Fresh action on bushfire control

Smaller strategic controlled burns around towns and suburbs will increasingly take precedence over broad-acre burn-offs under a shake-up of WA's bushfire prevention policy.

The shift by the Department of Parks and Wildlife - it had previously aimed to burn 200,000ha in the South West each year - comes amid the agency's repeated failures to reach the target.

In evidence to an Upper House budget estimates hearing recently, the department confirmed it had burnt 78,234ha in the 12 months to June.

Although the figure was significantly higher than the previous corresponding period - 23,468ha in 2012-13 - it still fell more than 60 per cent short of the benchmark.

It also continues a pattern that has seen the agency hit or exceed the target only twice in 16 years - in 2004-05 and 2009-10.

Peter Dans, the department's director of regional and fire management services, said the 200,000ha target would not be binned but the agency had to change its tactics.

"We are in a process of developing some alternative performance indicators - we will not completely abandon raw hectares - that will provide a little more context as to the value of the burns in minimising risks to communities," he said.

Mr Dans said failure to hit the benchmark was being caused by several trends, some of which were beyond anyone's control.

The first and most important was the drying climate in the South West, which he argued had "substantially narrowed our window of opportunity" for prescribed burns.

A second factor was the overhaul of its prescribed burning policies in the wake of the 2011 Margaret River inferno, which was started by a controlled fire that escaped.

Mr Dans said the overhaul had forced the department to "re-learn" some of its systems and take better account of contingencies - both of which had slowed its progress in recent years.

'We are developing some alternative performance indicators.'" *Peter Dans *

The West Australian

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