Livestock ‘couldn’t escape the fire’ say farmers pointing finger at National Parks for lack of controlled burning

As Queensland recovers from its bushfire crisis, farmers and volunteer firefighters are claiming not enough is being done to stop bushfires spreading from National Parks onto people’s properties.

Central Queensland grazier Darcy Ward runs cattle on land that borders Kroombit Tops National Park, south west of Gladstone.

Last month, Mr Ward said he got a call from a parks ranger telling him that a fire from the park had jumped the boundary into his property.

He said that by the time he got to his property that same day, the blaze had burned through about 600 hectares.

Six of his cattle perished.

“It’s not a good thing to see baby calves just burnt in the ash.”

Mr Ward claimed it was the fifth fire to escape from the National Park onto his property in 14 years.

In a statement, QFES and the Parks and Wildlife Service said they tried to stop last month’s fire at Kroombit Tops and local landholders were notified.

They said authorities had still not figured out what caused the fire, however it had not been caused by any parks operations.

They added that two planned burns had been carried out in Kroombit Tops National Park this year, and numerous fires had burned in freehold land at the north of the Park in recent weeks.

Fighting fire with fire

The largest and most problematic bushfires seen last week in Queensland was centred around Deepwater National Park, north of Bundaberg.

Others originated inside Government-managed state forests.

Bloomsbury Rural Fire Brigade president Gary Considone manages a unit that has just been fighting fires at Bloomsbury that originated in a state forest.

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He claimed there is a double standard between parks and farmers.

“They tell us that if you own the pasture you own the fire, but they don’t seem to do anything to control fires or do early burns [in parks and forests],” Mr Considone said.

“The graziers up here burn between the wet season and winter. These state forests seem to light a fire October-November to control grass [fires] and it’s really frightening.”

He is calling for parks staff to be reinstated locally at Cathu State Forest, where fires burning spread into farmland.

“We can’t contact anybody hardly. They don’t come to any fire, they don’t come to any meetings, we never see them.”

Management called into question

Landowner and Mackay councillor Marty Bella has been volunteering fighting bushfires at Koumala, south of Mackay.

He claimed there was a lack of management on Government-owned land and that this was irresponsible.

“I think it’s a disgrace, the whole philosophy of it,” Mr Bella said.

“You should be able to stop the fire. Any fire that starts in a National Park should be stopped at that boundary.”

Mr Bella said Government should be doing more to slow or halt fires by creating fire breaks or doing controlled burns to reduce the fuel on the ground before fires take hold.

Environment Minister Leeanne Enoch, however, said claims that inadequate fire management of national parks and state forests had contributed to the inferno were “incredibly unfair”, and added that planned burns in parks around the state had hit a five-year high this year.

“There’s been an incredible amount of work by our rangers in the QPWS,” Ms Enoch said.

“Every Queenslander who’s lived through this knows that this has never happened before.

“It’s totally unprecedented — there’s never [been] modelling to suggest that this would ever happen in our state.

“But it has — so it changes everything.

She said assessments of damage the fire zone would be undertaken as they became safe, and that the government would wait for analysis before committing more resources to fire management.

“We’ll look at the science … and listen to the experts and how we can better understand this kind of bushfire event in what has been catastrophic circumstances.”

Transcending politics

Wilderness Society national director Lyndon Schneiders warned against “short-term, knee jerk reactions”.

“Before we talk about national parks or the role of vegetation in fires we have to come to the first conclusion,” he said.

“The climate is changing and it’s creating catastrophic conditions of the size and scale Queensland hasn’t seen before.

“Unless our community comes to grips with it we’re not going to find long term solutions.

“There’s going to have to be a whole rethink of how we look after and manage the bush and ensure we protect communities as well.”

He said most state forests and national parks, including Deepwater, had strategies around managing and responding to fires and fuel loads.

“There’s going to have to be a substantial increase in the resources, the money and the people power to look after our landscapes, whether they’re in a protected area or private land because the conditions are changing.”

In a statement, a Department of Environment and Science spokeswoman says the Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service places a very high priority on preventing serious bushfires on protected areas, including national parks.

She said the fires Queensland is experiencing are a result of extreme, unheard of, unprecedented weather conditions, and that right now the focus is ensuring the safety of Queenslanders.

The spokeswoman says QPWS regularly undertakes planned burns during cooler months to reduce fuel loads and lessen the impact of bushfires in National Parks, state forests and other protected areas.

The statement further said that “in 2017-18 they conducted planned burns over an area of 942,680 hectares, above the target of 632,000 hectares.

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