A Royal Commission should not only be informed by popularist sentiment, but also factual information from non-partisan sources, says Lionel Elmore. Some views are being silenced.
The recent rain and storms have doused dozens of deliberately lit fires in Victoria that are supposedly designed to make the state safer post-Black Saturday. The ramping up or even the continuation of an accelerated program of deliberately lit fires has happened almost in contempt of the Royal Commission, which was established to look at all aspects of fire management.
The Victorian Bushfire Royal Commission has heard from many academics and forest industry advocates in support of burning the bush deliberately and more frequently -- even a US-based scientist advocating
the same based on experience in Florida!
Wildfires, ecological burns (i.e. in national parks and reserves), asset protection burns, regeneration burns after logging, etc -- they're all not being considered as fuel reducing. It's important the Royal Commission discovers why not -- it is counter intuitive.
Increasingly, wild fires are not fought but "dragged around". A small lightning-strike fire was relit with "back burns" enough to take the Wilson's Promontory fire through 360 degrees back to where it started over weeks -- burning most of the national Park. This was instead of being put out the day after Black Saturday when it was the size of a suburban block.
This was an "opportunistic ecological burn" that destroyed infrastructure, saw the bulldozing of bush to create fire breaks and is still having a major impact on tourism locally. Ecologically these fires may have increased plant diversity, but what of the impact on mammals, birds and reptiles, especially given the loss of hundreds of tree hollows many need to breed?
Botanists in Australia are keener on fires than most for plant biodiversity -- but they often have little interest and no qualifications to estimate their impact on animals, water, etc -- let alone tourism.
Even the commonly used term "fuel reduction burning" is misleading. Fires can kill trees leaving standing dead timber and increase fuel loads and increase the heat of future fires.
The Bushfire Co-operative Research Centre would appear way "too partisan" to independently inform the Royal Commission. Its board
includes known public advocates for increased burning and key fire managers from the Department of Sustainability and Environment -- a body that should be the subject of the Royal Commission's investigations.
The negative impact of burning forests on water supplies is well documented yet it does not seem to be considered. Only the advice of "roving academics" with "chairs" in universities has been heard public -- often contradicting decades of research on the impact of fire on the Melbourne Water supply catchment, for instance.
The bush is still rife with stories of "overtime burns" lit on Fridays, fires being prolonged and relit for financial gain, timber being stolen in creating fire breaks, etc. But no one is game to speak up.
Before the Royal Commission concludes, witnesses must be given the opportunity to present their evidence "in camera", confident it will remain confidential -- people who work in the bush reliant on DSE and Parks Victoria for current or future full-time and contract employment but also have critical first-hand information. They have effectively been silenced by the Royal Commission process to date.
If there is an adversarial argument regarding the use of fire to prevent fire, the full impact of radically increasing that amount of deliberately lit fire as opposed to rapidly putting fires out and not burning surely must be considered. A Royal Commission should not only be informed by popularist sentiment but also factual information from "non partisan" sources.