The Forest Practices Authority

Smoke management from planned burns

Making a complaint:

All complaints relating to smoke should be lodged with the Environment Protection Authority (EPA) (telephone 1800 005 171)

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copyright FPA

Smoke management from planned burns

The management of vegetation fuels is critical for public safety, economic and ecological reasons.  However, it is important that smoke emissions are managed in a manner that reduces potential impacts on public health and amenity.  Guidelines have been and applied since 2009 to provide for the better management of smoke emissions.

Why do we need planned burns?

  • Planned burns are conducted by land managers predominantly during autumn for a number of reasons:
    • 'Fuel management burns' are undertaken to reduce the level or distribution of fuels in forests and grasslands so that any wildfires that occur within treated areas are less intense and are more likely to be brought under control without threat to property and lives
    • 'Residue burns' are undertaken to remove residues from agricultural  operations
    • 'Regeneration burns' are undertaken to reduce residues and prepare seedbeds for the regeneration of forests following harvesting operations
    • 'Ecological management burns' are undertaken to maintain natural vegetation patterns and habitats.
  • Fire is a natural and unavoidable feature of the Australian landscape.  Recent events in Victoria have tragically highlighted that land and fire management practices must be conducted in a manner that reduces the risks to lives, property and natural values, including biodiversity and water. As well as threats to safety, assets and other values from fire, the public is also concerned about the potential health effects of exposure to high levels of smoke, from both wildfires and planned burns.
  • It is not possible on public safety, economic and ecological grounds to cease the use of planned burns.  However, it is appropriate and necessary for planned burns to be conducted in a manner that minimises the risk of smoke concentration in populated areas.
  • Alternatives to planned burns are limited.  High technology incinerators such as air curtain burners may be appropriate in urban or industrial situations.  However, cost and logistics preclude the use of such devices in agricultural and forestry situations, with at least a ten-fold increase in the costs of fuel management. 

Who is responsible for managing smoke from planned burns?

  • The National Environment Protection Measure (NEPM) for Ambient Air Quality has been issued by the National Environment Protection Council. The NEPM sets standards and goals for air quality. The Environment Protection Authority (EPA) is responsible for implementation of the NEPM in Tasmania including monitoring of air quality.
  • Burns conducted for any purpose during the fire permit period must have a fire permit. A fire permit relates only to safety issues. Burns conducted during the fire permit period in accordance with the permit are exempt from the provisions of the Environmental Management and Pollution Control Act 1994.
  • Hazard reduction burns and agricultural residue burns are currently not subject to regulation outside of the fire permit period.
  • Burns conducted as part of a forest harvesting or regeneration operation are subject to the requirements of the Forest Practices Act 1985 and Forest Practices Code. The Forest Practices Authority (FPA) and the EPA are working towards improved Forest Practices Code provisions for smoke management. 

What are the smoke management guidelines?

  • The FPA and the EPA are working with representatives of the various land management agencies to reduce the risk of smoke pollution within populated centres through improvements to the planning and conduct of burns.
  • Smoke Management Guidelines were introduced on a trial basis in 2008 and the outcomes were reviewed by an independent fire expert. Revised trial guidelines have been put in place since 2009.  The guidelines include improved planning for smoke dispersal using data and models developed by the Bureau of Meteorology.
  • A coordinated smoke management strategy was trialled during 2009. The strategy provides for the following:
    • the coordination of planned burns to minimise the risk of high concentrations of smoke within individual air sheds - this means that restrictions will be imposed as required to ban or limit the number of burns on days when weather forecasts predict poor smoke dispersal
    • improved training and accreditation of personnel involved in the planning and conduct of burns
    • additional smoke monitoring stations.

How will the smoke management guidelines be implemented?

  • The trial guidelines and strategy are applied to burns conducted as part of a forest harvesting or regeneration operation and to hazard reduction and ecological management burns conducted by the Parks and Wildlife Service.  The outcomes are monitored and the results will be used to further refine the guidelines and the strategy.
  • The EPA and FPA are consulting with the Tasmania Fire Service, local government and the Tasmanian Farmers and Graziers Association to encourage the application of the guidelines to all other burns.
  • The FPA is primarily responsible for regulating the planning and conduct of burning activities through conditions placed on forest practices plans.  The EPA will continue to be responsible for monitoring smoke emissions and reporting against the NEPM standards.  Potential breaches of forest practice plans or legislation will be investigated and serious breaches will be subject to action under the relevant legislation.

What can I do if I have an enquiry or a complaint about smoke management?

  • Complaints or information about smoke should be directed where possible to the land manager responsible for the burn.
  • Advice on the potential health impacts of smoke exposure can be obtained from Public Health Services, Department of Health and Human Services. A fact sheet about 'Smoke from bushfires and planned burning' is available.
  • Complaints will be collated and used to investigate compliance with the guidelines and strategy.
  • Information about planned forestry burns is available from the website www.plannedburnstas.com.au, which is updated daily during the burning season.
  • Information about planned burns conducted by the Parks and Wildlife Service is available from the website http://www.parks.tas.gov.au/index.aspx?base=908, which is updated daily during the burning season.
  • A copy of the Forest Industry Standard for Prescribed Burning 2009 can be downloaded here (1,496KB).
  • All complaints relating to smoke should be lodged with the Environment Protection Authority (EPA) (telephone 1800 005 171).

Related documents for downloading

Overview information

Smoke Management from Planned Burns leaflet 

Air Curtain Burner leaflet

Smoke management guidelines and strategy documents

Forest Industry Standard for Prescribed Silvicultural Burning Practice 2009 

Review of the implementation and effectiveness of the 2008 interim fire management smoke dispersal guidelines 

Review of the implementation and effectiveness of the 2009 interim fire management smoke dispersal guidelines 

Review of the implementation and effectiveness of the 2010 interim fire management smoke dispersal guidelines

Review of the implementation and effectiveness of the 2011 interim fire management smoke dispersal guidelines

Content last modified September 1, 2015, 1:59 pm