DBCA plans fire rule change process

Warren HatelyAugusta Margaret River Times
Environment Minister Stephen Dawson. Picture Jackson Flindell The Sunday Times
Camera IconEnvironment Minister Stephen Dawson. Picture Jackson Flindell The Sunday Times Credit: The Sunday Times

The State Government has issued advice for the Shire of Augusta-Margaret River to continue “business as usual” amid concerns about contentious changes to controlled burns on private land.

Warren-Blackwood MLA Terry Redman said the roll-out of thechanges to WA’s Biodiversity Conservation Act left the Shire and volunteers open to legal risks as well as danger, and he demanded that Environment Minister Stephen Dawson step in. Amid the changes introduced earlier this year, private landowners needing fire brigades to control fuel loads must engage consultants to develop costly plans to protect habitat trees and rare and endangered flora and fauna.

At the latest South West WA Local Government Association zone meeting, members said the changes were poorly communicated, only picked up by planners recently, and put an unconscionable workload on volunteers and firefighters.

It also sent mixed messages as local governments were under pressure to control fuel loads, but now had additional requirements causing significant delays to fire permits.

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The Department of Biodiversity, Conservation and Attractions told the Times local governments were to carry on with the existing approach for now — which meant not enforcing the new requirements.

“DBCA supports bush fire brigades, local governments, private property owners and State Government agencies in managing bushfire risk through prescribed burning,” the department said.

“DBCA will soon be engaging with local governments and the Department of Fire and Emergency Services to design an approvals process and guidance materials that will enable bush fire brigades, local governments, private property owners, and State Government agencies to continue to undertake prescribed burning without unnecessary regulation, while ensuring compliance with the requirements under the Biodiversity Conservation Act 2016.”

Mr Redman said the latest DBCA advice showed the Government had to take responsibility for the poorly managed roll-out of the new requirements.

“In principle I agree with protecting native fauna species, (but) the level of bureaucracy now required is making it extremely difficult for landowners to manage fire risk,” he said.

“I am gobsmacked by the lack of communication from Government resulting in Shires and private property owners unsure of the requirements needed to undertake a fuel-reduction burn.

“Shires and individuals are rightly concerned this may leave them open to prosecution if something goes wrong.”

Mr Dawson reiterated DBCA’s advice and said consultation was ongoing.

“Bushfire preparedness is a shared responsibility, and I am extremely supportive of local governments carrying out fuel reduction through prescribed burning so they can help reduce bushfire risk,” he said.

“As such, these local governments should continue to undertake prescribed burning in line with their existing approaches.”

Mr Dawson said it was “important to ensure the important work local governments do to mitigate bushfire risk can continue without additional red tape”.

Community emergency services manager Adam Jasper said the Shire of Augusta-Margaret River had stepped in to brief brigades on the new requirements.

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