What are we talking about here? Crown land is land that is held and managed by government on behalf of the community. There are two broad categories of crown land: vested crown land, which has a designated government agency responsible for it, and unvested crown land that is not the responsibility of any agency.
Vested crown land includes land covered with forest or woodland, including State forest, national park, nature reserves, miscellaneous conservation reserves, and a variety of land tenures vested in local government or other State and federal agencies. Responsibility for fire management on vested crown land resides with the agency in which the land is vested.
There is also a considerable area of the State called unvested crown land (UCL) that receives very little or no attention from any managing agency.
State agencies that have responsibility for some land include:
- Department of Biodiversity, Conservation and Attractions is responsible for State forest, national parks, nature reserves, miscellaneous nature reserves such as Kings Park and Rottnest Island. DBCA also manages regional parks in cooperation with local governments, and is nominally responsible for fire management on UCL.
- Main Roads – road reserves along main roads.
- Shire Councils – several different types of reserves, mainly small in area and scattered in occurrence, including bushland on road verges.
- Water Corporation – special reserves for installations related to its activities.
In addition, the Commonwealth Department of Defence is responsible for the management of some military training areas, air bases and Garden Island naval base.
All of these areas carry inflammable fuel and contribute to the fire hazard situation.
We also point out that several companies, such as Alcoa, have mining leases over crown land and their mining and forest rehabilitation operations drastically complicate forest fire management around their mining envelope.
Pastoralists also have responsibility for crown lands over which they hold grazing leases. In many cases the days, pastoralists are cooperating with government agencies to undertake fuel reduction burning, especially in the Kimberley region.
DBCA maintains a decentralised workforce over the whole State and has a long history, through its predecessor agencies, of effective fire management. However, frequent reorganisations over the last 20 years, and changes to management priorities, have blunted its sense of mission. District centres have been shut down and the number of staff experienced in fire management has declined. The emphasis on fire research has also declined. It remains to be seen how this latest amalgamation of agencies to form DBCA performs. The last time such an amalgamation was tried, the melding of CALM and DEP, it was a failure and had to be split in subsequent years to form Parks and Wildlife.
The Parks and Wildlife section of DBCA is making a good effort to recover the ground lost during 1995 to 2016, but there is still an enormous backlog of heavy fuels capable of carrying an intense wildfire. The BFF recognises the challenges faced by Parks and Wildlife and we support its current program to restore responsible fire management on crown land. It is essential that the agency is supported by all people who live in bushfire-prone areas.
The devastation caused by large, intense bushfires on communities, forests and farms is well-known. It is a focus for the media every time there is a fire. What is less well-known is the damage from wildfire to our water catchments. The 2005…