VAST amounts of land are being burnt in fuel-reduction burns because the Department of Sustainability and Environment must reach quotas, a national park expert has said.
Victorian National Parks Association spokesman Phil Ingamells said the DSE was forced to burn a prescribed amount of land after the 2009 Victorian Bushfires Royal Commission.
“They (DSE) are now required to burn 5 per cent of the state in land each year, which equates to about 390,000 hectares,” he said.
“The DSE are under enormous pressure to fill that quota so it is easy to burn large areas of remote public land rather than areas close to townships.
“The pressure of reaching targets is causing land managers to burn areas that are not important for public safety, but damaging to many of our natural areas.”
His comments follow concerns from conservationists in the Bendigo region who believe planned burning could have damaging long-term effects on the region’s plant species.
Scientist Rodd Orr said that while most central Victorian plants regenerate from planned burns, some species do not. “The rare orchids in the Whipstick region and the two species of Waffle plant don’t cope well being disturbed,” he said.
“Fuel burners see some plants as a problem because they look dense, but they don’t have the capacity to regrow once burnt.”
Conservationist Vanessa Richardson said issues with funding at the DSE were affecting plant life in the region.
“The biodiversity department hasn’t been given enough funding to check the blocks thoroughly before they are burnt,” she said.
“We are concerned that DSE burns could be linked to species becoming extinct.”
Mrs Richardson said conservationists were not against the preventative burning measures if they were within reasonable distances of properties.
A DSE spokesperson said the four recent burns in the Whipstick Forest had reduced the risk of bushfires created by northerly winds. They said the DSE had made changes to plans where they have not impacted on the primary goal of reducing risk to human life, after consultation with the community.
They said the DSE also monitored the impact of planned burning and bushfire on biodiversity.