South Coast residents concerned about bushfire risk from logging slash
December 21, 2015
Logging slash in the Boyne State Forest, on the western side of the Princes Highway. Photo: John Perkins
The piles of logging slash, in areas stretching between Nowra and Eden, are the result of the most recent logging harvest by Forestry Corp.
“They are removing a lot of the tree canopy. So those piles are getting a lot more sunlight beating down on the forest floor and drying out rapidly. A cigarette butt or lightning strike would get that going really quickly,” said John Perkins, convenor of community group Friends of Durras.
“The important thing for residents is to realise the nature of the risk has changed,” said Marty Webster, RFS community safety officer (left), with Simon Green, Nethercote RFS captain and Ray Robinson, Nethercote RFS deputy captain. Photo: Merimbula News
“We will watch it, but bad luck if you have to live with it through the fire season,” said Noel Plumb, deputy convenor of the South East Region Conservation Alliance.
In October, south coast residents and local Rural Fire Service officers raised concerns about logging slash left in areas of the Nullica State Forest after the August harvest, which would not undergo a burn off until autumn 2016.
Mr Perkins said there are still very real concerns being felt among locals in the area.
“I visited about 20 sites in the Boyne, Brooman and Benandarah state forests, and saw a similar thing at each site: logging slash of metres high of many hectares of very high quality forest.”
Forestry Corp harvesting was completed this year in 17 areas on the south coast and continues to be undertaken in another 10.
A Forestry Corp spokesperson said logging is left for around six months to stabilise before hazard reduction takes place in autumn and winter each year.
“As harvesting is a year-round activity, there is always some debris on the ground over summer however, harvesting is dispersed across the landscape so that there are not large continuous areas of fuel left behind,” she said.
“Harvested areas generally have good road access, are broken up by a number of tracks/roads and often we have installed fire breaks at private property boundaries.”
Forestry Corp has employed 20 seasonal firefighters to bolster local staff resources over summer.
Rural Fire Service community safety officer Marty Webster said sites were not in a state where RFS would be considering a formal hazard complaint.
“That’s not to say the nature of the risk hasn’t changed. The condition it’s in now, it’s actually easier for us to get in and fight a fire. So the total fuel has decreased, but the distribution has changed,” he said.
“The important thing for residents is to realise the nature of the risk has changed and they need to reflect that in their own preparation.”
However more focus should be given to the links between logging and bushfire risk, said Professor David Lindenmayer, from the Australian National University, who has studied the issue for the past 35 years.
“Our work shows conclusively that logging adds to the fire burden.”
Research conducted by Professor Lindenmayer in some Victorian forests showed that after logging, the forest does not burn for the first seven years. Then in the period after seven to 40 years there is a steep increase of “crown scorching” – when the forest burns from the ground to top of trees.
“Because trees closely act together, crowns are touching and it’s a fight for light. As the trees are competing the ones that don’t win thin out, die and drop their branches, so you have a lot of fine and medium fuel. It is unlikely to be different in NSW,” Professor Lindenmayer said.
He gave a blunt assessment of native forest logging which he acknowledged made him “really unpopular”.
“It’s state subsidised social welfare for a small number of employees that actually adds to the fire burden in a forest.”
“In NSW 93 per cent of all timber that gets sawn comes from plantations, so there is no need to keep logging native forests in this way to add extra fire burden, when we can source almost all of the feed stock from plantations.”