It’s spring, and I now almost everyone in Australia have one thing ringing in their mind- bushfire. These fires have become too common as we approach summer. You don’t even need to be a rocket scientist to predict it. You already know summer comes with wildfires burning across the Australian Landscape.
What makes it worse is the sensational news broadcasted by the media when covering these fires. The question we need to ask is, how much of the media is factual? And how much of it is sensational? Well, Michael Clarke, an associate professor in the department of zoology at La Trobe University, published a paper on in the CSIRO journal covering these bushfires.
The paper interrogates the effectiveness of hazard reduction burning. The method has been used to control these fires for decades. He based the paper on two major questions – whether hazard reduction saves homes and the cost of native wildlife and plants.
According to Clarke’s observation, there a lot of precious wild that is lost through these fires. The sad thing is that all this burning is done to keep the homeowners happy. He says in his paper that the kind of destruction the burning does cannot compare to the saved homes.
Clarke says that all agencies tasked with land management in Australia need to come up with better fire management methods. Methods that do not cause irreversible damages to the native wildlife and habitat. But he noted that the fire management agencies could not handle these fires. In fact, he likened fighting bushfire to controlling cyclones. So, we cannot blame the authorities for the huge fires.
The use of hazard reduction is only meant to create a false sense of security for homeowners. According to Clarke, the nature damage remains undocumented as a result of burn-offs. That’s why more effective control methods that do not burn wildlife should be used. Otherwise, Australia wildlife biodiversity will go into extinction with every burn-off we light.
But the formulation of policies to fight wildfires remains the biggest challenge. For the longest time, Clarke says we’ve been directing more resources to areas that don’t matter. He cites events on Montague Island. Since the 2001 fire, there has been a circus going on every year for the protection of penguins from burning. The much-publicised protection the little penguin not necessary at all.
With boats, helicopters, and ambulances, they turn the small island into a spectacle. At the same time, thousands of wildlife are burning on mainland Australia with no help. The only ‘effective’ way to fight mainland fires are burn-offs using incendiary devices. We already know the kind of damage this method is doing to our wildlife. So, we need to have more resources deployed for mainland fires.
At the end of his paper, Clarke calls for the more scrutinisation of hazard reduction burning. After using it for decades, it has not shown any improvement in bushfire management. He cautioned that global warming is likely to make the condition even worse in the coming years.
Clarke recommended for more sophisticated discussions between the agencies involved in land management. He suggested for data-driven solutions starting with a systematic collection of bushfire data. That would be the best strategy to help reduce damages in the ecosystems. Otherwise, hazard reduction will remain a guesswork method. The wildlife will continue to extinct, and global will come back to haunt us.