Academic backs fuel reduction burns plan

Academic backs fuel reduction burns plan

25 November 2013

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Australia — A PROPOSAL to significantly increase the number of fuel reduction burns in the state will greatly reduce the risk of another catastrophic bushfire like that which devastated Dunalley this year, a University of Tasmania academic has said.

Professor Stewart Franks gave his support to a policy announced by the state opposition yesterday to burn five per cent of burnable public land each year as part of a $28.5 million fuel reduction plan.

The proposed burning program would be controlled by a cross- agency strategic fuel reduction burn unit and would also make it easier for farmers to get a permit to conduct fuel reduction burns on private land.

Professor Franks said the balance between environmental concerns and protecting property had been lost in the fire management debate.

But he said setting a target itself was not useful if the aim became meeting that target, rather than making strategic burns.

“The weather means that we will always have fires,” Professor Franks said.

“The fuel load is what causes the trouble, that’s the intensity. If you reduce the fuel load you actually make a fire manageable.”

Mr Franks said those who blame increased bushfire risk on climate change ought to welcome the policy, saying: “If they truly believe in a catastrophic climate future then this policy makes sense.”

The policy is lifted from recommendations made to government by the state fire management council in 2011, but not adopted.

Opposition Leader Will Hodgman said the government had not followed expert advice or acted with “sufficient urgency” to decrease bushfire risk.

“We will provide a significant allocation of funding because this is about providing Tasmanians, their homes, their lives, with a more secure and safe approach to managing bushfires in this state,” Mr Hodgman said.

Mr Hodgman said it would be funded off the budget bottom line.

Emergency Management Minister David O’Byrne said the government had not adopted a target because it had since been rejected by every expert in the field.

“That advice from the state fire management council was on the basis of the 5 per cent target recommended by the Royal Commission in Victoria, but subsequently rejected by every fire management agency across Australia,” Mr O’Byrne said.

“It’s not just a case of setting out an arbitrary target of five per cent and dropping a match.”

Mr O’Byrne said the government was focused on increasing the number of strategic burns, but had been hampered by the spring weather.

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