Fire policy for the 21st century

IMGP8792.JPGAustralia suffered through a terrible summer. The 2019–20 bushfires have been described as 'the worst bushfires in our history’. Australia wide, approximately 19.4 million hectares have burnt since 1 July 2019 and at least 33 people dead. It has been estimated that a billion animals died. More than 2,500 homes were destroyed, with more than 300 in Victoria.

In Victoria, more than 1.2 million hectares burnt—making it the largest bushfire since 1939.

The Victorian government is holding an independent investigation into the 2019–20 fire season. It is being led by the Inspector-General for Emergency Management (IGEM), and is looking at Victoria's ‘preparedness for, and response to, the current fire season, as well as review Victoria's recovery effort’.

Submissions have now closed to this process. The IGEM’s 1st report, addressing preparedness for, and response to, the 2019–20 Victorian fire season will be provided to the Victorian Government on 31 July.

We continue to work to see ecologically based fire policy put in place in Victoria.

Here are our priority areas:

 

  • We urge the state government to increase funding for Forest Fire Management Victoria (FFMV) firefighters, including remote area firefighters (including rappel crews) and air capacity for fighting fires

  • The government should provide annual funding to purchase firefighting aircraft to increase our firefighting capacity and reduce the need to contract aircraft from interstate or overseas

  • In addition to funding additional FFMV remote area teams we propose a new volunteer remote area fire force be established, similar to the Remote Area Fire Teams (RAFT) model in NSW, to add capacity to fire fighting efforts in national parks, state forests and other public lands

  • The Victorian RAFT program, which should be based within the Country Fire Authority (CFA), could be structured to offer opportunities for younger and urban based people to join firefighting efforts. As fire seasons become longer and more intense, we will need additional fire fighters and, at present, urban based people have no way of supporting fire fighting efforts as volunteers. Creating new opportunities for urban people to join efforts on large 'campaign' fires could greatly add to volunteer capacity in fire seasons

  • We urge the IGEM investigation to listen to the science relating to the relative values of fuel reduction burning and resist simplistic ‘more burning will solve the fire problem’ analysis which is being promoted in many mainstream and social media outlets

  • We oppose a return to a hectare target for fuel reduction burning and support the retention of the "targeted risk reduction" approach. Hectare targets will only cover public land. A considerable portion of fire risk in Victoria comes from the remaining two thirds of the land mass, which is held privately. Focusing on hectare targets on public land potentially ignores the fire risk that is associated with private land

  • Where fuel reduction treatments are used, we would recommend that smaller areas are burnt. We also suggest that the IGEM consider the proposal to establish local volunteer GreenFire groups to work with land managers on fuel reduction and fuel load management, which might also involve the use of non fire techniques and allow for maximum ecological benefits of land management programs. Involving volunteer community groups will ensure local ecological knowledge informs how and where burning programs occur

  • We encourage continued state government support for Cultural Burning programs. The Victorian Traditional Owners Cultural Fire Strategy outlines six core principles  that underpin cultural burning practises in the state. We would encourage the state government to continue to develop cultural burning programs with traditional owner groups. Groups that are already engaged in Cultural Burning programs, such as Dja Dja Wurrung, could be resourced to share knowledge with other traditional owner groups

  • In considering future fire threat, the IGEM and government must consider the contribution of native forest logging to forest flammability. It must bring forward the transition of the native forest industry and redeploy workers into land management, fibre and timber production and fire fighting as a matter of urgency

  • It should specifically rule out salvage logging of burnt areas because of the ecological impacts of such activity

  • There are specific ecological values in snow gum and alpine ash forests that need to be considered before any fuel reduction burning is introduced into these forest communities. Some vegetation communities, such as rainforest should not be burnt, and buffer and ecotone areas around these vegetation communities should also be protected from burning

  • The Office of the Conservation Regulator has been undertaking an investigation into claims about excessive road clearing in East Gippsland after last summer’s fires. We urge the IGEM to consider any recommendations that come from the OCR report when it is completed

  • The state government should take a leadership role to educate the Victorian community about the fact that climate change will make fire seasons longer and more destructive

  • Climate change will continue to make fire seasons longer and more intense. The Victorian government must to continue to reduce carbon emissions in line with the recommendations of mainstream climate science, so we do our part in global efforts to try and avoid catastrophic climate change.

 

Further information and getting involved

Check here for details on our Act on Climate campaign, which is working to ensure the Victorian government enact science-based climate change policies.

Check here to sign our petition calling on the VIC government to enact the transition plan for the native forest industry and opposing salvage logging.