Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
Disclaimer: The Parliamentary Library does not warrant or accept liability for the accuracy or usefulness of the transcripts. These are copied directly from the broadcaster's website.
Environmentalists accused over hazard reducti -

View in ParlViewView other Segments

Environmentalists accused over hazard reduction

The World Today - Thursday, 12 February , 2009 12:29:00

Reporter: Oscar McLaren

BRENDAN TREMBATH: Fires are still burning across Victoria but already there are accusations that
outspoken environmentalists have contributed to the severity of the fires.

Some environmentalists are being accused of putting the welfare of native habitat before the
welfare of humans.

A former specialist in fire weather says the environmental movement has undermined hazard reduction
policies .

Oscar McLaren filed this report.

OSCAR MCLAREN: The devastation brought by the Victorian bushfires is of a magnitude not seen
before.

But David Packham of Monash University says there's a clear explanation for that.

DAVID PACKHAM: The green movement has developed a manifesto that prescribed burning is not a good
thing for our environment and that in fact they have gone so far now, there are scientific papers
where they say this, that these large, disastrous fires are actually good for our biodiversity.

Now my view is that that's absolutely rubbish.

OSCAR MCLAREN: David Packham says fire management has been taking place in Australia for 40,000
years but present policies have changed those practices.

DAVID PACKHAM: If you can reduce your fuels by one-tenth, you actually reduce your fire intensity
by one-hundredth and that is what the Indigenous people did in their stewardship of Australia for
30 or 40,000 years and we have thumbed our noses at what they did.

OSCAR MCLAREN: Ray Nias from the environmental group the WWF maintains that fire management is too
complicated to talk about as a single issue.

RAY NIAS: Fire is a fundamental part of the Australian environment and its ecology. Fire management
in Australia is however very complex. In parts of Australia fires can be too frequent, not frequent
enough or at the wrong time of the year. Some ecosystems only survive in the absence of fire while
others require regular fire.

OSCAR MCLAREN: And he says deciding what policy to take is best left to fire authorities.

RAY NIAS: In our view the Victorian Department of Sustainability and Environment and the various
bushfire management agencies in Victoria are amongst the most competent in the world in dealing
with fire and the environment and they deserve our support and respect and we would, our policy
would be to support the scientific study and analysis conducted by those agencies.

OSCAR MCLAREN: Ray Nias also says the recent fires should inspire discussion about whether it's
safe to live in some areas of heavy bushland at all.

RAY NIAS: People choose to live in places like the mountain ranges of Victoria, South Australia,
New South Wales and elsewhere where there is a high bushfire risk and so, you know, we need to
realise that people are, more and more people are living in those high bushfire prone areas and
that in itself is an issue.

OSCAR MCLAREN: David Packham say that even in heavily vegetated areas, fire management is good for
biodiversity.

DAVID PACKHAM: If they walked through some of the good prescribed burns afterwards and I've seen
insects and stuff come out from underneath my feet, out of the leaf litter and you can almost hear
them saying, oh God, what was that.

OSCAR MCLAREN: The Nationals Senator Ron Boswell believes it's time to reassess the management of
some national parks. He says the parks are understaffed and allowing logging and other commercial
activities back into some of them could help.

RON BOSWELL: You know, the people who can manage this best of all are the forestry people; they
understand it, the people that have worked in the forestry all their lives. They understand it and
if they are allowed to do their jobs, they do it properly.

But they've also got to be able to be in there and there has got to be enough people in the
national parks. There is never enough people in the national parks. It is one thing to say hurrah,
look what I have just done, I've created a national park. But that doesn't work if you put 13
people in a park that should have 130 people in it.

OSCAR MCLAREN: But for Ray Nias from the WWF, the Victorian fires mark the beginning of a new era
which will need a complete rethinking of bushfire policies.

RAY NIAS: One thing we can be sure of is that climate change will make things much worse in that
regard. And I think it's important for us to consider that we might need to fundamentally rethink
how we live in those landscapes, given that they are going to be, in many parts of Australia, for
example in Victoria, probably much hotter and much drier in the future and therefore more likely to
be prone to massive wildfires.

BRENDAN TREMBATH: Ray Nias from the WWF ending that report from Oscar McLaren.