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Environment East Gippsland Fires RC Update

Hello all,
Below are ‘short’ comments from our perspective on the long report and recommendations. Please, if you are also concerned, we need more ‘normal people’ (not ratbags like Redwood) to call up talkbacks and write short letters to the papers.
If you do feel the need to try and balance the simplified calls with more old style solutions, emphasise we are part of the community that was affected; we’ve also lost friends and family, know people who lost houses. So we’re looking at this from the same perspective. Only we’re trying to find solutions that match the enormity of this new threat of the future. So we need new ideas – not obsessing about yesterday’s solutions (that haven’t worked or are still unproven). Rec by rec comments below these dot points:
  • Before land management is altered we need evidence and scientific knowledge before repeating unproven solutions.
  • Fire management must be different for each landscape – 300 different veget’n types across Vic.
  • Calls for burning as a solution still lacks science and evidence.
  • Gives a false sense of security – false belief it will make people safer.
  • Fire experts appointed by panel all agreed that prescribed burns wouldn’t reduce fire severity on extreme fire danger days.
  • Extreme weather conditions = the new future. Need to accept this reality and deliver new solutions to match.
  • Declaring war on forests and environment and trying to alter nature is ineffective and could add to problem.
  • Reality is scary - CSIRO and BOM study of 2007 says Victoria faces up to 65% more days of extreme fire risk in the next decade.
  • Arson and power line failures greatest cause of area burnt and loss of lives. It’s uninformed people who are blaming others. Need to get rid of ignition sources before we accept it’s only ‘fuel’ as the culprit.
  • No env group or the Greens have ever altered govt policy on prescribed burns. Uninformed just trying to find a bogey-man. Better off looking at solutions to tackle a new future of extreme weather conditions.
Proportion of fire ignition sources
Proportion of fire ignition sources

Area burnt by ignition sources
Area burnt by ignition sources
  • Fires tragically claimed 173 lives, damaged or destroyed more than 2000 properties and 61 businesses, burned through entire towns and affected 430,000 hectares of land throughout Victoria. Disasters on this scale do not occur in isolation, but are the result of preceding events and conditions.
  • Extreme weather conditions in January/Feb 2009
    Feb 7th & 8th – hottest day on Victorian records, high winds, extremely low humidity. Not a drought but permanent trend of drying – climate change is here – frightening but true. Need to all work together to find best way to deal with this reality.
  • The Royal Commission’s team of experts admitted on such days control burns were useless. So why recommend threefold increase? Could this Royal Commission possibly be politically driven?
  • The Royal Commission ignored plantations and the flammable re-growth from logging as a major danger around towns and settlements. Except to give merit to the logging lobby wanting these forests defined as ‘assets’ not to be burnt – despite them being the most flammable! An example of what the Royal Commission overlooked. The fires that came out of these plantations killed 11 people. Yet nothing is discussed regarding the fire risk they pose.
  • The one dimensional nature of the Royal Commission's focus on just native forests on public land for prescribed burning will do nothing to mitigate the fire risks that these other land tenure types pose.
  • SEVENTY PER CENT OF BLACK SATURDAY'S DEATHS WERE DUE TO POWERLINES, and there are things we can and must do to reduce the risk of power line sparks in hot windy weather. Even if power bills were to increase by 20%, it’s very cheap insurance to stop this happening in the future.
  • The ABC needs to provide some balance against the pro-forestry lobby whose over-simplified message about fuel reduction burns is UTTERLY IRRELEVANT to saving lives, or preventing firestorms on days like Black Saturday.

The recommendations:
There are some good and some very bad. And of course the empty motherhood statements are fairly thick. They seem to be fairly politically driven recs. Enviro or contentious comments in green...

Bushfire Safety Policy.
Recs 1-4 then 6-7 – all sensible feel-good stuff; education, safety policy revision, evacuation and shelters, look at the vulnerable and elderly, standards for community refuges. Tick. Rec 5 – a bit ambiguous re evacuations.

Emergency and incident management.
Recs 8-19. Internal processes to be improved – DSE/CFA need better coordination etc etc.

Fireground response.
Rec 20-26. Fast response by aircraft – put on standby, look at engaging Defence Dept to help, more inter-agency talkies, radio black-spot problem looked at etc. Tick.
Rec 24 & 25 – dangerous incidents including back-burns (obviously a problem in the past) be fully investigated, and no back-burns lit until IC gives approval (implies past mistakes with cowboys lighting up and creating bigger fire front – hearsay that 50% of fire area in 2003 and ‘06 caused by back burns).

