As Einstein is claimed to have said - ”Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results”.
When the recommendations of The Stretton Royal Commission, that followed the 1939 Black Friday Fires, are still to be fully implemented and there have been 57 further inquiry since then, it is time to ask what we need to do differently.
“Catastrophic fire conditions may become more common, rendering traditional bushfire prediction models and firefighting techniques less effective”. That is a quote from the recently released Interim Report by the Natural Disasters Royal Commission.
Another quote in reference to the massive loss of wildlife notes, “The 2019-2020 bushfires have been described as an ‘ecological disaster’”.
Our fire experience here in Australia and the current US experience provide undeniable evidence that our established standards and practices for forest fuel management are ineffective methodologies for protection and conservation of flora and fauna and for the safety of established communities.
The Black Summer fires were a wake-up call. Fiddling with what we have been doing will not achieve the quantum change necessary.
In our efforts to protect and conserve our concept of the “natural environment” are we misguidedly increasing the very real threat to the future of the flora and fauna we seek to protect?
If native wildlife could survive and adapt to fire for centuries before Europeans set foot in Australia then perhaps our efforts at mitigating our impact and that of fire should be attempting to get closer to emulating the natural fire regime that existed before we interfered.
Fire, mostly slower and cooler burning, was a regular event that encouraged woodland and open forest with minimal understorey. Descriptions of the forest environment by old timber industry workers emphasise the almost total absence of understorey and the relative freedom of movement through the forest as they walked to their work locations. Photographs taken during the 20's and 30's tend to support these descriptions.
The growing interest in trying to replicate the fuel management practices used by our indigenous predecessors might help us re-create the fire regime and natural environment that existed in the past.
Only then will our well trained and capable suppression forces using the best available technology have some chance of achieving a degree of control over wildfires.