Wild Bushfire Control and Management in New South Wales, Australia

by Jason Shaw
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Table of Contents

  • Introduction
  • Problems
  • 2.1 Goals
  • 2.2 Context
  • 2.3 Evaluating Problems in terms of Decision Making
  • Analysis of the Problem
  • 3.1 Trends Fire Management
  • 3.2 Exploration of the factors and conditions that have shaped the trends
  • 3.3 Projection of future trends, with an emphasis on exploring the relationship between projected impacts and the achievement of goals
  • Alternative Actions towards Reducing the Impact of Bushfires in the Blue Mountain
  • 4.1 Regulated Patrolling of the High Fire Risk Areas
  • 4.2 Building Enhancement
  • 4.3 Wildlife Protection
  • 4.4 Accurate Weather Forecast and Warning System
  • 4.5 Integration of Indigenous Knowledge and Experience
  • 4.6 Increasing Public Awareness
  • 4.7 Adaptive Management Process
  • Conclusion
  • References

1. Introduction

Bush-land and rangelands, within the region of New South Wales, Australia comprises a wide range of landscapes that has long been experiencing severe destructions owing to the ignition of natural fire. The bushfire regimes, thus imposed within the region, have also been recognised to significantly influence on the recent structure along with the composition of the overall ecosystem of the area (NSW Government, 2012). Apparently, the frequent incidents of bushfires are considered as one of the major threats for the human life, causing degradation of natural and cultural values of the national parks and reserves that are protected by the NSW National Parks and Wildlife Services (NPWS) (NSW Government, n.d.). It is however worth mentioning that bushfire is a natural incidence, which acts as a cyclical process of bio-diversity as it is able to fertilize lands and increase mineral density in the soil to cultivate better afforestation. Corresponding to the fact, its benefits to the environment are often observed to be limited to its efficient management, aimed at ensuring that the fire remains in its low-intensity scale. To be noted, bushfire extending from its defined intensity scale is categorised as a natural disaster and may cause immense loss to human kind and livestock in the region. This in turn necessitates better and efficient management of bushfire (Geoscience Australia, 2007).    

Emphasising the long-standing threats from the bushfires in the New South Wales region of Australia, the report tends to critically analyse the major problems associated with bushfire and the corresponding steps taken by the NPWS to effectively deal with the persisting issues within the region. In order to provide adequate support to the bushfire, the management processes implemented by the NPWS along with their currently practiced advanced fire management regimes have been critically analysed in this report. Thus, the report would focus not only on the initiatives of NPWS along with critically assess the performance of Rural Fire Service (RFS) to protect lands from bushfire in the respective region. Moreover, the report also encompasses the major influencing factors leading to the frequent incidence of bushfire. The report also analyses the bushfire management planning and measures developed by the agencies towards protecting the natural heritage of Blue Mountains and proposes alternatives.

Wild Bushfire Control and Management in New South Wales, Australia

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2. Problems

2.1 Goals

The goals of management plans for preventing bushfires in the Blue Mountains region are highly focused on ensuring adequate compliance with the responsibilities of protecting and conserving natural and cultural values of the national parks and reserves. Moreover, the fire management plans of NPWS also encompass towards protecting human life and national properties including buildings, homes and lands (NSW Government, 2012). In relation to the present scenario, regarding the measures taken by NPWS, it has been recognised that the numbers of actions performed by the councils and other public organisations principally aim to prevent the damage from the frequent bushfires. In this regards, ‘hazard management programs’, ‘Record achievement for hazard reduction in national parks’ and ‘managing wildfires’ are few of the recent initiatives of NPSW, Rural Fire Service (RFS) in the southwest region of Australia (NSW Government, 2012).

