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Bushfire in Australian national park an environmental tragedy: Expert

Canberra, March 29 (IANS) An expert on Wednesday described a bushfire that has burned about one fifth of a national park in the Australian Outback as an environmental tragedy.

More than 100,000 hectares of land across the MacDonnell Ranges in central Australia has been burnt in recent weeks, fuelled by a hot March and three years of above-average rainfall that increased fuel loads, reports Xinhua news agency.

The affected area of the ranges includes 20 percent of the Tjoritja/West MacDonnell national park.

“The Tjoritja/West MacDonnell Ranges wildfire is a tragedy,” Alex Vaughan, a policy officer at the Arid Lands Environment Centre (ALEC), was quoted by the Guardian Australia as saying on Wednesday.

The wildfire comes months after Tanya Plibersek, the Minister for the Environment and Water, declared the park a priority place for conservation under the new federal plan to prevent any new extinctions of Australian wildlife.

“This is a place that Tanya Plibersek just last year recognized as one of the most important places nationally for threatened species conservation,” said Vaughan, adding that fires in the national park had come close to the habitat of the central rock rat, a critically endangered species that is only found in the region.

The fires have been fuelled by a build-up of the invasive buffel grass over the last three years, he said.

Introduced to Australia for pasture improvement, the grass has spread across central Australia into national parks where it significantly exacerbates fire risk.

Vaughan said the federal and Northern Territory governments have “completely failed” to address the problem.

South Australia is the only jurisdiction where the grass has been declared a weed.

“The consequences of this wildfire are devastating and, unfortunately, we are in for a long and tough fire season over the next 12 months,” Vaughan said.

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