Saturday, July 13, 2024

Call for policy overhaul – prescribed burns

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This article relates to issues discussed in the ongoing debate on Australian Rural & Regional News: Open for Debate – bushfires, logging, burns and forest management

Patricia Gill, Denmark Bulletin

The Denmark Shire Council is calling on the State Government to overhaul its prescribed burning practices and policy in line with current science and community sentiment.

The council moved a notice of motion from Councillor Jan Lewis to appeal to Parliamentarians for a review of the prescribed burning policy and practices.

They include Premier Mark McGowan and Environment and Climate Action Minister Reece Whitby and others.

At the July 19 meeting the Denmark Shire Council called on the State Government to recognise that climate change was challenging the management of an increased risk of bushfires.

The council also asked that the Government consider providing local governments with extra resources for early fire detection and suppression.

Shire chief executive David Schober will report back to the council in October with the responses he receives.

In public question time before the meeting, Denmark Environment Centre convenor Bart Lebbing said a request for the review would send a strong message for its need to the State Government.

Also in public question time botanist Dr Joanna Young said new approaches to fire mitigation would improve protection of the built environment and ecosystems.

Dr Young has been reported as criticising the Department of Bio-diversity, Conservation and Attractions’ 200,000ha prescribed burn regime for the South-West.

She has described the devastation of a Denbarker prescribed burn in November 2019 as the “collateral damage” of WA’s burning regime.

In the fire a 5000-year-old peat swamp was burnt along with endangered flora and fauna.

Dr Young is a member of The Leeuwin Group, a group of scientists questioning the frequency and scale of the prescribed burn regime in the South West.

Another member is Steve Hopper, a professor of biodiversity at the University of WA in Albany, who says Indigenous cultural heritage sites are at risk.

He is reported as saying that as development and mining projects engage archaeologists to look for stone artefacts and evidence of Aboriginal culture, in the same way, wood and trees have a story to tell too. For example, there is no comprehensive map of gnaama boorna (water hole trees), many hundreds of years old.

Call for bush burning rethink

The Leeuwin group promotes the work of academics Phillip Zylstra, David Lindenmayer and Don Bradshaw who say governments are ramping up hazard-reduction burning but their research shows the practice can make forests more flammable.

Some forests ‘thin’ themselves and become less likely to burn and hazard-reduction burning disrupts this process.

In the summer of 2019-20, the Black Summer bushfires ravaged Australia’s south-east and in the previous decade, the New South Wales National Parks and Wildlife Service doubled the area of prescribed burns compared to the previous decade.

Where prescribed burns had very recently been carried out, the bushfires were marginally less severe, about half of the time. But the bushfires ultimately burned 10 times more forest than any other Australian forest fires on record.

The WA Government has increased the prescribed burning budget by $22 million over the next four years.

Denmark Bulletin 4 August 2022

This article appeared in the Denmark Bulletin, 4 August 2022.


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