Are logged forests less prone to dangerous fire than forests left to themselves? There is a common perception that if you log a forest, you reduce the danger of severe bushfire. The question is, can this opinion be supported by the evidence?
Forest scientist David Lindenmayer cites ‘detailed studies following the 2009 fires and again after the 2019-20 Black Summer fires’ to say, no, the opposite is true: ‘logged forests always burn at greater severity than intact forests.’
‘At first glance, one might think that logging and then removing fallen trees would reduce fire risks. Why do peer-reviewed scientific studies show that the opposite is actually the case? First, logging removes solid tree trunks but leaves behind branches, tree heads, bark and other debris. These remaining fine and medium fuels add to fire risk. Second, logging dries forest soils for up to 80 years after cutting. Third, important moisture-maintaining plants like tree ferns are almost completely lost from logged forest. Fourth, forests that are logged and regenerated are much hotter and subject to more extreme conditions than intact forests. Fifth, the dense understorey plants in young logged forest can create “ladder” fuels that drive surface fires into the canopy….
‘Our research following the 2009 Black Saturday fires showed that approximately 10 years after logging there was a seven times increase in the risk of high-severity fire. This sharply elevated risk lasts for around 30 years (that is, until the forest is about 40 years old). It then declines. The lowest risk is for forests 100 or more years old. That is, old forests burn at significantly lower severity than young forests.’
Lindenmayer’s article was published in the Age on Saturday. He is strongly of the view that ‘salvage logging’ in the Wombat forest should be stopped: ‘today’.
You can find the article online here
It’s another contribution to what should be a debate, but isn’t: between those who believe that our forests can be managed into submission–by logging, control burning, etc; and those who believe that respect for the forests’ own control systems is the best way of guaranteeing their health.
Lindenmayer says that ‘all of the key scientific information on logging impacts has been provided to VicForests – but they have chosen to ignore the science.’ Why? it’s another example of the ongoing ‘dialogue of the deaf.’