WA’s so-called “Controlled” Burns – Where Next?



Many West Australians were horrified to learn of the latest so-called “controlled” burn in our south which went horribly wrong.

Yet again, another aerial burn, conducted by the Department of Biodiversity, Conservation and Attractions  on November 27, ended up being another botch-up; a monumental disaster. Surprise surprise, the wind changed, the blaze became an inferno, and whoosh –  25,000 hectares of pristine national park has been wiped out.

Yet again, those employed by the WA taxpayer to care for our forests and unique biodiversity failed us all. Huge chunks of the Mount Frankland National Park have been destroyed.
How many quolls, quokkas, rare frogs, wallabies, and unique WA plants and insects were razed?
Many West Australians have written to our politicians about similar disastrous botch-ups – saying we don’t like the way these uncontrolled, “controlled” burns are conducted –  but are always met with a placatory reply assuring us all is in good hands, that the department knows best.
How very smug and insulting.
The Department of Biodiversity hates admitting its mistakes. We’re always reminded, these burns our entirely for our benefit, because who wants to have their house burned down? Um, nobody does – but are we aiming too high to also want our rare West Australian plants and animals kept alive too?
Conservation biologist Professor Stephen Hopper told The West Australian recently that it’s time for a a serious rethink about how prescribed burns are conducted.
He said there was no denying it was a tough job, and while human life and property were the department’s top priorities,  there had to be smaller-scale ways to also protect biodiversity assets.

“Focus on the edge of towns … start developing biodiversity protection burns within the national parks … That would be a nice compromise.”

“Peat swamps are burning with an increasing regularity and that’s a major concern,” he told the newspaper.

“They are the biological jewels in the southern forest. There are rare, localised and highly endemic animals and plants — species of frog, the Albany pitcher plant … found nowhere else in the world..

“A single fire can take out a peat swamp and it’s 5000 years to reset the clock.

“The big concern we have is the DBCA doesn’t map them accurately and the push they’ve had … burning over large areas, it’s extremely difficult for them to control where fires go.”

Premier Mark McGowan, and Environment Minister Reece Whitby, are you listening?
Please insist recognised experts (including meteorological experts) are always on hand deciding where and when to burn. Stop telling us we have to trust the people you employ to handle this. We don’t. We want respected independent scientists to be consulted every time your department decides a new burn is in order.
It’s simply not enough for those at the Department of Biodiversity to tell us after a disastrous new botch-up, “whoops, the wind changed.” It’s their job to know when the wind changes, and if they can’t be sure,  they must hold off throwing fire-bombs out of planes.
The Walpole Nornalup National Parks Association is organising a field visit to the razed region on December 13.
It says of the latest devastation:  “this fire event was entirely caused by DBCA …the outcomes of the prescribed burn and the ramifications for biodiversity and the environment are devastating and completely and utterly unacceptable. Whilst WNNPA has managed to influence the prescribed fire planning process to incorporate more positive outcomes for biodiversity, there are still too many occasions where we are seeing the negative impacts of the burning program – most notably the catastrophic loss of carbon associated with peat fires.
If you want to see the damage for yourself, email them on walpolewildernessbioblitz@gmail.com
Says Perup local Bill Smart, who was devastated when rare numbats were wiped out in an inferno when the DBCA botched a blaze down there in May last year:  “I find it difficult to reconcile DBCA with what it is doing and what it is supposed to be doing.
“The biggest threat to conserving biodiversity is FIRE.
“Burnt out forests and a state enveloped in smoke is not an ATTRACTION.
“One of the major threats to endangered wildlife is fire; but DBCA incinerates hundreds of thousands of animals every year?
“I often wonder how DBCA employees feel about this. I am sure many are as appalled as I am about the carnage inappropriate fire creates.
“Is it time for DBCA to be split into two sections, one to stay true to its charter and the other to protect people and property?
“Nothing short of an independent inquiry will bring accountability to the people and sustainability to our environment.
“We can do much better, we have the people and resources; sadly our politicians are not up to it.”
Mark McGowan and Reece Whitby, we’re still hoping against hope that you’ll surprise us by taking action to ensure “controlled” burns stop becoming uncontrolled, devastating infernos in our State.
Images: Fire & Biodiversity Western Australia Group 

4 thoughts on “WA’s so-called “Controlled” Burns – Where Next?

  1. An excellent article. It is heartbreaking to think of how many small creatures have died in these out-of-control controlled burns.

  2. Great email

    Given you are dealing with bureaucrats, if 25,000 hectares of bushland was burnt out what was the target.

    I think such a simple sum will demonstrate the incompetence of the Department, and have more meaning that a simple complaint. that is the targeted burn was x ,000 hectares, the actual was 25,000. that is a variance of …….%

    Good luck

  3. Controlled or prescribed burns by DBCA are out of control and the wrong prescriptions! Eminent and globally respected WA botanist Dr Kingsley Dixon had this (and much more) to say on ABC Radio National a few years ago: “so-called prescribed burning produces a more flammable system in the first years after a fire. And there are devastating effects on the natural ecology. Whereas some forests may experience a natural fire every 80 years, there is no chance for the ecosystem to re-establish when that frequency becomes a prescribed burn every five years.”

  4. This is a really excellent article. I listened recently to the words of anger from Jess Beckerling about the ‘controlled’ fire becoming uncontrollable in the Mt Franklin National Park.

    I am about to print this article and post it to various Ministers and to the Premier….

    Thankyou so much for the information and for expressing so well our anger.

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