You are here

Fire and Wildlife conference Nov 9 - See inside for Video re Victoria's disastrous fire and forest policy

Video and transcript inside This film, made for the conference exposes the lived experience of corrupt, stupid and lethal Victorian forest and fire management, despite and because of the 2009 Victorian Bushfires Royal Commission. The name of the film, "Firebug Economy," comes from Jill Redwood's description of a desperate way of making money out of fires by people in the declining logging business. In the film Jill also talks about the low flammability of old growth forests and the horrible synergy of forest removal, wildlife loss, and global warming, greatly accelerated under Victoria's 'planned burns policy'. Government policy has been stealthily converting old growth forests into plantations. Is the final aim is to sell them for farmland and urban development as Victoria burns? Please come to the Pause and Review conference in Melbourne 9th Nov 2014 at Kindness House, 288 Brunswick Street, Fitzroy Melbourne. Starts 10am. Contact: Maryland Wilson 0417 148 501. Jill Redwood of Environment East Gippsland is famous for leading the first ever successful case by an environmental organisation against a government logging firm. In this film we find that the trees granted protection in the famous EEG court case against VicForests have since been vengefully felled.

Speakers include:
Philip Ingamells Victorian National Parks Association
Speaker Bob Mc Donald Naturalist
Joel Wright - Indigenous speaker on traditional Aboriginal fire management.
Michelle Thomas - well-known wildlife rescuer and carer from Animalia shelter
Maryland Wilson (President of AWPC) will lead a discussion and Action Plan from 3-4pm

How does forest-logging increase fire-risk and climate change?

Jill Redwood: Well, we've always thought this, but a study that's just come out from the ANU and Melbourne Uni [Lindenmayer, McCarthy, Taylor, "Non-linear effects of stand age on fire severity," see also "Code of destruction Lindenmayer deplores Victoria's future forest policy][1] shows that where the logging regrowth grows back after total clearfell (which is the only method used around here, even though they might give it a different name of 'seed tree', is pretty well clearfell back to bare-earth burn. And then what comes up is like ... It's converted to a pulpwood farm, basically. You don't get your forest back. What you get back is a tree-crop, and it's perfectly suited for the woodchip industry because they like the nice young white straight uniform predictable trees.

So, where we used to have age-diversity, species diversity, ferns - you know, the different stratas in the forest - you just get the one species coming back, thick as hairs on a cat's back.

As well as very thick regrowth, that's very thick and very flammable, they compete with each other for light, nutrient and water, so you also get a lot of them die off, which are then - it's just like creating a tinderbox. One, of the dead wood to carry the fire and to burn really well, and then, all this young, oil-filled eucalypt foliage. And it's just like a funeral pyre - especially when it's around towns and communities. It really goes up like a bomb. Whereas you get your natural forest and you get your different strata in the forest. You get your canopy from the old growth - really high - very hard for that to carry a crown fire, as in the young forests that carry crown fires. You get the mid-story, you get the tree-fern understory that creates this microclimate, where there's always dampness, there's moss on logs - and it's just very fire-proof. Natural forest is fire-proof and there are a lot of lightening strikes actually hitting those areas and they never go anywhere. But you get a lightening strike on a ridge-top, or a regrowth forest, and it just goes like a bomb! The whole landscape, the hillside, wherever they log, it's drying it out and creating a different forest that's far more flammable.

The government's 'planned burns' policy

[Following the 2009 Victorian bushfires, an inquiry came up with a policy for mandatory burning of 5% of Victoria's forests per annum - that's 100% in 20 years. See under "Land and fuel management", http://www.royalcommission.vic.gov.au/Assets/VBRC-Final-Report-Recommendations.pdf Recommendation 56: "The State fund and commit to implementing a long-term program of prescribed burning based on an annual rolling target of 5 per cent minimum of public land"]

The way I see what's happening with the government planned burns is it gives the community a false sense of security. They have to do something to look after people from big bad fires. It's actually climate change that's creating it, and the logging. Both of those together are a deadly combination.

