Victoria faces mega-wildfires and power blackouts

Victoria faces mega-wildfires and powerblackouts

9 November 2007

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Australia — Victoria faces “mega-wildfires” andpower blackouts because the government has bungled bushfire risk management, itwas claimed today.

Huge tracts of rural land and national parks have been “locked up” bythe state government, restricting access for rural landowners, farmers andcountry fire authorities to carry out necessary fire reduction measures, theAlpine Conservation and Access Group (ACAG) says.

ACAG spokesman Allan Mull said almost 170 years of successful land andbushfire risk management through cattle grazing were wiped out instantly whenthe Victorian government scrapped graziers’ licences around the Alpine areanearly five years ago.

He added politicians in Melbourne were only interested in securing supportfrom environmental groups and bowed to that political pressure, shutting downaccess to the land.

“The do-gooders and the greens came along and they found our pristineenvironment and said ‘we have to protect this, we have to lock it up and throwthe key away’,” Mr Mull told AAP.

“That’s exactly what they did and from that time we watched our pristineenvironment become an enormous fuel hazard.”

More than 1.1 million hectares, mostly across the state’s north and east,burnt continuously over 69 days last summer.

In January, fires in the state’s north also sparked a massive power blackoutwhen 330-kilovolt powerlines were tripped, knocking out one fifth of the state’ssupply.

“We can certainly expect more massive fires – mega-wildfires – whichwill cause more chaos, blackouts, you name it, because the fuel’s still there.Current fuel reduction methods are not working,” Mr Mull said.

Mount Beauty grazier Jack Hicks said as well as cattle being allowed to clearvegetation on the forest floor in a controlled environment, grazing also allowedfor better water harvesting.

“If the forests at a higher elevation are better maintained, therainwater is not as rapidly absorbed and can flow downhill more evenly throughthe soil before it reaches the valley floor and rivers,” Mr Hicks said.

“But if the bush is destroyed by fire, it’s dry and empty of anything toslow the flow of water, which then just washes overground downhill as run-off, alot faster than it would through healthy bushland, eroding the soil and washingaway what seeds might have been dropped in order for the bush to regenerate.”

A spokeswoman for the Department of Sustainability and Environment – one ofthe government agencies involved in bushfire management – said cattle grazingdid not reduce bushfire risk in forests.

The spokeswoman cited a report into the 2002-03 Alpine fires by stateemergency services commissioner Bruce Esplin, who found that thousands ofhectares used for cattle grazing had been burnt.

“The most flammable fuels contributing to wildfire are branches, twigs,bark and eucalyptus leaves – none of which cattle eat,” she said.

“Cattle grazing can actually increase fire risk by encouraging thegrowth of flammable shrubs.”

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