Any excuse is better than none.

Victorian Emergency Services Commissioner Bruce Esplin and the green NGO that gave us Large Infrequent Fires worry that Global Warming and, or, Climate Change are going to be the cause of more hyper fires across the State of Victoria within two or three months.

National Park Fuel Load fed bushfireWith the majority of the public’s estate covered with a heavy forest floor burden, Global Warming can’t be blamed for the lack of land management over the past, at least, two decades. Governments have the responsibility of attending to the public’s land and there has been no global warming or cooling to alter the moisture content of the inflammable mixture of leaves, twigs, branches and pest plants that currently provide a huge load waiting patiently for violent ignition.

Currently, in Victoria what fuel reduction measures there are take place in autumn with perhaps a little in the spring. If climate change was to have any effect, it ought to be possible to increase fuel reduction measures to winter as well as spring.

A telephone call to the Department of Sustainability & Environment, wondering at the effect that recent fires had upon native animal habitat, met with the response that the recent fires were natural events and the bush will soon recover from it.

But experience shows that those animals that escaped the hyper hot blazing will have died, either from starvation because their food source is incinerated or they have become the prey for raptors.

  • The problem stems, not from global warming (or cooling) but from changes made to public land administration in1982;
  • The John Cain Government closed the Victorian Forests Commission and gave the three Commissioners other positions in the Government. The Commissioner for Fire was demoted to become Chief Fire Officer.
  • The incoming Minister started a new Department, known as Conservation, Forests and Lands and at its head placed Labor Party environmental appointees who were not conversant with fire fighting science but appreciated the value of environmental preferences at the ballot box. He who pays the piper ….
  • As the philosophy of “lock it up and leave it’ (LIUALI) became very acceptable to senior management (and probably the Treasurer) fire fighting was downgraded in importance and became a minor part of the new Department. The (by now) Chief Fire Officer no longer reporting directly to the Departmental Secretary.
    · The National Parks Act for 1982 shows 272 outdoor workers in 985,000 hectares, with 114 administrators. The financial budget, with a CPI factor was $25 million in 2005 terms.
  • From around 1983, the amount of funding for fire prevention practices diminished in line with the LIUALI philosophy.
  • A combination of influence by green NGO’s and fiscal decisions over the next twenty years saw very little fuel reduction burning.
  • The emasculation of the timber industry combined with the banning of cattle grazing as well as prospecting saw the public forests gradually deprived of any work force.
  • By 2005 the public National Parks estate had grown to 3.25 million hectares of land and sea. There were just 396 outdoor workers compared with 625 administrators. The budget had grown to $68 million.
  • Devoid of Departmental outdoor workers, timber workers and graziers the Land Managers turned to the four Wheel drive clubs for track clearance work, mainly work done at the weekend.
  • In just short of twenty five years, successive Victorian Governments had overseen the ejection of just about all commerce in the forests. To replace the old time bushies that downed tools to get a fire extinguished quickly they built up a force of fire fighters who undertake a great amount of training for a short time before the fire season starts.

    NON-PAID Volunteer Fire Fighters exhausted When lightning starts fires, this mighty force is brought up to readiness and then, at a steady pace, makes its way into our remote regions to work at fighting fire for as long as their agreement demands. Volunteer fire fighters become very frustrated as professional fire fighters finish their shift and return to base regardless of the fire conditions. The larger the fire, the sooner there are Federal funds to defray costs.

    Fire lookout towers are not always manned and the quality of the field glasses is not too good. Fires left for long in a high wind rapidly increase in size. Where the old bushies would get the fire extinguished in a matter of hours, the delay is now measured in weeks.

    Where knapsacks, rakes and hoes were needed to address the seat of the fire they are replaced by multiple helicopters, big and others bigger. Aircraft, some big and others small crop dusters. The cost of all the “new toys” will probably be pushed off onto the shoulders of the Federal Government.

    Old “bushies”, Snowy and Fred, both of whom have passed on, managed to live through the 1939 fires. They knew that reducing fuel on the forest floor is the most important of all land management activities. Both were quick to praise Judge Stretton and commend his work.

    No Commissioner Esplin, don’t try and hide from the truth.

    It’s not Global Warming or cooling that we have to worry about. We have to live with the inactivity and lack of attention paid to land management since 1982.

    John Cribbes.

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