A third of Strathbogie Forest slated for burning in 2016-18

The fire burnt right down into the bottom of this gully ..

The fire burnt right down into the bottom of this gully ..

Fire Planners in DELWP are planning to burn large areas of the Strathbogie Forest in the next few years. The area within the fire perimeter is about 6700 ha, about a third of the area of the entire state forest. More significantly, the planned burns cover most of those parts of the State Forest that have the highest conservation, landscape and biodiversity values. FOP map 15-18Whilst the plan is to reduce fuel by patch-burning these areas, we’ve seen that even the smallest flames of a low-intensity fire can topple nearly every mature, hollow-bearing tree in a forest. We also know only too well that fire-behaviour is extremely hard to predict, let alone control. The impact these planned burns end up having on the forest and the large numbers of fauna species that rely on big, old trees (for nesting, roosting and feeding), will be negative – without a doubt.  And if the impact is anything like what we saw at last season’s Tames Rd fire, these planned burns could cause the loss of large numbers of century-old trees and result in the local extinction of several fauna species.

And this is coming on top of quite a comprehensive history of planned burns in the Ranges. The maps below show the extent of planned burning, particularly the high conservation value southern section of the forest. Planned burning has been occurring since at least the 1970s. The minimum area (because the mapping probably isn’t comprehensive and there have also been plenty of regeneration burns in logging areas) of planned burning in each decade since the 1970s is:

  • 1970’s – 2112 ha
  • 1980’s – 1485 ha
  • 1990’s – 2909 ha
  • 2000’s – 2566 ha
  • 2010’s – 1223 ha (to date)

In total, more than 10,000 ha of forest have been burnt by DELWP and its predecessors in the last 45 years and about half of this in the last 20 years. I shudder to think how many forest giants have been eliminated by these ‘low intensity’ fires. Its arguable whether the wetter parts of the Strathbogie forests ever carried fire more than once a century. A vigorous, planned burn regime like this could be causing major ecological change.

It appears that these types of vegetation communities don’t respond to fire the way woodlands and dry forests might. Because these forests have high rainfall and are at altitude (where it’s cooler and more humid), natural fires tend to do one of two things; they either extinguish themselves pretty quickly because the abundant fuel is too damp to burn (late-Autumn, Winter, Spring and early Summer), or the forest is dry and the fire goes off like a bomb (Summer, early-Autumn). This is why the window for planned burning in the Strathbogies is so short; if you get it wrong the burn risks fizzling out, or it burns intensely and causes real damage. [Is this what happened at last seasons’ Tames Rd burn?]

These maps also show that there are very few areas where fire hasn’t had a major impact, yet some of these apparently long-unburnt areas are the very ones being targeted for burning in the next few years.

The Government has an obligation to protect human life and property, but it also has an obligation to maintain and improve the health of the forest ecosystems in our landscapes; for the biodiversity values they contain and for the mitigating effect healthy forests have on global warming. There’s got to be a smarter way of achieving this than burning Strathbogie forests in pursuit of an arbitrary State-wide target.

Some reading on the review of the 5% annual burn target:

Bushfire burn-off targets to be replaced with risk-based strategy – The Age newspaper

After Action: To burn or not to burn – Wildfire magazine

2 responses to “A third of Strathbogie Forest slated for burning in 2016-18

  1. This is sickening Bert, given the relatively small area of native forest left around the Strathbogie region. You might get some useful info from these links:

    http://www.eastgippsland.net.au/media/fires-and-burning

    http://www.delwp.vic.gov.au/news-and-announcements/igem-review-into-bushfire-fuel-management

    In 2012 I attended a walk in Cement Creek catchment and also a meeting at the Alpine Retreat in Warburton, where a senior botanist and rainforest research scientist was a guest speaker.

    Standout statements by this respected scientist were:

    “Clearfell logging is turning our ecosystems upside down. It has to stop now and we must return to selective logging.”

    and (reluctantly in response to my question at the Alpine Retreat meeting on 30 April 2012) “Fuel reduction burns dry the forest out and make it more flammable.”

    You’ll understand why he was reluctant to state this publicly if you browse this link: http://delwp.vic.gov.au/environment-and-wildlife/arthur-rylah-institute

    and of course three years later, we’re still rampantly clearfelling and control burning! However in this light, the IGEM Review Into Bushfire Fuel Management can be seen hopefully as a big step in the right direction, upon which we need to capitalise.

    best regards, Lorraine

  2. Pingback: Planned burning decimates old-growth trees – Strathbogie forest | Our Strathbogie Forest

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