Sunday, May 13, 2018


We're in the middle of the controlled burning season here - and that means today the air is thick with smoke. While I understand the rationale behind these burns - it gets rid of the build up of flammable material in the forests so decreasing the risks of severe bushfires, many of our native plants have evolved to need fire to grow and, of course, in many ways controlled burns are not unlike the 60,000 or so years of fire stick farming by our indigenous people which was brought to a halt following European settlement - there are consequences.

Those of us affected by smoke (it's pretty grim to be asthmatic for instance) struggle when dense smoke fills the air as it is this morning. The advice is to stay inside and keep doors and windows closed - and at least these days we do receive warnings in the news bulletins. When I was younger this didn't happen and you'd wake coughing and wheezing in a smoke filled house. Shutting up the house is all well and good but smoke seeps in no matter how careful you are and it's not always feasible to stay shut inside, is it. For one thing people have to go to work, don't they, and for some that means being outside all day. Then there is the inevitable death and injury to wildlife which is heart breaking.

Some folk are perturbed by fact that CO2 is released by burning. After all we're used to seeing reports of the clearing by burning taking place in various parts of the world (the Amazon rain forests are of particular concern) with the effect this is having on climate change. This is not quite the same thing, though. The clearing of the rain forest is just that. The forest is destroyed. These burns certainly release CO2 but it's far less than a wild fire would produce and, if done properly, there's no loss of human life or damage to property and the forest is not destroyed. Yes, sometimes they do get out of hand - fortunately infrequently - and now we farm instead of relying on hunting so creating fresh vegetation for prey species and safe ways to travel no longer applies but that said, on balance it seems regular burning like this does more good than harm.

Do I enjoy the thought of animals being caught up in these fires? Of course not. Do I enjoy having to spend days shut in the house wheezing and coughing? No, I do not. Do we need to find other ways to manage our forest? Probably in the long term we do. All these things disturb me but as things are at the moment I don't see an alternative. If climate change continues at the rate it is the prospect of severe bushfires will only increase and I live in a dry country already very prone to such disasters. We have to do what we can to prevent them - and this is one method. Yes, we definitely need more research into alternatives but in the mean time we can only do what we can and controlled burns are one way we cope.


Jo said...

I cannot imagine having to live through all that smoke, particularly if you have any kind of respiratory disease. I see the benefits, I also see the problems as you do. Insoluble at the moment!

Helen V. said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Helen V. said...

My asthma is relatively mild, Jo, but my neighbour is a severe asthmatic and this is a dreadful time of year for her.