Our submission on The Fire Operations Plan

map for submission 2015-18Below is our submission on the Fire Operation Plan 2015-2018: Murray Goldfields Region – Muckleford Forest, Maldon Historic Reserve & Surrounds



30 August 2015

TO: Program Manager Planned Burning and Roading PO Box 905 Mildura VIC 3502 loddonmallee.plannedburning@delwp.vic.gov.au

Dear Program Manager,

Submission on the Fire Operation Plan 2015-2018 Murray Goldfields Region – Muckleford Forest, Maldon Historic Reserve & Surrounds

This submission is being made on behalf of a network of local people and organisations – the Muckleford Forest Friends Network – focusing on the Muckleford Forest district (see map).

We have made submissions on FOPs each year since 2011 and been actively involved in the fire management planning over that time.

Consultation on the current Fire Operations Plan

Thank you for the opportunity to attend the open house consultation on 11 August 2015 in Bendigo to talk with DELWP officers about the draft Fire Operations Plan for the Murray Goldfields district that is part of the larger Loddon Mallee Region.

We really appreciated the opportunity to discuss specific issues with DELWP officers, rather than attending a presentation. It was disappointing that it was not possible to hold a session in Castlemaine.

It was also disappointing that the interactive map was not available with the release of the draft FOP as it enables the community to easily identify the location and timing of proposed burns.

Risk-based fire planning

It is good to see that a risks-based approach is starting to be evident in the FOP planning process and that the focus for prescribed burns seems to be increasingly on directly protecting settlements, towns and other economic assets.

At the same time, this approach will offer benefits for our natural bush landscapes, biodiversity and cultural heritage sites by protecting the forested landscapes we value highly.

We are pleased to see that ALL of the proposed burns in the Muckleford Forest (all in the Landscape Management Zones) have been removed from the FOP 2015-2018.

As we have advocated in previous submissions, we would like to see a recovery plan for the Muckleford Forest, based on building resilience and biodiversity, and respecting the fire tolerance intervals established by scientific studies undertaken by your department in the recent past. We believe that there would be considerable local support for such an initiative.

Rationale for prescribed burns

It is disappointing that there is no clear rationale for the overall prescribed burns area target for our Murray Goldfields district (and presumably this is true for the whole state), and that the planned contribution of the Murray Goldfields district is proposed to increase to 11,285 hectares per year for the next three years, an increase back to the level of prescribed burns in 2012/13. We hope that the amount of actual area treated by prescribed burns can be reduced and focused on risk reduction.

Equally it is disappointing that the rationale for each burn continues to be presented to the community in the FOP as a standardised phrase or sentence, rather than presenting an accurate and clearly defined purpose for each burn. This should change so that the community can appreciate the intention of each burn, can see how it relates to risk and to the safety of particular communities or other assets, and can monitor the outcomes of these burns for themselves. This would be one way to help build a more informed and engaged community.

Biodiversity and large scale burns

We think it is of critical importance that the objectives and approach to large-scale burns (whether in LMZ or BMZ) should be more specifically defined and subject to further engagement with communities and local experts. These burns have the greatest potential to cause ecological damage, and good practice should require the greatest care and real transparency in their planning and delivery.

Our experience is that these burns have not been planned based on a good understanding of the biodiversity of each proposed burn area, and pre-burn surveys of species are not done. We appreciate that resources available to DELWP may be limited, but our view is still that the current approach does not protect biodiversity and may not accord with the government’s legal responsibilities.

One of DELWP’s hand-outs suggested a notional 37 years between prescribed burns, potentially being 74 years if only 50% of an area is burnt. As has been established by your own departments scientists, Box-Ironbark forests are NOT fire dependent – that is they do not need fire for regeneration and although they can tolerate fire, too frequent fire will eliminate important species. We believe that there needs to be longer-term planning for public land management so that we can rebuild resilience into our forest landscapes. If fire is to continue to be used as a management tool, greater pre- and post-monitoring will be needed to ensure species are not being depleted or, in the worst case, lost.

Risk and the whole landscape

The Muckleford Forest includes a number of areas now disconnected and given separate names including the Maldon Historic Reserve to the east of Maldon. Some parts of this forest are now privately owned. We appreciate that DELWP’s focus is on public land, however we look forward to a time when a landscape-scale approach can be implemented with government agencies and communities working together. It is apparent that a greater focus is needed on grass fires originating on private land as these are the most common types of fires in this area, often putting both settlements and remnant bushland at risk.

The Newstead Community Plan proposes the development of a public-private landscape-scale approach to fire risk management, and now could be a good time for DELWP to consider getting involved. If there is interest from the department, please contact the undersigned for more information on this project.

Proposed burns in our area

We are aware that there are two previously approved, large scale burns in our area and we would like to be included in consultations and planning so that we can contribute local knowledge and perspectives into the planning of these two burns. We note that they are not scheduled until 2018 and we support this timing as we believe that it will enable adequate planning and consultation time.

  1. Maldon – Goughs Range: 160.8ha, scheduled for autumn 2018
  2. Maldon – Mt Tarrengower: 518.6 ha, also scheduled for autumn 2018

We would also like to be consulted in any zoning reviews that we understand may arise from the Landscape Risk initiative.

Finally, thank you for the opportunity to provide a response to the Fire Operation Plan 2015-2018 in relation to the Murray Goldfields District.

Yours sincerely

Ms Chris Johnston: On behalf of Muckleford Forest Friends Network.


One response to “Our submission on The Fire Operations Plan

  1. Thanks Chris, This is excellent and states very clearly our perspectives. Looking forward to DELWP’s thoughtful and considered response! Cheers Saide

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