Below is our brief submission to the Review of performance targets for bushfire fuel management on public land being conducted by the Inspector-General for Emergency Management. It was submitted on behalf of the Muckleford Forest Friends Network, a loose alliance of individuals and groups who are concerned about the public land reserves that make up this connected group of forests that stretch from Newstead to Maldon.
Phascogale (Museum of Victoria image)
13 March 2015
Inspector-General for Emergency Management, Department of Justice & Regulation, GPO Box 4356, Melbourne VIC 3001
Submission to: Review of performance targets for bushfire fuel management on public land
This submission is made on behalf of a network of individuals and several local groups that live near the Muckleford Forest in Central Victoria. This Forest comprises the Muckleford State Forest, Maldon Historic Reserve and the Muckleford Nature Conservation Reserve.It is an important remnant Box-Ironbark forest that stretches between Newstead and Maldon and connects a number of private property bushland areas.
This group formed as result of concerns about the hectare-based target established by the Bushfires Royal Commission and we have been active contributors to Fire Operations Planning in this district as well as to broader consultations on the proposed risk landscapes approach. We have also been liaising with other groups across the state that share our concerns and have presented our views publicly. WE have tried to take a positive and proactive approach, and are currently engaged in submitting data on significant species in the Muckleford Forest to the Victorian Biodiversity Atlas. Some members of the network have been documenting important local species for many years and have a wealth of knowledge.
Our experience with the target-based approach is that:
- Large areas zoned Landscape Management Zone have been burnt in the Muckleford Forest to meet the target, and further areas are proposed for this autumn, autumn 2016 and beyond
- The zoning “Landscape Management Zone” indicates that these areas are NOT designated as contributing to strategic risk-reduction
- The size of the prescribed burns and the available departmental resources has meant that the burns were NOT conducted so as to meet the requirements under the Code nor the FOP
- The objectives for the Landscape Management Zone are typically expressed as: “an irregular mosaic of areas of fuel reduction which will complement works in adjacent fire management zones and can assist in ecological resilience and forest regeneration” – the planned burns based on hectare targets are not able to achieve this objective. A mosaic burn was not possible in the last large-scale burn in the southern part of the Muckleford Forest according to DSE/DEPI officers in charge and it was certainly not achieved.
- The prescriptions designed to protect significant species such as the Brush-Tailed Phascogale were not implemented, in fact no attempt was made to apply this prescription despite the fact that this forest is a known stronghold for this FFG species.
- The burn plans – that is how the burn will be implemented – are secret documents, despite the fact that we and many other people have contributed information in relation to these burns, we are never allowed to see the burn plan nor the post-burn review.
To sum up, we are completely dissatisfied with the hectare-based targets. We think that the way they are being used is damaging the Muckleford Forest, and no doubt many other places across Victoria.
First, the concept of a risk-based approach is a good one. But it must focus on the range of ways that need to be used to reduce risk, not just on fuel reduction.
We have participated in the consultations on the “risk landscapes” approach and consider that it is a step in the right direction. The development of computer modelling of bushfire behaviour for example could be of great value, as is the identification of significant ecological areas, although the work on the latter is still based on a significant paucity of data. The “risk landscapes” approach has some serious limitations:
- the vast size of the “risk landscape” – in our case from Brunswick to Bendigo – which means it is not sensitised to the variety of landscapes, vegetation types and patterns nor to their ecological needs for fire or not (the Box Ironbark forest is not reliant of fire for regeneration for example)
- the limited time and resources that have gone into these projects has limited to the ability of the dedicated teams to produce an effective outcome.
The focus on fuel distorts reality. Fuel does not cause fires – mostly it is people who do. Most fires are caused by humans – accidently, carelessly or sometimes deliberately. Tackling the cause requires education and awareness, and probably more enforcement. And while people are misled into believing that “forest fuel” is the problem, real risk-awareness and effective mitigation across our communities will not be possible.
The other aspect of a risk-based approach is “risk to what”. We think that the risks to be considered are is more than just risk to humans, although we agree that human life is precious. The pleasures of living in rural areas derives from our environment and our communities. A risk-based approach needs to consider:
- human life
- critical infrastructure
- the natural environment and other living species – on public and private land
- our towns, villages and productive farming lands.
Managing for ecological resilience
Today our forests are small remnants. They are at risk in this area from grass fires on private land. They are also at risk because of past land management practices.
We would advocate for forest recovery plans – to build the resilience of forests like the Muckleford Forest. Fire may be part of a land management practice designed to recover ecological resilience in some forests, but this requires more knowledge and a different approach to the application of fire than has been delivered by the destructive hectare-based targets.
We hope that this important review will resultant in an immediate moratorium on Landscape Management Zone burns in this area and across the Box-Ironbark forests. Instead, let’s focus on risk-reduction and ecological resilience.