You may have noticed that CFA brigades have started their seasonal roadside fire prevention works. You may not be aware that there is a process brigades must follow to get approval to undertake these works. The CFA employs vegetation officers who in consultation with brigades and a range of stakeholders prepare the plans required to ensure relevant legislation is considered.
Many roadsides and rail reserves have been burnt regularly for years and this is one of the main reasons why we still have a diversity of natives species in grasslands and grassy woodlands reserves on the Victorian Volcanic Plain.
The corridors are chosen for their strategic importance in fire prevention have existing fire breaks which are maintained mainly by grading, cultivation and occasionally by spraying. Concern is sometimes expressed about fire prevention activities. While the natural temperate grasslands and the grassy eucalypt woodlands communities have been listed as critically endangered under national environment law, day to day land management activity such as maintaining access tracks and firebreaks and routine burning is considered unlikely to trigger approval under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act) as long as the guidelines are followed.
When a new burn is proposed and no fire break exists a site visit with the relevant authorities is required to see the work is likely to cause irreversible or permanent loss of nationally threatened species or key habitats. In cases where the vegetation does not meet the threshold under the relevant legislation a graded break may be permitted. Where it does meet the criteria alternative ways to carry out the burn without soil disturbance such as slashing a break may be considered.
Landholders and brigade members who do work on roadsides without consultation and written approval from the land manager such as Vicroads or the local Council leave themselves open to severe penalties. Even quite small remnants of the ecological communities may have important conservation value. Activities that may trigger investigation include widening a fire break by cultivation or spraying or putting in a new fire break where one previously did not exist.