There is no doubt that our fire seasons are getting longer and more intense. Here in the south east, in terms of massive fires (greater than 250,000 ha), Victoria experienced two such events in the 19th century and five in the 20th century. In less than two decades, we have already had three mega fires in the 21st century. Many alpine areas have been burnt three times in the space of a decade.
There is no coherent overall response as yet by state or federal governments that outlines how we should respond to the growing interaction of climate change and wildfire. Sadly, our Prime Minister is in denial, having claimed that since ‘fires have always been part of our landscape’ there is no link to climate change. The Victorian state government has been challenged on the lack of attention to climate change in it’s approach to managing fire risk. Reducing fire risk is therefore about reducing fuel load and getting larger equipment , not about reducing greenhouse gas emissions or accepting that enhanced fire risk is the new reality for much of the country.
The following report, from Grist, outlines a different approach. The US government has released a strategy that aims to respond to the changing nature of fire threats. One aspect that especially interested me is the fact that it includes an approach that aims to ‘restore and maintain landscapes that are resilient to fire.’ In Victoria, we seem to be doing the opposite. There is a politically driven target that dictates that 5% of the state will receive fuel reduction treatment each year. This is in spite of the fact that some vegetation types don’t need burning to maintain ecological health, and others can become more flammable with the wrong fuel reduction approaches, and others are directly threatened by too much fire.
Climate change just reshaped America’s wildfire strategy
Like a tree in a greenhouse, America’s forest fire problem is growing ominously. Rising temperatures and declining rain and snowfall are parching fire-prone areas and juicing conflagrations. On Thursday, following years of meetings and scientific reviews, the Obama administration published a 101-page strategy that aims to help meet the country’s shifting fire threats.
The National Cohesive Wildland Fire Management Strategy divides the nation according to fire risks, and profiles the communities that face those risks. “No one-size-fits-all approach exists to address the challenges facing the Nation,” the strategy states.
Despite covering 70,000 communities and 46 million homes, the strategy can be boiled down to guidelines that aim to do three main things: restore and maintain landscapes that are resilient to fire; brace communities and infrastructure for occasional blazes; and help officials make wise decisions about how and whether flames should be doused. Here’s what that all looks like in flowchart form:
“As climate change spurs extended droughts and longer fire seasons, this collaborative wildfire blueprint will help us restore forests and rangelands to make communities less vulnerable,” said Mike Boots, chair of the White House Council on Environmental Quality.