In order to proactively attain the goals and objectives associated with the issue, the management plan incorporates a set of values. Firstly, the protection of life along with properties such as lands, homes and buildings located in the parks and adjacent natural lands is considered as one of the primary objectives in order to achieve the predetermined goal. Secondly, the objective of protecting and conserving natural, cultural, scenic and recreational values has also been considered in order to attain the goal of the management plan. Thirdly, the values associated with promoting long-term cooperation with the other bushfire management councils have also been identified as a major part of management controlling process implemented in protecting the natural heritages from the bushfires. In this regard, the value associated with cooperation is focused on planning and effectively implementing bushfire management program and protect the natural and cultural heritage of the range of parks and reserves within Blue Mountains regions (Gould, 2009).

2.2 Context 

The bushfire have long been witnessed to impose severe impacts on the natural properties and human life, along with causing hazardous conditions of the natural and cultural heritage within the parks and reserves of Blue Mountains. In this regard, it has been identified that a range of problems might lead to an increase in the vulnerabilities for the human life, causing hazards to the effective conservation of values of natural properties (RFS, 2010). In order to accomplish the goal of protecting and conserving the natural and cultural heritage of the Blue Mountains, the problems that are observed in managing bushfire in the Blue Mountain region can be considered within two major contexts; such as

  • Lack of ability to stop/control bushfires (Intensity and frequency), whereby the current management process focuses on protecting life and property, which are not enough (Chapple, 2007)
  • Lack of integration and planning between agencies (i.e. NPWS, Council and Rural Fire Service (RFS)) has been decreasing the overall effectiveness and consistency of bushfire management (Chapple, 2007)
2.3 Evaluating Problems in terms of Decision Making

Assessing the present problems observed in the management process of bushfires in the Blue Mountains, it has been identified that a management committee has been formed as Bushfire Coordinating Committee (BFCC). This committee is majorly concerned with the frequency and intensity of bushfire within the Blue Mountains area. Notably, the previous measures of the BFCC and activities performed by the Bush Fire Risk Management Plan (BFRMP) have been continuously failing to protect the region from the frequency and intensity of the damages caused and therefore, can be criticised to have been ineffective to a substantial extent (NSW Government, n.d.). Correspondingly, the major problems associated with bushfire in Blue Mountains can be characterised into two broad segments as discussed in the following sections.

Frequency and Intensity of Bushfire in the Blue Mountains Region

The destruction caused by too frequent and intense bushfire can be considered as one of the major problems which have severely impacted the natural heritage of the Greater Blue Mountains World Heritage Area (GBMWHA), under which the area affected by the frequency and intensity of bushfire is generally treated (NSW Government, 2013). This has long been recognized as a major initiative taken to uphold long-term sustainability of the ecological conditions of those areas. In GBMWHA, the areas comprise unique ecology with scenic landscapes, wild rivers along with biodiversity and water catchments that have been faced serious degradation due to the high frequency and intensity of the bushfires over the past decades (NSW Government, 2013).

Trends of Bushfire Frequency and Intensity in Blue Mountains Region

In relation to the observation of the NSW Rural Fire Service (RFS), it has been recognised that the incidences frequently take place during the months of October to March in each calendar year. In the year 1957, the bushfires driven by the gale force winds in the Blue Mountains area devastated many homes along with shops, churches, schools and hospitals. Bushfires during the year 1968-1969, had also been recognised to impose massive damages of the lower Blue Mountains area destroying rainforests, homes and developmental infrastructural projects causing massive losses. In the year 1976-1997, it was further estimated that around 65,000ha area was destroyed, including the destruction of a huge amount of properties and lives. In the following year of 1977-1978, around 54,000ha along with 49 buildings were destroyed that have also been identified to cause a loss of major properties across the suburban areas of the Blue Mountains. More significantly, the bushfires in Blue Mountains during the period of 2000-2001 had also destructed a large segment of the region, followed by heavy rain and hail together with strong winds (NSW Government, 2013).

The trend of frequency and intensity of bushfire in the Blue Mountains region is a long-standing issue, which has been identified to convey severe destruction of the natural resources including public and private properties throughout the past few decades. In relation to the historical background of the particular area, the GBMWHA has faced a significant numbers of bushfires, which have further destroy developmental growth in the region along with hindering the flourish of its fauna and flora. The frequent occurrence of the concern has raised numbers of problems for the NPWS, forcing more effective measures to protect the region from any further damages and maintain the well-being of the natural habitat.

