KI fires prompt push for native veg changes

KI fire frustration lingers, calls to change native vegetation laws

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Calls have been made to review roadside vegetation management on KI as well.

Calls have been made to review roadside vegetation management on KI as well.

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Two months since the devastating KI bushfires started, locals have stressed the importance of a review into native vegetation management.

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TWO months since the devastating Kangaroo Island bushfires started, locals have stressed the importance of a review into native vegetation management.

John Symons had his 540-hectare Turkey Lane farm, north-west of Parndana, almost completely wiped out.

He lost his house, sheds and decades of valuable genetics when 2500 of his sheep perished in the firestorm on January 3.

He remains frustrated because he believes the catastrophe was avoidable.

"They let that fire go on for days in the park when it could have been put out in the hours after the lightning strike," he said.

"But for whatever reason, which I hope comes out in the coronial inquiry, bulldozers are not accepted in the park.

"So the alternative was to let the fire destroy half the island - that's not what I call conservation."

Mr Symons said in his 50-plus years in the local CFS, including time as a deputy group officer, he had never seen a fire of that intensity for that length of time.

"You can get horrendous flare-ups, but they generally run out of steam," he said.

"This fire didn't run out of steam because it went from native veg to forestry through roadsides to more native veg and forestry and it funneled up from the south like you couldn't believe.

"It took 1.5 hours to burn about 30 kilometres from South Coast Road and then wipe us out completely.

"The huge amounts of vegetation across the island, both native and forestry, fueled that fire.

"It was a miracle more people didn't die."

RELATED READING:KI fire causes utter devastation, claims two lives

Mr Symons believes the national parks on the island, including Flinders Chase, need to be "broken up" to become more manageable.

"We have to break that landscape up, you can't just have forestry backing onto native veg without it being broken up somewhere and cleaning up fuel loads up on a regular basis," he said.

He was also highly critical of the decision to "class burning native vegetation as land clearance".

"We as farmers do everything we can to look after the scrub we have, we don't kill every animal that moves," he said.

"They may as well turn it into farmland."

KI beekeeper Peter Davis agreed, saying the Native Vegetation Act 1991 had exacerbated the problem.

"The act prevents farmers from burning small bits of roadsides or creeklines so we have had this continuous wick effect," he said.

Mr Davis was a KI CFS member for 55 years and was the chairman of the Bushfire Prevention Committee after the 2007 bushfires on KI.

He said a Bushfire Prevention Plan was drawn up for KI after those fires, but nothing came of it.

"We tried to do something then to protect our community, but we were stopped by stupid legislation," he said.

Mr Davis hopes the disaster drives home to government how dangerous the "no burning" policy is once and for all.

"We have to get back to more sustainable management," he said.

HABITAT RESTORATION: Natural Resources KI presiding member Andrew Heinrich with NRKI habitat restoration officer and KI Native Plant Nursery manager Veronica Bates inspecting trees to determine what might regenerate.

HABITAT RESTORATION: Natural Resources KI presiding member Andrew Heinrich with NRKI habitat restoration officer and KI Native Plant Nursery manager Veronica Bates inspecting trees to determine what might regenerate.

NRKI presiding member Andrew Heinrich agreed more controlled burns were required, along with better roadside vegetation management.

"I am not saying we need to clear all roadside vegetation, that would spoil what makes KI so special for tourists, but we do need to do it better than what we had been doing," he said.

"At a minimum, property gateways need to be cleared to improve access for the CFS, and where roadside veg joins with native veg, there should be fire breaks wide enough to get a fire truck through, same as between farm boundaries and native veg areas."

Mr Heinrich believes forestry on KI should also be reviewed.

"With the amount of native veg we have here, the island is not big enough for both," he said.

KI Plantation Timbers managing director Keith Lamb said the company planned to continue timber production on the island.

"It's interesting because in Australia we have 2 million hectares of plantations - if there's fire on the mainland, I don't hear people saying that the forestry plantations should be removed," he said.

"It's a unique comment that comes just from KI.

"We were impacted just like everyone else.

"The main lesson for all of us is where we have native vegetation immediately adjacent to human habitation and other land uses, there needs to be a special emphasis placed on management of that vegetation both in the short and long-term."

Kangaroo Island Plantation Timbers estimates 90 per cent of the companys trees are no longer productive.

Kangaroo Island Plantation Timbers estimates 90 per cent of the companys trees are no longer productive.

KI mayor Michael Pengilly said "no change is no option".

"This was a natural fire, but there is no question of the wicking effect, from both roadside vegetation and forestry, which contributed to the intensity and speed of the fire," he said.

"It is up to the government to change the native vegetation act, not just because of what happened to us, but also in the Adelaide Hills.

"Cool burns not only have a regenerating affect, but also become safe havens for livestock and even people if fires occur again.

"It's going to take 8-10 years for us to have the capacity to have a fire like this again, on the western half of the island anyway, but it will happen again if laws don't change."

Environment Minister David Speirs said he knew of the concerns from locals about changing native vegetation laws.

"But I would prefer to wait on the recommendations of the review undertaken by (former Australian Federal Police Commissioner) Mick Keelty before I form a view," he said.

Mr Keelty was leading an independent review into the 2019-20 SA bushfire season, with findings expected to be delivered in June.

"Locals will have the opportunity to feed their expertise into that review," Mr Speirs said.

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