Vegetation laws blamed

Vegetation laws blamed

10 December 2007

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Australia — Laws restricting the clearance of native vegetation are to blame for the scale of the Kangaroo Island bushfires, one of the island’s top firefighters says.

Peter Davis, the island’s Country Fire Service deputy group officer and Bushfire Prevention Committee chairman, says allowing landholders to do controlled burns on their property could have halved the size of the bushfires.

He previously wrote a paper to the Ash Wednesday bushfire inquiry, describing the danger of laws that restrict burning. “We used to do our own controlled burns,” he said yesterday from his post at the Kangaroo Island Wilderness Retreat. “We used to use fire as a management tool. We used to use fire as a clearance tool, too. But then the Native Vegetation Act came in and it’s causing a lot of problems.”

Mr Davis said because farmers and landowners were not allowed to burn off parts of their land each year, there were many areas that were the same age. But burning off areas strategically formed a “mosaic” with different levels of growth.

Mr Davis said there were “radical elements” who were opposed to burning off scrub, but that they misunderstood the way fire helps plants regenerate.

He said the problem was statewide but there had been severe consequences on Kangaroo Island because it had a large proportion of national parks and native vegetation such as tea trees and eucalypts, which contain volatile oils.

But his comments were not supported by CFS chief fire officer Euan Ferguson. He said the fires burning yesterday were in national parks, where the Environment Department often conducts burn-offs.

“Even frequently burned areas have reburned here, that’s what we saw in Victoria last year and that’s what’s occurring here,” he said.

Conservation Council of South Australia ecologist and Kangaroo Island resident Fraser Vickery said Mr Davis’ claims were “just not true”. He said farmers could apply to reduce native vegetation on their properties through the Native Vegetation Council.

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