03 January, 2007

LETTER: Managing our forests

John Morgan, Ferny Creek
The Age, 3/1/07

Catherine (Opinion, 2/1) suggests that when national parks are created, passive forest management becomes the "norm" and, hence, this ultimately leads to their destruction by bushfire. But this overlooks the fact that many Australian forests occur in fire-prone areas, that they have been burnt repeatedly over the past few centuries, and that their regeneration is intimately linked to occasional bushfire.

Landscapes are not permanently bare and blackened, and nor do the fast-growing shrubs persist in the long term. Succession, a natural process of vegetation development after fire, occurs with sufficient time between fires, leading once again to the tall forests that characterise much of south-eastern Australia.

Rather than conveniently pointing the finger at the environmentalist as the cause of the problem, perhaps an injection of some science is necessary here. I have yet to see the alternative forest vision (to current national park management) actually portrayed. How extensive and frequent should prescribed fire be to reduce the risk of landscape-scale fire, and what impacts will these prescribed fire frequencies have on biodiversity, as opposed to infrequent but large-scale bushfire? Is this acceptable in a national park?

There is an important discussion to be had among land managers, many of whom have competing goals for the land under their care. My fear is that we will be in the same predicament in a few years when the next (predictable) bushfire occurs on public land.

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