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Victorian Bush-fires: ABC 7.30 Report ignores facts, creates scapegoats

Bodies are still being found, the Royal Commission still has no terms of reference and yet the ABC is pointing the finger at the environment movement and the Greens! Friday night's 7.30 Report failed to show that the most 'managed' forests were the worst hit, instead giving the opposite, wrong impression and blaming 'greens'.

From a Victorian bush-fire correspondent:

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Anyone with knowledge of the areas affected most by the fires who heard the 7.30 report on fire Friday night (13 Feb '09) would have to be on blood pressure medication now.

Pro-logging-industry ABC report ignores facts, creates scapegoats

It was a logging industry coup - with the presenter targeting 'greens' and 'Greens' as the villains that caused these fires. The lack of burning was the fault of the 'greenies' and the Greens politically. Great coverage if you happen to be a logging industry lobbyist, the Bush Users Group, the ALP or Libs.

The fuel loads were what caused the fires, we were told as a 'fact' rather than an opinion ... The whole production made it look like everyone was in agreement, not just those apparently benefiting from a political opportunity, like the self-proclaimed 'fire-expert' David Packham. (See in dot-points below why 'Green' or environmentally-friendly policies cannot be blamed for the fires).

Some of us called up immediately and blasted our outrage down the phone. The number I called was (03) 9626 1666 for ABC TV.

Bodies are still being found, the Royal Commission still has no terms of reference and yet the ABC is pointing the finger at the environment movement and the Greens!


Taken from DSE data current to this week:

  • 50% of estimated area of the Victorian fires are on private property
  • 12% are in national parks
  • The remainder is in state forests, crown land or undisclosed.

Hard to see how this can be turned around to blame national parks.

The senate inquiry in 2007 was at pains to point out that in uncontrollable firestorms like this, tenure and land management is irrelevant and we have to build community preparedness to survive the onslaught.

Full quote from conclusions is:

"... there will always be uncontrollable bushfires from time to time. This is most evident from evidence regarding the Australian Alps, which experienced their worst fires in 1939, under a completely different land tenure and management regime to that in place when fires burnt there in 2003. A significant part of living in and managing the environment must be acceptance of fire and ensuring preparedness for it."

Facts that need restating

Below are some points that have already been published on http://candobetter.org/node/1066 and http://candobetter.org/node/1065, but are restated here for quick reference if needed.

  • The Greens do not have a policy that advocates no fuel reduction burning - but a more scientific approach. They have never made a campaign out of this. Similar policies are held by environment groups in general.
  • How after 12 years of drought and the recent mega fires and a policy of so much fuel reduction burning, do we get the claimed record levels of fuel. But how do you control a fire under the following circumstances?
    1. Temperatures were their hottest ever recorded at 47 degrees.
    2. Relative humidity in single figures and winds constantly hitting 100kmh.
    3. A 12 year drought.
    4. 1ml of rain in 6 weeks.
    5. The previous week had a run of 5 days each over 40 degrees. Unheard of.

Pattern of burning in specific locations

1) Much of the fire burnt most intensively through dry forest. On the Modis fire satellite image, the fire appears to have burnt these forests most intensively, whereas the wetter forests are patchy. The towns of Marysville, Kinglake and St Andrews are surrounded by these drier forest types, where we see the highest levels of devastation.

2) These fires burnt very aggressively in plantations. The Churchill fire burnt through large areas of plantations. These are intensively managed for wood production, with no understorey or fuel loads, yet these burned very intensively.

3) Around Whittlesea, Wallan and East Kilmore, much of these fires burnt through long grass on farmland. The argument of forest protection around these areas is irrelevant, given that these areas are cleared farmlands and had very little forest areas upwind on Saturday.

4) The fire on Mt Riddle was ignited by a lightning strike and burnt the northern slope. At the beginning of last year, the DSE/Parks Victoria lit a large control burn on this slope, of which it even scorched the crowns of the eucs. This control burn did not prevented the ignition and spread of this fire into Healesville and surrounding forest.

5) Many of these fires have started on either private land or non-forest areas (ie the fire that burned over Mount Disappointment). The only fire at this stage to have started in National Park was the Mt Riddle Fire.

6) Large fire breaks had been cut through Mt Disappointment bounding the Wallaby Creek water catchment. This is 'active management', yet they were useless in preventing the fire from spreading from the state forest into the protected Wallaby Creek catchment.

7) It is suspected that the fires west of Mt Disappointment and Yarra Glen, along with Churchill, were deliberately lit. This is a case of managing 'people' rather than forests.

