The Victorian government has announced changes to how fuel reduction burns (‘controlled burning’) will be carried out in the state.

Since the Black Saturday fires of 2009, public land managers have been seeking to burn 5% of public land each year. This has been criticised for being a very blunt management instrument for a complex problem. There are concerns that burning regimes have been inappropriate for some types of vegetation, causing ecological damage, and have not been able to reduce overall fire risk in the state.

The Inspector-General for Emergency Management’s report into Victoria’s fuel  management targets, suggests a new focus in fuel reduction work: concentrating on the greatest areas of risk for fuel management on public land.

Previously, planned burns were driven by a hectare target. The aim of this new approach is to become more sophisticated in the way we manage planned burning and better involve local communities in planning for burns.

The government response to the ‘Cobaw/ Lancefield’ fire in September has also lead to these changes. A controlled burn escaped from fire crews and burnt more than 3,000 hectares and destroyed six homes.

The response builds on the Inspector-General’s recommendations by setting a new direction for integrated bushfire management across Victoria. Key changes include:

  • introducing a risk reduction target to fuel management on public land from July 1 2016, to lower the impact of a major bushfire on lives and properties of Victorians by nearly a third
  • fire and land management agencies partnering with locals to find the most effective mix of actions to reduce bushfire risks and impacts for communities
  • greater partnerships between CFA experts and residents in planned burns across private land
  • fire agencies partnering with other agencies and communities to manage bushfire risk across public and private land in the highest risk areas – where it makes sense

The new direction, to be implemented over the next five years, seeks to ensure that fire and land managers and community work as one to reduce bushfire risk. This will lead to safer communities, thriving rural economies and healthy environments for current and future generations.

The Wilderness Society has welcomed the Andrews government’s move to a risk-based approach in fire management.

They say “taking a risk-based approach will deliver better outcomes for protection of life, property and the Victorian environment.”

They note that the 5 per cent hectare target was unachievable and that too much planned burning, in the wrong places at the wrong times, causes severe damage to ecosystems.

They also note that ongoing research and assessment of planned burns for biodiversity impacts must be an important component of establishing risk reduction targets moving forward.