
FOBIF’s immediate concerns include the following:
- The fuel breaks proposed for the Fryers Ridge and Porcupine Ridge. We have been told that works in these areas will not be started for at least 12 months, but the prospect of their going ahead at all brings no joy to anyone interested in local biodiversity. Although we are fully aware of the importance of firefighter access and safety in these areas, we’re not convinced that it’s best achieved by mowing down the bush. FOBIF has suggested alternatives to slashing and mulching in sensitive areas: these seem to have gone nowhere
- Monitoring: We believe that baseline monitoring of Break sites, and ongoing monitoring of works, are essential. Recent discussions suggest that these will not be as rigorously implemented as we’d like. We’re not sure if these works are governed by the transparency requirements of the Code of Practice for Bushfire Management. They should be…but on the other hand, the Code is not always followed.
- Methods: Experimental use of brushcutters to manage vegetation along Bells Lane track in the Muckleford forest suggests that this method is as effective as tractor mounted machinery, and less damaging in terms of soil disturbance and weed growth. We’re interested in seeing it as the preferred method.
FOBIF has repeatedly made it clear we are not opposed to fire breaks close to settlements. As to more remote forested areas, we still have concerns on a number of levels, mainly to do with the thorny problem of reconciling safety and biodiversity concerns. Are these two objectives irreconcilable? We are occasionally invited to believe so by hard heads in land management, and it’s sobering to read in IGEM’s report into the 2019-20 fire season the suggestion that people should be prepared to ‘create safety by navigating complex trade-offs between irreconcilable goals.’ The same report, however, suggests that greater resourcing for land management might get better results all round. We’d agree with that.
We’ve been informed that this region has been a bit of a pilot project for fuel breaks, and that future works may not be as rigorously considered and implemented as they have so far in this area. That’s a very disturbing thought. We’ll see. We believe that any hope of getting a half way decent result on the ‘irreconcilable goals’ requires more, not less, attention to detail.
In the meantime, we hope that consultations on these and other matters can continue.