8) These fires are being intensified by a rapidly changing climate. Scientific models developed by the CSIRO have predicted that high fire danger days are going to increase dramatically with increased greenhouse gas levels in the atmosphere.

9) Scientific studies around the world indicate that highly disturbed ecosystems are more vulnerable to the climate crisis than less disturbed ones.


What happened during specific fires

  • The Kilmore fire started on the edge of a farmland, was not catchable, ripped through plantations and across huge firebreaks like the Hume freeway and strategic breaks. It had burnt around the farmland trapping people trying to escape out of Kinglake long before it burnt through the National Park and into Kinglake. It burnt quite slowly through the Wallaby Creek catchment (unlogged) compared to the Mt Disappointment state forest. Mt Disappointment state forest is a mecca for 4wds and other recreationists that claim by allowing them into the bush, then fires will be stopped. Eventhough it was still moving at over 10kmh. A fire is pretty well much uncontrollable at around 2kmh.
  • This fire has burnt through the urban interface, the most heavily fire managed areas around. The Kinglake National Park is on very poor quality soils. Hence it is mainly only low growing grasses.
  • The Murrundindi fire started in very close proximity to a timber mill. It burnt to Marysville 20 kms away in just over an hour. This is in the most heavily logged and woodchipped area in Victoria and also a mecca for the 4wd and associated groups. It has spotted across the Acheron valley and raced up areas heavily woodchipped as a crown fire (not initially burning through ground fuel) into the closed O'shannassy water catchment.
  • We are getting a picture that SOME areas of old growth ash forest remained unburnt in the initial fire storm. But they are burning at very low intensity and will hopefully survive.
    • The Old growth of Maroondah catchment has generally survived to date but again fires are just starting to enter them. hopefully they will stay at an intensity low enough for the eucs to survive.
  • Apart from Bunyip, I cannot think of any major fire this season that hasn't been in a plantation or other heavily logged forestry area. It is almost like they are being targeted.

Comments

Sheila, DSE / Parks Vic / etc do not burn their reserves in their entirity. They burn small sections of them at a time in order to have a better chance of maintaining control. I know for a fact because I have seen their handy work when I have been spraying out similar reserves.

What proof do you have that the fire started in a previously burned section at Mt Riddle? And if it did start in a previously burned section how long ago was it burned? Long enough for the fuel load to build up again?

I beg to differ about fuel loads in pine plantations. Firstly the pine trees are planted far closer together than trees tend to be in the average natural forest. Secondly have you ever seen the carpet of shedded pine needles and other debris in a pine forest? There is plenty of fuel!

Even for those private landholders who are prepared to foot the enormous costs it is almost impossible for them to get permits to conduct fuel reduction burns on their properties. How can you justify saying that interfaces between private land and national parks is the most "heavily fire managed areas around". It may be so on the National Park side of the fence but it won't be so for the other side of the fence. DSE etc are not going light fires that are likely to burn down kilometres of fence for which they will be liable.

You are either very young or very naive or both.

Greg,

If you want to argue on the points raised, that is fine.
If you want me to waste my time giving you detailed accounts of my movements, then you are going to be disappointed.
Note that I have responded to one of your previous emails by telling you that I did not write the two articles you are now responding to and that they were written by people in the field.

Sheila Newman, population sociologist
home page

The bold highlighted parts are replies to Boyles' comments above. They are from another contributor, not Sheila herself. Sheila simply posted them here for a contributor who wishes to remain anonymous:

Sheila, DSE / Parks Vic / etc do not burn their reserves in their entirity. They burn small sections of them at a time in order to have a better chance of maintaining control. I know for a fact because I have seen their handy work when I have been spraying out similar reserves.

Yes - They burn all their reserves as with any state forest, and in chunks each year.

What proof do you have that the fire started in a previously burned section?

Not sure where the fires all started but for some sites. The Dargo fires have been burning through 2003-06 burnt forest.

And if it did start in a previously burned section how long ago was it burned? Long enough for the fuel load to build up again?

Which is only about 18 months in some areas - making it pointless to burn in the first place - it just opens up and dries out a forest, kills off the fires sensitive species which are also fire resistant.

I beg to differ about fuel loads in pine plantations. Firstly the pine trees are planted far closer together than trees tend to be in the average natural forest.

Depends on the age of a forest - Have you ever seen regrowth after logging?

Secondly have you ever seen the carpet of shedded pine needles and other debris in a pine forest? There is plenty of fuel!

