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Major Event Review of the 2019–20 Victorian bushfires shows need for major forest management overhaul: Forestry Australia

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Forestry Australia, Media Release, 24 November 2022

A comprehensive report into the 2019-20 Victorian bushfires highlights the need for a major overhaul of current forest management strategies according to the peak Australian association for forest scientists, professionals and growers.

Jointly commissioned by the Victorian and Australian governments as parties to the Regional Forest Agreements (RFA), and conducted by an independent expert panel, the Major Event Review of the 2019-20 bushfires examined the impacts of the devastating bushfires on a wide range of forest uses and a range of forest values.

The review undertook extensive consultation with stakeholders, communities and Traditional Owners, and presented the two governments with 37 recommendations.

Forestry Australia Vice President Jim Wilson said the report highlighted the need for a major overhaul of current forest management strategies so appropriate resources could be allocated to provide for the full range of forest uses and values in a balanced and holistic way.

“This report confirms that to avoid future repeats of 2019-20 and protect human life and biodiversity, forest and fire management must be viewed and managed at a landscape scale, with active management over long timeframes, using expert knowledge of forests and their processes,” Mr Wilson said.

“In order to achieve this, and overcome Australia’s wicked bushfire problem, we need all forest stakeholders to work together to manage our forests in a planned, strategic and considered manner, which unfortunately is not happening across the board right now.

“Through these strategies, we can conserve forests for a broader range of values, and proactively manage current pressures and increasing threats to our environment from climate change and the interrelated impacts of bushfires and invasive species.”

Forestry Australia member Dr Tony Bartlett ASFM (Australian Fire Service Medal), who was part of the review’s panel, said the report showed that old growth and fire sensitive forests would be lost if the if the extent and frequency of severe bushfires were not reduced.

“The review found that of the 1.5 million hectares burnt in the 2019-20 bushfires, 1.39 million hectares of this was forested land, about half of which was burnt at high severity,” Dr Bartlett said.

“62,000 hectares, or 15 per cent of Victoria’s old growth forest is thought to have been lost in the fires, of which 40,800 hectares was within Dedicated Reserves and Special Protection Zones.

“This shows that the state’s current forest and fire management strategies are ineffective in limiting bushfire impacts on many important RFA values, including old growth, threatened species and fire sensitive communities

“Victoria’s public land management planning is not well integrated, with most management plans 25-30 years old and poorly connected with recent bushfire management strategies, especially for protection of environmental values.

Dr Bartlett said the review identified a number of improvements which could be made to land and fire management practices in Victoria, including expanding active and adaptive management, increasing collaboration with Traditional Owners and expanding the range of forest industries.

“Our forests hold a diverse range of environmental, social, cultural and economic values and we need to manage and care for all these values in order to protect forests against future catastrophic fire events and maximise the total societal benefit they can provide,” Dr Bartlett said.

“Key to this is expanding an active and adaptive management approach to reduce bushfire risk and support the recovery of forests and communities dependent on them after bushfire, including the scaling up the implementation of ecological burning in public forests.

“Importantly, we must ensure that Traditional Owners are empowered to have an active role in the management of forests on public land on Country.

“This includes adequate resourcing of all Traditional Owner groups and greater participation of Traditional Owners before, during and after bushfires as part of a holistic, year-round management of Country.

“We also need to support the expansion of a range of forest industries to drive jobs and economic benefits to rural and regional communities, which serves the added benefit of having knowledgeable and trained crews on the ground when fires do occur.”

Dr Bartlett presented the key recommendations from the review at the Forestry Australia 2022 Symposium last month, his presentation is available to view here: https://vimeo.com/768308873/ca1f17ae7b

A copy of the Major Event Review of the 2019-20 bushfires report can be found here: https://www.agriculture.gov.au/sites/default/files/documents/vic-rfa-mer-bushfires-report-2022.pdf

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