Change in land management policy needed to fight fires

Change in land management policy needed to fight fires

24 February 2010

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A United States fire expert has told the Royal Commission into Black Saturday that Victoria needs to manage its land differently in order to prevent further loss of life through bushfires.

Jerry Williams has spent his career managing fire in the US Forest Service.

He told the commission that despite an exponential increase in expenditure, more and more land in the US had been lost to bushfires in recent times.

The only exception is in Florida, where there is more prescribed burning than in the rest of the country.

He said if Victoria wanted to suffer no more fatalities from bushfires, it would involve not just firefighting policy but a land management approach with more planned burning.

Mr Williams says refusing to burn forests for conservation reasons is misguided because it encourages worse fires which will ultimately cause more damage to ecosystems.

Mr Williams said it was a mistake to think saving a forest equated to locking it up and leaving it alone.

He said the bushfire problem would not be fixed by fooling around the edges, requiring instead, complex solutions and political leadership.

Cautious approach

The National Parks Association says there needs to be a cautious approach to fuel reduction burning.

Phillip Ingamells from the National Parks Association of Victoria did not oppose fuel reduction burning but cautioned against setting blanket targets which might encourage the burning of areas that were easy – rather than those that were strategically effective.

He also emphasised the importance of having clear prescriptions for any planned burning that is done and making it subject to scientific monitoring for ecological effects.

Mr Ingamells questioned suggestions Victoria was somehow underburnt at present and pointed out there had been instances when planned burns escaped control lines, inadvertently destroying important habitat trees.



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