Mechanical trials for another tool in forest management
TRIALS TAKING place in three states are aimed at assessing the effectiveness of mechanical bushfire fuel reduction as another potential tool in fire and forest management.
The Coalition Government has allocated $1.5 million from the $15 million National Bushfire Mitigation Program for mechanical fuel load reduction trials at in New South Wales, Victoria and Western Australia.
All rural and regional communities understand the need to manage fire in the landscape, to prepare for the fire season and build fire-risk mitigation capabilities.
The program recognises that state emergency management agencies are best placed to identify bushfire risks and to undertake mitigation measures appropriate to each situation, and provides funding for the implementation of long-term bushfire mitigation strategies and improved fuel reduction activities.
State and territory governments are also supporting the trials with funding and other contributions, with activities including constructing and maintaining fire trails, implementing prescribed burning, and implementing strategies to preserve critical infrastructure.
The mechanical fuel reduction trials are investigating whether there are operational and economic advantages in the mechanical removal of fuels in addition to, or as an alternative to, prescribed or planned burning. They’re focused on peri-urban areas where there may be community concerns that could prevent prescribed burning because of issues associated with smoke and air quality. The trials are also targeting areas with specific conservation values, where the use of fire may not be appropriate.
Mechanical removal of fuels may reduce fire risk without impacting on a specific conservation value being protected.
The Coalition Government has partnered with the NSW Government to coordinate and manage the trials, which are scheduled to begin in spring 2016. The trial results are likely to be available late in 2017, depending on the length and severity of this coming fire season – as those involved in the trials may also be called on to respond to fires or fire risks.
Three trial locations and providers have been contracted. Trials on the Mid-North Coast of NSW will be delivered by Forestry Corporation of NSW. The trials in East Gippsland will be delivered by VicForests, and the trials in south west Western Australia will be delivered by the University of the Sunshine Coast in partnership with the Forest Products Commission Western Australia, the Department of Parks and Wildlife Western Australia, and Western Australia Plantation Resources.
In addition, consultants have been contracted to collect data and information from all three trial sites to determine whether mechanical fuel load reduction, compared to fuel reduction burning, is acceptable to the community, cost effective, mechanically feasible, and critically able to reduce fire risk across the landscape.
By undertaking trials we will be able to implement evidence-based prevention and management. Our hope is that these trials will give us another tool in the arsenal—like planned burning—especially around key assets or high conservation value areas where planned burns pose too high a risk.
Developing these tools has potential to benefit communities who currently deal with smoke haze during planned burns, as well as forest managers and potentially the front line—our hard working fire management agencies and volunteers.
■ Senator Ruston.