It’s that time of year again. I’m referring to the bushfire season, which used to peak in February but which in the last couple of years has arrived in December and stayed, grinning like a ghastly death’s head, until March or so.
And just as the arrival of January heralds the first hot cross buns on the supermarket shelves, and Melbourne Cup day sees hundreds of amateur gardeners planting their tomatoes, and August-September brings swooping magpies, the Bushfire Season brings out people trying to make political capital out of native forests in National Parks by telling us they’re the cause of all the trouble.
These people will tell you that National Parks lock up the forests (no-one’s locking you out of the national park unless it’s a revegetation area, unless perhaps you’re welded to the seat of your trail bike). They will tell you that fuel reduction burning isn’t conducted in national parks (it is– but national parks staff need money to do their work, and now it’s all about tax cuts and reductions in public spending.) They will talk about fuel reduction burning as if it’s a simple technique that can be employed all year round (it can’t, and weird weather patterns have prevented people doing it all over the state). They will talk about Aboriginal firestick forest management (while they, themselves, want to do clearfelling or recreational 4 wheel driving or road building, which I don’t think really featured in traditional Aboriginal land management– and that wouldn’t have been on anything like the scale of modern whitefella land use).
Locking up is the operative word here. Because the forests in National Parks are locked up, they are getting too big for their boots and are causing all these horrible fires. If the recreational-outdoors types who complain about National Parks were able to build more roads, drive 4WD vehicles and trail bikes, shoot, smoke cigarettes, build huntin’ lodges and other developments there, well, there wouldn’t be any more bushfires. The rest of this group are the Forestry (in Victoria and Tasmania, read “Woodchipping”) afictionados.
What they mean is, they’re locking up the forests to their profitmaking activities.
I wrote to the AGE to say that I’d noted the opinion page article on this topic by a the CEO of the National Association of Forest Industries (NAFI), and looked forward to seeing an opinion piece on Victoria’s blood supplies by the CEO of Vampires R Us Inc. They didn’t print it. . But Gavan McFadzean from the Wilderness Society did a good job of replying to the NAFI annual spin. The ACF also has a good fact sheet on this topic.
It all sounds so reasonable on the face of it. Get rid of all the old growth forest and there’s nothing to worry about. Well, no. Have a look at this list of major fires in the last century and a half. You’ll see a lot of State forest, plantations, grassland. Most of the areas cited are farmland. Bottom line, as McFadzean points out, most fires don’t start in National Parks and those that do are overwhelmingly caused by Homo Sapiens doing the wrong thing.
After Murphy and McFadzean had had a go, a member of “Forest Fire Vic” weighed in with this article, which was more sensible than Abetz (no great feat), but still ended up pretty much bagging the Green movement, Parks Victoria and Forests Au Naturel in general. “Forest Fire Vic” seems to be related to the Stretton Group.
The Stretton Group is a small collection of disgruntled aging firefighters, foresters, and McArthur who want to keep the status quo. They hate national parks, have contempt for NP staff, and want to return to the good ol’ days of fire fighting.
It comes as no shock that logging, mountain cattle grazing, and mass burnoffs are the solution to the fire problem.
And this is how these guys operate. When a fire starts, they start writing letters to papers. When the fires are finally extinguished they hold public meetings to bitch and moan about poorly resourced National Parks and fire fighters who are not allowed to aggressively fight fires. They prey on traumatized people who have lost houses, stock, fences etc and feed them half-baked information.
Let’s have some (shock horror) tax-and-spend activity and do some actual research into how Aboriginal firestick farming works, before the people who might remember anything are all dead. And let’s fund the National Parks people adequately so that they can do the maintenance that is required to keep feral animals, weeds, and unnatural fires out of the parks. And let’s not give the land up to the commercial foresters and woodchippers to despoil and create more fire-prone areas.
And while we’re about it, with all the airspace that’s being devoted to water issues, let’s stop clear felling old-growth in Melbourne’s water catchment areas.