With respect to the past performances of NPWS and its Rural Fire Service (RFS) dimension, numerous protective plans and measures can be witnessed as undertaken in order to reduce the impact of bushfire within the respective location. Moreover, the management initiatives concerning the issue have also been recognised to minimise the potential impact of bushfire causing risks to the natural and cultural heritage of the Blue Mountains region. However, the fire management strategies and measures of RFS have been observed to experience dissatisfactory results to save millions of wildlife along with national properties located in the Blue Mountains region. In this regard, the value associated with protecting life and property within the Blue Mountains areas would enable to critically assess and measure the management procedures implemented by the councils and corporations (Geoscience Australia, 2007).

Lack of Integration and Planning between Bushfires Control and Management Agencies

When observing the frequencies and intensities of bushfires in the GBMWHA, it can be identified that there is a significant lack of integration as well as planning between the agencies including NPWS, Council and Rural Fire Services (RFS) within the Blue Mountains region. Although, the governmental departments and councils have taken adequate measures regarding the effective control and management of bushfires, the management process lacked a fully adaptive and integrative framework that failed to consider the long-standing concern of bushfires in the Blue Mountains region (Chapple, 2007). These deficiencies in mitigating the frequent incidence of bushfires further cause severe destruction of the natural assets including lands, forests, wildlife and public and private properties expanding from its low-intensity (which could rather be beneficial) to a high-intensity scale (developing a shape of natural disaster). Therefore, the ineffective cooperation among the agencies in building and practicing bushfire management strategies and measures also increases the timing for remedial responses. This increases spreading time for the bushfire and thus, can be argued as a major cause for the frequent bushfire destruction in the region (Chapple et al 2011). 

The problems associated with lack of integration and planning within the management process implemented for the bushfires controlling agencies and management departments can be considered as a major set of issues that are generally raised due to inappropriate planning and lack of coordination. With regard to the continuous threats of bushfires in the Blue Mountains region, an extensive numbers of measures taken by the management agencies can be observed. In the social context, the initiatives associated with urban planning, community education, environment protection, risk management planning can be considered as few of the major bushfire issues that are often observed to involve a significant lack of proper planning and coordination. Owing to the involvement of many variables and complexities in managing the same, the bushfire control agencies operating within the Blue Mountains region have also been faced significant criticisms due to their inadequate measures towards effectively planning the prevention steps with regard to the frequency and intensity of bushfires across the different locations in the Blue Mountain region (Blue Mountains World Heritage Institute, 2013). Additionally, projection without alternative actions regarding the frequent event of bushfires can also be taken into account as a major cause for the failure of the councils to accomplish their desired goals (Chapple et al. 2011). In this context, the rising population within the fire regimes along with increasing the numbers of protected areas managed by NPWS can be considered as a major option for the respective departments and councils to prevent the brutal impact of bushfires in the respective location.

3. Analysis of the Problem

In relation to the aforesaid problems associated with the management of bushfires, it has been identified that the minimum frequency and intensity of the destructive events have radically affected a large amount of properties in the region along with causing monetary losses to be incurred by the councils. Although the management processes of bushfire management integrate numbers of strategic measures, in various cases the initiatives have also been recognised as quite ineffective in minimising the impact of bushfire along with its frequency and intensity. In this regard, the trends and changes in managing bushfires have radically influenced the management issues associated with protecting natural assets including human life, lands, forests along with public and private properties of the Blue Mountains (Chapple et. al., 2011).  

