Fuel reduction the key: farmer

Gilmore farmer Jim Beale with photos from the book “The Hardwoods of Australia and their economics” and newspaper cuttings about bushfires.

 Four-decade Gilmore resident Jim Beale believes the Bushfire Royal Commission is taking the wrong track in attributing too much of the Black Summer bushfires to climate change and not enough to fuel loads.

While believing in human-induced climate change, Mr Beale believes it is mismanagement of the land rather than the weather that is most responsible for the horror that unfolded in December and January.

“At the Royal Commission they are talking about getting more planes and towers and other equipment, but if you haven’t got the fuel (to burn) you don’t need all those,” he said.

He thinks we should be using land management practices that held Indigenous Australians in good stead for thousands of years.

“The new inhabitants, since 1788 have changed and altered so much to our detriment,” he said.

“We blame climate change, political parties, governments; anything but our collective selves.’

He believes the Royal Commission should be focusing more on prevention of such fires.

“Crown land occupies 42 per cent of NSW and criss-crosses mainly rural private land with side effects affecting private land, creating more problems,” he said.

He said there are facts about Australia which shape questions to be asked.

“Being the only island continent between the Indian and Pacific Oceans, shore breezes are not excessively hot,” he said.

“We are closer to the sun in our summer than Northern Hemisphere continents are in their summer. Our soils are ancient with clay particles washed into bands well below the surface making the surface highly erodible and because of low rainfall inland, ants replace earthworms.

“Everyone agrees that human activity has brought on global warming and climate change. The people of the world want government action, so forgetting about the rest of the world, what can we do here?”

Mr Beale believes the fact that Central Australia heats up more now than a few decades ago may be due to the millions of camels, horses and kangaroos eating herbage that gives shade and cooling evaporation from leaves, thus heating the soil.

He wants people to think about why, if tallow wood and iron bark trees lived for four and possibly five thousand years without a mega fire, do we now have mega fires.

“Captain Cook recorded that trees were well spaced with little undergrowth, a fact 1980s conservationists chose to ignore,” he said.

He points to photos in the book “The Hardwoods of Australia and their economics” by Richard T Baker, published by the Government Printer in 1919, which he says is “proof positive” of this.

“Just when the photo was taken could have been 20 to 30 years earlier as I have photos of Beale & Co taken before 1893.

He said that what is termed “natural forestation” is only natural when the millions of small eucalypt seeds are allowed to germinate without their natural biological control mechanism of small native animals eating the seedlings.

“The early years of the 20th century saw the NSW Government create the Forestry Commission to administer over vast tracts of timbered Crown land to manage the resource in perpetuity and be self-funding through royalties and leasing.

 “An unwritten condition was to follow Aboriginal practice of keeping fuel loads low by grazing leases and cool burning.

“Other large tracts of land were kept fuel-controlled by grazing leases in summer months until the creation of Kosciuszko National Park in the late 1940s.’

He believes that since the 1960s industry, mass media, governments and  interest groups, all aided by technology, have made mistakes and brought changes detrimental to rural areas particularly and urban areas.

“The fuel accumulation and mismanagement of Crown land is a product of misinformation and brain-washing the public into thinking growing trees will counter climate change and Crown and private land should be utilised,” he said.

“This is backed by various pieces of legislation based on urban myth and emotion. Confusion reigns and instead of reducing fuel, more has been create.

“By all means grow healthy, productive mixed species trees of their provenance, spaced, weeded and protected where possible from feral animals and use of cool burning.”

Mr Beale insists that this is not wishful thinking and that proof is provided by Brindabella Station neighbouring Kosciuszko National Park being only slightly singed by the Canberra fires of 2003.

“The clearing of areas under power lines crossing the (national) park was widely condemned in city circles, but when fire came months later, that is where native animals survived,” he said.

“The disgraceful concealment of what caused the disaster prevented learning from the experience and passing on to other states and districts in NSW, the fuel reduction was all-important.

“There was no hope of shutting up the Tumut and Gundagai communities with pages of photos and letters from the park before and after the event published in the Tumut and Adelong Times.” 

He believes there should be no delay clearing or spacing vegetation along roads, highways, softwood plantations and urban areas.

“Once those measures provide immediate safety zones, the same measures with variations can be applied to National Parks and other crown land.

“Re-educating to the realities of living in this country will need to be done with sensitivity and careful demonstration.

He believes funding could be made available “by changing some of the unbusinesslike and unjustifiable governance systems, developing new jobs and industries by utilising the various forms of cellulose making the fuel load while also establishing markets for animal products.