Fight fire with forestry

Australian Forests and Timber - - VAFI -

in­hab­ited parts of the coun­try - all up about one hun­dred and twenty that clear­ing for agri­cul­ture and towns since 1788, it’s es­ti­mated that we still have about 87% of the for­est cover which con­fronted Cap­tain Phillip and crew when they stepped ashore.

That we still have such abun­dant bush­land is a credit to our early plan­ners and cur­rent tight rules on clear­ing. But we frankly have to get bet­ter at man­ag­ing the risks.

To gen­er­ate a burst of an­gry letters to the editor of any news­pa­per, all I need now do is say two words; ‘biomass re­moval’. Most av­er­age peo­ple won’t even know what I am talk­ing about. But to those who see our bush­land as a vast cathe­dral which should not be touched, ‘biomass re­moval’ is the evil which can’t be spo­ken.

Biomass re­moval just means the tak­ing away of some of the fuel load from our bush. It is ex­actly what we do when we burn off. It is also ex­actly what hap­pens, but on a mas­sive and out-of-con­trol scale,

The biomass is cer­tainly re­moved then.

In the USA it hap­pens all the time with barely a raised eye­brow. Pres­i­dent Obama is part way through a four hun­dred mil­lion dol­lar ‘for­est land­scape restora­tion’ pro­gram, which has as a core mech­a­nism, pay­ing op­er­a­tors to take ma­chines in and care­fully and strate­gi­cally take out some of the crowd­ing trees and shrubs. The land­scape be­comes more open, the re­main­ing trees grow higher and stronger and the

But here? Oh no not here. Biomass re­moval is too hot to touch. This is de­spite ev­i­dence of tree over­crowd­ing in parts of the coun­try which, com­bined with drought,

My friends in the green move­ments who are im­pla­ca­bly op­posed to touch­ing our forests in this way cry, “it’s the thin end of the wedge!” They say, “if we let folks re­move any trees they will go for the lot”.

I try to ex­plain that we can put pa­ram­e­ters around what can be used. I tell them there are al­ready laws and reg­u­la­tions around har­vest­ing prac­tices and sound for­est man­age­ment which pro­tect soils and wa­ter, habi­tat and en­vi­ron­men­tal amenity.

And the tragedy is that if the bush is not thinned out in this care­ful way, it will hap­pen in a far more

rushes through. Jan­uary scorched 95% of the War­rum­bun­gles Na­tional Park and it will be decades be­fore it fully re­cov­ers. The thou­sands of hectares con­tain­ing dead gums down Kosciusko way still stand like armies of bar­ren sen­tinels al­most Vic­to­ri­ans will of course never truly re­cover from the cat­a­strophic deaths of 173 peo­ple on Black Satur­day in 2009.

I tell my green friends

habi­tat,

like

the 45%

of

that

green­house gas emis­sions through last year alone pumped another 350 mil­lion tonnes into the at­mos­phere.

the re­serves set aside for the Vic­to­rian Lead­beat­ers Pos­sum which went up that forestry as an in­dus­try is put at risk ev­ery year as we never know de­stroy­ing part of our 2.1 mil­lion hectares of gum trees and pine trees in plan­ta­tions.

es­carp­ment around Ka­toomba and all over Aus­tralia, I live in hope that this will be the year we agree to have a ra­tio­nal dis­cus­sion about care­fully man­aged fuel re­duc­tion. Can ‘biomass re­moval’ per­haps speak its name?

Maybe this will be the sum­mer said to re­peat the same ac­tiv­ity over and over and ex­pect a dif­fer­ent re­sult is in­san­ity.

Ross Hamp­ton.

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