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Study says biomass reduction lessens bushfire risk and costs

A new study confirms that removing fuel from our bush can massively reduce the economic costs from bushfires. Source: Timberbiz

A newly commissioned study by Deloitte Access Economics has shown that removing fuel from the bush by mechanical removal, combined with prescribed burning of trees and understorey biomass, could dramatically reduce the devastation caused by bushfires and save the community tens of millions of dollars each year.

The cost benefit analysis forms part of a scoping study commissioned by the Australian Forest Products Association to look into the benefits from increased fuel reduction in key fire prone areas.

The Deloitte study suggests that, for example, in New South Wales’ Blue Mountains area removing fuel from as little as 5% of the area each year could halve the extent of bushfires and save the community as much as $34 million per year in insurance claims, property loss and fire-fighting costs. This is a benefit-cost ratio of around 4.6. this is a stunning result. We need a national conversation which gets serious about severe bushfires while the smoke haze from a very difficult summer of fires is still in the air.

“For too long the idea of taking fuel out of the bush to reduce fire risk has been ignored in Australia despite being a widely accepted practice elsewhere in the world. Instead we watch as the bush goes up in flames in out of control mega fires,” said CEO of AFPA Ross Hampton.

The Deloitte study identifies a number of areas where a full cost benefit analysis would better inform bushfire policy, including the Melbourne fringe and Gippsland regions in Victoria, south-west WA, the Blue Mountains, the Pilliga and north and south coastal areas of NSW, and Tasmania.

The report identifies the benefits of using mechanical fuel removal in conjunction with prescribed burning also noting the narrow window of good weather days for undertaking prescribed burning, and the need to control fuel loads in bushland areas close to population centres or other important assets.

“The Abbott government is to be congratulated for allocating an additional $15 million for bushfire reduction measures in Australia,” said Hampton.

“This study provides the impetus to conduct a more detailed CBA of bushfire management policy and a trial program of fuel reduction practices.

“This would help inform more effective bushfire management, rather than the usual expenditure on suppression using more tankers and water bombing helicopters. The latter approach merely treats the symptoms and fails to treat the cause.”