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. Whilst 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
Percentage targets for planned burning are blunt tools that don’t work – The Conversation