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Feature Article - Forest fires
In the course of its deliberations it received over 60 written submissions and met 15 experts or peak bodies. The Committee of Inquiry recognised that some areas, such as farmland, forests, and conservation reserves, were of particular community concern.
The Committee found that with high commodity prices throughout much of the post-World War II period, more attention was paid to fuel reduction burns in broadacre ‘run country’. However, in the 1990s with generally depressed commodity prices there could be a build up of combustible material which in earlier decades may have been burnt.
With regard to forests, and conservation areas the Committee found that vegetation types and the plant and animal communities within them were the result of complex interactions between climate, soils, topography, and fire regimes over a long period of time. The Committee pointed to changes in vegetation type over the past 200 years because of a different approach to fire management relative to Aboriginal management of fire.
Evidence was heard on the possible greenhouse effects of vegetation fires. Wildfires in forests contribute about 16% of the carbon dioxide released by all vegetation fires in Australia, and prescribed fires release about 11%. The Committee was of the view that forest fires contribute little, if anything, to any long term increase in the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, provided that the total forest biomass remained substantially unaltered. The Committee recommended the allocation of an additional expenditure per annum of about $800,000.
There were also a number of legislative and regulatory recommendations proposed, including amendments to the Fire Service Act 1979 to establish a Vegetation Fire Management Planning Authority.
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