Right now, there are still trees in the Strathbogie Forest that likely predate the era of British colonization in Australia. Imagine that, forest trees that were living and breathing well before Major Thomas Mitchell pronounced Australia Felix; even before the first known map of the Port Phillip district was drawn in 1803. Trees that were standing when the Swedish navy captured one third of the Russian fleet at the naval battle of Svensksund in the Baltic Sea, in 1790! It’s a long time since the Swedes were a substantial navel power, but that’s how old these last few forest giants are (nothing against Swedes).
Sadly, if the Victorian Government keeps on burning these forests, the last old growth trees will be gone within a few short years. Thankfully, the Government has announced a review of the crazy 5% annual burning target in favour of a risk-based approach, so perhaps there’s hope things will change.
Surprisingly, its not that these trees are being killed by particularly intense, or ‘out of control’ burns. Here’s what can happen when a planned burn, according the DELWP fire planners, goes well eg a patchy burn with no crown scorch; a burn that meets all the targets.
Driving along Gerars Tk, one boundary of the Tames Rd burn (map below), the impact of the fire doesn’t look too serious. This is still a young forest recovering from logging. Most of the trees are 10 -40 years old; there appear to be very few trees of hollow-bearing age. So, those that still stand are critical for the survival of forest owls, gliding possums and a host of hollow-dependent fauna that live and breed in this forest. This fire appeared to stay on the ground, blackening the lower parts of tree trunks, killing shrubs but leaving them standing and leaving patches of leaf litter and grasses unburnt. But when these flames came into contact with the dry, dead wood inside mature trees, the fire’s potential was realized!
In the several hectares surveyed every big, old tree with a crack or hollow at it’s base was burnt and killed. This represents almost a total loss of large hollows in this part of the forest. These forest giants survived successive rounds of chainsaws, bulldozers and logging, only to be felled by a fire lit for the purpose of managing the forest! This planned burn has changed the ecology of this forest for the next 100 years; that’s roughly how long it will take for the current stand of younger trees to grow big enough to replace the trees killed by this fire, assuming the next planned burn doesn’t get them first. Ironically, these hollow-bearing trees were left standing as habitat trees by previous logging.
Look at these photos carefully. How many big, old trees can you see, other than those collapsed by the planned burn? These planned burns are fundamentally changing the nature of the Strathbogie Forest?
But it’s not just about protecting heritage, these old growth, or habitat trees, are critical elements of these forests for a number of important reasons. But before I bore you with the detail, let me show you what happens when a planned burn does exactly what it’s meant to do.