The Australian Forest Products Association (AFPA) has backed Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s proposal for national fuel reduction standards across all land tenures to be considered in a Royal Commission into the recent bushfires.
Speaking on the Credlin program on Sky, Mr Morrison said that a Royal Commission would look at climate change impacts but most importantly also the role that fuel load build up is playing as bushfires grow in intensity and frequency. The Prime Minister said:
“Hazard reduction is as important as emissions reduction and many would argue, I think, even more so because it has an even more direct impact on the safety of a person going into a bushfire season.
“We report all the time on what our emissions reductions are but across the country there is not a national system of reporting to track how hazard reduction is progressing… it is a very reasonable expectation people have that there are national standards, that there is transparency around how this is being achieved.”
AFPA Chief Executive Officer Ross Hampton said the Royal Commission should examine how mechanical fuel reduction can complement controlled burns to reduce fuel loads across the landscape on all land tenures, as occurs in other bushfire-prone countries.
“There is near universal support for fuel load reduction after these tragic fires. But everyone also understands that winter burn offs are dramatically dropping in area due to a narrower window of good weather,” Mr Hampton said.
“The missing tool in Australia is using machines to also do some of this work – especially in areas around our bush villages, towns and key assets such as mobile phone towers and sub stations.”
Mr Hampton said while timber-producing native forests and forestry plantations are actively managed to mitigate against catastrophic bushfires through evidence-based programs of mechanical fuel reduction, thinning, access roads, and controlled burns, the remaining 93% of Australia’s 132-million-hectare forest estate is not managed in the same way to address the build-up of fuel loads.
“Nationally, over three decades, the average annual area treated for fuel reduction has fallen by more than 30%, whilst the area burnt in bushfires has tripled. State governments are failing to meet hazard reduction burn targets. Clearly, the status quo is not good enough.
“While the forestry industry is doing its part in the small area of forest we look after, the management of the rest of the forest estate – held in a mix of land tenures including National Parks and private farmland – is putting communities and lives at risk.
“The Prime Minister’s proposal to have national standards and more transparent reporting requirements could be a useful tool to ensure targets are being met.”