Protecting Wilderness and National Parks

Wilderness and Fire

Colong Foundation’s interest in bushfire

Fire management is a central concern in the management of large intact natural areas (i.e. wilderness), as fire is critical to the protection of both human and natural communities.

The Colong Foundation believes that the over-riding objectives in managing the core of large natural areas should be the protection of biodiversity, geodiversity and ecosystems and the maintenance of natural processes. The corollary is that fire management for protecting human assets should mainly occur near the bushland margins where it can be more effective.

It is self-evident that the largest bushfires will occur in the largest areas of bush, which in NSW are mostly national parks and wilderness areas. Lightning ignitions also tend to occur more in rugged mountain country, which is where most of our wilderness areas are.

Wilderness areas are not all bush ready to burn. Amongst regions of dry forest these areas also include significant areas of wetter forest types (rainforest and wet sclerophyll) that only burn under very severe fire conditions and therefore are more likely to act as fire inhibitors – and should be protected. Rugged wilderness areas also contain the topographic diversity and particular features that can impede fire and be used as natural barriers during suppression operations. These include deep gorges, moist southern slopes, clifflines, rocky areas and rivers.

Wilderness is not inherently more fire-prone than other bushland, but fires in wilderness are more difficult to access and extinguish due to remoteness and rugged topography. This fact highlights the need for a greater commitment to extinguishing remote fires when they are small. Rapid detection followed by a rapid and substantial response are essential. When remote fires grow too big for initial attack they often become very difficult to control.

Many remote fires were put out due to the combined efforts of the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) and Rural Fire Service (RFS) using aircraft and remote area firefighting teams (RAFT). But some were not, and grew much larger. Some remote lightning fires were not attacked at all in their early stages. These adverse outcomes were due to various combinations of a shortage of aircraft and RAFT, difficult weather/ground conditions and a lower priority given to fires when small.

The Colong Foundation submission to the NSW Indepentent Inquiry into the 2019-2020 Bushfire Season