A report from the community meeting held in Kinglake on August 5 2009 about concerns at over clearing after the February bushfires.
"The tree clearing has been worse than the fires" said a friend as I walked into the meeting at Kinglake Central. By the time proceedings started, around 140 people had pressed into the community hall to hear from a range of arborists, council representatives and contractors, and community representatives about the 'clean up' efforts after the fires.
It was clear there was a deep seated belief that the clearing had gone too far and too fast in 'cleaning up' after February's devastating fires. Themes kept emerging through the night - that forested areas were being trashed, habitat lost, there had been insufficient consultation with the local community before trees were removed. Residents spoke of having to race out the front of their homes to save trees that were being felled. Despite Council claims that there was an exhaustive system of assessing trees before marking them them for destruction, residents said that often far more trees were removed than had been identified as being unsafe. Some people, keen to see even more clearing, are said to be marking trees in the hope they will be taken out as the contractor teams move through the area. A range of contractors and jurisdictions are in operation, making it confusing about who is doing what. A number of people expressed frustration at hitting walls of bureaucracy when attempting to find out what was going on with the clearing. Many talked about their experiences of having areas they love destroyed by over clearing, like the man who talked about 50 metre sections being hacked into a reserve near Castella, without approval from the management committee. People kept saying that time hadn't been given to see if trees would survive, that pre emptive clearing had occurred.
There was particular outrage about the destruction at Number One Creek in Kinglake, a popular and beautiful area. Crews gutted this area, where trees hundreds of years old were cut down.
Others expressed concern about the township of Flowerdale being next to suffer the same damage. One comment from the floor seemed to sum up the sentiment of the meeting, that "there will be hundreds blockading the trees" if crews try to cut them.
People all seemed to agree that clearing and clean up had to happen because of public safety concerns. However, there was also a clear sentiment that the clearing had gone too far, too fast, was largely out of control, and that ecological values were being lost as 'safety' concerns over rode everything else.
It was an inspiring example of the power of community, of people finding their strength and holding a strong vision in spite of everything that has happened during and after the fires. The local landscape is being profoundly changed through the clean up efforts and the community will have to live with the actions being taken today for decades to come. There was a resounding message of "slow things down", take time to better assess what trees will survive, maintain the ecology as we make the place safe. Lets hope the Council can hear this message. The Kinglake community certainly deserve our support on this issue.
NB: there is an excellent blog called Out of the Ashes:Â How Victorian communities are recovering from Black Saturday, which has some commentary on the clearing issue and can be found here: http://www.abc.net.au/innovation/vicbushfires/