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Department of Premier and Cabinet

Program Five - What we learnt

Responding appropriately in the wake of environmental destruction after the bushfire was an enormous challenge for those involved in environmental recovery roles. Balancing the need for visual rehabilitation with safety and resource availability saw collaborative efforts that activated both vegetation clearance and revegetation programs. Mobilising and keeping volunteers engaged, coordinating green and hazardous waste activities, and providing relevant environmental recovery advice, required a concerted effort from a number of different recovery agents.

Key elements that supported the environmental recovery included:

  • A coordinated, safe and uniform clean-up of hazardous waste by a single operator.
  • Strengths-based collaborations with existing organisations to provide optimal environmental recovery outcomes for revegetation and weed management programs.
  • Generosity of volunteers and neighbouring councils to provide immediate help where it was needed most.

Some things that might be helpful in future recovery programs include:

  • Provision of clear council guidelines and environmental recovery information to help affected residents understand vegetation clearance protocols and rejuvenation techniques specific to their area.
  • Greater attention to clearance of dangerous or unsightly burnt vegetation from public spaces.
  • Methods for harnessing initial groundswell of volunteer motivation to inspire commitment to longer-term environmental recovery assistance, often needed months and years after the emergency.

Hazardous waste

Feedback to the review highlighted a general consensus that the single, government-appointed contractor for the cleanup provided an effective way to manage the environmental hazards of asbestos and treated pine found in many of the buildings. The review unearthed anecdotal evidence that in the small number of cases where property clean-ups were managed independently, environmental and workplace safety was not always guaranteed. This coordinated initiative was viewed as a fundamental success factor of the clean-up and should be given consideration in any future large-scale disaster recovery exercise.

Vegetation clearance

Following the fires, burnt trees – dead or alive – dotted the landscape and generated much concern throughout the community. Some thought them an eyesore and wanted them removed, others wanted to see them rejuvenate as time went by and others still were concerned by their risk to safety.

During the early days, an unmonitored immediate reaction saw a number of people chopping down many of the trees on their property and surrounding forests, despite the fact that burnt trees are not necessarily dead and would recover in time. Many people found this reaction to be very distressing and wanted to know more about the best ways to help the environment to recover. There was a general perception that clear Council guidelines must be in place so people know what they can and cannot do, particularly concerning tree removal after a fire.

Vegetation clearance was such an important issue for residents and landowners and these messages came through from the community consistently throughout the year. The Appeal Distribution Committee took this into account and allocated approximately $280,000 through Round 4 payments to assist eligible residents with the costs associated with removal of burnt vegetation.

Information on environmental recovery

There is a host of information about what to expect as the environment recovers, how to control weeds and what to replant in fire-affected areas. Several organisations responded by developing and disseminating information sheets with key messages for landowners. It was suggested that additional support could have been provided by the Unit in communicating these messages widely. The review also indicated that information specific to the Tasmanian environment could be prepared in advance to aid in the immediate aftermath of future disasters.

In addition, it was felt that more work could be done about vegetation clearance in public spaces. The generous support of neighbouring councils by way of roadside trimmers and green waste removals was greatly appreciated in the Sorell and Tasman municipalities, but it was felt by the community that more support could be provided by local government and other groups to inspect and remove unsafe burnt trees on public land. In addition, some felt that more measures could be taken to ensure that those trees that would rejuvenate with time were identified as such so they could be left alone.

Collaborative and strengths-based approach

Effective environmental recovery was enabled through collaboration between DPIPWE, NRM South and local groups working in the fire-affected region. The review identified that each organisation brings unique environmental recovery expertise. For example, DPIPWE and NRM South were able to provide landscape modelling and work with large landholders for their best outcomes. The Dunalley Tasman Neighbourhood House, Landcare Tasmania and The Understorey Network appeared best placed to galvanise community volunteers and undertake various revegetation and weed management projects on the ground.

In particular, the review identified that the work undertaken by Dunalley Tasman Neighbourhood House was well regarded by the community. This strengths-based approach should be encouraged in future recovery efforts, and could be further enabled through the pre-season planning and mapping of community resources for recovery roles, as suggested in other sections of this report.

One contributor to recovery activities said: “I feel privileged to be able to coordinate the generosity and compassion that results in good for those who need it – you end up being the Postman for the gift: all it takes is coordination to deliver it.”

Preparing your land for bushfire

Some local governments provide free green waste collection weeks both pre- and post-fire season. It was felt that these provide timely opportunities to communicate bushfirepreparedness messages to residents. Similar action by local governments across Tasmania could be encouraged.

Managing volunteers

The review identified some issues in managing volunteer expectation and motivation, and the volunteers themselves – particularly with aspects of environmental recovery. On the one hand, BlazeAid is an example of a highly successful initiative particularly concerning issues such as volunteer registration, coordination and retention. However some environmental projects, despite an initial groundswell of support, had difficulties in retaining the motivation of volunteers due to delays and complications experienced by many environmental recovery projects. In many ways this situation was most apparent in environmental recovery as it provides many opportunities for relatively unskilled volunteering, particularly at the individual property scale.