This post is based upon a letter to the editor from Mr. Neil Rhodes, Tenterfield NSW (with editing for web site publishing).
I am writing to support the NSW Farmers proposal for grazing to be re-introduced into Crown Lands including National Parks.
I believe this need only be applied in marginal areas around National Parks which cannot be protected from fire by graded fire breaks. Many National Parks boundaries are on very steep and inaccessible areas thereby making fire and stock control very difficult.
I believe if neighbouring land holders were given more control of these marginal areas everybody would be better able to control the large fires we expect into the future.
My property joins a National Park which used to be a State Forest. State Forests had a much more workable relationship with their neighbours. I think that National Parks should trial some of the past State Forest management plans in these marginal areas I believe this would allow better:
- Fire control
- Cooperation of neighbours
- Benefits to the environment
All I ask is a trial to see if what worked 25 years ago can work again.
I would also like to suggest that any increase in funding for Rural Fire Service or National Parks be carefully considered and kept to a minimum. The growth of these 2 organisations over the past 25 years has discouraged traditional burning practises throughout Australia.
During the 2019/20 there were many instances of local people breaking Rural Fire Service and National Parks rules to carry out much needed back burning in desperate attempts to control these large fires Often with the ‘secret’ approval of the Rural Fire Service.
The locals with the knowledge and experience to carry-out these backburns have to remain anonymous otherwise they will not do it.
Almost everybody agrees there should be more hazard reduction earlier in the season.
For land holders adjoining National Parks, the choices are:
- Contact the National Parks and be told that could take 2 to 3 years to organise a joint burn.
- Contact National Parks and be told to ensure you keep the fire totally on your property despite the difficult terrain (and sometimes laughed at by National Parks staff).
- Or perhaps you could light the fire and hope it looked like an act of God and pray it does not get out of control. Then of cause a letter would be forthcoming from National Parks or Rural Fire Service warning you that you are suspected of lighting a fire and could be fined.
- Play safe / do nothing – resulting in the 2019/20 devastating fires.
It is an odd situation when Rural Fire Service and National Parks are forced to ignore the illegality of a desperate backburn during a section 44 fire in December. Yet often a cool back burn some 6 months earlier in the season draws disdain from both services. This also often results in a letter to adjoining landholders regarding the need to comply with Rural Fire Service and National Parks rules and regulations. This attitude has almost destroyed traditional burning practices – no private landholder is willing to take responsibility.
My experience tells me if something seems odd, there is often someone making money out of it.
The growth of both Rural Fire Service and National Parks has certainly coincided with the growth of large fires in NSW.
These large fires support a substantial and growing industry.
I have kept records of both Rural Fire Service and National Parks activities on areas adjoining my property over the past 20 years. I have also noted examples of the attitude of National Parks staff. I have supplied this information to NSW Farmers, members of parliament and Tenterfield Shire Councillors with copies of these letters and would be happy to pass such onto your organisation should they be required.
It is extremely odd the extent to which Rural Fire Service protect themselves from litigation:
- During the February 2019 Wallangarra Fire I contacted the Rural Fire Service incident control office several times, suggesting where it might be possible to contain parts of this fire. Also asking what resources were available – I was repeatably told that my message would be passed onto the planners – with no reply.
- I accompanied the Forest worker in charge of the area for a tour of a newly constructed fire break, he asked me to step out of the vehicle whilst he contacted fire control.
- Following the announcement of a public meeting with regards to the Wallangarra fire 2019, Rural Fire Service told their volunteers not to attend the meeting.
- The Rural Fire Service staff turned up with line scans of the Drake Fire rather than the Wallangarra fire.
- Rural Fire Service first comment at the meeting was that the Rural Fire Service could not comment on anything operational.
This ‘secrecy’ for want of a better word is necessary. State Forests and neighbouring landholders used ‘secrecy’ for years, but they used it when they knew from experience it would achieve a good outcome. Rural Fire Service still want notification of any actions of landholders, preferably in writing (example: fire permits, etc) which denies neighbouring landholders the ‘secrecy’ they have often relied on in the past. Despite Rural Fire Service becoming so expert at ‘secrecy’ in recent times.
If turning a blind eye is sometimes the only way to control a large out of control fire it may be the best way to carry out hazard reduction early in the season when burning should be done.
We need to find a way to encourage local knowledge and experience earlier in the season, whether this involves grazing or not.
We need to recognise the ever-shortening window of opportunity for HR, due to climate change. Rural Fire Service and National Parks should look at State Forests land management programs.
The small section of National Park adjoining my property has cost taxpayers approx. $70,000.00 per year to control fires over the past 5 years. Both myself and NSW Farmers have requested more accurate figures from Rural Fire Service and National Parks, but these have not been forthcoming. Yet still approximately half this area has not been burnt for 26 years.
When State Forest managed this land, it cost the taxpayer the cost of a single water tanker for one day only for the 20 years between 1975 and 1995. In that time approximately only 5 percent of this area suffered a ‘crown fire’ despite facing some severe fires.
No one wants to be responsible for a fire unless it is 110 % safe (containment lines, water tankers etc). National Parks has all these resources and still have escapes. It is impossible for National Parks to pull together all the resources they require for a burn in sufficient areas to be effective.
In my area National Parks attempted a burn resulting in a narrow strip of burnt grass on one edge of a track (in places less than one metre wide) and then reported that a 100ha block had been hazard reduced.
This practice enables National Parks to claim they have hazard reduced larger areas than they actually have. Then when hazard reduction proves to be too little, too late and often in the wrong place both National Parks and Rural Fire Service take the opportunity to request more money from government.
Governments regularly introduce incentive and reward to improve services.
By encouraging neighbouring landholders to manage these inaccessible areas we can effectively ‘privatise’ management of these areas. ‘Privatisation’ is popular with most services why not in these difficult to manage areas.
We should be all supporting each other and working together for a common goal.
The 2019 fires proved that cooperation with locals is possible when it is necessary to control a large out of control fire.
I ask that we consider a trial to return back to the systems we used prior to 1995 for land adjoining National Parks!
We could have regular inspections to assess the effectiveness of a return to a more traditional system.
When State Forests controlled these land areas, it was better for the environment, more cost effective and efficient. Neighbouring landholders have more incentive to make a new system work than National Parks staff.
2020 saw many problems for our government to resolve this is a way to save money and lives with a very small adjustment as to how things could and should be done to resolve bushfires our state.
PS. Recent media story from National Parks suggesting Tooloom National Park in Northern NSW damaged in bushfire would benefit from more frequent cool fires… that’s promising.
Well written, a good heartfelt article I believe reflecting land management issues in this state.