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Bush Fire Commission on the cusp of releasing findings; IFA says address root causes

Bob Gordon

The Bush Fire Royal Commission must not simply audit and implement the last 58 inquiries, reviews and Royal Commissions on the issue, if it wants to see meaningful forest management in Australia according to the Institute of Foresters. Source: Timberbiz

On the eve of the Commission bringing down its findings to address the causes of the past tragic Black Summer 2019/20 fire season, the IFA said the root cause of the issue was the need to address appropriate land and fire management techniques.

IFA President, Bob Gordon said while climate change is a factor influencing fire weather, it is not the sole reason why Australia’s Black Summer wildfires burnt across multiple states and territories, burning nearly double the area of any previous major wildfires in a fire season.

“Arrangements that continue to focus on bushfire response rather than bushfire prevention accept that Australia shall continue to have major wildfires, needing to spend more taxpayer funds with little difference in outcomes. Thus, continuing to threaten our communities and devastate our ecosystems,” Mr Gordon said.

“The IFA hopes the Royal Commission recommends arrangements that protect our ecological values, particularly the vegetation which supports our unique wildlife.

“Wildfires involve an interaction between fuel, weather, terrain, and climate. The state of the fuel is largely a product of land management. Fuel is also a critical environmental factor, and much of Australia’s natural environment is adapted and reliant on the appropriate type of fire.

“Changing the state of fuel across the landscape, in a way that sustains biodiversity, also reduces the severity of wildfires. Achieving this requires well-trained and locally knowledgeable land managers. Indigenous Australians did this for at least 60,000 years and we need to work with them to reintroduce large scale landscape fire management regimes.’’

Mr Gordon said the ecological disaster of the 2019/20 wildfires is widely acknowledged.

“The IFA believes that better land management across tenures with prescribed burning to reduce forest fuel levels across the landscape, supported with rapid first attack fire suppression could have reduced the ecological disaster,” he said.

“Aircraft are important in fire suppression for intelligence gathering, transport and suppression, however more larger fire suppression aircraft is not the answer.

“Globally we see greater use of very large aircraft in fire suppression. They look wonderful on the television but are not always cost effective.

“We are hoping that the Royal Commission will recommend independent cost-effective analysis of aircraft in comparison with increasing the investment in qualified ground base firefighters, and mitigation measures such as fire line maintenance.

“The Victorian IGEM recognised the importance of the timber industry in the provision of fire suppression machinery and skilled operators. It is expected that the Royal Commission will do similarly.”

Mr Gordon said that in 2005, the Council of Australian Government (COAG) released its report on the National Inquiry on Bushfire Mitigation and Management which investigated the 2003 wildfires. This COAG Inquiry had a vision for 2020 which is still relevant today but unfortunately still a vision and not a reality.

The COAG inquiry recommended that:

  • National principles for wildfire mitigation and management were needed, and
  • An agreed set of wildfire indicators of good practice, together with an assessment against the national principles would provide a consistent framework for review and reporting.

As a consequence, National Bushfire Policy Statement for Forests and Rangelands was produced by the Forest Fire Management Group (FFMG which included IFA members) and was endorsed by COAG in 2011.

The IFA’s Position Statement for The Role of Fire and its Management in Australian Forests and Woodlands is consistent with this national policy statement.

IFA and AFG look towards this Royal Commission being as strategic as the COAG review, promoting ways for the Australian Government to hold States and territories to account for their progress towards meeting the 14 goals within the National Bushfire Policy Statement for forests and rangelands.

“We need to prepare current and future generations to do a better job of protecting land and water resources, biodiversity and our livelihoods,” Mr Gordon said.