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Environment and Parks – Fuel Reduction Burning

Cassy O'Connor MP

Cassy O'Connor MP  -  Wednesday, 25 November 2020

Tags: Fuel Reduction Burns, Parks

Ms O'CONNOR - Minister, I also want to ask you about the Parks regime of fuel reduction burning. We have information from within Parks that planned burns are not always being undertaken in a strategic way. Because of the need to meet your Government's burn targets and the limitations of weather, the Parks staff are in a position of burning those areas that will burn, not necessarily those areas that need to be burned in order to mitigate risk.

I have some images here which I am happy to share with you of a massive burn at King William's Saddle. A former long time Parks staff member talks about the extent of the burn, that this area had been recovering from a previous burn. It was burnt to bare rock. Do you agree there are some issues with the way that Parks is being required to burn to meet a target that are potentially damaging wilderness values and are also highly unstrategic.

Mr JAENSCH - I defer to the deputy secretary on the strategic decision-making about which burns are undertaken and in what order. I hear your concern but I do not accept your assertion that improper decisions have been made.

Ms O'CONNOR - I am not saying they are improper. Not strategic, is what I am saying.

Mr JAENSCH - I will ask Mr Jacobi to talk about the strategic decision-making process which makes use of our fire fuel reduction season.

Ms O'CONNOR - Perhaps Mr Jacobi could answer the question, rather than talk about a process.

CHAIR -Ms O'Connor, you have asked a question. You cannot pre-empt what the minister or his department staff are going to say. I ask that you allow them to answer the question you have already asked, thank you.

Mr JACOBI - Ms O'Connor, we apply a very comprehensive and lengthy process in consultation with the Fire Management Committees across the state to determine what the strategic priorities are. Those priorities are agreed and determined and they are based on clear evidence and science that evolves from the conservation or heritage values on each of the reserve parcels and the intervals between each of the planned burns.

As you would be aware, the window of opportunity is narrowing, climate change is having an impact on our ability to conduct burns at times when we would like to. Our burns have clear tactics and clear objectives that are worked through by specialist staff and PWS. I have absolute confidence in the prioritisation that they apply to those burns.

We deal with everything from life and property protection right through to pure protection of conservation values. We have conducted a number of burns to protect sensitive eco-systems within the TWWHA over the last couple of years, particularly through the TWWHA funding that was provided.

I am not aware of the King William Saddle burn, or the particular issues that relate to that burn, but I have absolute confidence in my staff that they take great pride, care and attention to ensuring that they deliver the highest priority burns across the state, whenever the opportunity arises.

Ms O'CONNOR - Thank you. Minister, the World Heritage Area Management Plan, which was rewritten by your government to enable EOIs in 2016, makes the point under Fire Management of the need to develop a holistic fire plan for the TWWHA. Four years later there has been a discussion paper on a fire management plan for the TWWHA. There is no holistic fire management for the TWWHA.

Can you explain why it took four years to even produce a discussion paper on fire management in the TWWHA? Is it because your Government is more interested in trading off our public protected areas for trinkets than it is in protecting it from fire in a holistic way?

Mr JAENSCH - We take the management of the TWWHA very seriously. The management plan, which was signed off by the World Heritage Council, is contemporary and we are proud of it. It has many things we need as subsequent to the approval of the management plan to be delivering.

Ms O'CONNOR - Why did it take four years to prepare a discussion paper?

CHAIR - Ms O'Connor, please let the minister answer the question.

Ms O'CONNOR - We would love it if he did.

Mr JAENSCH - We are currently in the process of consulting, as you have pointed out, with the discussion paper on a fire management plan for the TWWHA. It has been delayed due to significant wild fires in 2019 and subsequent operational reviews arising from those fire events. Nevertheless, the plan is progressing well and will be informed by the success and challenges of these events, both in Tasmania and on the mainland.

Ms O'CONNOR - So much Parks resourcing going into flogging the TWWHA.

Mr ELLIS - Minister, in 2018, the Tasmanian Government made an election commitment to increase the number of rangers in the Parks and Wildlife Service by 15. Can you provide an update on the progress of that election commitment?

Mr JAENSCH - Thank you, Mr Ellis. To provide background to this, the Parks and Wildlife Service rangers play an important role in managing our world-renowned national parks and reserves. Their role is pivotal to protecting and presenting the natural cultural and heritage values of our reserve estate through the visiting public. I would also like to acknowledge while we're here that there are numerous other frontline staff within the Parks and Wildlife Service such as field officers, visitor and park entry staff and fire response teams, who ensure the conservation of our precious landscapes is balanced with the increased appeal and use of those lands by local communities and visitors alike.

The Parks and Wildlife Service workforce requirements are constantly changing, particularly on account of these seasonal demands. Staffing numbers increase significantly over the summer period to assist with the increase of visitation to parks and reserves and the delivery of bushfire mitigation and fuel reduction programs, as we've just been discussing, to enable the protection of life and property during wildfire events. For example, at the commencement of the fire season, additional seasonal firefighting positions are recruited in order to supplement the existing fire staff that exists within the Parks and Wildlife Service. Similarly, visitor services officers who provide public information at visitor centres across the state are increased annually each summer season.

The 2020 annual report shows that at 30 June 2020 the number of employees across the entire Parks and Wildlife Service, rangers and other staff, had increased by 8 FTE. In response to your specific question, I am very proud of our election commitment to boost staffing in the Parks and Wildlife Service by an additional 15 positions through the budget allocation of $7 million over four years. The ranger positions which were recruited as part of the Government's election commitment has led to increased staffing at Lake St Clair, Arthur River, Deloraine, St Helens and Bruny Island. Two of these ranger positions were Aboriginal-identified positions and I can inform the committee that as at 31 March last year there were 81 occupied ranger positions in comparison to 99 at the same time this year. This increase reflects both our election commitment to boost ranger numbers but also the fact that previously vacant positions are being recruited now.