Groups grapple with fire safety changes

RFS Superintendent  Richard Cotterill says RFS would be working with councils to review areas that were bushfire prone. Picture: ANDY ZAKELI
RFS Superintendent Richard Cotterill says RFS would be working with councils to review areas that were bushfire prone. Picture: ANDY ZAKELI

THE NSW Rural Fire Service (RFS) believes the Kiama local government area is likely to be more affected than other parts of the region by changes to how those living near bushfire-prone land can protect themselves from risk. 

According to the RFS, the 10/50 Vegetation Clearing Entitlement was created to provide people living near bushland with the ability to increase their level of protection against bushfires.

Introduced on August 1, the entitlement allowed property owners living within 350 metres of Category 1 and Category 2 bushfire-prone land to remove trees within 10 metres of their home, as well as vegetation within 50 metres, without state or local approval, on their own land. 

The entitlement area covers homes within 350 metres of bushfire-prone land. 

According to NSW RFS, since its introduction a number of councils and community groups have raised concerns regarding the 350-metre entitlement area, particularly on small parcels of land.  Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons last week announced changes to the 10/50 Entitlement. 

The changes are: the 10/50 entitlement area for Category 2 bushfire-prone land is now 150metres, reduced from 350metres; and councils will have the ability to reclassify smaller parcels of vegetation from Category 1 to Category 2, therefore reducing the entitlement area. 

Category 1 vegetation covers the likes of forested and woodland areas. Category 2 is areas where the vegetation poses a reduced fire risk. 

Illawarra Zone RFS Superintendent Richard Cotterill said the Kiama local government area (LGA) would likely be affected more by the changes than other parts of the region. 

“We don’t have a lot of Category 2 vegetation in much of the Illawarra. But around the Kiama LGA, there is a bit more grassland; [for example] Jamberoo township is predominantly surrounded by grasslands,’’ he said.

“That reduced entitlement zone will have an effect on the area, more than certain other areas in the Illawarra. But I don’t think that will be detrimental to reducing the bushfire hazard in certain areas.”

Mr Cotterill said the RFS would be working with councils to review areas that were bushfire prone. 

“The changes will allow us to reconsider areas of Category 1 vegetation that are a bit more insignificant. Where it’s currently Category 1 vegetation, if it’s a fairly small area involved that can be treated in a similar way to Category 2, and reduce the entitlement area…we constantly review bushfire-prone land throughout the area.

“People can contact us regarding hazard reduction.”

The RFS brought forward the formal review of the 10/50 scheme to start on October 1. 

This will give communities the opportunity to provide feedback. 

Meanwhile, the NSW Nature Conservation Council called for an immediate moratorium on the application of the 10/50 Vegetation Clearing Code of Practice. 

“Hundreds of landmark trees have already been cut down because of this rule without any meaningful improvement in bushfire risk,” chief executive Kate Smolski said.

“There had been many reports of people using the new rules to remove trees to improve their views or facilitate development, not for genuine bushfire risk management.  

“In some areas where councils have been recording the carnage, less than 5per cent of trees removed were taken down for legitimate fire risk management reasons. 

“A moratorium is the best approach because it will prevent a late flurry of tree felling that would occur if people believe the doors might be closing on self-assessed tree removal.”