'Doubts' over current prescribed burns policy


PRESCIBED burns are an article of faith for many (Letters to the editor Gippsland Times 14/1), and faith is needed because there is not much science to support the benefits claimed.

Likewise, not a lot is known about the loss of flora and fauna, the impact of burning every piece of bush once every 20 years (Victoria's goal) and the health and tourism impact of the numerous smoky days we suffer during the prescribed burns season.

One paper worth looking at is Bradstock and Price's 'The effect of fuel age on the spread of fire in Sclerophyll forest'.

After examining in detail 1473 prescribed burn patches around Sydney, they offered the startling conclusions:

  • There is a 10 per cent chance that a prescribed burn patch would experience an unplanned fire that stops within the patch;
  • In extreme weather, even one-year-old patches have a low likelihood of stopping unplanned fires;
  • Fuel age had little influence on the spread of unplanned fires; and
  • Prescribed fires will be most effective when sited at the urban interface.

This casts a lot of doubt on the current prescribed burns policy and execution.

I hope we don't return to the "let's just burn something" approach of recent years, and do think strategically about the total cost and benefit of any prescribed burning.