Creating Bushfire Hazards
By Viv Forbes, Chairman,
A recent report from friends who suffered terrible losses of buildings, fences, pasture and cattle in the Coonabarabran fire commenced with the ominous and oft-repeated message: “a raging fire came out of the National Park straight for us”.
There is only one way to limit fire damage – reduce the fuel available.
Fuel load can be reduced in three ways – by grazing animals, by planned small “cool” fires, or by mechanical reduction with slashers, mulchers or dozers.
Australia’s grassland landscape was created and managed by generations of Aborigines who were masters at using man’s most useful tool – fire. Every explorer from Abel Tasman (1642) and Captain Cook (1770) onwards noted the smoke in the sky and the burnt trees whenever they landed. This burning created the open grassland landscapes that dominated pre-European Australia. Aborigines lit fires continually, mainly to keep their fires sticks alight. Their small patchwork fires caused no permanent damage to the environment and fortuitously created and maintained the healthy grasslands and open forests on which many animals and Aborigines depended.
There have been two major changes to the tree/grass balance since European settlement. In the fertile well-watered coastal strip, large areas of thick scrub and open forest were logged and cleared for timber, farms, towns, roads, schools and the domesticated grasses of suburban lawns. Most of those trees have been displaced by those people who now, in ignorance, are also destroying the grasslands and remaining open forests by locking up land and preventing any form of regrowth control. Having destroyed much of the coastal forests and scrubs, they are now destroying the open forests and grasslands.
Misguided tree lovers and green politicians have locked the gates on ever-increasing areas of land for trees, parks, heritage, wilderness, habitat, weekend retreats, carbon sequestration etc. Never before on this ancient continent has anyone tried to ban land use or limit bushfires on certain land. The short-sighted policy of surrounding their massive land-banks with fences, locked gates, fire bans and exclusion of livestock has created a new alien environment in Australia. They have created tinder boxes where the growth of woody weeds and the accumulation of dead vegetation in eucalypt re-growth create the perfect environment for fierce fires.
Once ignited by lightning, carelessness, or arson, the inevitable fire-storms incinerate the park trees and wildlife, and then invade the unfortunate neighbouring properties.
Many of today’s locked-up areas were created to sequester carbon to fulfil Kyoto obligations. Who pays the carbon tax on the carbon dioxide released to the atmosphere by wild fires?
The green bureaucracies and politicians are clearly mis-managing their huge land-bank. Aborigines and graziers did a far better job. There should be a moratorium on locking up any more land and a return to sustainable management for existing land holdings.
For a fascinating report on the condition of Australia when Europeans arrived.
An Environmentalist writes about ‘Hazard Reduction Burning:
Abel Tasman comment, Nov - Dec 1642. From Blainey’s “Triumph of the Nomads”, p 67.
“He sent men ashore - and they returned with the news that the trunks of many trees had been deeply burned and that patches of earth had been baked hard by fire. There was no sign of the Tasmanians but the smoke of their fires could be seen from the ship when she anchored or sailed along the east coast”.
From the Journals of Captain James Cook, Sat 28th April 1770, Botany Bay:
“After this we made an excursion into the country which we found diversified with woods, lawns and marshes; the woods are free from under wood of every kind and the trees are at such a distance from one a nother that the whole country or at least a great part of it might be cultivated without being oblig’d to cut down a single tree;…”
(The Grassy Plains of Queensland in the 1860’s)
Richard Daintree was a, scientist, explorer, pastoralist, miner and historian. He spent much time in the years 1860 – 1876 exploring, photographing and promoting Queensland. A large collection of Daintree’s photographs is held in the Queensland Museum, and some were published by the Queensland Museum in 1977 in “Queensland in the 1860’s – the Photography of Richard Daintree”, by Ian G Sanker.
Here is a picture taken by Daintree, in the Richmond area -not a tree to be seen. Daintree wrote about the vast soil-covered plains: “The resulting physical aspect is that of vast plains which form the principal feature of Queensland scenery west of the main dividing range”. He described them as first class pastoral country totalling about one third of the area of Queensland.
“Having destroyed much of the coastal forests and scrubs, coastal dwellers are now destroying the open forests and grasslands by locking up the land or preventing any form of regrowth control.” Viv Forbes