Strathbogie Forest prescribed burns can go ahead, the Federal Court rules

Aerial View of Green Forest and Country Landscape

THE Federal Court has allowed planned prescribed burns in the Strathbogie Forest, a decision that has been welcomed by Forestry Australia.

In the Federal Court last week, Justice Christopher Horan dismissed a move by environmentalists to stop four prescribed burns in the Strathbogie forest.

Forestry Australia’s President, Dr Michelle Freeman, said prescribed burning recognises Australia’s fire-dependent ecosystems, and fire-adapted flora and fauna that have evolved through the long tradition of Indigenous caring for Country.

“Decades of on-ground research and lived experience has shown that prescribed burning can reduce subsequent bushfire severity through reducing fuel loads and also make bushfires easier to control when they do occur,” Dr Freeman, who has a double degree in Science (Ecology) and Forestry, and a PhD from the University of Melbourne, said.

Her PhD was in partnership with CSIRO Darwin looking at savanna fire and tree dynamics of northern Australia, as part of the Tiwi Carbon Study.

“Fuel reduced forests are significantly less affected than forests carrying heavy fuel loads when unplanned mid-summer bushfires pass through them, and this is why prescribed burning is an essential activity,” she said.

Dr Freeman said fire requires three elements – fuel, oxygen, and heat – known as the “fire triangle”.

“Of these, the only variable that humans can control in forests is fuel level – and well-planned prescribed burning is an effective tool for managing forest fuel accumulation. That being said, it is imperative that prescribed burning is planned and managed appropriately, informed by evidence, with other forest values and key habitats in mind,” she said.

“Inappropriate or unnatural fire regimes are the second-most cited reason, after invasive species, for threatened species listings in Australia.”

Dr Freeman said while there was no panacea for reducing the impacts of catastrophic bushfires, well-managed prescribed burning was a scientifically proven part of the solution.

“Simply, reduced fuel levels in forests will reduce the severity of bushfires under all bar the most catastrophic fire weather conditions,” she said.

Dr Freeman has worked in timber harvesting operations, forest management planning and regulation in Victoria and New South Wales and is currently a forest and land management consultant.

Forestry Australia is an independent not-for-profit professional association of more than 1200 forest scientists, managers and growers who work in native forests, plantations and provision of environmental services.