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Byron Shire
February 28, 2021

Burning off unnecessary

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It’s that time of the year again when annoying smoky haze fills the valleys triggering your child’s asthma attacks and giving people headaches.

Yes, some of this is necessary as a fire hazard reduction but much of the smoke is due to lazy people burning off patches of weeds and general rubbish and occasionally these weed burns get out of control and we end up with a bush fire.

In many cases however the use of fire is totally unnecessary and causes more problems than it fixes.

Look at one farmer in Rock Valley who burnt off a patch of weeds in his paddock by the creek, the whole paddock burnt, next year the entire paddock was thoroughly infested with weeds germinated from the fire and now threaten to infest his neighbour’s fields.

When you burn off this is what happens:

Soil depletion: Burning off removes trace elements and essential nutrients like phosphate from the soil hence cane farmers always having to fertilise their soils at great expense. Slashing, tilling and composting keeps nutrients in the soil, on steep land get some goats.

Soil erosion: Burning off removes plant and root stabilisation of top soils leading to increased wind and rain soil erosion of valuable top soil. The problem is greatly increased on sloping ground and hillsides.

Soil sterility: Burning off kills the soil microbes and small insects etc that create healthy soils by breaking down plant and animal matter.

Soil acidity: Burning off dramatically changes soil acidity/alkalinity leading to more undesirable weed infestations and soil nutrient depletion. Incorrect soil acidity/alkalinity can drastically inhibit desirable plant growth.

Waterway polution: Burning off allows increased soil and ash runoff into streams and rivers leading to altered water acidity and nutrient levels that can lead to algal blooms, oxygen depletion and mass fish kills further downstream.

Health: Smoke is toxic, green burns of weeds like lantana, camphor laurel, cotton bush and wild tobacco can be very toxic. Smoke triggers asthma and emphysema attacks in some people which can be life-threatening, as well as migraines, lung inflammation and other respiratory complications.

Constant exposure can trigger lung cancers and cause emphysema.

Your neighbours could sue you for endangering public health and safety.

Water tank pollution: Ash and soot from a burnoff can coat your roof and end up in your drinking water changing the pH and also adding dioxins and other dangerous chemicals from plant resins on ash particles.

Greenhouse effect: One fire has no effect, 20 fires the same, but around the world deforestation in South America, Africa and Asia is now so extensive that at any one time there are millions of fires burning around the globe and considerably less trees to reabsorb the CO2.

At the same time cattle are replacing trees in these regions leading to greatly increased methane emissions.

Cow farts are also a greenhouse gas. Look at satellite pictures over 20 years and you will see deforestation and deserts are spreading very rapidly. Less plants to absorb the CO2 from your fire. A very real problem.

Law: Burning off violates the Clean Air Act and can lead to your prosecution.

Sources: Dept of Agriculture, Local Govt Air Quality Toolkit, Dept of Health.

Environmental Protection Authority, Dept of Primary Industries.

Neil Howe, Lismore


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