Like what you've read?

On Line Opinion is the only Australian site where you get all sides of the story. We don't
charge, but we need your support. Here�s how you can help.

  • Advertise

    We have a monthly audience of 70,000 and advertising packages from $200 a month.

  • Volunteer

    We always need commissioning editors and sub-editors.

  • Contribute

    Got something to say? Submit an essay.

 The National Forum   Donate   Your Account   On Line Opinion   Forum   Blogs   Polling   About   
On Line Opinion logo ON LINE OPINION - Australia's e-journal of social and political debate


On Line Opinion is a not-for-profit publication and relies on the generosity of its sponsors, editors and contributors. If you would like to help, contact us.


RSS 2.0

Bushfire 'experts' not helping us adapt to climate change

By Vic Jurskis - posted Monday, 15 February 2021

The Bushfires Royal Commission totally failed to address the absence of sustainable land management which led to Black Summer. It didn't even properly fulfil its requirement to consider the outcomes of previous Inquiries, stopping short at the 2004 COAG Report by two academics and a fire chief. COAG effectively swept under the carpet A Nation Charred, the report of the House of Reps Inquiry into the 2003 disasters, which heard from experienced land and fire managers across Australia.

Now we've got another expert report from academics at Griffith University and Australian National University, led by Professor Brendan Mackey. He's the Director of the "Griffith Climate Action Beacon". Having seen some of his scientific papers, I wondered why he'd be the lead author of a paper about bushfires, so I checked his "bio" on the university web site. Mackey is a Bachelor of Applied Science, University of Canberra, and PhD in ecology ANU. Apparently he's an expert in climate adaptation, but there is no indication of any relevant experience in land and fire management.

One of Mackey's colleagues on the Bushfire Recovery Project is Professor David Lindenmayer from ANU. Over a 30 year career as a PhD, Lindenmayer has published an outstanding 1300 scientific articles and books – that's nearly one a week. His bio on the BushfireFacts website lists 3 Fellowships, 15 prestigious awards and an AO, but doesn't mention any experience relevant to bushfires.


On Thursday, Professor Mackey was spruiking an "expert review", hot off the press, of "51 peer-reviewed scientific papers" about bushfire. I freely admit that I haven't bothered to read the expert review, because the key findings released to the media are not right. To be effective, peer review must be critical. This rarely happens when the peers have similar experiences, ideas and institutions as the authors whose work they review. In these circumstances, expert reviews tend to suffer from double confirmation bias.

Professor Mackey told a reporter that climate change was the key factor contributing to the severity of recent bushfires because we had one of the worst droughts in our history. In fact, our written history goes back only 230 years but we've had equally bad or worse droughts without holocaust.

During the Settlement Drought in the early 1790s, Aboriginal fires were burning 24/7/365.

There were many occasions of extreme fire weather including 3 consecutive days of searing northwesterly gales and temperatures in the 40s which saw masses of flying foxes and lorikeets dropping dead at Parramatta. When fires reached the European settlements they were able to be contained using hand tools and green branches, because fuels were light and discontinuous. The landscape was healthy and safe.

Aborigines managed fire through 40,000 years of climate change in our country "of droughts and flooding rains". They didn't have boots or overalls, let alone advice from experts on climate adaptation. Megafires are caused by stupidity – fighting fire instead of using it.

According to Mackey's expert academics, mild burning can't prevent natural disasters such as Black summer. But there was nothing natural about it. A 70,000 year record from sediment cores shows an outstanding increase in charcoal deposition, that is, biomass burning, when Europeans arrived. After foresters re-introduced mild fire in the landscape from the mid-twentieth century, charcoal deposition declined against a trend of rising temperatures.


Sixty years of empirical data from multiple use forests in southwestern Australia show, as managers know from experience, that prescribed burning helps to reduce the incidence and extent of wildfires. Furthermore, the academics and modellers have the story exactly back to front. Burning makes little difference in average fire seasons. It main effect is to prevent the development of megafires during severe fire seasons when extreme weather would otherwise drive the development of unstoppable firestorms and long-distance ember showers.

In the southwest, "Our results show prescribed burning to be more effective in reducing the upper values of the annual area burnt by unplanned fire than the median".

In the southeast, academics make models supposedly showing that burning doesn't work because the bush is different.

  1. Pages:
  2. Page 1
  3. 2
  4. All

Discuss in our Forums

See what other readers are saying about this article!

Click here to read & post comments.

10 posts so far.

Share this:
reddit this reddit thisbookmark with Del.icio.usdigg thisseed newsvineSeed NewsvineStumbleUpon StumbleUponsubmit to propellerkwoff it

About the Author

Vic Jurskis has been a forester for 40 years. He has published extensively in academic journals. He is the author of Firestick Ecology: fairdinkum science in plain English (Connor Court, 2015).

Other articles by this Author

All articles by Vic Jurskis

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

Article Tools
Comment 10 comments
Print Printable version
Subscribe Subscribe
Email Email a friend

About Us Search Discuss Feedback Legals Privacy