One of the wettest springs in more than 30 years has slowed the Department of Conservation and Land Management’s prescribed burning program to a virtual standstill.
Environment Minister Judy Edwards today said CALM had completed or started prescribed burns on just over 35,000ha in the South-West forests this spring. This was less than half the area achieved at the same time last year.
“This is because the South-West has recorded one of the wettest spring periods for more than 30 years,” Dr Edwards said.
“For example, Manjimup recorded 26 rainy days in September, compared with a mean of 17 wet days and 22 rainy days in October, compared with a mean of 15.
“In both these months, there were only four days across the whole forest areas when the conditions were dry enough to enable effective burns to be undertaken. In fact, in the southern forests, there was only one day in those two months on which burning could be conducted.”
The Minister said priorities had been to reduce fuels where wildfires would threaten communities and private properties, as well as to provide strategic protection for fire vulnerable ecosystems. CALM had targeted areas such as Mundaring, Kalamunda, Armadale, Jarrahdale and Dwellingup.
“The lack of suitable burning days also has meant that CALM has had to take the opportunity to burn on days when there is a risk of smoke haze, particularly over the metropolitan area,” Dr Edwards said.
“The department consequently has issued several ‘smoke alerts’ on the days it has conducted prescribed burns.
“Because of the need to undertake a substantial burning program in the lead-up to the prohibited burning season, it is expected that there will be days when it is necessary to issue further smoke alerts.
“The community may have to accept that some short-term inconvenience is preferable to a repeat of the extremely smoky conditions experienced for 10 days during the Perth Hills fire last January.”
The Minister said the Government had increased personnel and funding for CALM to undertake prescribed burns.
Eight new fire officers had been appointed in the past six months and an additional 40 permanent conservation employees, who also were involved in fire management operations, had been employed in the South-West.
Dr Edwards said CALM’s prescribed burning target for 2005-06 in the South-West was about 200,000ha.
The department expected that given suitable conditions over the next six to eight weeks, it would carry out prescribed burns on about 90,000ha by Christmas. This would mean that there would be an extensive burning program next autumn.
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