Bushfire policies and plans

The Parks and Conservation Service (PCS) implements an extensive ongoing bushfire fuel management program throughout the year in accordance with the annual Bushfire Operations Plan (BOP). The BOP sets out the work and activities that PCS aims to achieve each financial year to help manage bushfire risk.

The BOP is a requirement of the Strategic Bushfire Management Plan for the ACT (SBMP) which establishes the basis and framework for the efficient, effective and comprehensive management of fire and fire-related activities for protecting human life, property, assets and the environment.

Regional Fire Management Plans have been developed which detail the actions required to be implemented over ten years between 2014 and 2019, to meet the requirements of the SBMP.

PCS is represented on the Forest Fire Management Group (FFMG) which is a committee established under the previous Primary Industry Ministerial Council structure. FFMG was tasked by the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) to develop the National Bushfire Management Policy Statement for Forests and Rangelands (3.4 MB). This document recognises fire's crucial role in shaping the biodiversity in the Australian landscape and investigates a more coordinated approach to bushfire risk, with greater investment in prevention and preparedness. It has been endorsed by the Prime Minister and all Australian State and Territory Premiers and Chief Ministers and will set the high level strategic direction for all Australian fire agency bushfire plans, with the FFMG tasked by COAG to report back on the implementation of progress against this National Policy.

Fuel management activities

PCS manages about 73% or roughly 187,000ha across the ACT and the Googong Foreshore, NSW and implements an extensive ongoing bushfire fuel management program. Fuel management can reduce fire behaviour and severity, improve firefighter safety, increase the probability of suppression and reduce the impacts of bushfires on natural and built assets. The three means for managing bushfire fuels are reduction, removal and conversion to a less flammable type, and are achieved by undertaking the slashing, grazing, physical removal, and/or prescribed burns.

These activities are described in the yearly BOP, which sets out activities to meet the requirements of the SBMP.

Prescribed burning

PCS conducts a number of prescribed burns each year in and around urban and rural areas across Canberra and Googong Foreshore (NSW) to prepare for the upcoming fire season. Find out more about prescribed burns or view the Schedule of Prescribed Burns.

Grazing

PCS delivers an intensive grazing program which encompasses 6,500ha consisting of 75 land parcels across the ACT. The aim is to reduce fuel levels by physically removing fuel and then compacting the remaining fuel. Grazing may be used to reduce fuels through routine agricultural production or through specifically targeted strategic grazing to meet fuel management objectives. Strategic grazing programs must consider target grass fuel loads, management objectives, the height, cover and type of grass, and biodiversity both within the adjacent sites.

Grazing is undertaken in locations with palatable feed, stock-proof fencing, potable water and where it assists in meeting conservation aims. Grazing is generally not suitable directly adjacent to assets or in recreation areas. PCS knowledge of the grass production rates, consumption rates of grazing animals, fuel standards and appropriate infrastructure allows us to achieve best fuel management outcomes.

The stock is privately owned and procured under licence. PCS maintains small paddocks close to assets and with a view to grazing at high density for short periods. Larger paddocks, more remote to assets, adjoin the series of smaller blocks so that there is always access to feed.

Slashing and mowing

PCS implements and delivers a regular mowing program of the parkland, public open spaces and road verges. This is accomplished by mowing strips 10m to 30m wide. Grasses are generally maintained at specified heights, and the treatment aims to create a fuel reduced zone immediately adjacent to the urban edge and other assets.

During Canberra's peak grass growing season, the public open spaces are mown using a fleet of up to 100 mowers. Slashing and mowing programs commence as grass curing or drying approach 70% and may be repeated several times during a fire season, depending on grass growth reaching predetermined thresholds. A total in excess of 5,600ha is mown at least twice a year.

Physical removal

Physical removal of fuels refers to the removal or reduction of fuels through the use of machinery and/or physical labour. Vegetation may be removed by hand or machine felled, and material may be chipped on site or taken away whole.

The physical removal, thinning and pruning of tree, shrub and litter fuels is undertaken to reduce high fuel loads adjacent to assets.

Physical removal treatments are generally very expensive and may be used to create a vegetation structure that is more easily maintained by other treatments, for example slashing or burning, in the future.

Access management

Fire fighters mopping up Land and emergency management agencies in Australia and overseas recognise the importance of an access network to support bushfire management activities. Ground and aerial access provides a platform for fire reduction and readiness activities and provides opportunities to contain fires before they escalate into major fires that could otherwise incur significant costs and potentially significant losses to community, cultural and environmental values.

Fire access within the ACT consists of a network of roads, tracks and trails that support fire prevention, readiness and response activities. The identification and maintenance of fire access is an integral element of fire management across the ACT.

Access management is divided into four areas:

  1. maintenance
  2. upgrade
  3. construction
  4. vegetation removal.

The Fire Management Unit within PCS currently manage and maintain approximately 3,218 kilometres of roads and fire trails within the ACT. The classification of fire roads, tracks and trails is performance based to provide clear guidance to response agencies during incidents.

Ground access is defined in four classes:

  1. Float road – an access road or trail accessible to a low loader float carrying a large bulldozer or other heavy equipment
  2. Tanker road – a fire trail of strategic importance accessible to a heavy tanker and a tipper carrying a small bulldozer
  3. Light unit trail – a fire trail accessible at minimum standard for a light unit
  4. Dormant fire trail – a trail that has been deliberately closed or not maintained and can be quickly re-opened with minimal works.

The objective of ground access works are to upgrade and maintain road pavements within the parks and reserves of the ACT to the above four classes standard under the current BOP. Many areas require ongoing general maintenance or upgrading to an appropriate standard. This is done principally to provide reliable access for operational requirements and for fire suppression activities in the event of a wildfire that may threaten the ACT.

Vegetation removal work is conducted by mechanical mulchers that reduce vegetation on roads and trails that impede access for operational and fire suppression requirements identified under the current BOP. The Fire Management Unit within PCS also commit a number of other contracted resources including graders, trucks, rollers, excavators and backhoes, to conduct daily scheduled maintenance as well as upgrade and construction services on a yearly basis within the ACT.