By ERWIN CHLANDA
While Tourism Minister Lauren Moss untiringly boasts her “turbocharging” of the industry, its prime asset in Alice Springs, the West MacDonnell Ranges, has suffered its third blow in two decades.
A bushfire last month which took 17 days to be fully contained raged through 1200 square kilometres of the national park, including several of its prime beauty spots, and much of the Larapinta Trail.
Botanist Peter Latz, recognised as the preeminent authority on wild fire in Central Australia, says: “Most of the West Macs are burned out. It is horrific that this has been allowed to occur in 2000, 2011 and now.”
He says the government’s stinting with money for precautionary burning during the cool months keeps exposing the park to horrendous blazes during the summer.
The government has not replied to these questions from the News:-
• What precautionary burning was done in the cool months last year (locations, total areas)?
• What was the budget for this precautionary burning last year?
• What impact will the fires have on the tourism industry?
Minister Moss’ almost daily issues media releases stating that $103m is being spent on “turbocharging” tourism (today’s effort is pictured, showing a view from the Ayers Rock Resort. Or is it a response to South Australia’s announcement?).
Josh Fischer, the Assistant Director Operations of Bushfires NT, says the fire was started by lightning on January 12 in the Hugh River area and burned initially east, about five kilometres north of Namatjira Drive (the road to Glen Helen), affecting sites including Fishhole and Standley Chasm.
Later on winds from the south east drove the blaze westward, affecting tourist spots including Serpentine Gorge, Ellery Bighole, Mt Giles, Ormiston Gorge and the ranger’s residence and office there, and making its way west towards Redbank Gorge.
A total of 80 firefighters were deployed, including Bushfires NT volunteers and staff, some coming from the Top End, as well as park rangers.
Mr Fischer says Bushfires NT were acting in a support role to the Department of Tourism and Culture who were the control agency as the landowner and assisted in providing resources and facilities to control the incident.
Under the Bushfires Management Act, fire is the responsibility of the landowner, and Bushfires NT supports land owners to maintain and implement fire management strategies and participates in bushfire suppression as necessary.
Mr Fischer says his organisation had conducted precautionary burning along about 250 linear kilometres of public roads in the Alice Springs Fire Protection Zone, including the Stuart Highway north and south, Larapinta Drive to the west, Ross Highway to the east and the Santa Teresa Road.
He says the Namatjira Drive to Glen Helen, branching off the Hermannsburg Road, is outside of the Fire Protection Zone, and falls under the responsibility of the NT parks service.
Mr Fischer says there were also six other fires west of Alice Springs in the previous eight weeks, some less than two hectares, generally on the roadside, and one of 11 square kilometres near Simpsons Gap.
Mr Latz says failure to control buffel grass worsens the impact of the fires: “It comes back quickly and is soon ready to burn again.”
This encourages buffel’s spread, to the detriment of native flora.
We are seeking comment from Tourism Central Australia.
By ERWIN CHLANDA