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Australia's Other

During the heyday of Smokey the Bear, Australia adopted a strong policy in favor of controlled burning. This was not merely a difference of opinion about fire ecology. It was also an attempt by Australia to show that it was different and special, to maintain its identity in the face of the scientific and practical powerhouses of the US and British India. Though fire policies have changed, some of this attitude persists, as seen for example in a recent article in The Age:

The controlled burn that became a bushfire in Wilsons Promontory National Park at the weekend is a case in point. This is a popular, much-loved park. The area had not been affected by wildfire in decades. As in most of the Australian bush, fire is a naturally occurring part of the life cycle in the park - or at least it should be.

Yet for decades, fire was largely excluded from the park, as it was deliberately excluded from other areas of public land across Victoria. This policy - slavishly adopted in Australia after the example of European and American land managers - owed more to northern hemisphere forestry practice than to any understanding of the Australian bush and how it is best cared for.

The last quoted sentence is technically true -- fire suppression has been a popular practice in the northern hemisphere, and that example has contributed to its popularity in Australia. Yet there's an implication that fire suppression is an appropriate practice for the northern hemisphere. The problem, according to this author, is not that fire suppression is an accross-the-board mistaken policy, but that it's being foisted on Australia by ethnocentric foreigners who don't understand Australia's unique circumstances.


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