A more concerted effort is needed to manage fuel loads in Queensland’s landscape to reduce future bushfire risks, according to Timber Queensland CEO, Mick Stephens.
Mr Stephens, speaking in the wake of the fires that burnt an estimated 1m hectares in central and north Queensland in late November and early December, praised the state’s fire and emergency services for their response to the various emergencies, saying their professionalism had been exceptional.
“We recognise the brave work they do in ensuring public safety and fighting dangerous fires,” he said.
Fire management has always been a high priority for the timber industry, and Mr Stephens, who worked on forestry climate change mitigation with the Canadian Forest Service from 1998 to 2000, said it was timely to be looking at longer-term risk factors contributing to the impacts and severity of bushfires in Queensland.
In a 2010 paper titled Bushfire, Forests and Land Management Policy Under a Changing Climate, he said there was growing recognition that the problem of mega-fires, which have been increasing in scale and intensity in southern Australia, was essentially a land management issue.
“High fire risk is attributed to a passive land management approach that has altered natural fire regimes and allowed an excessive build-up in forest fuel loads,” he wrote. “Fuel reduction is not considered a panacea for fire prevention and management, but if conducted across a large enough area and at the right intervals, can assist with fire suppression for a range of weather conditions.”
It was his contention that the use of fuel reduction strategies for long-term fire prevention had been problematic.
“Without a strategic landscape approach to fuel reduction such as large scale mosaic burns, small scale burns are unlikely to be effective,” he quoted. “The lack of a strategic landscape approach reflects the fragmentation of forest landscapes with multiple land tenures and agencies that often have conflicting objectives.”
He also said the increased focus on climate change as a global environmental issue had brought about sweeping policy changes aimed at embracing carbon sequestration.
As well as researching landscape fire modelling and different management regimes, Mr Stephens said land use zoning and planning, firebreaks and access trails, grazing, ecological burning, fuel reduction burning, and vegetation clearing and thinning were all measures that could be used.
Speaking last week, he said there had been a decline in the amount of fuel reduction generally undertaken in many public native forests and woodlands in Australia over the past few decades, which had simply increased the extent and severity of bushfires when weather conditions turn for the worst.
“Some of the reasons relate to the narrow window of safe burning days and concerns over smoke in built-up areas, and a passive approach to fuel management particularly in protected land areas such as reserves,” he said.
“We are calling on the state government to ensure adequate resources and policies are directed at promoting longer-term fuel management on public and private land, which can assist in reducing the risks of more intense and large-scale bushfires.
This can be a win-win for the community and environmental protection as well as for rural based industries such as forestry and agriculture, and should be an important part of an overall risk mitigation strategy.”