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No evidence timber harvesting exacerbated 2019/20 bushfires


There are many complex factors that cause and sustain bushfires, including sufficient dry fuel, an ignition source, and conducive weather conditions. The ignition source for most of the 2019/20 bushfires was found to be lighting strikes. Exacerbating aspects were found to be climate conditions such as below average rainfall, weather conditions and local topography, as well as long-term human-induced climate change. These factors all interacted to intensify the unprecedented 2019/20 fires. 


Major inquiries into the fires were conducted by the federal government, the Victorian government and the NSW government. While some of these inquiries made reference to land management, none linked harvesting and other forest management practices to fire risk, but in fact noted that suspending land management practices could actually serve to increase risk.


The Inspector-General in the Victorian government inquiry stated that, “The timber industry provides an important support capacity to fire management in Victorian forests with a skill set, knowledge base and operational experience in forest landscapes. The cessation of native forest harvesting by 2030 poses challenges for the fuel management program and bushfire response capacity across the state.”


Analysis of the 2019/20 bushfires has so far been limited. Based on land tenure, the area burnt on conservation reserves was found to be almost double that of the area burnt where there was timber harvesting, though around the same proportion of both were impacted by fire.


Meanwhile, a case study from the NSW Department of Primary Industries indicated that of the 763,000 hectares of land burnt in NSW, only 210,000 hectares (27 per cent) had some form of harvesting activity in the last 35 years.


Overall, there is no discernible, causal link to demonstrate that a history of timber harvesting affected wildfires at a landscape level, and reportedly the practice has a very small impact on severe canopy damage.


Furthermore, overseas mega-fires like the Californian and Amazonian wildfires have been increasing in area regardless of land management activities or remoteness of location.


Some strategic options offered for effective fire management and suppression for wet eucalypt south-eastern Australian forests include managing surrounding dry forests, maintaining early-response firefighting methods like keeping up roads and access paths, thinning regrowth, and alternative silvicultural practices.


The key takeaway from the research was that policies and practices should be based upon evidence and integrate multiple models and perspectives, such as cool burning and empowering Traditional Owners to conduct cultural burning.


Source: Australian Forestry.

Posted Date: November 16, 2021

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