Ecosystems and livelihoods will be lost without fire and conservation policy changes, a study says. Image by David Crosling/AAP PHOTOS

Environment

Bigger fires scorch Vic more often: study

2020-05-19 17:17:25

Bushfires are scorching Victoria more often and across bigger areas, prompting researchers to call for a major fire management overhaul.

The Australian National University has detailed the extent of bushfire damage across Victoria over the past two decades.

The study published on Tuesday outlines the need for a fire and land management overhaul, co-author David Lindenmayer says.

“What we found is the state is burning more and more. Prior to 2000, we had one mega-fire in Victoria in 150 years of records. Since 2000, we’ve already had three,” Professor Lindenmayer said.

“We can also see the extensive and frequent re-burning of previously fire-damaged areas, sometimes with a gap as short as five or six years. 

“These results make a compelling case for a major policy shake-up, with the aim of reducing mega-fires, protecting unburnt areas and managing repeatedly-damaged ecosystems.”

It is the first time the full spatial extent of bushfires dating back 25 years has been revealed, he added.

The study maps where the bushfires in Victoria happened between 1995, the start of the millennium drought, and 2020.

Bushfires scorched about 1.5 million hectares across Victoria during the past summer season alone.

This is the largest area hit by wildfires in the state since 1939, when 3.4 million hectares burned, Professor Lindenmayer said.

“Of the 1.5 million hectares burned during the 2019–2020 fire season, more than 600,000 hectares have burned twice, and more than 112,000 hectares have burned three times over the past 25 years,” he said.

Vital ecosystems and livelihoods will be at risk without changes to fire, resource and conservation policies, he added. 

“We can no long look at bushfires as unexpected, out-of-the-blue events. The data tells us they’re only becoming more frequent,” he said.

“These findings, in turn, underscore an urgent need for new policies and approaches to land management.”

Two-thirds of the area in East Gippsland due to be logged over the next five years was razed in the summer’s bushfires.

This equates to a 30 per cent hit to the state’s logging target for 2025.

Professor Lindenmayer said the burned native forest dedicated to logging will no longer be economically and ecologically viable.

The findings could apply to other areas in Australia and internationally under threat from widespread, and frequent bushfires, researchers say.

The research was published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.