Activities to reduce bushfire risk
Forest Fire Management Victoria (FFMVic)’s fuel management program – and all activities it undertakes to reduce bushfire risk – are designed to meet the bushfire management objectives outlined in the Code of Practice for Bushfire Management on Public Land 2012:
- To minimise the impact of major bushfires on human life, communities, essential and community infrastructure, industries, the economy and the environment. Human life will be afforded priority over all other considerations.
- To maintain or improve the resilience of natural ecosystems and their ability to deliver services such as biodiversity, water, carbon storage and forest products.
Fuel management delivery in 2019-20
We can only undertake planned burning when conditions allow us to do so safely.
The 2019–20 fuel management program proposed to treat about 230,000 ha through planned burning. However, the footprints of the 2019–20 bushfires affected large areas of the proposed program, with about 130,000 ha of area impacted by bushfire. This resulted in a reduction in the proposed program from about 230,000 ha to 100,000 ha.
The delivery of the program was affected by a hot, dry spring in 2019 and the early onset of the fire season, followed by a wetter-than-average autumn 2020: the highest autumn rainfall for at least two decades was recorded at many sites. Delivery of the program was further affected by the prolonged response and recovery to the bushfire season. However, there were favourable conditions in mid-March, mid-April and May which presented opportunities for burning in the non-bushfire-affected parts of the state. Planned burning continued through to June when fuel and weather conditions were favourable, especially in the west of Victoria.
COVID-19 had an initial impact on the delivery of planned burning in early autumn, but after advice from the Chief Health Officer, we were able to go ahead with the program with modifications to protect our staff. This included:
- social distancing measures at planned burns
- limiting personnel numbers in vehicles
- minimising movement of resources across the state.
Forest Fire Management Victoria (FFMVic) also extended the contracts of seasonal project firefighters to provide additional resources to support regions to pursue planned burning opportunities into late autumn and winter.
Burns were conducted in many high-bushfire-risk areas including the Otway Ranges and Wombat Forest and areas around Reefton, the Dandenong Ranges, Ballarat, Bendigo, Castlemaine, Heathcote and Avoca. Planned burns were undertaken in all regions including Gippsland, despite its huge bushfire response effort continuing through autumn.
When conditions aren’t suitable for planned burning, FFMVic teams undertake mechanical fuel treatments (such as slashing and mowing) and continue to prepare strategic fuel breaks, maintain tracks and roads, and manage hazardous trees to enable safe, rapid access to fight bushfires when they occur. Mechanical fuel treatments totalled 17,635 ha. This is around 50 per cent more than the previous year and demonstrates a trend of increased effort by FFMVic in this area, ensuring fuel management can be undertaken year-round.
Table 1 shows the key statistics about our activities including fuel management to keep bushfire risk below 70% for Victoria.
Table 1: Fuel management activities, Victoria, 2019–20
Statewide bushfire risk at or below
Bushfire risk for Victoria in 2019–20
Area planned for treatment
(adjusted to 100,311 ha
following 2019-20 bushfires)
Area treated by planned burning
37,399 ha (257 burns)
By fire management zones:
By planned burn type:
Area treated by non-burn fuel treatments
17,635 ha (1,519 treatments)
By treatment types:
Total area treated to reduce bushfire risk
Table 2 shows that nine cross-tenure burns were conducted in 2019–20, treating 4,192 ha. These burns were mainly in interfaces between public and private land in the Otway Ranges, Latrobe, Macalister, Goulburn and Ovens areas.
Table 2: Cross-tenure planned burns, 2019-20
Number of burns
Barwon South West
Planned burn breaches
No planned burns resulted in breaches or bushfires in 2019–20.
This outcome is testament to FFMVic’s ongoing investment in thorough operational planning and risk management through our Joint Fuel Management Plan.
Throughout 2019–20, FFMVic provided operational and planning support to Traditional Owners to enable the use of fire on Country for cultural purposes. Cultural burns were conducted on public land in five Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning (DELWP) regions, demonstrating our increased engagement across the state with local Traditional Owner groups. Table 3 shows the total area and number of burns completed during 2019–20.
