There’s much discussion about how fire should be used in the Strathbogie Forest. An aim of any fuel reduction program is to create a vegetation mosaic, so that fuel loads vary and a wildfire can’t just rush through a forest unhindered. Of course, we’re talking here of ‘normal’ bushfires; no amount of fuel reduction or breaks will stop a big fire on a really, really bad day.
Planned burns to reduce forest fuel have been conducted for many decades in the Strathbogies, but have only been mapped since the 1970s (40+ years ago). We are concerned that too much planned burning is occurring in the Strathbogies and that it’s having a negative impact on significant forest assets. Our recent survey of the Tames Rd planned burn showed how ecologically devastating a ‘successful’ planned burn can be.
These maps of the main part of the Strathbogie forest show how much planned burning was done and where, in each decade since the 1970s. For reference, some other forest management assets are mapped: brown= pines, yellow = ‘reserves’, purple = Special Protection Zones (high conservation value areas), green = mapped/modeled old-growth (forest with old-growth elements eg. big trees). The darker-green background is forests that Click on an image for the slide show.
Its’ interesting to see how the patchwork of planned burns increases with time. Keep in mind that lines on maps don’t tell the whole story. Important detail such as percent coverage, fire intensity, fire impact are not documented for any of these burns, so the maps are only part of the picture. Nonetheless, it’s clear that much of the forest has been burnt in the last few decades.
In the Strathbogies, long-unburnt forest and ecologically mature forest is rare and fragmented. Such forest has particular biodiversity values not present in younger forest and there are many types of plants and animals that rely on long-unburnt forest for survival.
Two things stand out from this information:
- The existing fire mosaic is a good basis from which to develop a plan for strategic burning in the future and
- The remaining areas that are long-unburnt, that contain ecologically mature forest of high conservation value, should remain unburnt.
Now look at what’s on the Fire Operations Plan for the next few seasons, including 2016.
These planned burns, particularly the Barjarg Rd burn, completely ignore the existing fire mosaic! This one planned burn covers about a third to half of the remaining higher altitude forests and will create a large-scale, single-aged flush of understorey regrowth, where currently there is a diversity of age classes and structure.
The burn includes substantial areas of long-unburnt forest, as well as mapped ‘old-growth’ forest and areas defined as Special Protection Zones, established to protect vulnerable vegetation communities and threatened plant and animal species, like the Greater Glider and Powerful Owl.
On what basis can this be considered good practice? We have asked DELWP, Hume Region this question, but have received no satisfactory answers. How did a 3000 ha burn even get onto the FOP in the first place? The answer is perhaps moot, but it does highlight the perverse outcomes of having a hectare-based target for planned burning.
With the Government moving to a risk-based approach to planned burns from next season, we call on DELWP and the Minister to take the Barjarg Rd planned burn off the table. Strategic planned burns to protect life and property are one thing, but a 3000 ha burn in this location and at this time is counter-productive at every level.
Note on wild fires. There have been no wildfires in the Strathbogie forest in living memory. Neither Black Friday (1939), nor Ash Wednesday (1983), nor Black Saturday (2009), nor any of the major fires in between took hold in these forests. There have been several wild fires in surrounding agricultural land, but none has made it into the forest proper. No doubt, wild fires would have burnt in the forest at some time in the past, but there is no record of this. Did the Taungurong people burn the forest? Again, an understanding of if and how indigenous people used fire in these forests is lacking. Perhaps fire was used on occasion, but this would have been at a small, local scale, nothing like the way fire is used today.