It’s November again and once again half of NSW and Queensland is battling bushfires.
It pains me to see rural and regional communities go through the trauma of out of control bushfires consuming land, forests, native fauna, homes, livelihoods and lives.
My family and my community went through the exact same process last year. It appears little has changed.
Some may say this is not the time to be playing politics around bushfires while people are battling to save their homes and businesses. However, it appears to me that the only time people and politicians will listen is when the flames are coming over the horizon or communities are left in ash.
As predictable as always, conservationists and opportunistic politicians are blaming these fires on climate change.
Before I get attacked for being a climate change denier – I am not. But I am also a climate change realist.
If you leave your front door unlocked, you can’t complain too loudly when someone steals your TV.
It’s the same with bush fires.
You can’t blame climate change when you’ve restricted access to millions of hectares of densely thickened eucalypt forests and wonder why they go up in smoke.
You can’t blame climate change when you haven’t back burned this millennium.
You can’t blame climate change when there are no fire breaks or cool buffer zones installed around towns, houses and critical infrastructure.
Some people haven’t seemed to notice that Australia is the second driest continent on earth, it gets very hot around this time of year, every year and our vegetation has evolved over the last 60,000 years to love bushfires. Big ones.
The Bureau of Meteorology have claimed that the “strong winds and high temperatures” are the reason for the catastrophic fires. No doubt wind and heat help flame the fires but they aren’t the “reason” or the “cause”.
The real reason is Governments – local, state and Federal – over the past 3 decades have bowed to conservationists and green groups by locking up more and more of our national estate and sacrificing them to the flame every bushfire season.
Even if the climate is changing, does that mean we should just throw our hands in the air and let our national estate and biodiversity go up in smoke every year?
I don’t profess to have all the answers but here are a few less dramatic things we can do, other than trying to stop the climate changing, to prevent our national estate, our wildlife and our carbon being cooked every fire season:
- Recognise that fire has always been apart of the Australian landscape but it’s the fuel loads when fires hit that is really important. A fire can’t burn if there is nothing or little to burn.
- Just by locking up a piece of scrub and calling it a national park does not make it so. By expanding national parks because it “feels nice” dilutes the resources to protect the areas of our environment that truly are special and endangered and creates a massive estate which is difficult to manage and maintain.
- One of the best forms of fire fuel reduction is low intensity cattle grazing. It’s low risk, low impact and puts people into areas that actually know how to manage the country and know how to fight fires.
Anyone who says cattle are bad for the environment and biodiversity should go and ask the millions of animals, birds and insects currently being incinerated in national parks and native forests.
Fires in open grass lands with lower fuel loads can be managed and contained. Those in forests are uncontrollable. We need to reintroduce low intensity silvicultural practices across our forest estate to reduce fuel loads, increase forest health, reduce noxious weeds and prevent catastrophic fires.
All fire breaks should be assessed on the type, height and fire risk of vegetation not some demarcated figure ie. 10 meters.
We also need to look at cool buffers where vegetation is retained but canopy cover and stem density reduced. These should be implemented off fire breaks, roads, access lines, around houses, subdivisions and towns. These buffers should be regularly burnt (every year) which reduces the area of forest to be maintained with more frequent larger hazard reduction burns which are risky and difficult to manage.
Native vegetation must also be back burned when the seasonal conditions suit not on prescribed fire rotations set by some university academic or government bureaucrat.
For decades government policy has been focused on kicking people out of the environment. From foresters to graziers to beekeepers – there has been increasing restriction on access to our national estate. This takes people out of the environment who are best equipped to manage it and are willing to invest their own time, resources and lives to protect it.
Stop blaming climate change. Even if the climate is changing, does that mean we should just throw our hands in the air and let our national estate and biodiversity go up smoke every year? Sitting around blaming the weather for all of our problems is juvenile and futile.
If the climate is changing, it’s more important than even that we start to look at practical and affordable solutions to how best manage the impacts of fire.
My thoughts are with those families and communities currently battling these fires.
Let’s hope some common sense prevails to avoid these unnecessary disasters into the future.
Tom Marland is an agribusiness lawyer based in Bundaberg, Queensland. He is also the author of the blog, Food for Thought, Thought for Food.