It’s time to manage our forests properly
IT’S TIME to be upfront and honest – our forests need to be actively managed. Each year we face the threat of bushfire and, as we have seen, the effect can be absolutely devastating.
In Victoria, nearly eight million hectares of Crown land is managed to provide environmental, social, cultural and economic values to the people and local communities. Of these eight million hectares of natural forests, 4.74 million in Victoria is formally protected in national parks and conservation reserves.
In recent years the primary tool for protecting these values, in particular the environmental values of our forests, has been increases in reserves (including National Parks). Governments from both sides have closed off thousands of hectares, which has resulted in an overload of fuel, a recipe for disaster in the summer months.
However, rather than locking up forests and allowing the fuel load to accumulate to such dangerous levels, active management is required across the landscape. Whether the forest is a national park, state forest or part of other reserve systems, all forests need to be actively managed to reduce the risk of destructive bushfires.
The fact is simple: we must manage for fire first, as catastrophic bushfires in Victoria are the greatest threat to biodiversity, the viability of many threatened species, water supply from Melbourne’s catchments, and our future supplies of timber.
Put simply, it is more effective to reduce the risk of catastrophic bushfire than it is to try to recover these values. Forest, biodiversity, water, and land management policies must prioritise the minimisation of the risk of catastrophic bushfire.
Sustainable forest management supports a range of environmental, social, cultural and economic values. It is important that forest management practices meet the high regulatory standards that are required in Victoria and are continually improved to reflect new knowledge, technology and values.
The aim of sustainable forest management is to manage forests in a way that maintains their biodiversity, productivity and regeneration capacity. It also makes forest regions healthier and more productive.
Unfortunately this Christmas we saw bushfire destroy property along the Great Ocean Road, with more than 100 homes burnt to the ground around Wye River and Separation Creek. These towns border a vast estate of natural forest. Years of only cosmetic attention has left the forest to its own devices, and fuel load accumulation has left it in a prime condition for a bushfire of devastating consequences.
The lessons to be learnt from recent fires are that our current notions of preserving forests in a fire prone environment are flawed, and we need active adaptive management regimes.
The main drivers of significant fire risk are weather, fuel load and topography. Of these three drivers, only fuel load is within our control. The only thing that will really stop a big fire is the ongoing management of the fuel load, and rapid suppression when fires do occur. Rapid suppression requires locals with knowledge of the forest and the equipment to suppress fires. This is one of the many roles the forest and wood products industry performs.
Forestry is a tool for forest management. The activities and skills of the industry are not limited to commercial harvesting of timber but include ecological forest thinning, biomass management to reduce fuel loads, forest regeneration and restoration, roading and infrastructure, and first attack fire response.
It is important to understand the vital job forest industry workers perform in fighting fires and reducing the fire risk throughout Victoria. Many forest workers dedicate their time and energy to firefighting efforts every summer, and are on the frontline of efforts to keep all Australians safe.
We need to work together to save our forests, our industry, our homes and our communities.
Frightening ... fire scene.
Tim Johnston, CEO, Victorian Association of Forest Industries.