‘Roadside trees need to go’

The Dunns Road Fire at Lower Bago in January. Landowners are talking with the forestry to establish new fire breaks.

Lower Bago residents are begging the Snowy Valleys Council to remove trees overhanging their roads, saying both the burnt and the healthy trees need to go in order to protect the community from the next fire season.

“There shouldn’t be any trees that can interfere with the flow of traffic,” said longtime local Andrew Scoullar. “They’re roadways, not national parks.”

Mr Scoullar’s contention is that the council shouldn’t just be removing the trees which were destroyed by the Dunns Road fire last summer. He feels that’s dealing with the past, not the future. 

“It’s a big issue for us now,” he said. “We’ve been working through things as we go, but we’ve got to try to get it through to these people, the roads have to be cleared and not only our roads, but the whole area. Even Batlow to Tumut, there are trees that have to go.”

Mr Scoullar said the trees present a risk for anyone trying to get in or out of the Lower Bago during a fire, and he believes at least one home was lost last summer because burning trees blocked the roads and help couldn’t get through in time.

“It caused a lot of grief and loss during the fires,” he said. “The trees were over the road and people couldn’t get in to help us.”

Mr Scoullar and other concerned landholders like Gavan Willis have met with the council about the issue, but they’re not convinced that SVC is taking the issue as seriously as they are. 

When The Times asked SVC about the response to the Lower Bago tree issue, a spokesperson explained: “If residents are concerned about trees overhanging roads and impeding access for high vehicles we encourage them to call, email, or lodge a request online so it can be recorded in our Customer Request System. An arborist will then go and inspect the tree and arrange for the appropriate maintenance.

“Similarly if residents have concerns associated with trees being a threat to the safety of the roadway we encourage them to contact Council to arrange for assessment and appropriate action.”

SVC further explained that the NSW bushfire cleanup program was only covering the removal of fire-damaged trees and did not extend to removing healthy trees. 

“It’s just not good enough,” he said. 

“They’re leaving trees that are endangering people’s lives. I said to them, it’s a safety issue. It’s nothing to do with the arborist whether the tree’s good or bad, it’s a safety issue and that’s the way it’s got to be treated.”

The fire season has technically started, and Mr Scoullar said that while there are probably a few more months until the really dangerous part of the year arrives, it’s important the trees are removed as soon as possible, preferably before they start their spring growth spurt.

“It’s a better time to do it now cause you can see what needs to be done, it’s all open,” he explained. “You let it all sucker up again, it makes it harder to see and it’ll cause another bloody headache with volume.”

According to the Tumut NSW Rural Fire Service brigade, there’s still plenty of open country which could burn this year. 

“Fact: Only 6.9% of NSW was impacted by bush fire in the 2019/20 fire season,” said the RFS’ Peter Jones. “This means there is a significant bush fire risk for the coming 2020/21 fire season.”

Mr Jones said it’s vital that all local residents are planning now for the fire season ahead, with everyone doing their part to make the area more fire-ready.

“It only takes 5 minutes to improve or make a plan that will give your property, your family and yourself the best chance of survival,” he said.

Mr Scoullar agreed, saying he’s hopeful that the last season has taught all responsible agencies that fires have to be hit harder, earlier. 

“If they can focus on these fires early on, it’ll be better for everyone,” he said.

According to Lower Bago farmers, that starts with making sure the roads are clear and people can get in and out during a crisis.