Fire Management Discussion Paper

Fire Management Discussion Paper

‘Ngootyoong Gunditj, Ngootyoong Mara’
South West Management Plan

Fire Management

(download  a PDF from the Resources page)

BACKGROUND

Fire is a part of our natural environment, driving regeneration and maintaining the health of species and ecosystems. The last decade has seen a dramatic increase in the number, size and severity of bushfires in Victoria, evidenced by the 2003 Alpine, 2006 Grampians, the 2006/07 Great Divide and the February 2009 bushfires.

With such diverse ecosystems across the planning area, each with their own fire regime requirements, the major challenge for protected area managers is to promote and manage fire regimes that maintain and enhance biodiversity, while protecting lives and social and economic assets. With forecast climate change affecting the seasonality, intensity and scale of fires, there is an increasing probability that some ecosystems in the planning area will become stressed and threatened (Victorian Government 2008).

On average, there are over 600 bushfires on public land in Victoria every year, although over the past few years, the annual number of fires has been much higher. Across Victoria, about one quarter of fires are caused by lightning, another quarter by arson, around 10% are escapes from burn-offs on private land, 2% from escaped planned burns on public land, around 10% are from campfires not properly extinguished or allowed to escape, dropped cigarettes cause about 10%, while the causes of some remain unknown.

Within the Far South West Fire District the major causes of bushfire ignition in the 20-year period 1981–82 to 2000–01 are:

  • Deliberately-lit fires—the major cause of bushfires in the Portland District—causing 29% of all fires
  • Lightning—causing 25% of all fires
  • Escapes from burning operations on private property (stubble and windrows)—causing 11% of all fires.

CURRENT LEGISLATION POLICY AND MANAGEMENT

Living With Fire: Victoria‘s Bushfire Strategy (Victorian Government 2008) provides direction on how Victoria plans to meet future bushfire challenges. The Code of Practice for Fire Management on Public Land (DSE 2006) provides the framework for public land fire management across the state. Fire management on public land in non-urban areas – national and other parks, state forests and other Crown land – is the responsibility of the Department of Sustainability and Environment (DSE), while the Country Fire Authority (CFA) is responsible for protecting private land – farms and properties – in rural Victoria. DSE and CFA cooperate closely to ensure the negative effects of bushfire in rural Victoria are minimised. Parks Victoria recognises the role of fire in the environment and strongly supports DSE’s fire efforts through participation in all aspects of fire management on public land. Parks Victoria is a major partner with DSE in development and implementation of fire management strategies for the parks estate, both for biodiversity management as well as protection of life and social and economic assets.

The Code of Practice for Fire Management on Public Land (DSE 2006) provides the framework for public land fire management across the state. The Code promotes the efficient, effective and integrated management of fire and fire-related activities on public land in Victoria, for the purpose of protecting human life, property, assets and environmental values from the deleterious effects of bushfire or inappropriate fire regimes. The ‘Ngootyoong Gunditj, Ngootyoong Mara’ South West Management Plan will be prepared within the context of the Code to ensure that bushfire prevention and suppression activities on public land are conducted in an effective, operationally safe, environmentally sensitive and cost-efficient manner.

Under the Code, DSE must prepare fire management plans for each fire district in Victoria. These plans are prepared in conjunction with the community and are regularly reviewed. Fire management for the planning area is outlined in the Portland Fire Protection Plan. Details of proposed fire management works can be found in the Approved Fire Operations Plan Far South West District (available on DSE’s website), which set out the proposed fire prevention activities that will be carried out on public land in each fire district over a three year period, including proposed burns, slashing and track works and additions to the permanent network of strategic fuel breaks. Fire protection plans will be gradually replaced by more holistic fire management plans which DSE is currently reviewing to develop, which include strategies both for fire protection and ecological fire management. The ‘Ngootyoong Gunditj, Ngootyoong Mara’ South West Management Plan will reflect and build on these fire plans.

2009 BUSHFIRES ROYAL COMMISSION

The 2009 Victorian Bushfires Royal Commission released its final report into the fires of February 2009 on 31 July 2010. In its report, the Royal Commission made recommendations regarding fire management in Victoria. The recommendations accepted by government, will direct fire management in the future. Many of the recommendations will affect future management of fire on public land. A significant change will be the increase in fuel reduction targets, to a new target of 385,000 hectares per year across the state. In addition, new measures such as monitoring and assessment programs will assist in measuring the effectiveness of the increased fuel reduction program. Parks Victoria will work closely with DSE to review current public land management practices in light of the Government-accepted recommendations from the Royal Commission.

BUSHFIRE PREVENTION

Bushfire prevention includes all those actions taken before a fire starts, such as burning for fuel reduction and strategic firebreak management, to increase the chance of successful suppression. Roads and management tracks provide access essential for bushfire suppression and management of planned burns. Maintaining this road network is therefore a key element of fire protection. Tracks necessary for fire management are maintained to allow summer four-wheel drive access – track clearing is undertaken prior to each summer and other maintenance as required. Water points – places where fire vehicles can refill from streams and other water bodies, are also maintained to allow access while protecting water quality. Aircraft facilities – helipads and landing strips – are also maintained.

