3 April 2024

Climate change narrowing the windows of opportunity to conduct hazard reduction burns in the ACT

| Claire Fenwicke
Join the conversation
Firefighters undertaking a prescribed hazard reduction burn in Canberra

The ACT has been conducting fewer prescribed burns to reduce bushfire risk than in previous years. Photo: ESA.

Government ministers and agency officials have admitted fewer hazard reduction burns have been occurring across Canberra – and climate change appears to be to blame.

They were presented with concerns that all types of hazard reduction burns (such as prescribed and cultural or cool burning) were being conducted on fewer days than previously seen during a public hearing into the ACT environment’s bushfire preparedness.

Environment and Land Management Minister Rebecca Vassarotti said this type of bushfire risk management was becoming more challenging due to climate change.

“We’ve come off the back of a very strange weather pattern over the past few years that has significantly impacted on our ability [to conduct hazard reduction burns]. We’ve had to do things quite differently,” she said.

“It has also changed the risk profile of what we have been dealing with … certainly we’ve been doing less [burns] than we’d like to.

“You’ve got to have the conditions just right and the windows [to do so] have narrowed.”

READ ALSO ANU students pulled safely from Jenolan Caves in ‘exhausting’ overnight rescue

Soil moisture levels, weather conditions and available personnel and resources are just some of the factors to consider when planning a burn.

Higher than average rainfall has made burns difficult in catchment areas, such as the Namadgi National Park.

ACT Rural Fire Service chief officer Rohan Scott pointed out that all Australian jurisdictions were behind on the number of burns they wanted to complete.

The ACT doesn’t have a targeted area to burn but follows a ‘risk residual model’.

“The weather has not been in our favour for the past four years,” Mr Scott said.

“Where we typically wouldn’t burn [previously], we have been burning – so we’ve been burning in the height of the fire season, which normally we wouldn’t do, which shows the change in the climate as well.”

Research about the changing climate also suggests that times that were previously considered inappropriate for burns are now acceptable.

The Parks and Conservation Service (PCS) works closely with the Emergency Services Agency (ESA) to manage fire risk. The ESA mainly manages grasslands, while the PCS focuses on forested areas.

Fire and Emergency Services Minister Mick Gentleman pointed out the agencies had also been looking at other hazard reduction methods beyond burning to manage fuel loads.

“There’s much more strategic grazing than ever before, much more slashing … using rural colleagues as well to ensure we can keep fuel loads down,” he said.

READ ALSO Your views invited to update National Water Initiative

Concerns around track maintenance were also raised in previous hearings.

Former PCS Fire Forest and Roads senior director Neil Cooper had raised concerns there had been a decreasing capability in the unit and that the focus on track management had “gone downhill”.

He raised specific concerns about the main access for the northern part of Namadgi National Park, which had been closed in early February for safety reasons.

“One [issue] is a lack of skilled people who know about forest fire-trail maintenance. You cannot grab a contractor doing the Northbourne flats and say, ‘Go up and fix a road in Namadgi’,” Mr Cooper said.

“You have to go through ESOs (Environmental Significance Opinions) to effectively upgrade a road that has been there forever. It defies logic to me, and that is a real impediment to getting things done.”

In his submission, Mr Cooper also voiced concerns that road trail maintenance had reverted to how it was before the 2003 fires, that “history seems to be repeating itself”.

“Many of the tracks and trails remain inaccessible and overgrown, and the focus on an effective trail network has decreased to an alarmingly low level,” he submitted.

“With climate change and expected weather patterns that will produce fire behaviour that we have possibly not expected in the past, it is not the time to fall behind in this critical aspect of fire management.

“Everyone knows that a fast, effective initial attack on any ignition is essential to ultimate success and that to do this, there is an absolute requirement for good access.”

Ms Vassarotti said fires didn’t just impact trail management work but also floods and the raised water table, but stressed additional work was underway to examine how PCS manages fire trails.

Included in this work is the ACT’s first audit of its road drainage assets, with more than 5000 culverts and engineered crossings already examined and about 1700 to go.

“[We’re looking] at the trails to understand what we’ve got, how we’re using them and how they’re being maintained,” Ms Vassarotti said.

The audit of road drainage assets is currently underway.

Join the conversation

All Comments
  • All Comments
  • Website Comments

“How dare you question the science”

– the science

“Don’t hold it against me that the science changed, like it does”

– the science

The other point I’d make is, imagine thinking science and the scientific institutions are the same thing. Honestly, anyone who thinks that way is too naive to be allowed out on their own – right up there with believing that science exists in a vacuum and doesn’t depend on the presuppositions of the scientist (or ‘scientist’), and can’t be skewed by the weaknesses in their abilities.

In this regard, it’s almost pointless to argue the science in this matter, as each side will have their version of events, which reflect the views they take into it to begin with. More fruitful is it to take a critical look at these views and see which better aligns with reality.

Without a doubt, humans are generally not rational, unbiased, truth loving, selfless, generous, brave, self-aware or humble, hence the almost non-stop trouble with corruption in high places, pretty much almost since the beginning of time. And yet somehow this immense weight of cold, hard evidence means nothing in the face of today’s superhuman scientist, who slips on her white lab coat, does a little twirl, and is able to bucks thousands of years of history for some reason we can’t tell.

And I’ve got some cheap ocean front property in Alice Springs for sale

Hazard reduction burns contribute to our reportable emissions.
If we want to get Net 0 we’ll have to plant a million trees a year to cover the CO2 from bush fires. However if we also plant a million trees we’ll need to do more backburning, so the year after it’ll be 2 million trees. And the problem was solved forever.

If there was less spent on Barr’s Folly (aka light rail), there would be more available for the upkeep on Canberra and its environs including hazard reduction. Just sayin’ !

Perhaps you need to read the article again. No-one has suggested that hazard reduction burns are not being undertaken because of lack of funding … it’s due to less opportunity to do so because of weather.

Simple, conduct burn offs by using EV firetrucks to offset CO2 emissions

Capital Retro12:35 pm 04 Apr 24

We are supposed to be getting 200mm of rain in the next two days.

@Capital Retro
Yep. More climate change induced weather restricting reduction burns, CR!

Capital Retro7:55 pm 04 Apr 24

The report also said it was an East Coast Low. That’s about the weather, not the climate.

@Capital Retro
Did I say anything different, CR?

Barmaleo Barmaley11:00 am 04 Apr 24

Fewer burns means more chances to catch a bushfire. More bushfires make a good TV picture to carry out the “global warming” agenda, which purpose is reduction in standards of living for large part of population and eventual depopulation of the planet.

@Barmaleo Barmaley
Nice conspiracy theory … shame the science is against you. Though I will concede that failure to act on anthropogenic climate change will lead to the eventual depopulation of the planet.

Daily Digest

Want the best Canberra news delivered daily? Every day we package the most popular Riotact stories and send them straight to your inbox. Sign-up now for trusted local news that will never be behind a paywall.

By submitting your email address you are agreeing to Region Group's terms and conditions and privacy policy.