Forest management the missing element

Opinion: Forest management the missing element

Opinion
An estimated four million hectares of south-eastern Australia - park, forest and farmland - has been torched.

An estimated four million hectares of south-eastern Australia - park, forest and farmland - has been torched.

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Any hopes of an early turnaround in fortunes in 2020 were quickly shattered by a worsening bushfire crisis.

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In my previous column I signed off with a 'good riddance' to 2019, for obvious reasons, but any hopes of an early turnaround in fortunes in 2020 were quickly shattered by a worsening bushfire crisis.

Rain last weekend brought some welcome relief across the various firegrounds, but only after an estimated four million hectares of south-eastern Australia - park, forest and farmland - had been torched.

That's an area roughly equivalent to the area of the Netherlands, on top of which must be counted the tragic losses of human life (29 at latest count), sheep, cattle, horses and native wildlife.

Whether we really need another royal commission to rake over the proverbial coals is a moot point, as the issues are already well known, and recommendations of earlier inquiries have too often been ignored.

In fairness to Scott Morrison, though, he probably had little choice but to bring it on, if only to be seen to be 'doing something' by those determined to blame him for everything.

The important thing is that we don't allow the things we can do something about - like fuel load reduction, bushfire readiness and resourcing - to be drowned out by calls for climate change action which, however worthy, won't do anything to lessen our future bushfire exposure.

More constructive was an article that appeared in The Australian earlier this month by the chief executive of the Australian Forest Products Association, Ross Hampton.

In it, he argues that our only hope of making a difference to bushfire readiness across Australia's 132m hectares of native forest is for these forests - regardless of status - to be actively managed.

'The arbitrary divide between how we manage our multiple-use public forests, privately owned forests, and national parks cannot continue,' he says.

'We urgently need a whole-of-landscape approach to land management with a focus on bushfire mitigation. A more aggressive approach to fuel load management must be considered.'

That won't go down well with green purists, but it's surely a preferable option to seeing our forests reduced to ash - like much of the Blue Mountains National Park in my own vicinity, along with many homes and other buildings on land adjacent.

One of the unfortunate consequences of the bushfires, which (understandably) have dominated the news in recent weeks, has been the sidelining of the drought in the public consciousness.

The problem with drought as a national crisis is that, compared to bushfires or floods, it is slow-moving, insidious and - from a city news editor's point of view - boring.

Perhaps the massive dust storm that engulfed Dubbo last weekend was a timely reminder to city folk that the drought, and its associated water shortage crisis, is still very much with us.

And it will remain with us until rivers are flowing again, dams and aquifers are replenished, paddocks again have feed to sustain livestock, and a crop is up and away.

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