Sheila Newman, Interviewer: According to some theories the logging is creating the climate change, certainly in the hinterlands. [Text insert reference in film after the interview to Gorshkov and Makarieva's Biotic Pump theory].

Jill RedwoodIt's a feedback loop that's just not going to end unless the government does something to say, 'Right, this is enough. Let's try to get it back to what it was. '

But what they're doing, as a 'solution', is saying, 'we need to burn to stop the burning'. What they're doing is taking out the natural fire-proofing of a forest. And that is all the little hoppers and scratchers and diggers, like the potoroos, the bandicoots, that turn over leaf litter. Lyrebirds. They can cover - turn over - about two and a half tons a year. Each lyrebird. So they're constantly making this compost out of the leaf-litter and twigs on the forest floor. The mosses, the funghi, the termites - all the insects! The moth-larvae that are actually evolved to eat dry gum leaves - not much else is. These are the things that, when they put a fire through, and say, 'Alright, we're safe now, it's all burnt!' They are destroying the very thing that can fire-proof a forest that's been working for millions of years.

[Leaf litter shown in film. It holds a lot of water, as well as nutrients and funghi, so is not flammable, but, as Jill quips, 'It's not flammable, but it's what the public are taught to fear'. If we leave the little animals in there, they will get rid of it; they'll turn it over and digest it and the funghi will eat through it. ]

So they're killing of the little animals, they're exposing them to predation by foxes. They're taking that layer out that shades the forest floor, that keeps the damp ness going. And, if anybody's ever made compost, they know you've got to keep moisture in it and you've got to have your little creepies and bacteria and everything working together to break down that leaf-litter and the twigs. And that's why the old growth forests won't burn. And up here, during the 2014 fires, we saw it roar through a lot of fairly dry open forest that's been logged. Soon as it hit Brown Mountain, it went out. They tried to burn it with - DEPI would try to burn [dog interrupts, barking] ... DEPI being the Department of Enviroment and Primary Industry. And, what they were doing is, not just - they weren't fighting the fire - they were just lighting more fire - and that's a whole other story. The way they managed these fires in [summer].

Sheila Newman, Interviewer: And their intention was to light a fire they could manage, which would mean that, by the time the wildfire got to it, it would run out of fuel? That's their theory?

Overtime and bonuses created through burning off

Jill Redwood: It also created a lot of reall good overtime and bonuses. But... anyway...

Sheila Newman, Interviewer:Well, that's a valid thing to comment on.

Jill Redwood: Oh God, it is!

Sheila Newman, Interviewer:Because it's not like ....

Jill Redwood: And we dare not because, oh my God, you're questioning these brave fire-fighters? Well, I didn't see any fire-fighters actually front a fire with some water. They were just lighting fires, all the time, so the boundary was getting bigger and bigger. And that... You know, the bushfire, probably would have been 'this big' but the way DEPI were managing it, the government fire-fighters, they just kept lighting fires to try and burn back into it, and then they'd escape and jump [indicates fire jumping over boundary] and they'd have to bulldoze and light another fire. And I'm sure about half the size of this fire was due to government initiated bushfires, in the hottest period, in the dry summer.

We had the big one up in Deddick. They didn't jump on that. That was one they could have jumped on immediately. That's the one that got out of control. And they were sort of waiting for it to come out, which, in the mean time it got bigger and bigger, until February the 9th, when it was so big they couldn't do anything about it and it just sort of took out half of Tubbit, Bonang, Goongarah... We were surrounded by fires and that February the 9th, it just burned out the top end of Goongarah and took out so much forest. It just - it was so intense, there wasn't a green thing, a living thing left after it went through. And this is just for miles and miles. To that extent. Somebody said, that they could have got in there, the rappelle crews could have got in, there was actually a way to get in there with four wheel drives. They could have done something about that, but they didn't!

