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A NEW method of fuel reduction — physically removing trees, shrubs and undergrowth on public land — will be trialled across Victoria as part of bushfire prevention.
“Mechanical fuel reduction” is widely used in the US and Canada as a move away from solely relying on burning off during winter.
Prime Minister Tony Abbott last week announced $1.5 million to fund trials in Victoria, NSW and Queensland as part of the National Bushfire Mitigation Program.
The trial will examine the effectiveness of the method in forests close to towns or where conservation values could be compromised by fuel reduction burning.
Australian Forest Products Association chief executive Ross Hampton said if the strategy could prove to be a sensible and sensitive way to manage the reduction of the fuel density and reduce the intensity of fire, then the trial would be “priceless”.
A Deloitte Access Economics study of biomass removal found adding mechanical removal to winter burn-offs had a benefit-cost ratio of six to one.
“We are about a decade behind some other countries,” Mr Hampton said.
“The United States is halfway through a 10-year, $400 million similar program and it is time we caught up.”
Mr Hampton said hotter and more frequent fires driven by climate change were “costing this nation dearly”. “The loss of native animals is devastating ... and of course we often lose hundreds of thousands of hectares of plantations or native forest,” he said.
Parliamentary Secretary for Forestry Richard Colbeck said mechanical fuel reduction could create a number of benefits.
These included addressing community concerns about air quality, not being limited by weather conditions and managing fuel loads that are close to built-up areas.
The system has been used in Victoria on occasion when prescribed burns were deemed too dangerous.
The move comes amid fears the Victorian Government could dump its 5 per cent planned fuel-reduction target as part of a review of performance targets for a future bushfire fuel management program on public land.
The trial will be run over three years and co-ordinated by forestry agencies and the Australian Forest Products Association.