Saturday, February 4, 2023

Open for Debate - Bushfires, Logging, Burns & Forest Management

The megafires of three years ago are still fresh in the Australian memory.  Of course it is not just Australia where fires have raged out of control and caused immeasurable damage. Forest and land management practices around the world are, I hope, under scrutiny so that the best practices to suit the circumstances of each can be put into place.

The debate on this page has opened up beyond the original question of any connection between bushfires and logging to include other elements that make up sustainable forest management in Australia. The overarching question remains the same: How can Australian forests, as they are now, be best managed to achieve the best outcome with the least adverse consequences? What more can and should we do right now?

Those of you who have been following the commentary and articles collected here would suspect that there is no simple answer to this question and that there are deep divisions between commentators.

The impact of climate change, the impact of logging and harvesting, the impact of fuel reduction burns and the extent of FRBs appear to be key factors.

Surely though, these are not mutually exclusive and it’s not that much of a stretch to acknowledge that they all may have an effect on forest management and bushfire risk?  Perhaps the ongoing debate will get down to the details of where the balance lies.

At another level, the debate over forest management and bushfire mitigation and protection feeds into a debate over the future of rural and regional Australia itself, but that may be for the next round. 

As before, if you have expert experience or knowledge in this field, your input – as balanced and unemotional as possible, preferably debating the points and not the people – is invited. If you know someone who should contribute to this debate, let them, or me, know. TheEditor@ARR.News

While the length of a submission is not an issue, it would be helpful for ARR.News readers if commentators could give a clear summary of their main points at the outset.

Native forestry

Native forestry myths

The ongoing and thorough debate on Australian Rural & Regional News on native forestry in 2022, highlighted directly and indirectly a few myths on the subject. Without any order of ranking, these are: 1. Native hardwood should be harvested from hardwood plantations ...

Forest management

Forestry Australia welcomes landmark study on net benefits of multiple use forest management

Forestry Australia has welcomed a new study that highlights the significant value and benefits that state forests deliver for positive environmental, recreational, social and commercial outcomes. Assessing the net benefits of multiple use native forest management in Queensland found that state forests managed for multiple uses in South and Central Queensland delivered additional benefits and superior social outcomes over the long term when compared with benefits provided by national parks.

Forest & fires

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

A comprehensive report into the 2019-20 Victorian bushfires highlights the need for a major overhaul of current forest management strategies ... “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”: Forestry Australia Vice President Jim Wilson.

Forest management - Gippsland

Dialogue to help Gippsland’s forests

Scott McArdle is blunt. “Gippsland’s forests need our help. Fire, floods, storms, drought, pests, weeds, neglect, exploitation and the changing climate are all taking a huge toll – but if we all work together, the future can be different.” Mr McArdle is the executive officer of a new group, the Gippsland Forest Dialogue (GFD), that aims to do just that – meet the challenges facing the region’s forests and find ways to move forward.

National parks

Caring for national parks – a conservationist’s perspective evolves: Cam Walker, Friends of the Earth

Cam Walker. After World War Two, a growing appreciation of the Australian landscape and an emerging conservation movement led millions of people to become involved in campaigns to protect our wild and special places ... Once a campaign was won, we often thought that the battle was over ... Several decades ago I was a volunteer with an environment group that campaigned to gain protection of wild ecosystems. In those days I supported a ‘let burn’ policy when it comes to managing fire in wild landscapes.

Risk - NSW

Opportunities to improve fuel management in NSW: John O’Donnell

John O'Donnell reviews the NSW Rural Fire Service Annual Report 2021/22 ... Unfortunately, areas of annual hazard reduction burning and mechanical reduction in NSW are both at very low rates ... Only 3.1 per cent of the NSW forested landscape has received fuel treatment over five years, this is extremely low and inadequate to reduce bushfire areas and risk. In addition, the forests with extensive hot bushfires of 2019/ 20 are now three years old and in many cases there are extensive areas of dead trees, heavy grass/ bark etc fuel and dense understoreys ...

Bushfire management

Think fire, know fire: Roger Underwood

I have recently re-read Think Trees, Grow Trees, a 1985 publication from the Institute of Foresters of Australia. This excellent little book was the brainchild of, and was edited by Dr Wilf Crane, one of my contemporaries at the Australian Forestry School, a notable forest scientist and famous and eccentric character ... To me, the most important part of the book (in terms of contemporary relevance) is the chapter called Living with Fire. It is written by Phil Cheney.

Forest fuel, forest resilience and risks of severe bushfire – USDA fact sheets

John O'Donnell. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Forest Service has recently prepared three useful fact sheets in regards to reducing wildfire risks, hazardous fuels and improving forest resilience ... These documents are valuable reading for those involved in land and fire management in Australia.

