Since 2012 there have been several major bushfires in Tasmania, which have led to widespread damage including 119,200 hectares in 2012-2013 (including 44,700 hectares in the Giblin River area), 126,800 hectares across Tasmania in 2016 and the current fires that have consumed about 200,000 hectares in wilderness, National Park and reserve areas (2019).
This inquiry focuses on wilderness and national park reserves and is based on a two-fold examination …
(1) public responses to these fires as reported in the Tasmanian Times over the month of January 2019, and …
(2) an analysis of six government reports into these fires over 2013-2017 and limitations in implementing the recommendations associated with these reports.
This is not a report into the excellent work done, and continuing to be done, by the 700 or more firefighters involved in trying to control these fires. Quite the contrary, this report is a preliminary examination of how such efforts could be enhanced so that Tasmania can minimise future damage to the biodiversity, geodiversity and cultural heritage of these areas.
This report gives expression to the widespread public concern about these fires, some of which is based on poor communication strategies by government, and what is commonly perceived as tardy and inadequate early intervention.
- UTG supports the call by Senator Nick McKim, who chaired the 2016 Senate Inquiry, for a public, open inquiry (‘summit’) into the 2019 fires in order to “plan the best way to respond to wilderness bushfires in the future”. We also endorse his objective for this summit to “allow issues to be worked through constructively and collaboratively with the aim of agreeing on outcomes that would allow remote wilderness fires to be hit hard and hit early, which is the best way to minimise damage.”
- UTG suggests that such an inquiry should also examine the incomplete implementation of recommendations from previous inquiries and the reasons for this.
- UTG calls for the establishment of bushwalker-cum-firefighter brigades, along the lines of the Smokewalkers of the 1970s, as suggested in previous inquiries.
- UTG calls for the Parks & Wildlife Service, as a matter of priority, to develop a scientifically-based policy on the use of fire in the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area (TWWHA) that recognises the need to protect the range of values in this area, including highly fire sensitive communities and also to allow for on-going natural evolution in significant areas of the TWWHA. Such a policy might be for no use of fire at all, or no widespread use of fire, to allow for natural ecological evolution as the primary management aim.
- UTG calls for all ‘hazard reduction burning’ within wilderness, National Park and Conservation Areas be suspended until the consequences of such activities have been scientifically evaluated.
- UTG calls for better communication strategies to be put in place in order to address public concerns about management of major bushfires in Tasmania.
Geoff Holloway (Dr.)
Secretary, United Tasmania Group