Fine pine needles matted on the ground are not the same thing that the Government fire 'manageres' target with their fuel reduction burns - they want to burn out the understory - including twigs and leaves, bruanches, and even green living ferns and shrubs - all regarded as 'fuel'. A fires will find it hard to get going in a thick blanket of pine needles - but it will take off like a bomb in the trees themselves.

Even for those private landholders who are prepared to foot the enormous costs it is almost impossible for them to get permits to conduct fuel reduction burns on their properties. NOT BY MY UNDERSTANDING. How can you justify saying that interfaces between private land and national parks is the most "heavily fire managed areas around".

The zone 1 around private land and especially towns are burnt most intensely - every 3-4 years usually. That's pretty damned 'fire managed'.

The human devastation within these recent fires, which is the engine room of the popular anguish, was caused almost entirely by inappropriate settlement patterns. These in turn were caused by rampant population growth actively stimulated and facilitated by mindless and venal purposes.

To have the angst turn on the so called 'greenies' is abysmally ignorant and violently manipulative. A core function of this scapegoating is to keep the playing field clear for all of the same stupid growth and land-planning to continue, risking the exact same if not even greater catastrophe again in the future.

Whatever the truth of the points in this article, which I am not in a position to judge since I don't know the terrain, some people have been deliberately lying on other forums. I found one that claimed that the Greens used to control the Blue Mountains council and while in charge banned preventing burning. The Greens have never been in control of that council, and the claim is a total fabrication. There is no excuse for this sort of dishonesty. The Greens have very seldom held power at any level of government in Australia and using the horrific tragedy in Victoria as a platform for blaming them for environmental mismanagement by other parties and industries is not only a vicious slur, but nasty exploitation of a situation where we should be focusing on the plight of the victims.

It smells to me like an attempt to preempt blaming climate change for the fires or, worse still, poor land management practices by those who launched the attack.

The Royal Commission, if properly set up, should provide more than enough opportunity to find out who or what caused the fires, and how best to minimise future risk. Engaging in political attacks now is inappropriate; doing so by lying goes beyond indecent.

Dear Candobetter

Thank you for your assessment of the ABC Barry Cassidy's biased and selective interviews on the 7:30 Report which included Fran Bailey MP shaking her head in agreement as the camera zeroed in on her, several times; and the man who was fined thousands of $$$ for breaching native vegetation laws by clearing his property a couple of years back, is now a Barry Cassidy hero. The message sent to the television audience, is that it is OK to cut down trees, destroy native vegetation and wildlife habitat.

I was quite shocked by his deliberate damning of trees and nature and I was left to realise the extent ABC journalists Barry Cassidy and Paul Lockyear views dominate our ABC Media. He also has an ABC Sunday morning radio Program and appears to share the views of Andrew Bolt who still thinks that global warming is a beat up. Barry Cassidy seems to have made up his mind and is fanning the anti-green sentiments.

I felt so let down after watching him on the ABC 7:30 Report on Friday night, and
was wishing I could somehow reach him to explain the alarming decline of Victoria's native animals
BEFORE the bushfires with Victoria the worst state in Australia for land clearing and the rate of native
species extinctions. This was BEFORE the tragic bushfires, and Barry Cassidy's apparent contempt for
any wildlife that has miraculously survived the tragic fires. He simply dismisses them as though their
lives do not matter,

Kind regards
Maryland
Maryland Wilson, President
Australian Wildlife Protection Council Inc
KINDNESS HOUSE Suite 18
288 Brunswick St, Fitzroy 3065 Vic
Coalition for Wildlife Corridors
03 59 788 570 ph 03 59 788 302 fax
Mobile 0417 148 501
email: kangaroo[AT]peninsula.hotkey.net.au
web site: www.awpc.org.au
web site: www.rootourism.com.au
Registered Charity A0012224D
"As long as people will shed the blood of innocent
creatures there can be no peace, no liberty, no
harmony between people. Slaughter and justice
cannot dwell together."
Nobel Prize Winner Isaac Bashevis Singer

Sheila Newman, population sociologist
home page

Some of us in the conservation movement are not interested in the purest conservation view that humans have no active role to play in ecosystem management.

For better or worse, we are an integral part of the ecosystems we live in and near and to argue that ecosystems should be quarentined from humans is feeding our unsustainable civilisation where everything inside the 'city fence' is important and everything outside it is expendable. We need to start learning fast how use fire stick management to control fuel loads and make the bush safe for people while at the same time enahancing biodiversity. I would not want to see elements of the green movement blocking controlled burning and forcing people into land clearing instead for example.

