Climate Change, Forests and Fires Part 1

Robyn and John Hermans home before the bushfires

Article published in the Bairnsdale Advertiser 22.7

Recent claims by the Institute of Foresters that “climate change was not the cause of the summer’s bushfires” is at odds with the overwhelming scientific consensus which shows it played a major role. Furthermore the risk of similar events continues to increase with rising global temperatures. The current Bushfire Royal Commission has heard that there are likely to be two more similar fire events by the end of the decade.

Baseless assertions that “the fires were primarily the consequence of decades of poor fire management” is an attempt to draw attention away from the real reason why these fires were so damaging, extensive and unprecedented; changing climate.

The Institute of Foresters dismiss Greg Mullins and other ex-fire and emergency management chiefs because they have a ‘mostly urban and rural’ background. An interesting comment when Greg Mullins, the ex-fire chiefs’ spokesperson, is an internationally recognized expert in responding to major bushfires over decades and has 50 years of fire-fighting experience including 39 years with Fire and Rescue NSW.

Throughout history, fire managers have used various tools to try and keep fire as a welcome tool rather than a bad master. Many of these tools and strategies are still used, and while not without valid criticisms, remain relevant but increasingly difficult to utilise, such as fuel reduction in areas close to towns.

Mr John Hermans, Forest Ecologist and member of East Gippsland Climate Action Network, pointed out that other approaches are less used but increasingly relevant. He suggests Government authorities assist property owners to reduce the potential of their homes and assets being lost by removal of flammables and installation of water sprinklers at the building interface. This is especially pertinent in light of the millions of dollars of State funds spent on private property fire debris clean up.

Other ideas, largely obsolete, are advocated by the Institute of Foresters in the recent article ‘More Fuel Management Required’ (Advertiser, July 1 2020).  These ideas include percentage driven targets and the burning of large remote forested landscapes miles from town. This strategy is expensive and poorly targeted. In fact research has shown that this type of burning can actually increase the likelihood and intensity of a forest fire.

Fire seasons are getting longer, starting earlier and ending later.  The country is drier with more days with a higher fire index than ever before, leading to wildfires extremely difficult to control. These trends were identified decades ago and will continue to get worse if there is no effective action on climate change.

(To be Continued.)

*John Hermans and his family successfully defended their East Gippsland home from the recent fires. John was also assisted by four decades of informed preparation and understanding of how bushfires work, including consultation with fire agencies, scientists and personal research.