Bushfire management

Landmark national bushfire framework to save Australian lives, land and property: Forestry Australia

A landmark new body of work has been released to assist governments and private organisations to tackle Australia’s growing bushfire problem and save lives, land and property. Turning the Goals of the National Bushfire Management Policy Statement into Objectives and Key Performance Indicators aims to guide improvements in bushfire management and provide consistent reporting nationally on achievements.

Bushfire management - response

Politically correct fire management: Vic Jurskis

Elders of Australian forestry temporarily reinstated sustainable fire management more than half a century ago, before a new generation of ecologists dismantled it. These new experts employ the Climate Cop-Out to explain the inevitable resurgence of pestilence and megafires. Now Forestry Australia is collaborating with them to ‘reimagine’ our future. To achieve this, they have to reinvent our past.

Self-thinning forest understoreys

Self-thinning forest understoreys and wildfire debate – closing question

In light of the discussion over many submissions on the topic of self-thinning forest understoreys and wildfire from our notable commentators - Jack Bradshaw, Philip Zylstra, Roger Underwood and Peter Rutherford - and the continuing differences of opinion, each was asked the following question, with a view to concluding the debate, at least for the time being, and hopefully on a constructive note: What more might it be useful to explore?

Self-thinning forest understoreys

Philip Zylstra’s response #4 – self-thinning forest understoreys and wildfire debate

The critique of our study of fire history in southwestern forests illustrates the difficulty of discussion around such emotive issues. We reported that according to Departmental records, bushfires were seven times more likely in areas of forest that still had the dense understorey that had been germinated by prescribed burns than they were in other areas where the understorey had self-thinned because it had been left alone. These are the facts, but they leave us at an impasse.

The Zylstra theory: a final comment: Roger Underwood

Having read the latest comment by Philip Zylstra in the ARR.News journal I was tempted to dismiss it as negligible, and move on. Then I realised that he had denigrated my colleagues, dismissing them as an emotional "lobby group”, and I realised that he must not be allowed to have the last word. To the extent that we are pushing for Australian governments to adopt a bushfire policy and management practices that minimise bushfire damage to the Australian people, to community assets and the environment, then yes, we are lobbyists. But we do so unemotionally, from the basis of science and experience.

Self-thinning forest understoreys

Jack Bradshaw to Philip Zylstra #2 – self-thinning forest understoreys and wildfire debate

In his 24 October response on this issue, Zylstra states that in their study seven times more area of recently burnt forest was burnt than long unburnt forest. That is not in dispute. But was this because there were seven times the number of ignitions in these areas to start with because of chance or differences in area or because of some flammability factor? We simply do not know because this basic statistical requirement was not considered in the study.  Is the conclusion biased, by how much, and in what direction? Who knows?

Philip Zylstra’s response #3 – self-thinning forest understoreys and wildfire risk debate

The mapped fire histories of the southwestern forests show that bushfires have been most frequent in forests with dense understoreys promoted by previous burns, and far less common in areas that have not been burned for several decades, allowing the understorey to naturally thin. Two new voices have entered the discussion on this here and made numerous claims, but their ill-informed comments have distracted from the point.

Peter Rutherford to Philip Zylstra #2 – self-thinning forest understoreys and wildfire debate

Both researchers I referenced show regular low intensity burning, as practised by Aboriginal people across the landscape, has been lost and Dr Fletcher believes the loss of cool, mosaic burning since European settlement has left us, as a nation, dangerously fire prone. Philip Zylstra seems to have missed this critical point.

Self-thinning forest understoreys

Self-thinning forest understoreys and wildfire risk debate – Roger Underwood responds

Dear Editor, I am compelled to respond to the naïve and dangerous comments by Professor Phillip Zylstra on forest bushfire management in Western Australia, in your most recent edition. I agree with the Bradshaw critique of Zylstra et al’s paper and I found Professor Zylstra’s defence to be unconvincing.

Philip Zylstra’s fire research: Adding value or creating risk? : Peter Rutherford

Following the critique of a research paper by Zylstra, Bradshaw and Lindenmayer “Self-thinning forest understoreys reduce wildfire risk, even in a warming climate,” by Jack Bradshaw, readers might be interested in some broader analysis of Mr Zylstra’s fire research work ... His research appears to be the base to advocate for what might be described as a wilderness approach to fire management across the broad Australian landscape.

