Tony, I couldn't agree more. It has long been a bug bear of mine in
WA. But you get one major wildfire, and it is blamed on not enough
control burns (even if it is a firestorm that nothing would stop),
and they seem to be given open slather to burn anywhere.
A few thoughts I have had over the years.
1. Is this 'control burn' practice counted in the greenhouse gas
emissions? On the one hand, there are credits for locking up carbon
in plantations, etc. On the other, they ruthlessly burn the bush.
2. I have no problem with some control burns. e.g. 500 metres around
towns. 100 metres around major property. 50 metres along major
roads. But they blanket burn areas. This is legalised arson.
3. There was a proposal after the Victorian bushfires to burn
national parks in Victoria on a 20 year rotation. This was decided
that it had to be for every national park / reserve. So they were
going to burn the old growth mallee. This would have been a disaster
for mallee / spinifex species. I wrote a letter to the department
against this. I don't know the final outcome.
4. In WA, there have been occurrences where 'controlled burns' got
out of control. My understanding of the Margaret River fires is that
they tried on 13 days to set it alight, and finally succeeded on a
day of forecast severe conditions (40+ knot winds, hot weather,
etc). There have been controlled burns in the Fitzgerald River NP
that burnt out a camp ground (including the Malleefowl that had an
active mound), and almost burnt down the rangers house. There are
others I am aware of. I have heard that a control burn to protect
Western Ground Parrot habitat in Cape Arid NP got out of control and
burnt out about 40% of the WGP habitat they were trying to
protect. They did not have emergency equipment on standby (e.g. the
water bombing aircraft), or it was needed for other purposes. Was
this because the WGPs were not valuable enough.
5. My impression of CALM / then DEC / now DPaW in WA is that they
have people heavily involved in wildlife, others who are experienced
in managing reserves, and others who are experienced in fires. The
former (too few for all the conservation issues we have) don't seem
to have much influence when it comes to burning off practices.
6. In south west WA, I am sure they would like to burn more in
spring, but I think they get issues with winds, and also conditions
moving the smoke over the metropolitan area which is a bad look. So
my impression is that a lot of the control burns are done in
autumn. They always complain that they can't reach their target.
7. The Kimberley and areas such as Kakadu have the crap burnt out of
them year after year. They fly planes over dropping fire
balls. This is not good for the environment to happen year after year.
8. When I have been to inland areas with spinifex in the past few
years, it has been getting harder and harder to find areas of old
growth spinifex suitable for species such as grasswrens,
Rufous-crowned Emu-wren and Spinifexbird (plus all the mammals and
reptiles that prefer this habitat). e.g. Cape Range NP. Near
Newman. Near Paraburdoo.
9. This issue seems to be 'the white elephant in the room' to a large
extent. Noone wants to seriously discuss it. If you do, you get
attacked and all the wildfire damage is brought up, as I said as
though the lack of controlled burns is the major cause.
There does need to be some control, but I cannot agree with any
blanket burning of large areas, whether it is spring or autumn.
There, I have got it off my chest. It won't change things though.
Frank O'Connor Birding WA http://birdingwa.iinet.net.au
Phone : (08) 9386 5694 Email :
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