Bushfire review: Prevention is better than cure

21 April 2020

The peak organisation representing over 1,000 professional and scientific forest land managers have stressed the need to prioritise broadscale fire preparedness in place of fire suppression as they put forward their submission to the Independent Review into South Australia’s 2019/20 bushfire season.

Institute of Foresters of Australia and Australian Forest Growers (IFA/AFG) President, Bob Gordon said the IFA/AFG was deeply concerned the current focus of forest fire management on fire suppression in lieu of prescribed burning had led to devastating consequences.

“Prioritising fire suppression activities while failing to effectively reduce fuel loads through prescribed burning has unintentionally increased human and wildlife deaths, caused greater damage to assets, increased environmental degradation and led to spiralling total fire costs,” Mr Gordon said.

“Despite previous Royal Commissions recommending a greater focus on fire preparedness and prescribed burning, we have seen expenditures on fire suppression, especially aircraft related activities skyrocket relative to expenditure on preventative wildfire mitigation.

“While in the short-term a fire suppression focus drives down the area burnt by wildfire, over time it allows forest fuel levels to increase over the majority of the forest, thereby increasing the intensity of wildfires when they occur, and in turn the human, environmental and economic costs incurred.

“It is imperative Government turns their attention towards managing forest fuel levels across the entire forested landscape if the number and costs of wildfires are to be reduced.”

The IFA/AFG’s submission contained 10 recommendations relating to the review’s terms of reference, including prioritising off-season fuel reduction burning, increasing community awareness about the benefits of prescribed burning and auditing South Australia’s implementation of previous bushfire inquiries. Mr Gordon said the IFA/AFG welcomed the inquiry but stressed the importance of its final recommendations being followed through on.

“This inquiry is a welcome opportunity for stakeholders to have some influence on long overdue improvements to South Australian forest fire management,” Mr Gordon said.

“However, we have also made submissions to many previous similar inquiries throughout Australia and subsequently watched in concern as recommended changes have not been fully implemented.

“Active forest management can play a vital role in increasing South Australia’s capacity to mitigate the social, environmental and economic costs of future bushfire seasons.

“Maintaining a strong native forest timber industry is integral to reducing the risk of catastrophic bushfire events, which is more important than ever as Australia faces hotter and drier conditions as a result of climate change. “This fire benefit is two pronged.

Firstly, active forest management significantly reduces potential fuel loads of fires and secondly, having experienced forest managers and timber crews on the ground and equipped with the skills and resources to mount rapid attacks is an ideal first response to any fire outbreaks.”

A full copy of IFA/AFG’s submission can be viewed HERE


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