Out of the media frenzy to get ratings out of the Victorian bushfires, a 'so-called' bushfire expert on an ABC 730 Report panel (David Packham) advocated a 6 to 7 fold increase in prescribed burning for Victoria.
Another neo-Dreamtime wizard?
The effectiveness of this strategy is undermined by the live evidence shown (on ABC 730 Report Thursday 12-Feb-09) of local resident Jim Baruta in his home video. Over 200m of clear paddock stood between the bush and his house. This represents hazard reduction to an extreme degree (no trees or undergrowth for 200 m). Yet it was ineffective defence. Only his bunker saved his life.
As the 'heat' of the tragedy cools down, one of the overlooked impacts that needs to be considered in a balanced way is the impacts of broad scale fire (prescribed, wild, arson or otherwise) is having on the habitat of ground dwelling mammals. In the search for answers to avoid a repetition of the firestorm it is important that natural areas of high conservation value including old growth forests receive due recognition as natural assets worth protecting. Its integrity is not being measured and is probably disappearing through fire at a rate comparable to what logging is causing in SE Asia. That the bush grows back is not an indicator of its biodiversity health.
One must recognise that the bush (habitat) is also the innocent victim of these horrific fires. Dense ground cover is a fuel for fire but also home for wildlife. Keep removing the fuel and one removes the wildlife- eventually to its mass extinction. The underlying causes of the fires are the ignition, the lack of non-burnable material to create a buffer between good bush and human settlement, the slow detection of ignitions, the slow response to these while still manageable (remote country or otherwise) and the inadequate resources to suppress many spot fires. As to the ignition cause being arson – Australia needs a serious permanent criminology unit dedicated to this crime. The media and our leaders need to be careful not to incite dormant serial arsonists – just like one read and watched in the days preceding the first arson attack at Delburn on 29 Jan. The media frenzy just fuelled the copy cats’ excitement.
Bushfire management is a complex issue, so poorly under resourced, so poorly disconnected from bushfire research, yet so integrated into the lives of so many Australians. The public deserve a say into the Royal Commission. Those who tragically died and lost everything deserve billions not just in recovery but in the whole task of bushfire management.
See also: "Victorian bushfires by arson" of 26 Mar 09.