The ACT Government has rejected the recommendation to widen the fire break between the park and neighbouring rural landholders as the Namadgi National Park regrows, saying it is not possible to do so because of the terrain.
In its official reply to the review of ACT emergency services responses to the 2019-20 bushfire season, tabled in the Legislative Assembly on Thursday (11 February), the government said that it was not possible to maintain and construct the fire breaks along all boundaries “due to terrain, vegetation and rock”.
Rural landholders in the ACT aired their grievances with the government during the inquiry following the Orroral Valley fire, with the Rural Landholders Association (RLA) chastising the preparation that was undertaken by the Emergency Services Agency ahead of the previous fire season.
“Actions have not met the intent of the [Strategic Bushfire Management Plan] nor sufficiently protected adjacent private farmland,” the submission from the Association said.
“For example, boundary line fire trails are not maintained, so access to the park is not possible except through farms and routine management operations, like back burning and pest control, are not generally undertaken beside farmland by government-employed workers.
“The control burns in [Namadgi National Park] for fire fuel reduction before the fire season had not been undertaken to the extent intended, so the risk reduction qualities of landscape-scale mosaic burning had not been achieved.”
Other fuel management activities in the Namadgi National Park, including hazard reduction burns, physical removal and slashing, were being conducted to reduce the potential impact and fire risk to rural landholders, the government said.
Almost 30 prescribed, cultural and ecological burns are outlined in the 2020-21 Bushfire Operations Plan.
However, the ACT missed its hazard reduction targets in 2019-20 by almost 50 per cent, significantly lower than the 75 per cent completion rate it had the year before.
The reduction target was impacted by the summer’s fires and the pandemic, the latest annual report from the Environment, Planning and Sustainable Development Directorate (EPSDD) said.
Only one person was able to travel in a vehicle at any time during the pandemic, halving the available Parks and Conservation staff for around four months.
The review was conducted in the wake of the Orroral Valley fire, the Territory’s worst fire since 2003, which ended up destroying almost 80 per cent of the Namadgi National Park and almost a quarter of the ACT’s total landmass.
Of the 26 recommendations, the ACT Government agreed to two and agreed in principle to a further four, noted 18 and rejected two.