The West

New call for autumn burns
New call for autumn burns

The Margaret River Wine Industry Association has reiterated its call for controlled burns to be carried out in the autumn following criticism of wine growers by the Department of Environment and Conservation director-general.

The demand for autumn, rather than spring-based, prescribed burns reached fever pitch in the weeks after last year’s devastating Margaret River and Milyeannup bushfires that destroyed dozens of homes.

Under pressure from the State Government’s Community, Development and Justice standing committee earlier this month, directorgeneral Keiran McNamara cited complaints from wine growers as one of the reasons for problems tackling a backlog in prescribed burn quotas.

Drying conditions, increasingly widespread and complex rural and bush housing development as well as opposition from wine growers had thwarted DEC efforts, Mr McNamara said.

As reported by the Times in October, DEC did not carry out any prescribed burns this spring despite getting clearance from the WA Environment Minister after a ban on the practice was put in place immediately following last year’s disaster.

Yet it was community concern about the rush to meet prescribed burn quotas that fuelled previous criticism of DEC.

Wine association chief executive Nick Power told the Times the two organisations had a good working relationship and the MRWIA understood the need for controlled burns, but the preference for those burns to take place in autumn had been clearly communicated during the past five years.

“The association is strongly of the view that autumn burns are for the best, but we understand they have to manage those risk factors,” he said.

“We’ve enunciated that to DEC on a number of occasions and they have taken that on notice,” Mr Power said.

“At certain times of the year we are quite happy for prescribed burns to continue, but at other times it is not as good.”

Mr Power said he wasn’t aware of direct lobbying by wine growers concerned about smoke taint from DEC fires.

“I think everyone was aware DEC has a difficult task to do,” he said.

“Anything that would damage the young vine when it’s starting to go into veraison … would be of concern because it has been scientifically proven the vines can take up smoke,” he said.

A DEC spokeswoman said the department faced constraints in achieving its prescribed burning program.

“These include suitable weather and fuel moisture conditions, increasing development in many parts of the South West, and management of smoke impacts on communities and industry,” she said.

“DEC aims to minimise the commercial impacts on grape and wine producers while at the same time ensuring protection is provided to communities from damaging summer bushfires.

“The potential for smoke to blow over vineyards is taken into account in preparing burn prescriptions.”

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