Mr Morrison will meet state leaders to discuss clearing more land and conducting more hazard reduction burns, which he pointed out on Sunday were “run and overseen entirely by state governments”, as are other bushfire issues such as planning laws and building codes.
But Associate Professor Philip Zylstra, from Wollongong University’s Centre for Sustainable Ecosystem Solutions, said fuel loads in forests, and state government management, were not responsible for the catastrophic fire season.
“I think that for the federal government to say there needs to be a focus on hazard-reduction burning at this stage appears to be passing the buck to the states,” he said.
“The reality is we are at a peak of prescribed burning by state agencies. More has been done in the past decade than in many, many decades.”
Professor Gibbons said studies showed hazard-reduction burns weren’t effective at halting fires and policy that focused on them could push states to set minimum-hectare-burned targets.
Victoria’s fire managers have already shifted from an annual hectare target, which was set after the Black Saturday royal commission, to a more strategic approach.
A 2010 study from Wollongong University, The Effect of Fuel Age on the Spread of Fire in Sclerophyll Forest in the Sydney Region, found there was only a 10 per cent chance a fire would be stopped by a hazard-reduction burn. It said road barriers were most effective at halting fires.
“This summer’s fires have burnt though many areas that had hazard-reduction burning. They can help control fires in moderate weather conditions, but in severe conditions it might just help reduce the severity,” he said.
Cleared buffer zones in the bush within 40 metres of houses reduced house losses by an average of 43 per cent on Black Saturday, Professor Gibbons’ study found. But he said no one technique was a solution.
“If there was a silver bullet on bushfires we’d have found it by now, after the 51 inquiries since 1939.”
Associate Professor Trent Penman, from the University of Melbourne bushfire behaviour and management group, said “broader thinking” was needed and “blindly putting money into prescribed burning won’t stop the problem”.
He said states hadn’t “dropped the ball at all” on hazard-reduction burning, and they were “working harder and smarter than they have in the past”, particularly since the royal commission into Black Saturday.
Mike is the climate and energy correspondent for The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald.