18 February 2020

Calls for logging debris to be cleared on the South Coast to lower fire risk

| Elka Wood
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Community group Friends of Durras

Community group Friends of Durras have been asking for logging slash to be cleared since 2015. Photo: Supplied.

There’s no question that the bushfire threat has eased up and down the South Coast due to recent rainfall and the fact that about 80 per cent of our forests are burnt and unlikely to reignite.

But living through the worst bushfire season in Australia’s known history, along with a growing understanding of the impact of climate change, has brought to the forefront questions about how forests are managed in future to prevent a repeat.

In South Durras, community group Friends Of Durras has called for immediate action by Forestry Corporation NSW to clean up woody debris caused by logging – also known as slash – in the Benandarah State Forest.

The group claimed they had repeatedly warned Forestry Corporation NSW about the bushfire risk posed by the slash since 2015, with the most recent warning issued just before fire broke out in surrounding forests in November 2019.

“Everyone has been so worried about this threat hanging over our heads for the last few months. We are all aware that the lightning strike that started the Currowan fire occurred in logging slash,” said Friends Of Durras spokesperson Alec Marr.

“This area should never have been logged so close to the coastal communities of South Durras, North Durras, Maloneys Beach, Long Beach and Surf Side, and continued failure to clean up this massive fuel load is gross negligence and must be rectified immediately.”

Alec says that unless rain continues and soil moisture levels are restored, the threat of bushfire breaking out in logging slash remains. He estimated the slash in the area at 100 tonnes per hectare and said residents of South Durras are concerned about its proximity to two petrol stations.

“We spent the last few months thinking, ‘I hope it doesn’t get into that slash or we’re gone’,” he says.

Much of the forest around North Durras is burnt and although no houses were lost in South or North Durras, Alec says that protecting the unburnt areas of Murramarang National Park is even more important now.

“We know that the area’s population of endangered Greater Gliders is sheltering in unburnt areas of Murramarang National Park. As well as the risk to our communities, the further burning of the national park would be devastating for animals.”

The South East Region Conservation Alliance spokesperson, Harriett Swift of Bega, said she is among those concerned about the viability of a local timber industry, especially post-fires.

“Eighty per cent of forests in the Eden Management Area have burnt. It’s time to protect what’s left. Right now, the forests and animals need time to recover,” Harriett says.

“It’s madness to think you can wave a magic wand and expect anything like ‘business as usual’ after these fires.”

A spokesperson for Forestry Corporation NSW said it has not carried out timber harvesting activities on the South Coast since the fires commenced.

“The Rural Fire Service is coordinating the emergency fire response, which includes the assessment of dangerous trees on roadsides and removal of any hazards that are likely to impact roadways to allow safe community access back into fire-affected areas,” the spokesperson said.

Forestry Corporation NSW has instead been involved in local fire containment operations.

“Some heavy plant ordinarily used for timber harvesting has been engaged by the Rural Fire Service and deployed to South East Forests National Park as part of the containment plan,” the spokesperson says.

Forestry Corporation NSW could not confirm if or when salvage logging would commence in fire-affected forests.

Alec believes logging contributes to increased bushfire risk.

“Logging may not be directly to blame for these fires but from everything we know, it doesn’t help,” he says.

“When old, wet forest is replaced with small regrowth of even height, the forest is more flammable, even without dry slash on the ground.”

For Harriett, the fires in the Eden Region show that logging increases bushfire risk and are an indicator that it’s time to move on from the timber industry, with re-training and support provided for those currently employed in the sector.

What do you think? Is there a future for timber harvesting on the South Coast?

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Frank Steward11:29 am 19 Feb 20

One of the saddest things is to witness the drying out of the south coast due to perpetual removal of forests. As soon as the forest comes down the bell miners move in, the native birds move out, and the rain drops off. The land dries out and we have a problem on our hands. The level of material left on the forest floor by logging operations is just shocking – and it’s not just Durras, it’s the Shoalhaven and all the way to the border. Australian governments need to realise people visit the south coast to explore nature, and the continuation of logging is jeopardising the future of the entire region. Governments do not want to address the extent to which the fires spread, not by lightening, not by locking up land in National Parks as the shock jocks would have the public believe, not by arsonists (which they’ve stopped saying now because the lies were exposed), but by the drying out of State Forests after logging, the growing back of weeds and scrub, the unnatural state of the forest, the level of debris left on the forest floor, and the removal of the massive old trees that slow down the path of fires. Future generations will look back on these times and say What Have You Done. The Australian government plans to send more trees overseas – it’s time to say no more, let people come to Australia and visit the trees standing in the ground. There is no case for a government subsidised return to a loss making enterprise that puts all jobs at risk.

Anthony Harrison7:55 pm 18 Feb 20

A resident of Nerrigundah reported that a load of unburnt logs was seen being taken from Dampier State Forest early in the morning not long AFTER the fires had been through.. if that’s not logging what is?

Harriett Swift2:53 pm 18 Feb 20

We need the remaining unburnt forest more than ever. It’s time to stop.

Nick HOPKINS12:09 pm 18 Feb 20

Thanks Alec for stepping in and telling it how it is. Furthermore we need a moratorium on all logging on public native forests in NSW until an assessment can be made of the impact of the fires on threatened fauna and flora

The timber lying on the ground around us has been of great concern to us here in Surfside . We had watched the clearing and debris building up as we walked those roads regularly . Terrible waste and dangerous fuel load if lightning got into it it’s goodbye to all the remaining unburnt areas around us . Bad practice as far as we are concerned .

Definitely not. The industry is already heavily subsidized. Logging native forests is an environmental disaster. Trees are much more useful in the ground. Leave them there to function as carbon sinks.

People wanting to stop logging should be thinking about the impact that has on renewable construction industry supplies. Timber is our most renewable and environmentally sustainable housing material.

Damian Harkins3:02 pm 18 Feb 20

Plantation only and recycled plastic beams.

The majority of logging in native forests on the Far South Coast supplies wood chips to the Eden mill. Why are we flogging our precious native forests (which are h7ge carbon sinks) to provide sunny rolls for the Japanese? They don’t log their own forests because they value their trees highly, just not ours.

Frank Stewart11:32 am 19 Feb 20

That’s true, timber is a great building material, but take a look at the Eden chip mill – that’s all south coast state forests, none of it was used in the construction industry or for housing unfortunately. Such a great waste.

Jeff de Jager7:24 am 18 Feb 20

All the more reason for governments to adopt the CSIRO’s advice pointing out the benefits of plantation forestry to the economy and the environment.

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