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Barmah National Park letter to the DSE and Parks Victoria

Here is the letter sent from lawyers for the Barmah Forest Preservation League to the DSE and Parks Victoria complaining of lack of access for fire suppression an a high fuel load.

February 13, 2013 4:05am

Peter Cooper Lawyer, Box Hill

Re: Barmah National Park (‘‘the Forest’’)

We act for the Barmah Forest Preservation League (‘‘the League’’).

The League has been in existence for 30 years and has about 160 members. Many of these members are local and represent other communities and groups who live near, visit, have worked in, or spent recreation time in and around the Forest.

The common purpose of the League is to ensure that the Forest continues to exist as a previous resource for the country, the state and the communities that draw sustenance from it. That sustenance is both material and non-material.

We are instructed that until June 1010, the Forest benefited from the input of the League and many other people, who is the course of their daily lives, used the Forest and accessed the Forest.

Over several generations, local expertise developed as to the management of the Forest as a multiple use environment.

Accordingly, access was kept simple, fire mitigation was practiced regularly, flood control was managed and feral species (animals and vegetable) were controlled.

Indeed we are informed that the Forest has never suffered a catastrophic fire or flood.

On about June 2010, Parks Victoria assumed management of the Forest and the community was informed inter alia that this management would represent a net benefit to the community.

It is submitted that this is not the case. We are informed that tourism has reduced and local access is restricted.

The most significant issue is however, the threat to the Forest and the community that has emerged since June 2010.

We are instructed as follows:

Access and communication tracks are overgrown. Access into the Forest is difficult and the tracks no longer operate as de facto firebreaks. It follows that fighting a fire of any size in the Forest will be very difficult, not because of the natural terrains, but because the management of the terrain since June 2010.

The boundary between the Forest and private land was traditionally comprised of a boundary track and fencing. The track was graded annually and was a priority, it is not graded and accordingly no firebreak exists between the Forest and private land.

Weed, grass and understory vegetation are no longer controlled and stand head high in many places.

Unlike other Eucalypts, River Red gums do no recover well from fire.

We also note the current fire management planning for the Forest does not plan any intervention until Autumn

As we are also instructed, that promises have been made previously regarding interventions such as ‘‘cool burning’’ that have not been kept, our clients are pessimistic as to whether this will be carried out, or carried to the extent required to be effective.

The purpose of this letter is to put you on notice that, in the event of a catastrophic fire in the Forest that leads to loss of life and loss of property in and around the Forest, it will be our clients’ submission at any subsequent inquiry that your office could be held liable for such loss on the basis that you, having taken the role of management from the community refused, failed or neglected to put in place replacement management.

The current fire season is well under way. It is possible that such a catastrophe could occur within days or weeks.

Peter Cooper

lawyer

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