3.1 Trends Fire Management

In relation to the in-depth analysis of the problems and their management processes associated with protecting the impact of bushfires, trends and changes associated with political and socio-economic structures can be considered as the major influencing factors. These trends and changes can be observed in terms of population density, community development needs and growth of agencies along with the changing nature of the climate/weather in the region, which has been imposing obstructions as well as augmenting the need for a better management framework in order to counter the issue identified. Additionally, the population trend can also be considered as a major constraint for the bushfire management organisations, as it generally tends to increase the number of induced fires, which have also influenced on the implemented protective measures. An in-depth understanding to the situation depicts that the migration trend in the mountain areas is largely influenced by the rising economic pressure on the urban population motivates residents to relocate in high proximity regions. This further increases challenges for effective bushfire management in the Blue Mountains region (Department of Environment and Primary Industries, 2013).

Moreover, the trends and changes associated with community and agencies can also be considered as a major influencing factor determining the success of the implemented bushfire management activities and compensate the caused damages across the region. Correspondingly, the trends in coordination among the bushfire prevention agencies along with their combat techniques have also major bearing upon the recent managing functions of the governmental agencies. Although the resolving techniques practiced by the organisations involve the usage of various technological resources, the bushfire management activities also exhibit certain inefficacies that resulted in its efficacy (Gould, 2009).

3.2 Exploration of the Factors and Conditions that have Shaped the Trends

The political factors are commonly associated with the trends, individual knowledge and different research analyses, which are likely to shape the process of controlling and managing bushfires in the Blue Mountains area (Department of Environment and Primary Industries, 2013).

In relation to the present day context, the political roles of the governing party can be considered as a major influencing factor of controlling and managing bushfires in the Blue Mountains regions. Assessing the political influence, the bushfire management activities are frequently observed to face significant obstacles caused by the changing governmental decisions for financing or developing controlling measures.  The changing financing structure for protecting the frequency and intensity of bushfire can be considered as a major political influence for the NPWS RFS to minimise the devastation of the physical and public properties within the said area. Notably, the budget allocation or planning cost management programme for addressing potential hazards is often influenced by the changing political conditions, which can significantly influence the overall process of bushfire management operations. In relation to the bushfire management programs of NPWS RFS, the activities undertaken by the agencies have been recognised to face issues associated with finance and infrastructure development, fundamentally due to the continuing instability and changing political structure of the country (Office of Environment and Heritage NSW, 2013). Therefore, it can be stated that politics also play a major role in terms of shaping an effective control mechanism for satisfying bushfire prevention and compensation needs (Department of Environment and Primary Industries, 2013).

In order to mitigate potential bushfire issues in the Blue Mountains region, the management functions of NPWS RFS should focus on critically understanding the primary causes of bushfires and their frequency in the respective area. The initiatives of gaining knowledge regarding the issues and its potential measures would further help NPWS RFS to increase the efficiency of bushfire management processes. Therefore, it is highly essential for the management team to obtain adequate knowledge regarding the major causes and their mitigation processes. Moreover, the growing interests regarding the concern of bushfires have also been recognised to be continually analysed by a substantial number of researchers, which have proved to be of great aid in ratifying issues associated with the management of bushfire. Therefore, continuous research and analyses regarding the controlling process can also influence change in the trends of managing bushfires in the Blue Mountains region. With this regard, the development of knowledge based programs for the fire management agencies would prove as a major and effective tool in terms of minimising the destruction of natural assets by bushfires in the Blue Mountains region (Department of Environment and Primary Industries, 2013).

3.3 Projection of Future Trends, with an Emphasis on Exploring the Relationship Between Projected Impacts and the Achievement of Goals

As it has been recognised that bushfires in the Blue Mountains area have innumerable environmental, social and economic impacts, effective risk management, assessment, policy development and formulation needs of effective bushfires management strategies can be considered to be a pivotal concern.

The bushfire management agencies have been highly focused on deploying advanced technology based products and services in order to evade the potential losses of lives and natural properties around the region of Blue Mountains. In this context, newly built strategies for managing and controlling bushfire would thus enable the agencies to effectively deal with a number of key areas including fire planning, ecosystem restoration along with rehabilitation program for the affected areas (Gould, 2009).

