12 March, 2015

Recommendations of Wambelong fire inquiry are misguided

The NSW Nature Conservation Council has warned that several recommendations of the parliamentary report into the catastrophic fires at Coonabarabran in 2013 [1] have no scientific basis and would do little to improve fire management in NSW.

“The Wambelong fire and its aftermath have been a terrible ordeal and caused significant distress in the community around the Warrumbungle National Park and the Coonabarabran district,” Nature Conservation Council CEO Kate Smolski said.

“It is vital that the government, land managers, firefighters and the wider community learn the lessons from this terrible event, and respond with thoughtful policies that are based on the best available science and research.

“Regrettably, the parliamentary upper house inquiry’s report into the fire makes several recommendations that would undermine some of the existing system’s many strengths and do nothing to enhance public safety.

“The recommendations we have major concerns about relate to matters we believe also fall outside the terms of reference for the inquiry.

“It is unreasonable to make recommendations that affect management of fires in national parks across the state based on understandings gleaned from one fire event. 

“Major changes to fire management planning and policies that affect the whole state should be based on consultation with all stakeholders in fire management, and we urge the government to do so before seriously considering adopting the committee’s recommendation.”

Hazard reduction targets

“The committee has recommended that 5 per cent of fire-prone public lands be subject to prescribed burning every year, but has not provided any evidence this will reduce the impact of bushfires on communities.

“In fact, the Independent Hazard Reduction Audit Panel in 2013 found an increase in hazard reduction burning of between 2 per cent and 5 per cent would result in only a modest reduction of risk, and even if the target was met the residual fire risk would still require the same amount of fire management infrastructure and resources as are currently committed.

“It has taken many years of research to attain our knowledge of the fire ecology requirements of vegetation systems in NSW and any hazard reduction program implemented in national parks must take into account ecological considerations. 

"We urge the government to adhere to its existing hazard reduction program as an effective way of protecting life, property and the environment, and to not undermine the work of fire authorities and public land managers by requiring them to meet arbitrary targets.

"During the parliamentary inquiry Rural Fire Service officers explained that arbitrary targets may not reduce the risks faced by communities.

"This view has previously been expressed by the Victorian Bushfire Royal Commission Implementation Monitor.

"Scientific research has demonstrated that reducing hazards close to buildings and other assets is the best strategy. Broad-scale burning far from assets to achieve a target would take us down the wrong path.”

Fire trails

“The committee’s report recommends decommissioned fire trails in national parks be reopened and the number of fire trails be increased.

“This recommendation would undermine years of work by Bush Fire Management Committees that have identified, established, and maintained a fire trail network that has achieved good fire management outcomes in a cost-effective way.

“We believe decisions about specific fire trails should be left to local people on Bush Fire Management Committees with a good knowledge of the landscape, rather than reopening trails simply because they once existed, and then having to pay for the maintenance of unnecessary trails.     

NPWS and the RFS

“NCC is concerned that the National Parks and Wildlife Service’s fire management practices have been unjustly denigrated as a result of this one fire event. 

“Bushfires are an inevitable part of the landscape in NSW and will continue to occur, and with the effects of climate change are forecast to increase in frequency and intensity.

“NSW has had a successful cooperative arrangement between the Rural Fires Service and other fire management agencies for many years and it should not be jeopardized by unnecessary procedures. 

“NCC believes the Rural Fire Service is best placed to coordinate bush fire prevention and ensure that bush protection planning is in place. We also believe the RFS is well placed to appropriately resource fire fighting efforts. 

“We have a similar opinion of the capability of the National Parks and Wildlife Service to undertake fire management on national parks estate and do not believe their value as a fire authority earned over many years should be downgraded.

National parks buffer zones

“The report’s recommendation that the National Parks and Wildlife Service be required to clear at least six metres on their side of the fence discriminates against the Service.

“There is no legislative requirement to clear adjacent to boundary fences, only an entitlement, and as other landowners are not required to clear we believe placing the National Parks and Wildlife Service into a special category would be inequitable.

“As well as being unnecessary and expensive to implement, mandatory clearance along park boundaries would encourage infestation by flammable weeds, and be impractical in rugged terrain.”

REFERENCES

[1] www.parliament.nsw.gov.au/prod/parlment/committee.nsf/0/68BBD71B1A03AC16CA257C23001801CB

 

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