The fact is that we appropriated an ecosystem that was already extensively managed by traditional aboriginals through burning. And that managed ecosystem was incredibly healthy and rich in biodiversity. With our 'modern' land management techniques we have seen biodiversity plumet in the past 200 years. The historical record speaks for itself about who had the land management right out of Aboriginals and Europeans.

I am not an environmental purist, myself, but I do think that humans are incapable of 'managing' ecosystems. I think that ecosystems manage us. All I am proposing is that we try to influence forests to become wetter, rather than drier.

No Australian native plant is fire-adapted. In spite of some people claiming the bush needs to be burnt to regenerate, hardpoded native seeds eventually break down and germinate. It's natures way of controlling rampant regrowth....such as happens after a fire.

Even a fire only inches high does some damage to the forest and the wildlife, by killing the small insects and animals that break down the fallen branches that provide nutrients for the forest.

Aboriginals burnt the forest so why shouldn't we? Well, no-one knows what the aboriginals did prior to 1860 or so, but its highly unlikely that they burnt the land like we do. They respected the land and the animals. Cook did mention seeing columns of smoke from campfires as he sailed up the coast, but columns of smoke don't mean bushfires.

Even a small fire kills softwood seedlings and small plants, each subsequent fire kills more softwoods, and then the hardwoods follow, and the forest changes. So do the inhabitants that live on the softwoods, they die or move on.

Fire promotes the growth of grass and weeds, and destroys understory native regrowth.

Fortunately most Australians now understand to some extent the complex role of forests, and their ecology, and rantings about the fires all being the 'greenies' fault are being dismissed out of hand by most people.

Pat O'Brien, WPAA

K.G. writes:
What burning did aboriginal people do?

According to early photos of Victoria I have seen, and the stags (dead butts) of massive trees killed in the 39 fires, sticking out of the re-growth forests; the forest of Victoria were largely old growth. Some species of eucalyptus, like Mountain Ash are sensitive to fire and often die in hot fires. There are a lot of environmental vegetation classes (evcs) burnt in the Feb ‘09 hell Saturday fires. Which ones of these would have been burnt by aboriginal people and how often?

Surely Lighting a hot fire would have been basically too dangerous if you didn’t own a bucket. It would have been more practical to notice where lightning strike fires were providing the burning. When I was a kid, before climate change, lightning came with a cool change and rain and fires often wouldn’t go far. As for cool burning, old growth sometimes has very moist undergrowth, which would have been hard to burn.

I woke up the other day thinking of the Ada tree one of the biggest Mountain Ash tree ever found, in an old growth gully near Powelltown. The remarkable thing about this Tolkien-like area is the moss half way up the trees, the cool air, the moisture held in this vertical sponge. Victoria’s philosophy of forest management has been dominated by foresters keen to provide as much woodchip as possible. A forester is trained to despise old growth forests. To call them 'senescing' - which is to be avoided at all costs.

A lot of towns affected by the bushfires may well have lost photos of the massive trees which used to be displayed pride of place. Photos that might suggest that burning hasn’t been much of a feature in the past. Did in fact Aboriginal people of the recent past enjoy at least some forests of bigger trees, taller tree fern, cooler air, moister undergrowth, with more fire retardant features?

"Some species of eucalyptus, like Mountain Ash are sensitive to fire and often die in hot fires."
Absolutely true!

However it is also true that mountain ash have a limited life span and if they fail to successfully reproduce before they perish then the mountain ash forest can disappear entirely due to the loss of seed producing adult plants.

Mountain ash seedlings require a fire and removal of the parent plants in order for them to germinate and grow.

So fire is just as much an essential part of mountain ash wet sclerophyll forest ecology as it is of dry scelrophyll forests, albeit once every 100 years or so.

Consider, however, the proposition of protecting forests from fire, assisting them to conserve moisture, and giving them a chance to select back in the trees that prefer moist forests and don't survive or need fires. So that the aim would not be to preserve forests as they are now - if they are fire prone and use fire for reproduction - but to foster change in the forests, whilst conserving, consolidating and enlarging them.

If you keep burning forests, well, nothing will survive in the end except those trees that can survive fire and like it. They you have a tinder-box.