The implementation of advanced technological equipments in bushfire management and rehabilitation programmes would further enable the governing bodies to easily track the performance of the agencies and thus, it would also facilitate to identify and formulate different alternative actions relating to the prevailed concern (Gould, 2009). Furthermore, the activities relating to the future trends of managing bushfire would also emphasise determining the roles, responsibilities along with collaboration process demands among the agencies, which in turn would facilitate their efficacies to a large extent. Therefore, it would also help to estimate the potential impact of the event and help the agencies and corporations to meet the goals of protecting and conserving the natural and cultural heritage of the Blue Mountains properties (Department of Environment and Primary Industries, 2013).

4. Alternative Actions towards Reducing the Impact of Bushfires in the Blue Mountain

There are numbers of measures and initiatives that can be identified as principally focused on minimising the negative influence of bushfires within the Blue Mountain region. However, from the observation of the past bushfire management activities, it has been identified to have resulted as ineffective in protecting natural resources along with public and private properties from the frequent incidence of bushfires in the respective Blue Mountain area, and thus have failed to accomplish the intended goals (ACT Government, 2009). Therefore, numbers of long-term alternative actions have been suggested for the bushfire management agencies to enhance the efficacy of their range of bushfire management activities in order to reduce the brutal impact of bushfires.

4.1 Regulated Patrolling of the High Fire Risk Areas

The continuous process of patrolling high fire risk areas can be apparently identified as one of the major and essential activities for the bushfire management councils. In this regard, the councils and organisations should highly focus on providing effective training and development programs to the taskforces allocated in different proximity areas of bushfire. Moreover, training associated with advanced technological aspects in order to perform regulated monitoring process of the bushfires would also help the agencies to protect a large amount of natural resources and properties from the bushfires. Moreover, it would also enable the bushfire management organisations to take early steps and protect a large amount of natural properties and human lives in the region (ACT Government, 2009).

4.2 Building Enhancement

Initiatives focused on enhancing the currently applied remedial measures on bushfire management would also prove effective for the agencies to protect a large amount of natural assets including human life, forests, wildlife along with various types of public and private properties. In this context, an adequate focus on developing construction processes would facilitate the management controlling agencies to lower the frequency and intensity of bushfire in the Blue Mountains region. Moreover, allocating water pumps and alarming system in different high fire risk areas can also provide extensive advantage to the fire management councils to protect a major part of natural properties and human lives from destruction (Cary et al. 2012).

4.3 Wildlife Protection

Critical observations to the aspect revealed that the incidences of bushfires take place within the deep forests and imposes greater risk for the animals and species apart from causing environmental degradation and high chances of soil erosion for a certain period of time, until new vegetation grows. Therefore, the development of safe zone through deforesting few areas near the deep forests would enable to protect animals that have become endangered because of bushfires. Additionally, it would also defend bushfires to become more destructive and save the natural properties effectively to a certain extent (Cary & et. al., 2012).

4.4 Accurate Weather Forecast and Warning System

The weather forecast and alarming system can also improve the bushfire management activities of the agencies and corporations, delivering accurate projections of such occurrences. In this context, the intervention of advanced technological aspects would certainly facilitate the organisations in reviewing the prevailing conditions of weather and wind flow, which has been identified as the major cause of bushfires in the Blue Mountains region, and therefore take due measures to prevent massive destruction. Providing the organisations with ample time to plan resources and evacuate the fields likely to be affected by bushfire, the integration and effective deployment of advanced weather forecasting and warning tools would increase the efficiency of the bushfire management agencies in protecting natural heritage of Blue Mountains (ACT Government, 2009). 

4.5 Integration of Indigenous Knowledge and Experience

The integration of local indigenous knowledge would also help these agencies to mitigate different potential risks associated with bushfires. The knowledge gained from the local population would help the management process of the agencies to understand the major causes of bushfire and assist in reducing its frequency with augmented efficiency. In this regard, the knowledge regarding the process of burning lands would educate the indigenous Australians while preparing lands for harvesting and also taking independent measures to be at a safer distance from the bushfire prone areas (ACT Government, 2009).