Cienwen Hickey (local wildlife activist): They don't use a strike team anymore, do they, as they used to.

Jill Redwood: No. It's all too dangerous, but - so they just wait for it to come out and make the fires bigger and bigger and bigger. And we, our volunteer fire-brigade here, had to go out at night and put out fires that DEPI had lit the night before, and went back home. You know, they've got bank hours, like nine to five.

Cienwen Hickey (local wildlife activist): Well, they knock off at five o'clock.

Jill Redwood: They're not patrolling at night. They're not doing work on fires at night when they could, when it's cooler, when it's damp and the air's got moisture in it...

Sheila Newman, Interviewer: Is this in the middle of a bushfire they go home at night?

Jill Redwood: They go home at night, and they leave it up to us volunteers - our CFA (Country Fire Authority) to go and patrol at night, at two in the morning, putting their fires out that got away. And then they come back in the morning at nine o'clock and light them all up again for the heat of the day.

(Jill wanted it on record that SOME staff did good and that SOME very strategic and small-scale burning might have been useful to reduce the fire impact on private land before the main blow-up day, but the rest is rightful criticism.)

Sheila Newman, Interviewer: So you're saying that old growth forest ultimately went up? What about the argument though, that old growth forest doesn't usually burn easily and, as we remove it, we're increasing climate change? It seems to me that it would be better to have more old growth forest, less logging, to reduce the speed of climate change, even - and the risk of any forest fires.

Jill Redwood: That's logical! And that's what all the science is saying. But the government would prefer to keep the logging industry making that money, a few jobs - I think there's forty jobs involved in East Gippsland - but we're still destroying what has the ability to moderate our climate and that is forest. They're carbon capture and storage units - you know - the best in the world that we've got is our forests. They're knockign them down and creating these - you know - smoke, just ... ash landscapes with nothing there.

So the more that they log, the more that the climate is actually heating up, the less carbon there is stored in the forest, the less temperature moderation [2] there is over the landscape - and of course our bushfires are going to get much worse.

In the past, there has been - you know, lightening strikes - yes, South East Australia does get a lot of lightening strikes. Historically that's always been the case. Pre-European, pre-Aboriginal.

Sheila Newman, Interviewer: Yet there were very big forests.

Jill Redwood: They were very big forests and they had that structure where, you know, there are all these fire-breaks in the landscape. All the wet gullies, the south-facing slopes. The forest that had a lot of thick undergrowth. Where it wasn't thick undergrowth that stopped that stopped that heat and wind driving fires through, in some areas, just naturally it would open out and become dry sort of grassy understory forest. And that's what a lot of the early settlers described. But it wasn't due to burning. It was due to lack of burning. And that's what a lot of the science is now picking up. And we're [Sarcastically] just saying, 'Oh, no, the Aborigines used to burn so we've got to do the same to be safe!'

DEPI's 'Dangerous trees' policy

Sheila Newman, Interviewer: Coming up this way we've observed in the areas that have been really badly burned piles of fallen logs and tree-litter piled up - obviously by bulldozers and things.

Jill Redwood: What they are - and I've actually questioned this, and I've formally tried to get an answer - What they're doing now they have this 'dangerous trees' policy because all of these trees that are left standing along tracks are 'dangerous'. They might just fall on cars at any moment. So they have to go right along the tracks and cut down every tree that might possibly fall. And I've got photos of ones that are solid as a rock, not any rot in them, not leaning, and they've cut them down. And when they cut them down, of course, where you would have had a tree with a green leafy head and a trunk, you now have this pile of ... It's a tinder-box, waiting to burn, you know. And along the side of the roads. Like, hang on, weren't you trying to make the roads safer? And all they've done is bulldoze all of these trees and tree-heads up along the side of the road. So now, if there's another fire that comes through, they're just going to be this massive big bonfires.

Sheila Newman, Interviewer: How long has that been going on for, this business of cutting them down because they're 'dangerous'?

