I’m all for saving forests. Unlike the climate change enthusiasts, I learnt how to do it by working as a forester. Forty years ago, after I’d started working in the bush, Neville Wran commenced what has become a tradition amongst Labor Premiers by saving NSW’s rainforests. They were actually quite safe then. Some were selectively logged and regenerated, some were preserved in Flora Reserves. All were protected from wildfire by the clean, open, grassy eucalypt forests around them – maintained by mild burning.
Bob Carr outdid Nifty Neville by a mile. In 2005, he ‘saved’ the Pilliga Scrub which had choked out open woodlands after graziers walked off the land a century before. Foresters had thinned the scrub, turning woody weeds into a valuable natural resource. On 3rd December 2009, Nathan Rees (remember him ?) followed the lead and decided to save the new river red gum forests from the local communities who had created them. Christina Keneally rolled him the same day and took all the ‘credit’.
More recently Dan Andrews has announced the phasing out of native forestry in Victoria. Black Saturday and Black Summer have given us previews of how that will work. By far the major proportion of forests that have been incinerated by megafires in recent decades were already ‘protected’ in National Parks. Only a miniscule portion was available for timber.
Now Mark McGowan has saved the forests of the Southwest. “This will be good for preserving carbon, for stopping the release of carbon into the atmosphere” he said. “There’s millions upon millions of tons (that) will be preserved in the forests as part of this decision so it’s an important climate initiative as well and shows Western Australia is doing our bit to assist with combating climate change as well.”
Ironically, these were the only forests in Southern Australia that had a consistent history of sustainable fire management over the previous sixty years. Real empirical data from management over there clearly shows that a minimum of 8% of the landscape needs to be maintained by mild burning each year if we hope to contain fires in severe seasons. The maintenance is only good for 6 years. So unless you’re properly managing at least half the landscape, you will get firestorms and megafires in bad seasons.
Unfortunately, the carbon accounting that backs our futile self-destructive climate control agenda is worse than the models produced to justify the agenda. None of the massive emissions from our unnecessary megafires are brought to account. Sustainable fire management would have huge effects in reducing emissions and genuine socioeconomic benefits, not to mention very substantial environmental gains.
Even without considering the inevitable fire disasters in unmanaged bush, sustainable timber production stores more carbon than locking up forests. Trees reach their maximum rate of carbon storage at a young age. Their growth rate declines before they reach a usable size. Harvesting native forest stores carbon in durable products off-site whilst maintaining maximum possible sequestration in the forest. Residues can be recycled as bioenergy.
But a renewable resource isn’t the big issue. Our lock it up and let it burn conservation paradigm is a disaster whichever way you look at it. Even the recent ABC Catalyst show on bushfires acknowledged that rainforests are burning because we don’t manage our eucalypt forests properly.
Vic Jurskis is a former senior NSW Forestry Commission professional forester. In 2004 he was awarded a Fellowship by the Joseph William Gottstein Memorial Trust to investigate eucalypt decline across Australia. He has published two books, Firestick Ecology, and The Great Koala Scam, both available from Connor Court.
Got something to add? Join the discussion and comment below.