4.6 Increasing Public Awareness

Providing adequate information and knowledge to the communities residing in the surrounding high-intensity fire risk areas would also help the councils to minimise the incidence of bushfires. In this regard, the management councils should need to communicate major causes of bushfires and their effective measures to the communities that would further help the management team of the agencies to prevent negative impacts from the future fire incidences. In this process, the management function should also focus on providing adequate training to the community members in terms of addressing bushfires at the initial stage. Moreover, facilitating community members with telecommunication services would further help the fire management process of the agencies to obtain the required bushfire related information at a very early stage (Gould, 2009). 

4.7 Adaptive Management Process

The adaptive management processes, such data recording, analysing and forecasting of the causes associated with bushfires, would also increase the efficiency of the management team. Moreover, the adaptive management strategy of the organisations should also incorporate the procurement of indigenous people’s knowledge, which can significantly lower the potential risk of bushfires in the particular region (Gould, 2009).

5. Conclusion

In relation to the modern trends of addressing natural issues like bushfire management, numerous processes and techniques can be identified in terms of reducing potential hazards of bushfires in GBMWHA in New South Wales region of Australia. With reference to the different studies and analytical reports, the management process of the agencies have been recognised to be practicing various strategic measures defending against the frequent incidence of bushfires in the Blue Mountains area. However, in various scenarios, the risk management initiatives of the organisations were found quite ineffective in terms of reducing the frequency and intensity of bushfire in the Blue Mountains region. Rather it makes the remedial measures quite time consuming that in turn increases the destructive nature of the bushfires giving it more time to spread.

In this context, the gaps associated with implementing adaptive and integrative strategies were observed to have been overlooked by the bushfire management agencies and corporations. Moreover, the changing trends in managing bushfires have also been strongly influenced by the lack of collaborative measures of the fire protecting organisations. In order to mitigate the potential hazards, these governing organisations therefore should highly focus on collaborating functions with the support of different other organisations and communities. The recent projection of population in the high fire area has also emerged as a major concern for the fire management councils to substantially reduce the impact of bushfires. Therefore, an adaptive and integrative approach of bushfire management processes can help the organisations to protect the region from the destructive influence of bushfires and safeguard the natural heritage of the Blue Mountains.

References
  • ACT Government, 2009. Strategic Bushfire Management Plan for the Act. Bushfire Management Objectives and Strategies. Australia: Publishing Services for the Emergency Services Agency.
  • Blue Mountains World Heritage Institute, 2013. Bushfires and Conservation in the Blue Mountains Stakeholder Program. Bushfires and Conservation Survey Report, pp. 1-22. <http://www.bmwhi.org.au/docs/Bushfires%20and%20Conservation%20Survey%20Report.pdf>. [Accessed December 09, 2013].
  • Cary, G. J., Collett, E., Gill, A. M., Clayton, H. & Dovers, S., 2012. Future Scenarios for Australian Bushfires: Report on a Bushfire CRC Workshop. Australian Journal of Emergency Management <http://www.em.gov.au/Publications/Australianjournalofemergencymanagement/Pastissues/Pages/AJEM27THREE/FuturescenariosforAustralianbushfiresReportonaBushfireCRCworkshop.aspx> [Accessed December 09, 2013].
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  • Office of Environment and Heritage NSW, 2013. Fire Management Manual 2012-2013. Policy and Procedures for Fire Management. [Online] http://www.environment.nsw.gov.au/resources/firemanagement/final/OEH20120645FireMgmtManual.pdf [Accessed December 09, 2013].
  • RFS, 2010. Bush Fire Risk Management Plan. Blue Mountains Bush Fire Management Committee. [Online] Available at: http://www.rfs.nsw.gov.au/file_system/attachments/State08/Attachment_20101008_678A4008.pdf [Accessed December 09, 2013].
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