Self-thinning forest understoreys

‘Self thinning forest understoreys reduce wildfire risk, even in a warming climate’: Philip Zylstra responds to Jack Bradshaw

Mr Bradshaw has expressed concerns about the methodology in our paper, but unfortunately, he seems to have fundamentally misunderstood what we did. Without going into that complexity, we will address his core argument here: that the proportion of an area burnt each year is dependent upon the likelihood that a fire will start there, and the amount and effect of fire suppression that occurs there. We thoroughly agree, but the question is whether this reality biases the trends in a way that will cause our results, as he has suggested.

Comment on ‘Self-thinning forest understoreys reduce wildfire risk, even in a warming climate’: Jack Bradshaw

Earlier this year a paper was published in an international journal that argued that if left long enough the southern forest of Western Australia was ‘unlikely to burn’. Furthermore that ‘the predicted likelihood of fire in undisturbed forest was 1 in 208 to 1 in 1149 years.’ In my opinion, the methodology used to obtain the results was so badly flawed as to make the conclusions meaningless.

Self-thinning forest understoreys and wildfire risk debate – Jack Bradshaw responds to Philip Zylstra

In his response to my critique of his paper, Zylstra agrees that the proportion of an area burnt is influenced by the likelihood of a fire starting and the effect of the fire suppression effort. He also agrees that these factors were not taken into account. The degree and direction of bias in their results in therefore unknown, invalidating the results. This is exacerbated by the fact that they have treated the dry north-eastern jarrah forest and the wet karri and tingle forests, with their very different fire behaviour, as one type.

Philip Zylstra continues the debate – self-thinning forest understoreys and wildfire risk

Our paper published in 2022 shows that, according to DBCA records, bushfires have been seven times more likely on land previously burned by them than on land that they have not burned. Mr Jack Bradshaw’s educated guesses about the causes of karri regeneration prior to 1850 do not change this, they use speculation to distract from the hard evidence we are discussing.

Fire & forests

Mitigating the existential threat of fire

Climate change threatens our forests, but it is not necessarily an existential threat, according to a leading Australian scientist. “It’s not necessarily the case that we will be wiped out by wildfire. The existential threat of fire can be mitigated, but we must use ALL knowledge,” Mark Adams, Professor of Bioscience and Innovation at Swinburne University of Technology ... This included indigenous people’s use of fire as a management tool.

Cultural burning

Fire protection: ‘Past no guide’

Patricia Gill. Noongar cultural burning may offer historical cues for contemporary fire protection but these cannot be relied on to produce a fire resilient landscape. So said environmental historian Professor Andrea Gaynor at the Royal WA Historical Society Conference ... Prof. Gaynor said Noongar burning practices belonged to a mobile culture and were never intended to protect a sedentary society in a landscape which had been subjected to logging, farming and urban development.

US report

USA fire management update and potential lessons for Australia: John O’Donnell

John O'Donnell considers a recent US report on fire and land management, "Wildland Urban Interface: A Look at Issues and Resolutions", and finds that it holds valuable lessons that could be adapted for Australian land and bushfire management.


Opportunities for economic reform within fire management across South East Australia: John O’Donnell

John O'Donnell considers the economics of bushfire mitigation in Australia and highlights opportunities for economic reform with fire management across South East Australia, critical considering the high ongoing impact of disastrous bushfires.


Koalas and bushfires: Vic Jurskis

The latest issue of Australian Zoologist is titled “Out of the ashes: Lessons learned from bushfires and how we can better manage our fauna”. But the editorial wrap-up suggests we’ve learnt nothing. It seems our fauna will continue to suffer from mismanagement under a Lock It Up and Let It Burn conservation’ paradigm. The abstract mentions monitoring, mapping and research, but the only reference to management is “use of supplementary resources such as nest boxes and artificial roosts to replace those lost in fires”.

Forest management

Local approach leads the way

The recent NSW Legislative Council Committee investigating the long-term sustainability and future of the timber and forest products industry has recognised the value that collaboration brings to outcomes ... The committee commended WMLIG for its efforts to recover and respond to the various changes impacting its region by working together to build a 'healthy working forest' and were encouraged to hear about wood waste and crop residue initiatives as well as recycling programs.

Bushfires - contributing factors

Bushfires, leaving aside climate, weather and drought: John O’Donnell

If we as a society don’t identify all the non-climate, climate change, weather and drought factors that influence the extent, intensity and severity of major bushfires across Australia and action associated opportunities, Australia will continue to have more of the same disastrous bushfires, impacting on communities, fire fighters, flora, fauna and the environment.

Forest management

Branching out

A recent controversial social media post has highlighted the importance of communication, engagement and balancing expectations. The target of the post was the red gum forestry operations on Campbells Island back in early 2020. A meeting held at Murray Connect on Monday, July 25, saw industry, community members and forestry start a conversation over harvesting, management, rules and sustainability. In a three-part article, we will break down some of the rules, regulation and concerns.