FUEL MANAGEMENT

Under the fire protection plan or fire management plan, fuel management zones are designated, based on fire history, fuel hazard and strategic importance. All public land is classified into four new Fire Management Zones are:

  • Asset Protection Zone (APZ)
  • Strategic Bushfire Moderation Zone (SWMZ)
  • Ecological Management Zone (EMZ)
  • Prescribed Burning Exclusion Zone (PBEZ)

These replace the former five Fuel Management Zones: Asset Protection (Zone 1), Strategic Fuel Reduced Corridors (Zone 2), Broad Area Fuel Reduced Mosaic (Zone 3), Specific Flora & Fauna Management (Zone 4) and Exclusion of Prescribed Burning (Zone 5). The current zoning applied to the planning area is available in the draft Far South West district fuel management zones.

PLANNED FIRE

Science and history tell us that fire management agencies need to rethink their approaches to managing fire in the landscape in order to restore and rebalance ecosystems, while protecting human life and property. In particular, fire management needs to provide the right mix of ‘good’ fire to sustain ecosystems, communities and industries, and reduce the incidence of ‘bad’ (large, unplanned) fire.

PLANNED BURNING FOR FUEL MANAGEMENT  

Victoria’s Bushfire Strategy proposes a significant change in the way government and Victorians understand and manage fire. A key tenet of this strategy is increased planned burning based on ecological principles. This includes a sound understanding of the specific fire requirements for different ecological systems. For example fire regimes for alpine and sub-alpine ecosystems or rainforests will differ from fire regimes for dry forests. Planned burning can be undertaken for a variety of management objectives, from asset protection to species management.

ASSET PROTECTION

Planned burning for asset protection aims to remove fuel from an area so that the rate of spread and intensity of a bushfire in that area is reduced.  

ECOLOGICAL MANAGEMENT  

Ecological management includes managing fire in an area under specified conditions – appropriate frequencies, seasons, intensities and scales – to achieve an ecological outcome. This can also mean excluding fire from an area for a certain period.

Planned burns have both fuel reduction and ecological management outcomes and these are considered when developing a fire operations plan.

FIRE SUPPRESSION

Fire suppression includes all actions taken to restrict the spread of and to extinguish a going fire, such as backburning, control line construction and use of fire retardants. Suppression is given priority over all other park management activities. The suppression strategies used are based on the following considerations.

  • protection of life, including fire fighters and property
  • predicted fire behaviour based on terrain, weather and observed fire behaviour
  • assets and values at risk from the fire or suppression activities
  • management objectives for the area
  • availability of resources such as crews or aircraft
  • access
  • methods available for suppression, including cost and likelihood of success

REHABILITATION AND RECOVERY

Rehabilitation of suppression works (such as control lines) and recovery – the repair or reconstruction of damaged facilities – commences as soon as practicable after the fire starts. The initial priority is again the safety of staff working in the fire affected area – dangerous trees are removed and hazardous tracks are either made safe or closed. Control lines are rehabilitated to protect soil and water values. Rehabilitation and recovery works also involve identifying and protecting natural and cultural values at risk following the fire or from the rehabilitation works themselves.

Fire also provides an opportunity to investigate a wide range of matters, including fire behaviour, fire ecology and surveys for values previously hidden under vegetation, such as evidence of Gunditjmara Traditional Owner occupation. This research assists in refining future protected area management, including fire management.

OTHER PLANNING PROCESSES

A number of other plans will be taken into consideration in developing the ‘Ngootyoong Gunditj, Ngootyoong Mara South West Management Plan. These include:

  • Living With Fire: Victoria‘s Bushfire Strategy (Victorian Government 2008) provides direction on how Victoria plans to meet future bushfire challenges.
  • DSE is currently reviewing and developing a new draft fire managementplan which aims to protect public land assets and values from the adverse effects of fire, as well as provide for a diversity of goods and services within sustainable levels.
  • Approved Fire Operations Plan Far South West Fire District –2010-2013 (Department of Sustainability and Environment, 2010). The Fire Operations Plan sets out the proposed fire prevention activities that will be carried out on public land in the Far South West fire district over three years.
  • The Office of the Emergency Services Commissioner has reviewed past fires, including the 2002-2003 Victorian Bushfires and the Bushfire Asset Identification and Consequence of Loss Evaluation Project, which looks at the uniform mapping of the consequences of bushfire on assets across Victoria.
  • The Royal Commission into the 2009 Bushfires – the Government-accepted recommendations of the Royal Commission will shape management of fire on public land, and be incorporated into the ‘Ngootyoong Gunditj, Ngootyoong Mara’ South WestManagement Plan, as appropriate.

OPPORTUNITIES

  • Cross land tenure ecological and cultural prescribed burns.
  • Incorporate Gunditjmara Traditional Owners knowledge into fire planning and response activities:
  • Gunditjmara Traditional Owner involvement in Incident Managment Team (IMT) - training and education required.
  • Gunditjmara Traditional Owners rosters for IMT?
  • Increase knowledge of use of fire for ecological purposes, to achieve conservation objectives
  • DSE / PV to increase understanding of DSE / PV staff on Gunditjmara Traditional Owners cultural heritage. Cultural awareness training for all local staff within planning area.
  • Implications of Royal Commission may potentially conflict with Gunditjmara Traditional Owners aspirations.

FURTHER READING

DSE 2004, Portland Fire Protection Plan

DSE 2006, Code of Practice for Fire Management on Public Land

DSE 2010, Approved Fire Operations Plan Far South West District –2010-2013

Victorian Government 2008, Living with Fire: Victoria’s Bushfire Strategy

Contact: James Hackel

Phone: 0429950623