Fuel Reduction Burning

To: "Birding Aus" <>
Subject: Fuel Reduction Burning
From: "Simon Mustoe" <>
Date: Sat, 2 Apr 2005 18:37:38 +1000

In response to Rob Farnes' email to Birding-Aus (2 April 2005) concerning the death of 10 Long-nosed Potoroo's (listed, Vulnerable species, EPBC Act) during fuel reduction burns in Victoria:
Fuel reduction burning has clearly got to happen, but not at the expense of Australia's wildlife. As a modern westernised country, and one that has embraced a western civilisation model for conservation and sustainable development, this is an outrage. Unfortunately, it is not an isolated incident as Victoria is embarking on larger fuel reduction burns now than in recent years. I have recently written an article for the National Environment Law Association concerning the same subject and mallee emu wren in Murray Sunset National Park and surrounds.
The motivation for fuel reduction is health and safety and it can happen with due regard for conservation but only if the State government is willing. However, fuel reduction burning without appropriate rigorous environmental assessment is simply unlawful. Statements that the process is of conservation benefit are clearly not appropriate - as Rob Farnes has easily demonstrated - and in any case, such 'positive' outcomes are not a material consideration under Commonwealth law, when it comes to determining whether the EPBC Act is triggered.
I disagree with Lawrie Conole that this does not have to stop - sorry Lawrie, I know I am taking you slightly out of context - but the EPBC Act is very specific in its duty of care to establish assessments as appropriate for any actions likely to have a significant impact on a Matter of National Environmental Significance. Long-nosed Potoroo is one such species but there may also be others in the area. Any action likely to have a significant impact is required by law to be referred to the Commonwealth Environment Minister for a decision on whether this is likely to have a significant impact. In other words, the State government does not have complete jurisidiction to authorise the fuel reduction burns. If the Commonwealth Environment Minister has not issued a decision and an action is likely to have a significant impact on any Matter of National Environmental Significance, then it simply cannot lawfully occur. In other words, until such actions are referred, they can and should be stopped. Organisations that have such an impact face fines of up to 5.5 million dollars or substantial prison sentences.
These laws exist because Australia has pledged commitment to global conservation strategies and has signed multi-lateral agreements with a large proportion of other countries in the world. I am shocked and appalled that Australia can allow such procedures to go ahead without any form of formal assessment or management. I have no problem with fuel reduction burns at all, in fact I think they are a good idea in general, but not the way that they are being done now.
I will be equally appalled if every other member of birding-aus does not email similar concerns over the next few days, copying these to the Federal and State Environment Ministers. To not do so will be an indictment on the natural history past-times we all pursue, and will negate the enormous benefit that birding and other natural history knowledge has given Australia's society for decades. Otherwise, one would ask what is the Atlas of Victorian Wildlife for, other than to become a record of the continuing demise of our rare species to extinction.
Kind regards,
Simon Mustoe.
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