My Daily Advertiser Op Ed column for this week

by ray goodlass

Claims of a ‘greenies’ conspiracy to block hazard reduction rejected by bushfire experts

In spite of the evidence, many falsely claim that a major contributing factor of Australia’s devastating fire season is a conspiracy by environmentalists to “lock up” national parks and prevent hazard reduction activities. Such accusations have also been shouted at me in the streets of Wagga. This is despite all the evidence that clearly proves the early arrival and ferocity of the fire season is due to human caused climate change.

It is time to put this dangerous misconception to rest.

The ‘blame the ‘greenies’ rhetoric is rife at several levels, including commercial TV, the Murdoch press’s Daily Telegraph, on social media, and from the very top. At the height of the fires prime minister, Scott Morrison called for more hazard reduction and said “The most constant issue that has been raised with me has been the issue of managing fuel loads in national parks.”

Are greenies really stopping hazard reduction? A look at the evidence proves otherwise.

The Australian Greens policy on hazard reduction quite clearly calls for  “An effective and sustainable strategy for fuel-reduction management that will protect biodiversity and moderate the effects of wildfire for the protection of people and assets, developed in consultation with experts, custodians and land managers”.

The claim of a conspiracy by environmentalists to block hazard reduction activities has also been firmly rejected by bushfire experts, who have unequivocally said it is disproved by hard data on actual hazard reduction activities in national parks.

The head of the NSW Rural Fire Service has dismissed claims by Nationals MP Barnaby Joyce that a lack of hazard reduction burns, not climate change, is the main culprit for Australia’s ongoing bushfire crisis.

Indeed, hazard reduction burning is “not a silver bullet” said Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews.

As the DA reported, “Scientists have disputed claims a lack of hazard reduction burns have led to the size of the bushfires, with senior fire chiefs blaming the effects of climate change”.

Prof David Bowman, the director of the fire centre research hub at the University of Tasmania, said: “It’s ridiculous. To frame this as an issue of hazard reduction in national parks is just lazy political rhetoric.”

Prof Ross Bradstock, the director of the centre for environmental risk management of bushfires at the University of Wollongong, has said “These are very tired and very old conspiracy theories that get a run after most major fires. They’ve been extensively dealt with in many inquiries.”

In the last full fire season of 2018 and 2019, the National Parks and Wildlife Service in NSW told Guardian Australia it carried out hazard reduction activities across more than 139,000 hectares, slightly above its target.

There are two major restricting factors for carrying out prescribed burning. One is the availability of funds and personnel, and the second is the availability of weather windows.

The 2018-19 annual report of the NSW Rural Fire Service says: “The ability of the NSW RFS and partner agencies to complete hazard reduction activities is highly weather dependent, with limited windows of opportunity.”

A former NSW fire and rescue commissioner, Greg Mullins, has written that the hotter and drier conditions, and the higher fire danger ratings, were preventing agencies from carrying out prescribed burning.

He said: “There has been lots of hazard reductions done over the years, more by national parks than previous years, but the fires have burned through those hazard reduction areas.”

Mullins dismissed suggestions that the bushfires were down to “greenies” preventing hazard reduction activities. “This is the blame game. We’ll blame arsonists, we’ll blame greenies,” he said.

“When will the penny drop with this government?”

The National Parks Association of NSW’s president, Anne Dickson, has also responded to the attacks on environmentalists. “It may be politically expedient to pretend that conservationists exercise some mythical power over fire legislation and bushfire management committees, but it is not so.”

So let’s stop blaming the ‘greenies’ and instead look to how we can mitigate the bushfire risk by using good management practices. As Greens NSW MP David Shoebridge said, “This will be resolved by careful policy, by proper resourcing and by people putting the science before the politics.” Mr Shoebridge has never voted against hazard reduction burns.

Unfortunately, as with climate change, some people adamantly deny the truth of the science.