Jill Redwood: We just had that down here the year before ... yeah, 2013 they started doing that - down along Martin's Creek. In that area. So all of these habitat trees - the ones that are really important for habitat - feed trees for gliders, you know, the nectar producing trees, they're the best - the oldest ones are the best - cut them all down because they're 'dangerous'.

What are governments aiming for here?

Sheila Newman, Interviewer: Is there any idea - does anyone have any idea of what the governments - the successive governments - think they're doing with this area? Are they going to turn it into some plantation forest or, are they going to turn it into farmland? Or are they going to build appartments?

Jill Redwood: They're trying to turn it into plantations. That's what's been happening for the last forty years, it's conversion to plantations. But now the woodchip industry is starting to say, "Naw, we don't want those chips from South East Australia. Too far away. We'll get our woodchips from - you know - Vietnam - or somewhere else that's got the eucalypt plantations growing.

Fire[bug] Economy

So now, DEPI, who's had this agenda to create this wonderful woodchip farm for the Asian woodchip market for forty years, it's starting to fall in a heap. So: 'God, we've got to keep ourselves relevant, somehow - I know! Fire economy! Yes!'

And they call it 'Red gold' now, and the people at Glenaladale ...

Sheila Newman, Interviewer: Fire economy?

Jill Redwood: Fire economy! You know, keep DEPI relevant?

Sheila Newman, Interviewer: So, how are they doing this? What does 'fire economy' mean?

Jill Redwood: Well, it keeps the people employed burning, cutting down trees, bulldozing tracks ...

Sheila Newman, Interviewer: Oh, to 'prevent' bushfires and trees falling on people?

Jill Redwood: And if there is a bushfire - 'You beauty! We've got a lot of, you know, extra income for this, and we could employ our mates on bulldozers at $3000 a day to push tracks and push trees over and - oh, I don't know - you know, it might not be any good, but we've got to keep 'em employed and -

Sheila Newman, Interviewer: You'd think they could employ a few of them as forest rangers, wouldn't you?

Jill Redwood: Oh! Putting in picnic tables and walking tracks maybe might be a better thing but, you know, a lot of these boys do love their matches. And, you know, you look at the profile of a pyromaniac and, my God, I reckon that a lot of them would be perfect for those boys in green overalls and driving around in [?] vehicles.

Rare huge trees protected in EEG court case since felled for revenge

Jill Redwood: (Filmed standing by a huge fallen tree among several lining a fire track) All the way along here to our Brown Mountain forests - which was the test case in this court case - they have cut down every big tree along the way! There is no reason for it, other than -.

Sheila Newman, Interviewer: So these were the trees your court case [which was successful] was defending largely?

Jill Redwood: Yes!

Sheila Newman, Interviewer: They've all been cut down?

Jill Redwood: Yes! It's retribution. That's all it is. It's just absolute senseless destruction of giant big old trees.

Scale of destruction

Jill Redwood: (Back in home). I actually did a comparison between what's happening in the Amazon and what's happening in East Gippsland. And, relative to the area that we've got, and how much is being taken out each year, as clear-fell logs - clear-fell areas - it's pretty much on a par with the Amazon. It's just like ... East Gippsland is no better and here we are saying, 'World's best practice! It all grows back. All renewable!' It's not. It's bullshit! They are destroying what is irreplacable. Irreplacable! We have six hundred year old trees. We radiocarbon dated the wood from near the center of the tree. Six hundred year old trees! And it's just turned into this smokey, ashen landscape, and it goes of to - you know - Asian woodchip factories. If it was anywhere else in the world, they would be valuing these forests as something so rare. It would be the antiques of the natural world. And people would have to be paying big money to come and experience and stand amongst these giants and just be awestruck. But no - paper cups - throwaway paper!

[End transcript from short version of Firebug Economy film ("Pause and review wildlife and fire conf").]

