Time to examine the cause of current catastrophic bushfires

Time to examine the cause of current catastrophic bushfires

Opinion
Fire swept through Willawarrin, west of Kempsey, in early November. Photo supplied.

Fire swept through Willawarrin, west of Kempsey, in early November. Photo supplied.

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Without learning from past management practice by Indigenous people and then farmers we can expect more mega fires.

Aa

As humans, we are conditioned by our experience, so it is not difficult to understand the city media's reaction to the recent catastrophic bushfires.

The intensity is blamed on climate change, with the assumption if you fix that problem all will be solved.

As most farmers know, it is part of the problem but not the whole story, as we recall the 1939 Black Friday fires where 2 million acres were burnt, 700 homes lost and 75 people perished.

Climate change is both real and man-made and questioning the science is a no-brainer, but Australia must act within the limits of our economy even though we are only 1.2 per cent of the earth's emissions.

If we don't do our bit, all other countries can rightly say they will do nothing either.

After six weeks of smoke, dust and lousy air quality worse than Mumbai, cleaning up pollution across the world would be welcome by most.

The debate never gets past climate change if you are a sceptic, so hopefully I have cleared the decks to examine the other causes of the current bushfires.

As a cattle farmer, my business consumes huge amounts of grass, so in most seasons there is not a huge build-up of long dead grass that is the fuel to stoke major fires.

My next-door neighbour, Kwiambal National Park, is locked up to preserve flora and fauna.

I will not make comment about the fauna that keeps hopping across the fence to eat my grass, but focus on the huge build-up of dead grass over many years.

It has been the intention of National Parks to hazard burn it for many years but for a variety of risk reasons it has not happened.

As the NSW Farmers president, I was regularly invited to meetings following fires that had burnt out farmers. One that stuck in my mind was at Glen Innes, where I recall an elderly farmer Errol Watters telling me for 50 years he had leased large tracks of the eastern fall country to run cattle.

Errol always carried matches on the horse in winter and would light up the country so a slow cool burn would happen, allowing the birds and animals to get out of harm's way.

At the time of the meeting, National Parks had managed the area for about five years, allowing a huge build-up of dead grass and when it caught alight it fried the guts out of everything getting up into the trees, creating huge long-term damage and killing fauna.

Errol was quite distressed at the carnage after his careful stewardship.

Without learning from past management practice by Indigenous people and then farmers we can expect more mega fires.

Perhaps it is time to compare the impact of cattle grazing with the impact of catastrophic fires that wipe out much of the fauna.

To stop the loss of life and houses in peri-urban areas within 40 kilometres of towns, authorities must enforce a firebreak of at least 100 metres around homes.

As more people live in these rural hobby blocks, we might have to commission the army in extremely dry times such as now.

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