After the Bushfires, What Now?

After the Bushfires, What Now? By Roger Underwood.

On one side are the land and bushfire managers, land owners and volunteer firefighters, people who deal with fire in the real world. They are all calling for more prescribed burning, knowing that it will mitigate bushfire intensity, making fires easier and safer to control.

Loud in opposition are the green academics and environmentalists, usually supported by the ABC, claiming that fuel reduction does not work, and even if it did, this would be a pyrrhic victory, because the burning would have destroyed our fragile biodiversity. …

What is new, however, is the entry into the debate of a third party: the self-styled “Fire Chiefs”. They disdain fuel reduction and have little interest in biodiversity, but are fixated on climate change. … The “Fire Chiefs” argue that the first priority for Australian governments must be to reduce CO2 emissions. They assert that if this is done, the Australian climate will become so mild and damp that bushfires will no longer be a problem. …

Fuel reduction saved the forest to the left of the road

To be honest, I despair over the attitudes of those who oppose fuel reduction burning. It is not just that their arguments are invalid, it is that they cannot or will not see this. The burning-destroys-the-biodiversity story simply does not hold water. I have yet to hear of one plant or animal in Australia that has become extinct, or that has even become endangered as a result of a properly executed fuel reduction burning program. On the contrary, forests subjected to periodic mild-intensity burning are healthier, more beautiful, more productive and more biodiverse that are those that are either long-unburnt, or incinerated in a mega-inferno.

As for the belief that a fuel reduction program has no benefit in wildfire control, I can only conclude that those who think this have no real-world bushfire experience. The value of fuel reduction can be argued by simple physics: less fuel, smaller fire. But better than that, it is reinforced by the experiences of firefighters on the ground on thousands of occasions. Furthermore, those arguing against fuel reduction burning often shoot themselves in the foot, when they say “OK, let’s do some, but only around the boundaries of residential areas”. This is a clear admission that it works and that they know it works. …

The alliance between “Fire Chiefs” and environmentalists … is easily explained: blaming climate change for the bushfires excuses both groups from any accountability: the “Fire Chiefs” who failed to prepare the country when they were running the show, and the environmentalists who have opposed and successfully constrained responsible bushfire management over the last twenty years.

Ideology (of the left) versus reality, yet another battleground.