Certainly not stewardship

Published 03/01/13 | by Don Butcher

Letter to the editor

Every year the Department of Sustainability and Environment plans a state-wide burn program. The planned burn program for 2012 was 225,000 hectares with 197,149 hectares successfully completed. According to the DSE’s website, the Victorian Government is committing to completing planned burns on 5% of public land – approximately 390,000 hectares.

Ecological impacts of fire play a seemingly minor role in the decision making process. The majority of decisions lie with the intent to meet the targets and so hopefully protect communities and constructed, non-natural assets. Don Butcher writes regarding one casualty of this approach

The Victorian Government’s burn targets pay little attention to local ecological impacts. This is extremely upsetting, as this negligence, typical of recent governments, is the single most threatening process to many of our natural areas.

This large redgum (above) was killed by a DSE burn in Wartook State Forest in western Victoria. These old trees are important assets, providing homes for possums, gliders, owls, and lots of other wildlife. Often the oldest trees are the most fertile. This tree on Boggy Creek is one of many casualties of the burn targets.

The Department’s commitment to burn targets is a tragic result from the Bush Fire Royal Commission. The Royal Commission was not focused on landscape management – but was an enquiry driven by lawyers and politicians investigating deaths, yet made landscape management recommendations with enormous implications for the natural landscape.

In planning burns to meet ‘burn area targets’, there appears to be virtually no engagement with the local: local people or local ecology – it seems to be desktop management with little flexibility. Some vegetation types pose little risk of fire yet they are burnt, and areas burnt by wildfire can be burnt again as part of the 5% target and yet their history of a recent wildfire not taken into account.

Furthermore forestry operations and clearfell logging, which profoundly affect the flammability of the forest, appear not to have been factored in to the burn targets, or into an understanding of the impacts of the burning program.

This note does little justice to the argument against this burn or the burning program. I hesitate to call it management, but it’s certainly not stewardship.