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The future of fire in Australia

By Valerie Yule - posted Tuesday, 28 February 2012

What seems best in the short-term may be making a problem worse in the long-term. Protecting Australia from wildfires by regular burning-back is the most shortsighted method. Dr Mary E. White, paleobotanist, traces the gradual drying and desertification of our country over 400 million years, in her gorgeously illustrated series of books on Australia, the Greening of Gondwana, After the Greeningand Listen, our Land is Crying(Kangaroo Press). Environment problems & solutions are set in context. These books should be in every library in the country.

She shows how what we are doing in our mere two hundred years of occupation is contributing to this drying and desertification - using up the soil and water, salination, introducing feral creatures and plants, and in the way we are fighting the natural fires, which increases the likelihood of them recurring, particularly with the increasing intensity of winds with climate change.

The Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service (QPWS) says,"Fire is an essential part of every ecosystem in Australia. QPWS now has an up to date fire management plan for all of the forests it maintains."
What this means, QPWS will at some stage burn all of the forests it controls. ‘Abcian’ writes: “This is by far the most incompetent and dangerous statement I have ever read by a department completely out of control, QPWS deliberatly destroys large areas of rain forest every year. They call this "Invasive rainforest"
. This means it is growing in an area where QPWS say it must not grow. Dangerous stuff this rainforest’.


What burn-offs do - Burn-offs kill the plants that are not fire-friendly and promote only some species,that reproduce after fires. They kill the wild-life, and prevent them escaping to safer areas. The wonderful range of biodiversity is limited,and then limited again.They add to the pollution and emissions. They raise the temperature and dryness of the country, which increases the likelihood of more fire. The bare blackened soil is likely to erode, which decreases its fertility and makes for dust-storms. Water and oil (including petrol for helicopters) are spent plentifully in making the burn-backs, as well as for fighting the number of wild-fires. Neither will be plentiful in the future, available for this purpose.

What action can be taken instead of controlled burns?

Ask: What happens in countries with similar climates and soils to our own?

A history of wildfires throughout the world would teach us much.

What are the alternatives to burn-offs? What research is exploring them?

Ideas that have been put forward, that need more investigation.


Should we be reducing eucalypts and developing more greenery that is not flammable? At present the burn-offs lead to the survival only of the plants that seed through fire. We may need to reduce the preponderance of eucalypts. Fire resistant rain forest species could be used to plant buffers. There are plenty of such species growing naturally in south east Queensland and northern New South Wales, as well as in other countries. The time and money spent on control burns could be spent planting buffer zones. It may be that eucalypts in the wrong place are dangerous, making fires more likely.

One recommendation isto leave the forests alone. These forests survived for so long prior to human interventions which started 46k years ago.
 Did the Aboriginals arrive, look at the forest and say, these forests really need a good burn every few years and they will be in much better condition? The aboriginal use of fire was for many other purposes beside deliberate conservation - for cooking, easier hunting, celebrations, and diverting enemies, for example.

Increased burning promotes the fast growing, fire promoting species such as grasses and some Eucalypts types that increase the risk of catastrophic events. .

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About the Author

Valerie Yule is a writer and researcher on imagination, literacy and social issues.

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