Com­pelling case for me­chan­i­cal fuel re­duc­tion to be em­bed­ded in a na­tional bush­fire mit­i­ga­tion strat­egy

Australian Forests and Timber - - In The News -

IT’S TIME Aus­tralia fully em­braced that there is more than one way to re­duce fuel loads in the bush, ac­cord­ing to the Aus­tralian For­est Prod­ucts As­so­ci­a­tion (AFPA).

AFPA Chief Ex­ec­u­tive Of­fi­cer Ross Hamp­ton said dif­fi­cult lessons should be learnt by Aus­tralia from the tragic loss of more than 60 lives in the cur­rent cat­a­strophic bush­fires in Por­tu­gal, to fully ex­plore al­ter­na­tive fuel re­duc­tion meth­ods. “Aus­tralia’s thoughts are with Por­tu­gal and it is a som­bre re­minder of tragic bush­fires in Vic­to­ria and other parts of Aus­tralia over the last few years,” Mr Hamp­ton said.

He said fuel re­duc­tion burn­ing had its place, but so did strate­gi­cally ap­plied ‘me­chan­i­cal fuel re­moval’, a widely ac­cepted bush­fire mit­i­ga­tion tool which is just be­gin­ning to be utilised in Aus­tralia.

“Aus­tralia is the sev­enth most forested na­tion on earth and our pop­u­la­tion of­ten live ad­ja­cent to, or even sur­rounded, by bush. Bush­fires are in­evitable. Our for­est in­dus­tries un­der­stand this and keep fire sup­pres­sion crews on 24-hour standby over sum­mer months,” Mr Hamp­ton said.

“How­ever, each year we still lose tens of thou­sands of hectares of trees – trees which in some cases have grown for decades and would have supplied re­new­able, green build­ing ma­te­ri­als and sup­ported many re­gional jobs. That is why AFPA is call­ing for a far greater fo­cus on me­chan­i­cal fuel re­duc­tion in strate­gic lo­ca­tions to help mit­i­gate wild bush­fires.”

The Fed­eral and State Gov­ern­ments are cur­rently con­duct­ing a $1.5 mil­lion ‘Me­chan­i­cal Fuel Re­moval Pi­lot Pro­gram’ in NSW, Vic­to­ria and Western Aus­tralia. These tri­als will re­veal how a com­bi­na­tion of ma­chin­ery re­moval of fuel with burn­ing off, in strate­gic zones, can re­duce the sever­ity of fires.

“The tri­als are a wel­come first step, but ar­guably the ex­ist­ing ev­i­dence al­ready makes a com­pelling case for me­chan­i­cal fuel re­duc­tion to be em­bed­ded in a na­tional bush­fire mit­i­ga­tion strat­egy. AFPA urges the Fed­eral and State gov­ern­ments to com­plete the tri­als ur­gently and for a much larger pro­gram to be ini­ti­ated,” Mr Hamp­ton said.

In the United States, for ex­am­ple, there is a 10 year, $400 mil­lion pro­gram into me­chan­i­cal fuel re­duc­tion to im­prove for­est health and re­duce bush­fire risk. A re­port by Deloitte Ac­cess Eco­nom­ics (DAE) into the eco­nom­ics of ‘me­chan­i­cal fuel re­moval’ found that re­mov­ing fuel from the bush, in com­bi­na­tion with fuel re­duc­tion burn­ing, could dra­mat­i­cally re­duce the dam­age caused by bush­fires and save the com­mu­nity tens of mil­lions of dol­lars each year. AFPA’s re­cent pol­icy pro­posal ‘Can We Bet­ter Fire-proof Our Coun­try Towns?’ de­tails the case for strate­gic me­chan­i­cal fuel re­duc­tion and was prompted by the loss of the whole town of Yar­loop in Western Aus­tralia in a bush­fire in Jan­uary 2016.

Aus­tralia’s thoughts are with Por­tu­gal. It is a som­bre re­minder of tragic bush­fires in Vic­to­ria and other parts of Aus­tralia over the last few years

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