Volunteer fire fighters fed up

By By Gemma Gadd
Updated January 5 2016 - 6:17pm, first published May 30 2007 - 11:00pm

PUT our safety first and don't ban cattle grazing in the Barmah Forest- that is the plea from volunteer fire fighters of the Picola rural fire brigade to the Department of Sustainability and Environment. Fed up with the lack of management of undergrowth, tracks and bridges in the Barmah Forest, north east of Echuca, volunteer fire fighters said they may not go to fires in the forest if their safety is not properly considered and grazing cattle in the forest is banned. "If the cattle are removed from the forest and fuel loadings increase, we will seriously consider not going out there due to increased risks to our safety and accessibility," Geoff Lubke, Picola rural fire brigade captian, said. "The park's history of managing undergrowth and fuel loading when cattle are removed, for example in the high country, shows us they do not have a workable plan in action to reduce large risk fires," he said. Under fire from a Government employee, Mr Lubke defended the claim that all brigade members were linked to the mountain cattlemen and their plight. "We have only three members that are cattlemen out of our 40 plus members.á For a Government employee to accuse volunteers that are worried about their own safety is unacceptable.á Many volunteer firefighters, including Mr Lubke, are questioning whether they will help the DSE or Parks Victoria in any capacity in the future.áMr Lubke has helped the DSE in their last two major alpine fireácampaigns and four times in 2003 and, like most volunteers, wasánot paid. "The Government and its employees should note that where the Redgum forest has experienced fires it is dead.á"Neglect of fuel reduction will kill the forest we all want to protect," Mr Lubke said. "The CSIRO have done studies into the amount of feed cattle needs to survive -û 10 kilograms a day, 365 days a year; 1000-2000 head of cattle grazing in the forest equates to a fair bit of fuel removed from forest floor. "The cattle also create tracks through the forest we can use as a control line in a fire."Since the Barmah Forest has been made a national park, timber harvesting and track maintenance has ceased "creating one big nightmare", according to Mr Lubke. Reports that Picola volunteer fire fighters were left with only one escape route (two is the legal minimum) at the Top Island fire in the forest at the start of this year have been substantiated by many members. "At the Top Island fire at the start of this year, the track they (the volunteers) went in on was the one they come out on," one Picola member said. "Generally, the local volunteer CFA members are first called to incidents in the forest, however, our input, safety and time is not properly taken into consideration." "As locals, our knowledge is invaluable in relation to this issue, but they (the DSE/Parks Victoria) don't consult enough with locals who know the bush." Members of the Picola rural fire brigade have highlighted their concerns in a letter to DSE Benalla, local members of parliament and the Nathalia group of fire brigades.

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