The following article was published in the Daily Telegraph on 12th November 2019.
Danielle Le Messurier and Campbell Gellie
On the eve of a potentially catastrophic day of bushfires, Agriculture Minister Adam Marshall has admitted not enough had been done to reduce the risk.
Mr Marshall said more hazard-reduction burns were needed more regularly, as farmers said they are fed up with environmentalists pushing to lock up national parks to keep “pristine” forest.
It comes as Volunteer Fire Fighters Association president Mick Holton claimed NSW authorities currently perform hazard-reduction burns on less than I per cent of fire-prone land each year.
“We have to accept the fact that our fuel loads are a problem and locking up national parks as we’ve been doing for a long time is finally catching up with us,” the Rural Fire Service volunteer said “Because there’s so much red tape involved, less actual burning is done.”
Mr Marshall said NSW needs more hazard-reduction burns to reduce fuel loads.
“Surely we have learnt that over the past few weeks,” he said “We have a chance now that these parks have been completely burned out to change the way they are managed to avoid this happening again to another generation of farmers and communities.
“Also, why not go back to controlled stock grazing in some areas to keep the fuel load down too?”
Mr Marshall last month revealed in parliament that he had asked Environment Minister Matt Kean for a “full and immediate review” of fire management in national parks.
It followed a fire in Bees Nest near Ebor, reported to have started inside Guy Fawkes National Park, which affected 149 properties and killed almost 400 livestock.
“It is clear landholders feel that there is a lock it and leave it’ approach to management in national parks, which is not good enough,” Mr Marshall said at the time.
Firefighter Mr Holton suggested authorities bring back traditional Aboriginal “cool” burning, which involves lighting fires that burn slowly to reduce fuel loads and create fire breaks.
RPS deputy commissioner Rob Rogers yesterday denied there had been less hazard reduction burning this year than previous years but admitted authorities “don’t get as much done as we’d like”.
“Hazard reduction is always important to do … but it doesn’t solve the problem,” he said.
Emergency Services Minister David Elliott said the RFS had carried out targetted burns on more than 196,670ha – protecting more than 102,250 properties – in the 2018-19 financial year.
Third-generation farmer Andrew McIntyre said he has never seen national parks burn like they are now. Just north of his property near Glen Innes, the Manning River Nature Reserve and Barool National Park have been burning for more than nine weeks.
He blames poor parks management after graziers who used Aboriginal burning techniques to control the fuel load were kicked out.
“These Aboriginal techniques we all used would never let it build up like this because they would keep it burnt,” he said “It is what they have done for centuries to get animals out.
“But then the Greenies made them lock up the National Parks to keep the ‘pristine’ forest, but how ‘pristine’ are they now?”
Macksville Fire and Rescue NSW deputy captain Frank Brownhill said everything from hazard reduction burns to the drought had created a perfect storm for fires.
Mr Brownhill, also an RFS deputy, said it was impossible to stop hot days or remove oxygen from the air – so the only way to reduce risks is remove fuel from the ground. “Too many people aren ‘t listening,” he said. “We’ve dodged bullets for six years, we knew this was coming.”