Inadequate prescribed burning poses bushfire threat: expert

Inadequate prescribed burning poses bushfire threat: expert

25 September 2009

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Australia — The threat of bushfires in Australia has been exacerbated by red tape and politicians beholden to a green lobby opposed to prescribed burning, an expert says.

As bushfires rage across Queensland and just days after NSW Premier Nathan Rees issued a warning to expect potentially the worst fire season on record, Sydney University academic Professor Mark Adams has lamented the country’s poor preparedness for the summer.

Professor Adams believes prescribed burning is fundamental to reducing the bushfire threat but claims the practice has become so hamstrung by red tape and the influence of conservationists, that the level of fuel reduction is inadequate.

Professor Adams said risk management practices had become “tortuous”, with prescribed burning too difficult for private landholders and those in charge of public lands.

And with low rainfall predictions for NSW, Victoria and South Australia in coming months, he painted a bleak picture for the summer.

“We just can’t fight fires that are releasing energy at the rate of several atomic bombs being dropped within an area of a few hundred square kilometres,” he said at a lunch in Sydney today, in reference to Victoria’s Black Saturday bushfires.

“Unless we manage the fuels, we will not have any hope.”

Professor Adams said private landholders were blocked by red tape, which often prevented them from clearing fallen trees and other fuel from their properties.

State forests and national parks were equally hamstrung, with politicians lacking the will to fight green lobbyists opposed to backburning.

“On a daily basis, any bureaucrat who is responsible for setting and managing prescribed fires will be subject to individuals complaining, [saying] not today, not on this bit of land, not in this type of ecosystem and certainly not anywhere where the smoke is going to drift across my washing, my grapes, my asthmatic colleague,” he said.

“This type of pressure is unrelenting and it makes all the difference in the world.”

Professor Adams said that as cities such as Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane expanded into fringe forest areas, more widespread burning would be necessary.

“[It is] only through the deliberate use of fire that we can continue to live in a continent that is so beholden to fire,” he said.

“We can’t possibly continue with developments in the outer suburbs of Sydney, Melbourne or Brisbane that encroach further and further into the forests and not use fire to try and protect those.”

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