Sheila Newman, population sociologist
home page

I am very surprised and concerned about your comment about it isnt the Greenies fault, maybe not all of there Fault, but let me tell you, I live in Western Country Victoria, and these so called smart Greenies have made sure we cant get any fire wood during the cooler months, and that is just fuel waiting for a fire to come through, amazing it hasnt happened in this area ( Fire Storm ) and Touch wood we never get to live such a nightmare as Kinglake etc have gone through. It always takes deaths or a major Bush fire do the governments do anything about it, then they just talk, and please the people who complain, then heel to the Greenies and then nothing gets done. Over and Over this happenes. Australia have to have a Huge Wake Up Call about some of these Greenies ideas of Bush Clearing, but then again most of these Left Wing Greenies live in the Cities and wouldn't know the real day to day of living in the Country.

Someone sent this interesting quote from the Forestry Tasmania Technical Bulletin - Thinning Regrowth Eucalypts. It may be of relevance when discussing the issue of prescription burns amongst other things.

Planning Considerations
From Forestry Tasmania Technical Bulletin - Thinning Regrowth Eucalypts

"Fire Risk

One of the major planning constraints associated with thinning is the higher level of fuel present after the operations. It is not considered feasible in Tasmania to carry out fuel reduction burns in thinned coupes because of the high fuel loads and the sensitivity of the retained trees to fire. The location of thinned coupes amongst conventionally logged coupes is problematic, as it is not recommended that any regeneration burn take place within two kilometres of areas with high levels of flash fuel within two years of harvest (Cheney 1988).

Tree crowns (heads), bark, and other harvest residue make up the fuel load. The climate on the floor of the forest is altered by thinning, with higher wind speeds and temperature, lower humidity, and lower moisture content in the fuel itself. Understorey vegetation characteristics change because of these changes to the microclimate, especially increased light. Bracken ferns and cutting grass may grow vigorously, each having a far higher flammability than the replaced woody species (Cheney and Gould 1991)."

Sheila Newman, population sociologist
home page

Not only are the fires in LA becoming more frequent, but these days they are also less predictable and a lot bigger.

The nearly 251-square-mile blaze in the Angeles National Forest remains at 98 percent containment. Officials said they will hold off until the next rain before declaring it fully contained.

The fire has scorched 160,557 acres, making it the largest fire in modern Los Angeles County history and the 10th largest in California since 1933.

"A changing climate, population growth and a decade-long housing boom has proved to be a combustible mix for the city of Los Angeles" - doesn't this sound awfully familiar? Exactly what is happening in Victoria and across Australia.

Victoria is already the most damaged and cleared of all states. Our Brumby Government is intent on satisfying the demands of land developers by blowing-out further Melbourne's already obese boundaries. This means more concrete, less green wedges, a biting in to National parks and forests and the heating and drying process continues.

We can learn by what is happening overseas, and act now to protect our wonderful country - what was once the 'lucky country'!

However, we have leaders at federal and state levels obsessed by growth at all costs, and this means our ailing ecosystems will be further stressed this coming summer.

A person with a fever is more likely to succumb to an extra blow, just like a stressed environment!

Today there are many fires burning in Victoria but the most serious one, that is now threatening people's houses in Central Victoria near Lancefield ,according to the state Department of Environment Land, Water and Planning originated from a "controlled burn" last week. (Just for the record). I wonder how many birds and animals who can't escape are now being incinerated.

Shows that we shouldn't put matches into the hands of arsonists! These "controlled" or "prescribed" burns are about using fire to squelch fire. This is about burning hectares of our bush, in Victoria, to clear it of vegetation, and wildlife are simply the collateral damage. In reality, it's making our State more flammable by destroying what actually limits fires - the biodiversity, ecosystems, fungi and wildlife such as kangaroos that eat the long grass! Victoria is so cleared, and damaged, it's like a tinder box, really to inflame more due to so-called "controlled burns" out of control.
Fires were heading towards the animal sanctuary, Edgar's Mission, but it fortunately has moved away.

Today on ABC 774 Jon Faine said that -No one's questioning that the pre- season burning in Victoria needs to happen. This was to a rather stroppy female farmer caller on his program whose farm is so far untouched by the fires and probably now safe whilst several other people have lost their houses in this runaway fire. She expressed vitriol that people were complaining about the manner in which the prescribed burning was being carried out and that they were angry and seriously questioning the expertise and common sense of the department in charge of this program. This caller also expressed relief that the fire near her had remained "in the timber" and burnt it all so it can't now burn again. If it were true that no-one's questioning the merits of the pre-burning idea then I wouldn't see much future for Victoria's bushland environment. I hope this burning program doesn't become another sacred cow.