AUTHORITIES have abandoned controlled burns at Budj Bim for the past five years, but a call is gaining momentum for better fuel management after fire tore through the World Heritage National Park.
The Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning says planned burns are not a preferred fire-management tool for the park, where burning-off vegetation "has lesser benefits" compared with other areas.
"It's a challenging terrain and has vegetation that means regular burning isn't necessarily the best way to reduce risk," a department spokesman told The Standard this week.
The last large-scale strategic burn was done in the park's south in 2014, preceded by a 650-hectare burn at the south-west corner in 2012.
Communities and firefighting volunteers expressed concerns over the fuel loads in the park before fires scorched 6300 hectares of Budj Bim and Lake Condah.
Macarthur Country Fire Authority captain Rick Fleetwood, a volunteer involved in efforts to contain the fire, labelled fuel loads in parts of the national park such as the camping area a "disgrace".
"It's overgrown, there was bracken nearly head high in places and long grass," Mr Fleetwood said.
He said while methods such as spraying could help manage tracks, fire was the most effective means of controlling the undergrowth in the forest.
"The money we have spent on aircraft and other supporting agencies could be spent on tracks so DELWP could burn back from them," Mr Fleetwood said.
There was bracken nearly head high in places and long grass.Rick Fleetwood
The Indigenous landscape received World Heritage status last year, and in a document supporting the nomination the federal government stated "cultural burns" in partnership with other agencies could reduce the potential for "high" fire risk.
Cultural burns are controlled low-heat fires in small areas done in low-risk weather conditions.
Federal Wannon MP Dan Tehan this week called for "more help" to be offered to Indigenous groups to follow land practices such as cultural burning at the site.
"It is said that the window of opportunity for doing backburning has narrowed, yet cultural burning enables us to go wider than we otherwise would," Mr Tehan said.
"There is no doubt that we need to be doing more to reduce fuel loads in that park, this provides us with another way."
But Gunditj Mirring Traditional Owners Aboriginal Corporation program manager Denis Rose said cultural burns were only effective on a small scale.
"When you are talking about large floor reduction, that's not what we are on about," Mr Rose said.
"We do small-scale burning on our properties and we have small properties, but we will leave it for the experts to figure out what's required burning on these larger places."
Gunditj Mirring manage land near and around Lake Condah at the west of Budj Bim, including areas of lava flow, while Parks Victoria manage national park area to the east including sites such as Lake Surprise.
Mr Rose said Gunditj Mirring would review its fire management this year with other state agencies, after the fire blackened much of the landscape but early assessments have shown no damage to culturally significant sites.
"There has got to be a good balance struck, and you need to take into consideration the country," Mr Rose said.
"This notion if you do fuel reduction you are going to stop all these problems is still up for debate, there is special consideration on the lava flow, fire trickles through rocks and underground, there's not a simple solution to it."
He said better management would come down to resources.
"The reality is you really need to pump resources into whatever management activities you are doing. In general across the board, the parks agencies have suffered reductions in budget constraints for many years, not at Budj Bim, but in general," Mr Rose said.
South West Coast state MP Roma Britnell said Macarthur residents raised the issue of fuel loads in the park each time she visited the town.
"It's not because the Indigenous community weren't doing their best, they are, it's the inability to put the resources there," Ms Britnell said.
"There is a notable difference in the last five years of overgrowth of pathways and areas where you camp and walk."
She said the former Liberal-Nationals government had appointed a ranger for Budj Bim and Tower Hill, but those positions were removed sometime after 2014.
The state government did not respond to questions why the positions were changed or removed.
"The rangers need to be returned. It's a landscape that needs to be managed," Ms Britnell said.
But she stopped short of saying that Parks Victoria's funding should be boosted.
"I don't think money is the answer to everything, I think commonsense plans that are longer term that have an outcome that achieves weed and fuel-load management," Ms Britnell said.
State authorities in the 1990s assessed the then Mount Eccles National Park after an earlier fire, concluding the landscape of manna gum, with grass and bracken understorey, would grow back within two-to-three years following a controlled burn.
Authorities say the manna gum woodland does not carry as high fuel loads as other vegetation types, and therefore has a lesser focus in planned burn programs compared to other higher-risk areas where reduction benefits to communities can be realised.
Fire Forest Management Victoria Barwon south-west deputy chief fire officer Andrew Morrow said authorities were "continuing to review" fire-management processes to "identify new and innovative ways to achieve better outcomes in challenging landscapes".
"Due to the cultural value and World Heritage status of the park, we are continuing to develop and implement innovative approaches to bushfire management to ensure cultural sites are not negatively impacted," Mr Morrow said.
"The strategies developed to control these fires were successfully implemented using the existing track network, waterways such as Darlots Creek and Lake Condah, and private-land interfaces.
"Fires within the Budj Bim National Park will always be challenging due to the largely inaccessible nature of the rocky landscape."
The Country Fire Authority will undertake planned burns on roadsides in the Southern Grampians and Moyne shires.
Firefighters will carefully manage the controlled burns under mild and stable weather conditions forecast for the coming week.
Communities have expressed concern at fuel levels on roadsides following strong spring growth, while others have have concerns about burning in summer.
CFA manager community safety James Haley said the burns were done annually and decreased a fire's spread and intensity.
"It also increases the likelihood of suppression at the early stage of a bushfire and provides increased community and firefighter safety," Mr Haley said.
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