prescribed burning – recommendations

As Australia’s eastern states endure the most widespread and intense bushfires we’ve ever seen, experts, politicians and social media pundits are again debating whether the country needs more hazard reduction burns.ABC News (2019-Jan-10)


Victorian Bushfires Royal Commission (VBRC)
In Victoria, the most quoted source for control burning is the The Victorian Bushfires Royal Commission. The Victorian Bushfires Royal Commission Final Report (2009) [1] did have findings based on “prescribed burning” that are listed in the recommendations for Land and Fuel Management (recommendations 56 – 59). With recommendation 56 being for an annual rolling target of 5% minimum of public land being control burned, which is a target of 390,000 ha. This is the basis of the “5%” figure that is used in most prescribed burning discussions.

The VBRC recommendations were in turn addressed in the CFA Implementation Response [2] – CHAPTER SEVEN – LAND AND FUEL MANAGEMENT (pages 89 to 92);

This resulted in a modified “Code of Practice for Bushfire Management on Public Land” [3] – covered in Section 4: Fuel management including planned burning;

The VBRC recommendations are then reported on in the various Progress Report for the Victorian Bushfires Royal Commission, eg. 2015 [4]. It is important to note that the progress reports are part of an implementation process, and not all of the recommendations were functional for implementation. The progress reports document these areas across multiple recommendations.

Were the recommendations ignored?
No – there was an ongoing development via experts and Continuous Improvement implementation. Usually the full VBRC policy process is ignored, with snapshots from the VBRC report used as the policy.

❝ The BRCIM’s 2012 Final Report advocated that the State reconsider the planned burning rolling target of five per cent and replace it with a risk based approach focused on the protection of life and property. In 2013, the BRCIM went further stating concerns that the 390,000 ha target may not be achievable, affordable or sustainable. … With the benefit of five years dedicated work in this area, the BRCIM considers it may be timely for the State to reconsider VBRC Recommendation 56, having regard to the positive shift in focus from a numeric area based target to a risk based approach in order to deliver an effective long term program of planned burning. In the circumstances, the BRCIM considers action 56(d) is ongoing and recommends monitoring by the IGEM in accordance with the proposal on page 8. ❞
— BUSHFIRES ROYAL COMMISSION IMPLEMENTATION MONITOR,
Annual Report, July 2014 [5]

Review of Performance Targets for Bushfire Fuel Management on Public Land
In February 2015, the Victorian Government [Minister for Environment, Climate Change and Water, Lisa Neville; Minister for Emergency Services, Jane Garrett] requested the Inspector-General for Emergency Management (IGEM) conducted a review of performance targets for bushfire fuel management on public land.

The Inspector-General made the following recommendations – A risk-reduction target as the most effective form of performance target for bushfire fuel management on public land to protect life and property and guide investments in fuel reduction burning.

7.2.1 A risk-based approach
A risk-based approach to planned burning supported by a risk reduction performance target can address the wide variation in risks across and within regions and the need for both local and wide-area risk reduction strategies.
Bushfire risk varies considerably across the state’s regions and landscapes. DELWP describes risk in terms of the damage to property expected to result from bushfires occurring with and without risk reduction burning. DELWP’s approach assumes loss of human life is proportionate to property impact (DEPI 2013c).
Fuel reduction as a means of reducing risk to life and property plays differing roles according to the nature of landscapes and proximity to property assets (DSE 2012).
Reducing fuel close to property establishes local protection against fire that is active in the immediate area. Fuel reduction can also play a role at the broader geographical scale. Reducing fuel across broad land corridors slows and reduces the intensity of fire across a wide front, and reduces the risk of spot fires well ahead of the main front. These two approaches to fuel reduction work together, each contributing to the mitigation of risk to human life and property (DSE 2012).
In areas where property is located within fire-prone public land that is difficult to access, such as the Dandenong or Otway forests, the per hectare costs of planned burning are high. Yet reducing fuel in such areas may significantly reduce risk to life and property. Conversely, in areas of low population density, such as the Mallee, or in strategic risk reducing corridors, fuel reduction costs may be considerably lower. To achieve effective risk reduction through fuel reduction requires a mix of strategies with potentially widely varying costs.
DELWP’s risk modelling provides the basis for identifying how a combination of fuel reduction strategies most effectively reduces risk to a specific community. Such a combination of strategies would generally include both high cost and low cost fuel reduction (DSE 2012).
Over the long term, a hectare-based target is unlikely to create sufficient incentive for DELWP to maximise the risk reduced through planned burning.
A hectare-based planned burning performance target does not effectively guide a fuel reduction program towards areas of highest risk reduction over the longer term. Nor does a hectare-based planned burning performance target create incentives to pursue alternate forms of risk reduction where planned burning is not possible.

In the absence of a risk-based approach, a hectare-based performance target creates incentives for a fuel reduction program to undertake burns that maximise land area treated at lowest cost. As effective risk reduction requires treatment of both high cost and low cost areas, such an approach is unlikely to achieve the best outcome for communities.
A hectare-based planned burn target does not create incentives to pursue alternative approaches to bushfire risk reduction. Such alternatives are frequently required where planned burning is not possible.
DELWP reports that weather conditions frequently constrain opportunities for fuel reduction burning. For example, in 2013–14 weather conditions meant that DELWP was only able to achieve 82,022 hectares of its 260,000 hectare target. Under a hectare-based performance target, there is insufficient incentive to adopt alternative risk reduction measures when planned burning is not possible. Such measures might include renewing fuel break lines, or working with communities to encourage risk reduction through slashing, mulching and grazing.
A risk reduction target would encourage planners to consider the contributions to risk on private land, and to engage with communities on the most effective ways to address such risks.
Bushfire risk on private land, and on public land unsuitable for planned burn treatment, contribute significantly to overall risk to life and property in some regions (DEPI 2013b; 2014b). This limits the extent to which risk can be reduced through burning treatable public land.
The BRCIM pointed to the need for alternative approaches that would provide for the contribution of other parties to risk reduction, including private land-owners and local government. DELWP recognises that a multi-faceted approach to reducing bushfire risk is required (DEPI 2014c).
Under a risk-based approach, the existence of significant contributions to risk outside DELWP’s area of responsibility should encourage a focus on engaging authorities and stakeholders with responsibility for such risk.
DELWP’s risk-based planning provides the basis for identifying risk on private land and untreatable public land. A risk-based performance target would create the incentive for DELWP to effectively engage with communities around the implications of such risk, and ways to reduce it. ❞
— 7.2 A risk reduction target versus a hectare-based target
in Review of performance targets for bushfire fuel management on public land (2015) [6]