NOTES

[1]

"Code of Destruction - A look at Victoria's future forest policy":
This film Recommends the creation of a "Great Forest National Park", where there would be no logging.
Prof. David Lindenmayer is one of Australia's foremost environmental experts. Over 30 years David has undertaken one of the most comprehensive scientific studies of a forest landscape anywhere in the world. With over 35 scientists and 2,500 volunteers they have painstakingly measured and tracked the Victorian central highlands. Now the state government who manages that forest refuses to reference their study as it presents a conclusion they are unwilling to hear. Without intention - all Victorians putting at risk their water security, biodiversity and the extinction of their fauna emblem - the endangered Leadbeaters Possum.

[2] Regarding the expression 'temperature moderation', this is a reference to more discussion in the longer version of this interview, covering the heat island effect and the cooling effect of forests, (particularly mature ones with big trees) which is noticable to anyone entering them. So, it is not just carbon storage, but the transpirational effects of forests (getting rid of heat and water, but also storing water - keeping the balance) and their shade that is important.

Comments

Earning carbon credits from native forests is the forest management model of the future.

Government budget cuts continue to bite at Australia’s premier science organisation and one union says it threatens Prime Minister Tony Abbott's direct action policy.

CSIRO’s research into understanding bushfires includes detailed reconstruction, fuel modelling, research into fire suppression and recurrence and management of the Pyrotron - a bushfire wind tunnel that allows researchers to conduct controlled experiments into fire behaviour. So, without scientific backing, politicians are not confined to control, or logic.

Environment minister Greg Hunt hailed the passage as ‘real and practical action to achieve our emissions goals and targets without a carbon tax’. The Direct Action package that will allow for Tasmania native forests to be cut down and burned to generate electricity. So we now know that there is the potential for the clearing of our native forests and the use of wood products that are harvested from those forests to be considered as eligible carbon farming initiatives.

The majority of Australians want to see protection of our native forests, it is going to be opening the door for logging of those native forests—and getting further subsidies for doing that—and destroying our native forests by burning them in forest furnaces for energy.

Australia has a climate policy again – sort of (31/110/14)

Victorian bushfire fuels are at "disastrous levels" and if a megafire ignited in the Dandenongs or in Melbourne's eastern or northern fringe, thousands of lives could be lost, former CSIRO bushfire scientist David Packham has warned.

The Age: Victoria's bushfire risk measured at disastrous levels

"Only management of fuel by prescribed burning can avert this certain future disaster," Mr Packham said, calling for a major increase in fuel reduction burning on public land. Why is there so much prescribed burning in sensitive areas for wildlife, where not many people live, or in East Gippsland's old growth forests? It's a lazy and easy response to focus the 5% where it's less likely to be effective in preventing loss of houses near areas concentrated near Melbourne or regional towns!

The current target for fuel reduction burning in Victoria, a rolling annual average target of five per cent of the public land estate per year (equivalent to about 385,000 hectares), should be substantially lifted to between eight and 12 per cent, Mr Packham said. How much of Victoria's natural wealth, and flora and fauna, survive this inferno?

The Government’s annual Fire Action Week and warning program must be brought forward, so residents at risk have time to remove fuel loads and re-evaluate their fire plans.

So, we have anthropogenic climate change, which our governments continue to drag their feet on and be in denial of, the logging of the stronghold of old growth forests, urban expansion, and a cycle of more heat waves and dry spells, so governments then ramp up the fires to keep burning the State dry, and clearing it of "fuel", in a lethal effort to make Victoria denuded and fire-proof! The collateral damage of wildlife destruction, and their long-term homes, is not even considered!

Instead of living sustainably, within the constraints of Nature and our fragile ecology, our governments think they have a right to destroy, burn and clear to make it "safe" for human property and lives - when it will compound the problem and more even more in the future!

