Fire risk rise blamed on climate change

By Don Farmer don.farmer@age.co.nz -
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Honey producers are utilising manuka and kanuka, which like gorse, are fast burning. PHOTO/FILE
Honey producers are utilising manuka and kanuka, which like gorse, are fast burning. PHOTO/FILE

Warning bells have been sounded over likely increased risks from wildfires due to climate change and other factors.

Ray Stewart, of Sustainable Wairarapa, has lodged an annual plan submission with Masterton District Council warning of future dangers and is due to speak to the submission in the Frank Cody Lounge tomorrow.

In his submission Mr Stewart warns in addition to extended fire bans in the Masterton district, further modelling is needed throughout the greater Wellington region over wildfire risks as the climate alters.

Coupled with this are risks linked to the resurgence of the honey industry.

He said manuka and kanuka, like gorse, are fast burning and provide plenty of fuel in the way of dried matter underneath the live tree canopy.

He questions what risk assessments have been done in light of widespread new plantings of manuka and kanuka for honey production, particularly in light of likely increased wildfires due to the climate becoming warmer and the region drier.

Mr Stewart said he could not find any mention of climate change in the draft annual plan.

"There are no simple answers as to how to address human-induced climate change and no magic wand that will protect us. We all need to contribute to finding solutions as communities, and this will require leadership by Masterton District Council."

Mr Stewart believes the district council will need to look at the impact of climate change on the "four wellbeings -- economic, social, cultural and environmental" as well as such issues as the effect of sea level rise on coastlines and the impact of climate change on biodiversity.

"While this will need to be done in co-operation with other councils, ratepayers should be asked to contribute to discussions on mitigation and adaptation to the challenges climate change will bring."

Mr Stewart said warmer air holds more moisture and while Niwa models may show only small variations in yearly rainfall, they also predict Wairarapa will have longer dry periods and more frequent extreme events causing flooding.

While appreciating the council was now working with Greater Wellington Regional Council on a flood control plan, last year's floods in Whanganui had shown flood control needed to include re-assessment of existing stormwater infrastructure.

He posed a question in his submission as to whether Masterton's stormwater infrastructure was being assessed on its ability to cope with increasingly severe rainfall events.

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