Bush fires in Australia

There has been a great deal of hysteria fired up by the recent bushfires in New South Wales. Apparently the fires are all a function of climate change and the planet heating up. The Australian Greens go as far as to say that the increased brush fire incidence is inversely correlated to the number of votes they have recently garnered. “Vote Green and there will be less bush fires”. Whoops!

The alarming claims of a link between global warming, local weather and bushfires comes at a time when the IPCC has clearly ruled out a direct correlation between global warming and short term weather trends. It is also the case that the categorical empirical evidence on global warming is that there has not been any … for the last seventeen years, so how can a perceived higher incidence of bush fires in NSW be a direct function of global warming … warming, which has not occurred?

The bushfires in NSW were not an early, rare or anomalous event, the historical record demonstrates that bushfires in NSW in October are not unusual. The weather this month, or the last month, or any other month, is different from just about every other month. That is the weather. It varies. It fluctuates every other which way. The BOM and the IPCC tell us the current weather patterns are not outside normal expectations.

Ironically, while the weather in NSW in October was particularly mild the weather a short distance south was exceptionally cold. In Victoria it was only the second time in  meteorological history that the October temperature averages were lower than the September averages. Is this “exceptional”? On a global level, the Arctic ice sheet has actually expanded since 2007 and the global ice sheet anomaly is at the almost at a global record, Antarctica has not been larger in recent human memory. So why all the alarm? Climate change and bush fires?

The basic fact on Australian bush fires is that the Australian continent burns regularly and severely.

The Australian bushfires are a direct function of the ecology. The predominant Australian flora, particularly the Eucalyptus, has specifically evolved to burn. The eucalypt is simply an incendiary device. Eucalypts out compete most of the surrounding flora by creating, stimulating and encouraging fires to burn. Gum trees burn very easily and enable all the surrounding vegetation to be destroyed … And then the gum trees recover very quickly. It is ecological competition, evolution and survival of the gum tree at its fiercest and most dramatic level. Gum trees are vicious killers.

The cycle of gum tree dominance in Australia began more than 110,000 years ago when the fire regime of the continent dramatically changed. The predominant casuarina species of the earlier era were overtaken by the fire eating – perpetuating eucalyptus. The indigenous human population on the continent have encouraged the ecological cataclysm with fire stick farming. The scrub was burnt regularly and severely so that the local folks could get at their tucker. It was not a unique way of farming, it happened on the prairies, pampas and the steppes and resulted in a dramatic change from the earlier dominant forest cover everywhere.

Modern writers have noted the need to maintain a high regime of forest and understory burning in Australia, as the fire stick farming of the earlier indigenous farmers has declined. But this represents somewhat of a dilemma.  Sustaining a high fire regime maintains and encourages a somewhat artificial ecology which is prone to burn more. The irony is that by not burning so often the ecology can move “back” to a sustainable vegetative equilibrium which does unfortunately spontaneously encourage fire. Part of the dilemma is that this ecological evolution takes time and the evolving ecology is highly vulnerable to fire. Currently, the quiet and surprising expansion of nothofagus forest in the southern states of Victoria and Tasmania, where bush fires have been most dramatic in the past, is a very optimistic sign of a “sneak” back to a less fire prone environment. Possibly one which needs to be considered seriously and encouraged.

In the short to medium run, the management of vegetation over the continent is a critical issue, and ironically the inability to reason and rationalize an appropriate and sustainable pathway through brushfire management is most likely attributable to the short sighted (some might say blind) environmental perspectives of the Greens. It is true that the recent 5 to 6 years of La Nina dominated mild and fruitful seasons have encouraged significant growth of fire disposed understory. Unfortunately, as a function of much local government resistance, overseen by the Greens, the proper management of this understory has not taken place. Local green dominated councils have not enabled the appropriate burning or clearing of this bush fire time bomb. Unfortunately, the blind Green myopia for nature as they see it means that the elephant in the room, the insidious incendiary gum tree can not be dealt with.

The gum tree is seen to be Australian, as much as kangaroos and the koala. It is all very naive and childish.
Australian bush fires are made worse firstly because many more Australians want to live in the bush, and when they get there they are barred by local councils from removing the eucalypt monster in their midst. If Australians are to live sustainably in the bush they need to recognize the danger of the gum trees surrounding them and replace these trees with other species which do not pose such a threat. If this cannot be done, no one should live in eucalyptus forests.

The Greens want people to live in the Australian bush, naturally … But humans living in a fire bomb eucalyptus forest are not natural. The blind Green perspective of Australian nature is in fact making the bushfire regime worse, magnifying the costs by encouraging more innocents to live among the trees without dealing with the fire risk.

The current and emerging brushfire regime in Australia is a function of how modern Austalian’s, significantly influenced by the Greens, manage the existing floral ecosystem – or rather how it is not managed. Either the fire stick farming approach of an earlier era needs to be adopted wholeheartedly and innocents should not be encouraged to live amongst the gum trees, or a substantial and rational program of ecological management and manipulation needs to be considered to move the dominant Australian ecology away from the fire bomb prone eucalyptus forest.

There might be a place for gum trees in certain safe regional situations in Australia, but generally gum trees should not be cultivated where humans choose to live in large numbers. The Australian Greens perspective of “nature” is ironically magnifying the problem of gum trees and bushfires in Australia.

Dr A.K Dragun

November 2013


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s