The whole foundation of these prescribed burns as a remedy for excess "fuel" and the danger for fire for people and property was turned over, and exposed as being based on lies, false indigenous history, and ignorance. Poor economic management, fear of litigation, destruction of ecosystems, human environmental destruction are all factors that hinder natural process of decay, and natural fire management. Prescribed burns are dumbed-down and cruel, the destructive way of preventing fires, by actually causing them in the first place! Insects, fungi, native animals are all part of the natural processes that decay and recycle excess timber, undergrowth and vegetation. Bob McDonald said that kangaroos and koalas should have CFA vests on as they help eat the excess vegetation, and spread the fungi.

Misinformation about Aborigine burning was all exposed as being false. As explained by Joel Wright, traditional owner from south east Victoria, there's never been a word in the indigenous language to describe deliberate burning! This would have destroyed their hunting and food sources, and impinged on neighbouring tribes, causing riot and conflicts.

Bob McDonald explained that the smoke seen my early explorers arriving by ships, including those seen by Captain Cook and his crew, were actually smoke signals to rely the notice of the ships arriving, and impending invasion. They were not randomly burning the landscape!

Many in the Bush Fire Royal Commission were from the timber and forestry industries, with vested interests in "young" forests for logging, not in biodiversity or conservation.

David Packham: Inferno stoked by green vote
Former CSIRO and fire expert David Packham blames the misguided "greens" for non-action to burn off all because of the "environmental fantasies of outraged extremists and latte conservationists". David Packham has long links with the forestry industry, and it suits their vested interests to have bushfires, to create young rather than old forests from re-growth.

Burning native habitat is State-sanctioned arson. Many prescribed burns actually get out of control and become the threat to human safety they are trying to avoid. Bushfire fighting is all about rapid detection, response and suppression of ignitions. According to naturalist Bob McDonald, we have heat-detecting technologies, from towers, with the ability to sent out SMS messages to initiate rapid response.

Some Australian flora have become more fire tolerant that others, but others remain sensitive to fire and vulnerable to fire. Just because some species have become tolerant of fire, it doesn't mean they all actually benefit from it!

This generalist claim disregards the complexity of biodiversity. It’s like claiming the bush grows back and so must be ok. Again, what ecological authority do you base you claim?

Heavy rain after burning will leave exposed subsoils and attracted weeds, but bushfire authorities who engage in prescribed burning abrogate themselves of responsibility for follow up weeding – ‘not our problem’ they say. Wildlife carers are forced to endure heavy restrictions, training regimes and limited funds.

The horrific deaths of native animals is overlooked, and their pain and screams are simply and callously deemed as collateral damage!

I heard an "expert" interviewed on ABC radio yesterday who was saying that the burning should be increased to 8%-12% a year. Unfortunately I did not register his name. That increase would bring our environment down to complete sterility just that much faster.

That "expert", obviously with academic tunnel-vision, is the David Packham mentioned in the article. He's said to have links with the timber industry. He's a former CSIRO scientist, but obviously does not care about native wildlife, and our biodiversity already struggling to hold onto existence against the odds in Victoria.
Naming our vegetation as "fuel" is emotive and loaded. It's also the food and homes of native birds and animals, and some habitats take at least 40 years to establish, especially hollow logs and old growth forests.
The arson of 5% of Victoria each year would mean that it's all incinerated every 20 years, leaving flora and fauna dry of homes and habitat!
Such a draconian approach to keeping people and property "safe" is at a high cost, and will the resultant regrowth will be ideal windfall for the timber industries. A 5% target is objective and quantitative, and an easy target to implement. However, real fire mitigation needs to be based on quick response, targeted burning to where the greatest threats are, a holistic conservation approach to preserving wetlands, forest densities, and keeping urban expansion away from forested areas.

if you object to a fuel reduction burn it is then relabeled an ecological burn and visa versa....then it is labelled an ecological and a fuel reduction burn...with the blink of an eye....but sadly little authenticated science as researchers keep telling us.....just hypotheses to be tested.
Those directing this catastrophe to the Australian landscape are like the actions of a malignant parent who detecting something wrong uses adverse care to observe its outcome.