Pine forests cleared to prevent repeat of canberra’s worst bushfires

Pine forests cleared to prevent repeat of canberra’s worst bushfires

10 January 2017

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Australia — Almost 14 years on from the worst bushfires in the ACT’s history, pine clearing is under way in an effort to prevent such devastation ever happening again.

The inquiry into the 2003 fires found more should have been done to reduce fuel loads around Canberra, including more controlled burning.

But one of the difficulties with controlled burns as a preventative method is the specific times and conditions needed to make sure they are done safely and with minimal impact on surrounding residents.

“The first thing we wanted to do was to burn, but with your erosion issues relating to this being a water catchment that presented a risk in itself,” ACT Parks Fire Management Officer, Adam Leavesley, said.

“So [the clearing has] been years in planning, the trials have just gone ahead in the last financial year to give us a good idea of how to approach the rest of it.”

Mr Leavesley, said many pines had grown back since 2003 and posed a significant threat because of their high fire danger.

“They’re not going to be good for anything and they’re a major issue in terms of the fuel load.

“The fire, if it burns through [this forest] even on a relatively low fire danger day, is likely to burn right to the top of the canopy and be very, very difficult to control.”

ACT Parks and Conservation has developed a way to clear nearby pine forests with heavy machinery instead of having to burn them.

“Up here the slopes are very steep and we can’t get in to all of the slopes with all the different types of machines that might be useful for the job,” Mr Leavesley said.

“So in some places where there’s not a lot of eucalypt and we don’t need to take a lot of care of retaining that in the landscape, the bulldozer’s the best thing to use.

“Where there’s a lot of eucalypt the forestry mulching head is excellent … and on the really steep slopes where none of those machines can go they’re being hand-felled.”

The forest sits in the middle of Canberra’s drinking water catchment and any erosion caused by felling the pines could have an impact.

However Mr Leavesley said through trials they had developed a way to safely clear the trees.

“The main works [should] done in the next two to three-year period but then there’ll be return [work] all the time,” he said.

Mr Leavesley said there was almost 1,000 hectares of land left to clear over the 10-year life of the clearing plan.

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