“Let the Ski Resorts Burn!”

By Dr Tim Fatchen

It’s ironic that a former Olympic alpine skier should be the one offering a private bill on climate change when climate change has long been cited as a reason for removal of alpine skiing, at least in Victoria (“Independent MP Zali Steggall pushes forward with private bill on climate change” The Australian 9/1/20).

On Mt Buffalo, the small family-aimed Cresta ski area was burnt in December 2006.  Eminently defensible, the resort was intact when the then Department of Sustainability and Environment (now Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning–DELWP) ordered its crew to abandon it for a crew change an hour or more away in the valley.  On return of the next crew, the buildings were alight, and became a total loss.

Subsequently, the Victorian Government, without public consultation, removed all the (unburnt) ski lifts and wholly shut down alpine skiing, despite there being economically rational private proposals for its re-establishment.  The only reason given was, “… climate change”.

Currently, major Victorian bushfires have threatened both Mt Hotham and Falls Creek resorts and despite the recent rains, will again do so as summer hots up and the peak fire time for the alpine areas arrives in late summer to early autumn.

Despite near-misses in 2003, there has been no attempt of any significance to reduce fuel hazards in and about the resorts. Protection of these assets appear not to have even made it to the “not to be protected” lists  (“Bushfires: Victoria wide of mark on target burn-offs in 2019” The Australian 9/1).

Indeed the opposite has happened, for example a requirement to provide brush shelter for Leadbeater’s Possum, among others, rather than grassed ski runs, even though the resorts are not on National Park land.

In theory, resort management is vested in the Alpine Resorts Commission. In practice, the Alpine Resorts commission is under the direction of DELWP and the resorts subjected to strictures resulting from being completely surrounded by the Alpine National Park.

One cannot help but wonder if influential segments of the DELWP, not to mention their supposed political masters, are hoping for a repeat of the “Act of God” that removed alpine skiing from Mt Buffalo.  After all, the fact of enough snow for alpine skiing in Australia is an embarrassment in a supposedly overheating Australia, on a par with those Sydney dams which persistently refuse to stop refilling.

South Australia

Dr Fatchen is a now-retired consultant ecologist and environmental project manager with research, academic and industry experience spanning four decades, effectively from the dawn of environmental regulation to the present.

He researched grazing systems in arid SA.  A biologist/planner within the South Australian National Parks and Wildlife Service, he was a pioneer of National Park planning in South Australia. He was foundation Lecturer in Ecology and later head of  the Department of Natural Resources at the then Roseworthy CAE, designing and running some of Australia’s earliest environmental and natural resources management courses at tertiary level.

For 30 years, he successfully consulted widely in Australia with international experience in India. He has had direct high-level experience of most aspects of natural resource management, with significant development and regional planning components.  As well as a strong focus on mineral and petroleum development and environmental issues, his experience of environmental assessment runs the gamut of land management and infrastructure development.

Between 1966 and 1980, Dr Fatchen was an active volunteer firefighter on Adelaide’s rural-urban fringe, with upwards of 300 fires attended.  He was also active in planning and base operation within the SA NPWS. His last-fought major fire was the SA 1980 Ash Wednesday fire.  Subsequently, fire protection and management has been an investigated and reported issue in much of his consulting.

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