This was then made available to the general public via “Safer together. A new approach to reducing the risk of bushfire in Victoria” (2015) [7]. The crux of the matter being how effective the fuel management activities are, and not just how much is burned.

Delivering this approach 2016/17 – 2020;

Victoria only?
The risk-based approach, or strategic burn, has also been covered in other publications;

❝ In Victoria, most ENGOs have given tacit support for prescribed burning based on the premise of it being mostly small-scale and strategic (VNPA 2007; Wilderness Society 2009; Taylor 2009), and have criticised the 2009 Victorian Bushfires Royal Commission for imposing an increased annual burn area target which they fear will encourage more extensive burning of remote areas (Wilderness Society 2010). This view is also supported by some scientists (Driscoll 2010; Clarke 2012).
The case for concentrating prescribed burning in strategic locations around the public-private land interface is also supported by Gibbons et al. (2012) who found that 15% fewer houses were destroyed on Black Saturday where prescribed burning had been located 500 metres away rather than the observed mean distance of 8.5 km away. On this basis, they favoured “a shift in emphasis away from broad-scale fuel reduction to intensive fuel treatments close to property”. ❞
— Overview of Prescribed Burning in Australasia. Report for National Burning Project: Sub-Project 1 (2015) [10]

Implementation of recommendations
The Inspector-General for Emergency Management (IGEM) reports on the Implementation of recommendations on bushfire fuel management [8, 9].

❝ IGEM is pleased to report that all recommendations from the review are now complete or have transitioned to business-as-usual. Importantly, this signals the completion of the move from a hectare-based fuel reduction target, to a risk reduction target.
One recommendation from the investigation is also complete and two remain ongoing. Work continues to develop a cross-tenure operating model and regional strategies for bushfire fuel management that consider alternative options for fuel management and bushfire risk.
Monitoring of the remaining recommendations will continue as part of IGEM’s ongoing assurance activities, and will be reported as part of the annual summary of investigations into breaches of planned burn control lines. ❞
— Annual Report – Implementation of recommendations on bushfire fuel management – October 2017 [9]

Monitoring reports for investigations into breaches of planned burn control lines can be located on the IGEM reports and publications pages.

REFERENCES

[1] 2009 Victorian Bushfires Royal Commission Final Report
http://royalcommission.vic.gov.au/finaldocuments/summary/PF/VBRC_Summary_PF.pdf

[2] IMPLEMENTING THE GOVERNMENT’S RESPONSE TO THE 2009 VICTORIAN BUSHFIRES ROYAL COMMISSION (MAY 2011)
https://www.cfa.vic.gov.au/documents/20143/202133/royal_commission_implementation_plan.pdf

[3] Code of Practicefor Bushfire Management on Public Land (2012)
https://www.ffm.vic.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0025/25747/Code-of-Practice-for-Bushfire-Management-on-Public-Land-1.pdf

[4] Progress Report Victorian Bushfires Royal Commission. Implementation of recommendations and actions (2015)
https://www.parliament.vic.gov.au/file_uploads/Inspector-General_for_Emergency_Management_-_Victorian_Bushfires_Royal_Commission_Implementation_Progress_Report_2015_3JXCsHmR.pdf

[5] BUSHFIRES ROYAL COMMISSION IMPLEMENTATION MONITOR, Annual Report (2014), July 2014
https://www.parliament.vic.gov.au/file_uploads/Bushfires_Royal_Commission_LmGV7QKf.pdf

[6] Review of performance targets for bushfire fuel management on public land (2015)
https://www.igem.vic.gov.au/sites/default/files/embridge_cache/emshare/original/public/2017/07/d7/24d0ede21/Reviewofperformancetargetsforbushfirefuelmanagementonpublicland.pdf

[7] Safer together. A new approach to reducing the risk of bushfire in Victoria (2015), 17-Nov-2015
https://www.safertogether.vic.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0020/215318/DELWP_SaferTogether_FINAL_17Nov15.pdf

[8] Implementation of recommendations from the Review of Performance Targets for Bushfire Fuel Management on Public Land – Annual Report 2016
https://www.igem.vic.gov.au/sites/default/files/embridge_cache/emshare/original/public/2017/07/51/1bf831a0b/Publication%20-%202016%20%20Annual%20Report%20-%20Implementation%20of%20recommendations%20from%20IGEMs%20Review%20of%20performance%20targets%20for%20bushfire%20fuel%20management.PDF

[9] Annual Report – Implementation of recommendations on bushfire fuel management – October 2017
https://www.igem.vic.gov.au/sites/default/files/embridge_cache/emshare/original/public/2018/01/6d/d7d449083/Annual_Report_Implementation_of_bushfire_fuel_management_recommendations_2017.pdf

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1 Response to prescribed burning – recommendations

  1. Mike Clarke – How will fire shape future landscapes
    La Trobe University – Research Centre for Future Landscapes – Symposium 2018

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