Me­chan­i­cal tri­als for an­other tool in for­est man­age­ment

Australian Forests and Timber - - FIRE - By Sen­a­tor Anne Ruston As­sis­tant Min­is­ter for Agri­cul­ture and Wa­ter Re­sources

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.

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