2015-12-01 Precribed burning south west


In relation to prescribed burning in the three forest regions in the South West of Western Australia, I ask:
(a) in what year was an annual target for the area to be prescribe burnt first introduced;
(b) what was the target;
(c) why was that target chosen;
(d) in what year was the annual target of 250,000 hectares introduced;
(e) why was that target chosen;
(f) in what year was the annual target of 200,000 hectares introduced;
(g) why was that target chosen;
(h) what is the current target;
(i) why was that target chosen;
(j) what are the main reasons the target was not reached in 13 of the last 20 years;
(k) why is the area burnt in wildfires not counted towards the target;
(l) what is the total area of land on which this policy is practised; and
(m) what agency, or agencies, are responsible for implementing the policy?
Answered on 15 March 2016

The Minister for Environment has provided the following response.

(a) The annual target was first formally proposed by the then Department of Conservation and Land Management in its submission to the Ministerial Fire Review Panel (Lewis Review) in 1994 and has been publicly reported against since 2007/08.

(b) 200,000 hectares per annum.

(c) Experience and historical data have shown that prescribed burning sustained at this level reduced the size and severity of bushfires and that larger prescribed burning programs delivered a diminishing benefit to cost ratio. Subsequent research by Boer et al (2009) supported this position and also found that fuel reduction by prescribed burning was effective in an area for approximately six years after the burn was implemented.

(d) There is no record of an annual target of 250,000 hectares being introduced.

(e) See (d) above.

(f) See (a) above.

(g) See (c) above.

(h) See (b) above.

(i) See (a) above.

(j) Combinations of a drying and warming climate, land use changes, increased complexity of carrying out prescribed burns due to population growth and legacies of past industrial activity including mining rehabilitation and regrowth forest, air quality issues, significant change associated with improvement of risk management procedures, and a reduction in the number of experienced operational and technical personnel over the last two to three decades. The enhanced prescribed burning program, underpinned by $20 million of Royalties for Regions funding over four years, is designed to help address these challenges.

(k) It would be a misrepresentation to report the area of bushfires as a prescribed burning achievement. Unlike prescribed burning, the extent, timing and location of bushfires is unpredictable, so cannot be planned to deliver strategic protection of communities or other values. However, the strategic location and extent of bushfires is taken into consideration when planning subsequent prescribed burn programs.

(l) Approximately 2.5 million hectares of land managed by the Department of Parks and Wildlife.

(m) The Department of Parks and Wildlife.