Branching out – Part two of forestry conversations

With more than 110,000 hectares of red gum forests now put into National Parks, red gum reserves or Indigenous protected areas across the state, open dialogue can ensure active management remains to manage the aggressive regeneration of these red gum forests and balance the social, economic, cultural and ecological aspects.

Branching out – Part three of forestry conversations

This week, we look to views from the community. Thank you to those who were prepared to share their thoughts and continue the dialogue ... “My main concern was the mess on the floor and the impacts on the camping spots" ... “I still question that overarching authority from the EPA as to how the forests are managed. Are they being over-managed?" ... “I see lots of benefits in a working forest for the forest itself"


A tale of the Goldfields Woodlands where ideology triumphs over professionalism, experience and history: Robert Onfray

When I first visited Kalgoorlie last October, I read about the Great Western Woodlands. Based on their distribution and extent, they certainly are “Great”. The Woodlands cover nearly 16 million hectares south and west of Kalgoorlie ... Until recently, though, the woodlands were known as the Goldfields Woodlands. Why the name change?

Research integrity

Failure of peer review: Jack Bradshaw

Frank Batini’s article (The role of academics in influencing the perceived threat from climate change) highlights how data can be misused to achieve an end. The ‘peer review’ process is intended to ensure that scientific findings are credible and justifiable. But with the frenzy to publish for academic standing and the proliferation of journals wanting to accommodate them, the peer review process often fails under the pressure ...ARR.News asked a few questions of Jack.


NIRS: Protecting wildlife during major burn

A Traditional Owner group in South East Queensland have used drones with thermal imaging cameras to undertake a major prescribed burn while avoiding endangering wildlife ... the Quandamooka Yoolooburrabee Aboriginal Corporation burned off excess vegetation along 440 hectares of swamp at Minjerribah (North Stradbroke Island) to refresh wildlife habitat and facilitate the regrowth of rare flora species.

Gliders back in court: Kinglake Friends of the Forest

VicForests has been given a green light to log areas of Greater Glider habitat in Victoria’s Central Highlands, the Supreme Court has ruled ... Three parcels of forest known to be home to the endangered glider will be opened for logging despite VicForests confirming that they have not surveyed the areas ... ARR.News asked some questions of Kinglake Friends of the Forest.

Forestry - Vic

Australia’s forest scientists call for active and adaptive forest management in wake of RFA review: Forestry Australia

Following the release, the Victorian Regional Forest Agreements (RFA) - Major Event Review of the 2019- 2020 bushfires, the peak national organisation representing over 1,000 forest scientists and professionals have called for active and adaptive forest management to be implemented as a matter of urgency. President of Forestry Australia, Bob Gordon said the organisation has been calling on all governments to prioritise and invest in a year-round active and adaptive management approach to forest management, regardless of tenure.

Research integrity

The role of academics in influencing the perceived threat from climate change: Frank Batini

Some academics are happy to comment in areas where they have no expertise or local knowledge. In contrast, the views of locals with years of practical management experience are mostly ignored.

Bushfire management

Bushfire theories versus real world experience: Vic Jurskis

Sadly, death and destruction will continue to escalate whilst governments rely on advice from academics and firechiefs and give them increased funding after every disaster. Sustainable fire management would be very much cheaper and better.


A short history of the Boranup Forest: Robert Onfray

As you drive on the Caves Road between Margaret River and Augusta, you will pass a magnificent forest of tall karri trees called the Boranup Forest. It is an extraordinary place – the furthest west that karri grows.


Extreme fire weather days in Australia have doubled, new study finds: CSIRO

Extreme fire weather days have increased in Australia by 56 per cent over the last four decades, according to new research from an international team of scientists, including CSIRO, Australia’s national science agency ... CSIRO researcher, Dr Pep Canadell, said an increase in fire weather trends translated to an increase in the number of Australian bushfires.


Fire & Climate 2022

The first of a three part series by Philip Hopkins. Sharing information globally about the causes and impacts of destructive bushfires in an era threatened by global warming drew about 360 people to an international conference in Melbourne in June. Fire & Climate 2022, presented by the International Association of Wildland Fire in partnership with Natural Hazards Research Australia, concentrated on the most significant forces shaping wildland fire today.

Fire & Climate 2022 – Greg Mullins

Part 2 of a three part series of reports from the conference by Philip Hopkins ... “It’s time for the fire management sector to band together and argue the case for a massive increase in the budget across fire research. Up to 97 per cent of spending is on response and rebuilding during and after events, and only three per cent on preparation and mitigation. That mismatch needs to be turned around but not at the expense of insufficient current operational budgets”: Climate Councillor, Greg Mullins.