Government fails to protect major tourism asset

p1938-Larapinta-Peter-LatBy ERWIN CHLANDA

 

While Tourism Minister Lauren Moss untiringly boasts her “turbocharging” of the industry, its prime asset in Alice Springs, the West MacDonnell Ranges, has suffered its third blow in two decades.

 

A bushfire last month which took 17 days to be fully contained raged through 1200 square kilometres of the national park, including several of its prime beauty spots, and much of the Larapinta Trail.

 

Botanist Peter Latz, recognised as the preeminent authority on wild fire in Central Australia, says: “Most of the West Macs are burned out. It is horrific that this has been allowed to occur in 2000, 2011 and now.”

 

He says the government’s stinting with money for precautionary burning during the cool months keeps exposing the park to horrendous blazes during the summer.

 

The government has not replied to these questions from the News:-

• What precautionary burning was done in the cool months last year (locations, total areas)?

• What was the budget for this precautionary burning last year?

• What impact will the fires have on the tourism industry?

 

2606 world's biggest art gallery OKMinister Moss’ almost daily issues media releases stating that $103m is being spent on “turbocharging” tourism (today’s effort is pictured,  showing a view from the Ayers Rock Resort. Or is it a response to South Australia’s announcement?).

 

Josh Fischer, the Assistant Director Operations of Bushfires NT, says the fire was started by lightning on January 12 in the Hugh River area and burned initially east, about five kilometres north of Namatjira Drive (the road to Glen Helen), affecting sites including Fishhole and Standley Chasm.

 

Later on winds from the south east drove the blaze westward, affecting tourist spots including Serpentine Gorge, Ellery Bighole, Mt Giles, Ormiston Gorge and the ranger’s residence and office there, and making its way west towards Redbank Gorge.

 

A total of 80 firefighters were deployed, including Bushfires NT volunteers and staff, some coming from the Top End, as well as park rangers.

 

Mr Fischer says Bushfires NT were acting in a support role to the Department of Tourism and Culture who were the control agency as the landowner and assisted in providing resources and facilities to control the incident.

 

Under the Bushfires Management Act, fire is the responsibility of the landowner, and Bushfires NT supports land owners to maintain and implement fire management strategies and participates in bushfire suppression as necessary.

 

Mr Fischer says his organisation had conducted precautionary burning along about 250 linear kilometres of public roads in the Alice Springs Fire Protection Zone, including the Stuart Highway north and south, Larapinta Drive to the west, Ross Highway to the east and the Santa Teresa Road.

 

He says the Namatjira Drive to Glen Helen, branching off the Hermannsburg Road, is outside of the Fire Protection Zone, and falls under the responsibility of the NT parks service.

 

Mr Fischer says there were also six other fires west of Alice Springs in the previous eight weeks, some less than two hectares, generally on the roadside, and one of 11 square kilometres near Simpsons Gap.

 

Mr Latz says failure to control buffel grass worsens the impact of the fires: “It comes back quickly and is soon ready to burn again.”

 

This encourages buffel’s spread, to the detriment of native flora.

 

We are seeking comment from Tourism Central Australia.

 

 

 

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2 Comments (starting with the most recent)

NB: If you want to reply to a previous comment, start your comment with this notation: @n where n is the number of the comment you want to reply to.
  1. Posted February 7, 2019 at 8:29 am

    My recollection is that the major wildfire years in the earliest period of this century were 2002-03, and again in 2011. Both of those periods closely followed years of exceptionally high rainfall (2000-01 and 2010 respectively).
    This isn’t unusual in itself – there were significant wildfire years in 1968 (following the breaking of the drought in 1966) and in 1975 (following 1973-4, the wettest period on record in Alice Springs).
    What’s different now is that this major wildfire event has occurred after a very dry year, with a record set at Alice Springs in 2018 for the longest period without rain being recorded, although (as I recall) this wasn’t the case further west of town.
    In the last few years, I’ve had the opportunity to travel west and east of Alice Springs a number of times and also to fly frequently to Darwin and back with clear views of the area around town.
    The clear impression I’ve gained on every trip is the extent and dominance of the spread of buffel grass in the ranges.
    It’s like a blanket hugging the ground as far as the eye can see. It’s spread is overwhelming, and the ecology of this region is forever changed.
    There are often comments about the need for protecting Alice Springs from major floods but that’s the least of our worries.
    It is major wildfire that poses the most serious risk to our town, and the recent disaster in the West Macs demonstrates this risk can occur at any time.

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  2. Dr Ongo
    Posted February 6, 2019 at 6:24 pm

    If we care at all for our environment, biodiversity and parks we would be looking for some way to stop the spread of buffle grass and eradicate it if possible.
    What was that thing I heard about a buffle seed head caterpillar from Queensland?

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