Bushfire law cuts both ways

Bushfire law cuts both ways

11 November 2014

published by www.theherald.com

Australia — NO doubt some people in bushfire-prone areas have had good reason to complain, in the past, about tough laws that prevented them from removing risky vegetation.

Few issues polarise opinion in neighbourhoods and communities more than tree removal, and when the risk of property destruction is added to the mix, arguments flare at the slightest spark.

But it already seems very clear that the NSW government and Rural Fire Service have pushed the pendulum a long way too far in the anti-tree direction with their so-called 10:50 legislation.

Under these relatively new rules, property owners in areas deemed to be bushfire prone can remove trees without a permit if they are within 10 metres of an external wall of a home or attached structure. Undergrowth may also be cleared within 50 metres, with both measures designed to help avoid some of the tragic and expensive losses caused by bushfires in recent years.

No sooner had the laws been enacted than the chainsaws started up and trees began to fall. All over NSW – and perhaps especially in urban areas – neighbourhoods and local councils are up in arms over what some are describing as a wholesale slaughter of inconvenient trees.

Arborists are bemoaning the irrevocable loss of old and beautiful trees. Some tree removal companies, on the other hand, have been quick to promote their services to entire streets, offering discounts for bulk orders.

Critics assert that many of the dying trees are being sacrificed for reasons other than bushfire safety. In some cases, it is alleged, the tree removal is merely enhancing the views of some homeowners. Other critics allege that some of the tree felling is designed to facilitate development applications – current or pending – to protect swimming pools from annoying leaf litter or to remove the habitat of unwelcome bats, birds or insects.

Human nature being what it is, some of those allegations are probably well founded. But even if that’s so, it would be wrong to repeat the error with a knee-jerk reaction in the other direction.

Summer is approaching, and in recent years the fierce hot seasons have brought serious and destructive fires. When that happens, some people are quick to attack authorities for not permitting householders to protect their properties by judicious tree removal.

As usual, the ideal solution almost certainly lies between the extremes of open-slather felling and over-zealous preservation.

The government should heed widespread calls for a halt to tree felling to prevent people taking advantage of the laws for the wrong reasons. That halt should be kept in place while the laws are reviewed and until a workable compromise is found.

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