Controlled Burns, Asset Protection and Climate Change

(Weekly Times)

A long press release from the Burning Issue symposium held recently in Bairnsdale (see below) made the front page of the East Gippsland News (6.9). By far the most important news in this event came from keynote speaker Dr David Cheal who relayed the findings of research done by P. Gibbons et al after the Black Saturday bushfires indicating that asset protection beyond 40 metres of the asset being protected was of little or no value.

He stated the research: “Used the 2009 wildfires in the Kinglake-Marysville region, modelled fire behaviour and loss of houses versus fuel characteristics (a very simple consideration of shrub and tree cover, particularly within 40m of houses, and planned burning within 5 years, so most sites in sclerophyll forests, at housing interface)” and that “modifying fuel levels could reduce house loss by 76-97%, but close to the houses, not in the wider landscape.”

David Cheal continued: “All fuel treatments were more effective when undertaken close to houses.  For example, 15% fewer houses were destroyed if prescribed burning occurred at the observed minimum distance from house (0.5km) vs. the mean distance of 8.5 km.  The results imply a shift in emphasis away from broad-scale fuel reduction to intensive fuel treatments close to property will more effectively mitigate impacts.”

The importance of this should not be lost on the authorities – that most of the ‘controlled burns’ currently conducted in Gippsland and elsewhere are, in terms of asset protection, useless and a waste of resources. Unless, of course, the asset being protected is the timber in logging coupes. It is clear that if we are to meet our climate commitments in Paris, both the logging of native forests and using fossil fuel for energy generation must be phased out as quickly as possible. In particular many of these forestry practices, for instance clear-fell logging in coupes and controlled burns, were instituted and well established before we became aware of the threat that global warming posed. To borrow the title of Naomi Klein’s book – “this changes everything” for forestry in Victoria.