ACT farmers call for better bushfire protection from national parks

Landowners were also frustrated by not being allowed to actively fight the fire front to protect their properties, the association’s president, Tom Allen, said in a submission to the Legislative Assembly’s inquiry into the emergency services response to the fire season.

“If not for the continual pre-fire preparation and management by all farmers, the extent of destruction would have been greater. Additionally, the ACT losses sustained outside the [Namadgi National Park] were relatively ‘light’, due to relatively mild night time conditions,” Mr Allen said.

He said efforts by farmers meant no stock was burnt, no firefighters had to extinguish a house fire and the damage was limited but the lack of acknowledgement of farmers’ local experience and capability continued to be frustrating.

Mr Allen said better fire breaks between the Namadgi National Park and farms maintained through the year would help protect properties when fires did start and reduce the cost of emergency trails.

He said the newly-dozed fire tracks had become weed beds which would need to be managed into the future.

“Introducing boundary buffer areas between reserves and farms is needed, with actions required on both sides of the boundary, not solely the responsibility of farmers. If a 25 metres [asset protection zone] on the [Namadgi national park] side of the boundary fence was routinely maintained, the dozing of ‘last-minute’ trails at huge expense would not be necessary,” Mr Allen said.

Mr Allen said some association members had also suggested opportunities were missed to use back burning operations to limit the fire spread and intensity and prior hazard-reduction burning was insufficient.

“In eastern Australia this summer around eight percent of the land has burned, most of it on, or started on, government managed land. It is evident that the scale of hazard reduction burning being undertaken is insufficient to stop bushfires getting out of control,” he said.

“The Tharwa farming community support the approach of mosaic burning for asset protection and ecosystem health. If the techniques to do this are now too risky, or systems no longer suitable, then other ways of working are needed to achieve the desired end results.”

He also said more support was needed for recovery works on private properties.

Mr Allen acknowledged the current landscape was the result of the removal of traditional owners and more nimble processes would be needed to adapt land management to a changing climate.

“The approach of ‘leaving nature to look after itself’ is a fallacy that discredits the millennia of active Aboriginal land management with their grazing animals,” he said.

Mr Allen said landholders shared the responsibility of protecting natural resources for the next generation.

“The damage from this magnitude of bushfire, with the increased frequency, only 17 years since the last one in 2003, is evidence of neglect of our duty to current and future generations in stewardship of the land and its resources. Clearly something has to change to reduce the risks to nature,” he said.

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