Environment: National parks are an unacceptable fire riskby Tom BrabinNews Weekly
, March 9, 2002
The horrific bushfires in NSW in December and January were aggravated by environmental groups' veto over logging and hazard reduction burning says Tom Brabin, who worked for many years as a professional forester.I borrowed this headline from an article in a recent issue of a Melbourne daily, written by a perceptive writer. In 1998, I wrote an article in News Weekly about parks and fire, which apart from exposing the lack of control of feral weeds and fauna, found from a survey by Lyndall Bull, that access into and through most parks was limited to walking tracks, except small areas roaded for management purpose. Fire prevention and control was not considered, and fuel reduction, as a fire control measure, was not mentioned. Roads in most were removed from parks as were water storages aimed to assist fire suppression activities.
Fuel reduction in NSW parks in 2001 was almost non-existent and what little was done was done poorly and of little use; according to a local observer close to these matters.
In most states, fire prevention and suppression in forested public lands is the responsibility of the State Forest Services, working with Rural Fire Brigades, where appropriate.
In NSW, lobbying by green organisations led to politicians making the Forest Service - the most experienced in forest wildfire control - responsible to the Parks Service which knows little of forest fire prevention and suppression.
Multiple-use forests, unlike national parks, have roads for logging and management with logging bulldozers available to assist in fire suppression.
As in 1994, the recent fires in NSW occurred mostly in parks, in which access was almost nil as was fuel reduction, prior to the fire season and in many, roads were - and still are - being ripped up to prevent
Certainly most eucalypt species rely on periodic destruction by fire for renewal, but this is no excuse for not preventing fires such as those in Royal National Park and other parks.
Despite these politically-made handicaps, fire fighters organising suppression and actually fighting these fires did a magnificent job and could not be blamed for the millions of dollars required to achieve success.
It is time that those promoting the forestry policies that would limit or end logging (and the thousands of timber-related jobs dependent on it) were exposed. They reveal an ignorance of forests and forestry in their claims against utilising our native public forests, even though all those harvested are renewed, with their biodiversity preserved, and their scenery, water purity, etc., retained.
In Victoria only about one per cent of utilisable forest is logged each year, in small coupes, leaving existing forests bordering them, untouched - somewhat similar to group selection used in NSW.
Immediately after logging, these temporally bare coupes yield more water but this diminishes over the next 5-6 years as regrowth becomes established, returning to about pre-logging volumes - and then reducing yields, as they age. This reduction in yield is largely offset by pockets logged each succeeding year.
For many years, environmental lobby groups have made numerous unsustainable attacks on forest management, and yet their influence remains strong.
Australian logging codes are the toughest in the world, policed by forest managers, and forest fauna and flora are much safer in utilised public forests than those in parks. A multiplicity of public inquiries has found no evidence of logging causing a single extinction of any native flora and fauna species, since logging started 200 years ago. This doesn't stop demands to lock up vast areas to "protect endangered species"!
Already, these tactics have reduced the area of controlled utilisable and renewed native forests from around 80 per cent of that available 30 years ago to 15-20 per cent - at about 1 per cent logged and replanted each year.
Recently, a new group called "Doctors, Liberals and Lawyers for Forests" has emerged in Victoria. Their stated main aim is to stop logging of native forest catchments, but, in tune with other green groups, one can expect this to expand to a call for a logging ban in all native public forests.
They claim that logging reduces water yields (without any proof) by up to 50 per cent, pollutes streams and causes fires. They disregard patch logging each succeeding year, which probably keeps water loss to 5-8 per cent, and claim forests such as old growth mountain ash is fire resistant (a stupid claim) - while saying regrowth forests are highly flammable.
Such claims have been criticised by Professor Peter Attiwill of Melbourne University School of Botany. Professor Attiwill has probably carried out more research than anyone else into the impact on forests, of periodic, severe disturbance in Australia, such as logging and other impacts.
His conclusions are supported by other authorities such as Steven Pyne (The Burning Bush
) and others, such as John Hickey at Forestry Tasmania, who was appalled by suggestions that he endorsed the claim that logging makes forests fire prone.
Fortunately industry is starting to campaign against such misinformation.
For instance, the oft-repeated claim that old growth ash forests are fire-friendly is blatantly untrue - they are killed by severe fires which are fueled by the many tonnes of leaves, bark, branches, etc., cluttering the forest floor.
Following the latest serious fires in NSW, I would hope the thousands of people who suffered demand their State Government cut back the Parks Service and transfer parks or areas of parks suitable for multiple use management to NSW State Forests.
They should also be demanding the NSW Government explain why vast areas of forests, nurtured by NSW Forest Service for most of the 20th century, creating and protecting their high conservation values, transferred them to the Parks Service at the behest of the Green lobby, despite the now proven evidence that the Parks Service is grossly incompetent in its fire management.
This lobby has forced the Forest Service, which had created and protected these areas, to seek licences from the Parks Service for actions within its much smaller area of forest, resulting in about 600,000 hectares of the million or more hectares transferred, being destroyed, at great cost, in the 1994 and 2001 fires.
It is time that forest industries, managers of public forests and politicians attacked the greens for disseminating misinformation about logging and forest management.
For example, a green spokesman on the ABC stated the forests in East Gippsland were 500-600 years old - a load of nonsense! A small number of individual eucalypt trees may survive to 250 years, or beyond, but not whole forests.
The most efficient managers of our public forests are trained and experienced foresters, who are well trained in wildfire prevention and suppression, while providing wood products needed by the community, on a sustainable basis.
Sustainability cannot be achieved while vast areas continue to be reclassified as national parks and removed from use, to become unacceptable fire risks.