Electricity caused fires.
Recs 27-34. Underground or bundled power lines – priority in high danger zone – replaced within 10 years, power utilities to lift their game and inspect every 3 years, cut down even more trees along power lines that are outside of clearance zone ‘just in case’, councils to also cut down ‘hazard trees’ around lines, install spreaders and vibration dampers asap on power lines.

Deliberately lit fires.
Recs 35-36. Recs sound like huffing and puffing about better arson prevention and detection and police training but no details. Report gives more practical suggestions – police patrol etc. Tick.

Planning and Building.
Recs 37-55. Planning, mapping, bushfire risk, council controls, CFA input ... etc – Rec 39 “substantially reducing development in areas of highest risk – giving due consideration to biodiversity conservation...” can’t see how these connect but it makes it appear enviro-conshy.
Rec 39-40 - Talked about minimal lot size to allow for ‘defendable space’ – ie – plenty of space to cut down trees (I assume)!
Rec 41 - Amend planning regs to let more tree clearing permits through where fire threat is a priority. Determine a maximum level of clearing that can be OKd.
Rec 42 – mentions “collective offset solution” (?) when native veg cleared.
Rec 43 – this is a ripper. DSE to “conduct biodiversity mapping to identify ...threatened species throughout Vic...” Given they have no will let alone resources to do this even in small areas where it’s critically important, there’s no way on Earth DSE will be willing or able to carry out such an immense survey and mapping exercise. Appears to be a feel-good rec that is totally impractical and one we can be sure Brumby will either reject or set up a Mickey Mouse type biodiversity mapping exercise.
Rec 44 – fire resistant plants list – CFA to produce. Tick.
Rec 46 – buy-back land and settle elsewhere in high risk zone – non compulsory. This is a strange one. It’d be much cheaper to help fund bunkers for these properties.
Rec 47- 55 – building codes, overlays, etc

Recs 56 – 62. Currently burn about 1.5% of land annually. Planned to up this to 5%, or 3 x increase! This is despite the Royal Commission’s expert panel earlier admitting there was little evidence that control burns achieved anything on the extreme days we’ll now be facing. Does this show the whole Royal Commission is politically driven? (no surprise really).
Rec 57 Annual report on targets and “impacts on biodiversity”! They can’t tell the impact for years after a burn – need baseline data, seasonal monitoring, and surveys on many diff veg types, aspects, areas etc. This is a totally absurd rec but at least they admit they don’t know this info. Have to start somewhere I guess. Current minimal monitoring is only looking at plants – not on micro-fauna, fungi, insects, frogs, reptiles, birds and the ground mammals that are most heavily impacted when huge areas of forest are ‘control burnt’.
Rec 58 DSE to up its long-term data collection to monitor effects on its burns and on bushfires. Its current data collection is almost non-existent to useless. There is no monitoring of effects of loss of ground cover and the soil life that depends on healthy leaf litter. Or of the thicker more flammable and fire-adapted veg that grows back.
Rec 59 Risk analysis model to give humans priority over env. where there’s any dispute. This could be dangerously interpreted. Prescribed burns in old growth areas render those forests NOT old growth for about 20 years. Handy when planning to log.
Rec 60 Revised Planning regs that will allow major veg clearing along roads under the guise of fire safety. This is often where the last remnant strips of original vegetation survive in farmland.
Rec 61 Get Feds in to solve conflict over destruction of valuable roadside veg and change the Fed EPBC Act to allow for annual destruction of protected veg!
Rec 62 VicRoads (no ecological or env expertise within cooee of this authority) to do risk assessments along roadsides.

Organisational structure.
Recs 63 – 64 OK
Monitoring and implementation.
Rec 66 – Auditor General or other ‘independent’ body report back on the progress of these recs by July 2012.

Age letters
Herald Sun
Talkback on Gippsland ABC 1300 295 222 or text in 197 22 842
Melb talkback on ABC 1300 222 774
Drive show – regional Vic 1300 303 468

Jill Redwood
Environment East Gippsland Inc

FORESTS - our breathing space!

Photo Details and Credits (from left to right)
Fire affected forest treated with a prescribed burn in 2008. Chris Taylor 19 April 2009.
View of Mount Riddell from Chum Creek being treated with a prescribed burn. Sarah Rees 10 April 2008.
Extent of fire limited by Cool Temperate Rainforest Community in the Upper Royston Valley. Chris Taylor August 2009.
Source: 2009 Black Saturday Fires Report by Chris Taylor (Commissioned by the Victorian National Parks Association, the Australian Conservation Foundation and the Wilderness Society.) available here (PDF 6.2MB)