Traditional Owners have a strong interest in burning, and we expect the number of cultural burns to increase in 2020–21.
Table 3: Traditional Owner cultural burns, 2019–20
Number of burns
Barwon South West
FFMVic acknowledges the diversity of ways Traditional Owner groups want to use cultural fire and to participate in land management. As part of supporting the implementation of the Victorian Traditional Owner Cultural Fire Strategy in 2019–20, we continued to build partnerships with and support Traditional Owner groups with cultural burning on public land, and we supported Traditional Owner groups across the state to build capacity in a variety of ways.
For example, in 2019 FFMVic supported the Yorta Yorta Nation Aboriginal Corporation in partnership with the Firesticks Alliance Indigenous Corporation to host National Indigenous Fire Workshop Dhungala 2019 in the River red gum floodplains of Barmah National Park. The workshop brought together more than 400 people from over 30 Aboriginal nations, and it was supported by FFMVic and the Country Fire Authority. Participants listened to local stories, shared knowledge and practised cultural ways of being and doing as they moved through workshops on Woka (Country) and Wala (water). They read and woke up leafy Country, burnt the right Country with right fire, undertook monitoring and engaged in traditional tool-making, dancing and weaving. For more information about Dhungala 2019 and the work of the Firesticks Alliance, visit http://www.firesticks.org.au/national-indigenous-fire-workshop/dhungala-2019-2/.
Moving forward, FFMVic is looking to continue to build partnerships that can provide more land management opportunities to Traditional Owner groups and also support them in ways that are meaningful to their people.
Fuel management investment
FFMVic invested a total of $109.2 million in fuel management in 2019–20. Expenditure on fuel management is down slightly on last year, which reflects an increase in FFMVic’s investment in the preparedness, response and recovery activities associated with the 2019–20 bushfire season and unfavourable weather in spring 2019 and autumn 2020.
Successful planned burning relies on the alignment of a number of factors including vegetation type, short- and long-term rainfall history (fuel and soil moisture) and forecasted weather conditions (wind, temperature, rainfall). Underlying dryness resulting from drought across many parts of the State made planning burning unsafe in Spring, while heavy rainfalls following the bushfires in autumn made it impossible to conduct effective burns in many areas. Wherever possible, FFMVic’s focus shifted to conducting mechanical fuel reduction in high risk areas. Mechanical treatment can be carried out in suitable locations, even when conditions don’t permit planned burning. However as yet, the contribution made to reducing the risk of bushfires resulting from mechanical treatment is not reflected in DELWP’s reporting. The development of a new metric will enable DELWP to report on the impact of mechanical treatment in reducing bushfire risk in future Fuel Management Reports.
In addition to the unfavourable seasonal conditions during the peak planned burning periods in spring and autumn, the 2019-20 bushfire season was prolonged – commencing early and running into autumn. DELWP’s resources were stretched to meet the demands of bushfire response, relief and recovery. Significant mechanical works undertaken during last summer’s emergency response to create and expand strategic fuel breaks and treat hazardous trees will contribute to reducing the risk of future bushfires, although their impact is not captured in this report.
Table 4 and Table 5 provide a breakdown of this investment by region, group and investment type. Direct investment totalled $11 million, and indirect investment totalled $98.3 million. The largest contributors to the cost of the fuel management program in 2019–20 were resource management at $40.9 million and equipment and infrastructure at $25.6 million, both of which are considered indirect investments.
Table 4: Fuel management investment, by region and group, 2019–20
Barwon South West
Forest & Fire Operations Directorate
Total Forest & Fire Operations Division
Infrastructure & Resources Division (IRD)
Policy & Planning Division (PPD)
Total IRD and PPD
Total fuel management investment
Table 5: Indirect fuel management investment, 2019–20
% of indirect investment
Equipment and infrastructure
Monitoring, evaluation, and reporting
Native vegetation framework
Total indirect investment
Total fuel management investment
Page last updated: 01/12/20