BySenator ERIC ABETZ, Minister for Forestry and Conservation,Australia
Devastating bushfires in Victoria, New South Wales and Tasmania are areminder that bushfire, like drought, is a fact of life in this country.
But it is a sad indictment of our society that after more than 200 years ofwhite settlement we seem to have made little, if any, progress in managing ourforest resources to reduce the risk.
Instead, we have increased the bushfire risk by locking up more and moreforest and then not managing it properly.
There are now more than 21.5 million hectares of reserved forest reserves inthis country.
While I’m not suggesting this is either undesired or all a fire risk, thetragic irony is that this green-driven “lock-up and forget” mentality,which is designed to “conserve”, often results in total destruction,along with the corresponding release of huge amounts of polluting carbon dioxideinto the air.
Two of the latest bushfires are a case in point.
In NSW, fire last week burnt out more than 82,600 ha of the Pilliga NatureReserve. The area has effectively been locked up for the past four years, beforebeing formally “conserved” last year. Conserved so it could beconsumed by a ferocious fire.
Unfortunately, in Victoria, the same thing is happening.
FIRES in alpine areas have burnt more than 270,000 ha of forests, releasing12 million tonnes of carbon dioxide.
To put this into perspective, this is four times the average of just 60,000ha of forest sustainably harvested each year in Australia, creating jobs andcatering to a much needed human need for timber and timber products. But all upin smoke in just one week.
In addition, this fire may yet burn the Thomson catchment, which woulddevastate Melbourne’s already stressed water supplies for decades.
This is because vigorous regrowth across vast areas catches run-off before itgets to the dam.
Yet, the Bracks Labor Government “conserved” these forests byexcluding cattle from grazing in the Alpine areas. It ignored that for a centurygrazing helped to reduce fire intensity and size by reducing fuel loads.
These forests were conserved so they could be consumed by fire, rather thangrazed by cattle suffering through a terrible drought.
In both of these instances, stories abound about property owners unable toclear decent fire breaks or back-burn near their properties because ofenvironmental regulations designed to conserve the forest.
It’s time state governments and the environmental movement learnt the lessonsof history. You can’t conserve forests by simply locking them up and forgettingthem.
Active management of the forest resource is required.
This includes sustainable harvesting of production forests, which reducesfuel loads, creates access tracks and firebreaks and which incidentally takesfar more carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere and has much less impact on watersupplies than huge bushfires.
It also includes reducing fuel loads in forest reserves, be that throughcontrolled burns or other fuel reduction measures such as controlled grazing.
IT is time those advocating the conservation of forest resources startedarguing for sensible, practical measures rather than bombarding us with their”lock it up” propaganda.
Otherwise, the suggestion that “Greens are a bushfire hazard” mayhave more than a ring of truth to it.