It’s time to man­age our forests prop­erly

Australian Forests and Timber - - SPECIAL REPORT -

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.

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