We know that climate change is driving hotter and drier summers, and making fire seasons worse, and this is impacting on mountain environments. From the huge fires in Tasmania over the 2018/ 19 summer to repeated wildfire in the Victorian Alps which is changing the nature of ecosystems, fire is increasingly impacting negatively on mountain ecosystems. We also know that we need to expect a ‘highly active’ fire season this summer.
While the impacts on natural systems is obvious, there are also many economic ones, as longer and more dangerous fire seasons see mountain areas closed to tourism and other economic activity.
There is also the threat to the ability of fire fighting services to fight fires wherever they emerge. Traditionally, the various fire services share resources, both between the states and internationally. But as fire seasons become longer, there is more overlap of local fire seasons, and hence it is harder for individual states to release fire fighting equipment and crews to support other areas.
The economic cost of fighting fires also goes up.
And as demands on fire fighting agencies increase, there is the risk that ‘asset management’ (protection of human structures) can override the need to protect sensitive natural environments where there simply aren’t enough resources to fight all the fires.
Recently, 23 emergency services experts from every state and territory have written to the federal government, asking for strategic national firefighting resources to cope with climate change. They have joined together to highlight the risks of worse and more sustained fire seasons to our ability to fight fires in an effective and timely fashion.
This intervention resulted in substantial media reporting (for instance, this piece on the ABC website) which highlighted some of the issues facing emergency services:
- We are seeing a change in the frequency of extreme fire events. We’re also seeing a change in the severity of fire seasons, so the worst fire danger days are getting worse
- Australia is not sufficiently prepared to fight the ‘new normal’ of extreme fire seasons
- Yet the numbers of volunteer firefighters across Australia are in decline: at least 7,000 have left brigades in the past five years
- state bushfire seasons are starting to overlap. This means the system of states and territories lending each other resources is increasingly strained
- a comprehensive national plan is needed to tackle the longer fire seasons of the future
- The national aerial firefighting centre, which two years ago flagged the need for an $11m funding boost, still has not received a decision from the Federal Government
- The Government has not guaranteed funding for the only national body researching the future of bushfires
- The twenty-three emergency services experts who have called on the federal government to consider the threat of climate change in fire planning have not yet received a response.