Thursday, February 19, 2009

Prescribed burning controversy in Australia

As the death toll in the fires in Australia rose yesterday to 208, the controversy about prescribed burning (or "burn0ffs") continues to rage on. Many people in the states of New South Wales and Victoria blame environmental groups for throwing up roadblocks to planned hazard reducing prescribed fires. Here is an excerpt from an article in The Daily Telegraph:
What a flaming disgrace - half of NSW's burnoffs cancelled

A DECISION to cancel almost half the burn-offs planned for NSW bushfire zones has put thousands of lives and properties in danger.

Frustrated volunteer firefighters yesterday lashed out at bureaucrats and greenies for preventing them from protecting communities. In one outrageous case, a woman was told by the State Government her fire escape route would remain an overgrown mess because it was a corridor for native flora and fauna.

More than 2100 hazard reduction operations planned by the Rural Fire Service were abandoned last year, the organisation's annual report reveals.

Deputy Captain George Bennett said firefighters were so frustrated by bureaucratic hurdles they were finding legal ways to complete small burns "undercover" on private property.

He said it took some brigades 12 months to gain approval for hazard reductions. The RFS admitted one burn-off on Mona Vale Rd in Sydney recently took several years to be approved.

"There is very little hazard reduction happening because of the bureaucratic processes, quite often it gets to the stage where brigades don't do it because of the paperwork," Mr Bennett said.

"We have got a very, very dangerous situation looming here. There are no areas you could use for fire containment, we have got a situation where there is an enormous build-up of fuel.

"It will be frightening if we get harsh conditions in October. There is the potential for loss of life and property."

A firefighter from a brigade in northern NSW, who declined to be named, said his firefighters had stopped asking to do burns: "We don't bother doing it any more, it takes up to 12 months, you are only allowed to go and put fires out."

Opposition emergency services spokeswoman Melinda Pavey said "common sense has been lost in NSW land management".

"We need to move back to the middle ground for the sake of people and native animals," she said.

The RFS admitted yesterday they were sometimes told by the National Parks and Wildlife Service to move their planned burns to avoid disturbing colonies of endangered animals.

Assistant Commissioner Rob Rogers said a negotiated solution was always found and the organisation always planned more burns than they could do.

"It is to provide flexibility," he said.

"During some years there is as little as 40 days that are suitable for burning because it is too dry, too hot or too wet."
Other articles can be found HERE and HERE.

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