Prescribed Burns and the Carbon Store

Protecting the bush with low intensity burns has been accepted practice in forest management for many years. The Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning (DELWP) paper on planned burns, which I hope to examine in detail at a later date, has objectives such as the protection of human life, assets and infrastructure that we can all agree with. But at the heart of the conundrum for DELWP is the protection of industry, a euphemism for logging native forests. On the one hand they are to protect the timber resource for the loggers and the other to preserve biodiversity*, the latter including forest as a ‘carbon store’.  Conventional wisdom and current practice suggests that prescribed burning may reduce the chances of crowning fire. But the experience of Black Saturday and some research suggests otherwise.

I have written previously on the burning question urging that planned burns be used only sparingly for asset protection and also a number of times on the importance on the protection of our forests as a carbon store.

In recent work Dr Luke Collins of Latrobe University noted: “The management of forest ecosystems to maintain and increase carbon storage is a global concern, as carbon sequestration has been identified as an effective strategy to help mitigate the effects of climate change. Prescribed burning for wildfire risk reduction has the potential to increase fire frequency across many forest communities. Changes to fire return intervals resulting from prescribed burning may alter demographic processes and growth of tree species, and consequently carbon storage…”

A major overhaul of the so called “forest industry” based on best science is needed urgently. The science clearly indicates that native forests should be protected as a carbon store and not clear felled, that DELWP’s role should move from timber production to forest protection, especially fire protection. With the latter in mind the current policies of low intensity burns should be completely reassessed. And until then only burns for the protection of life and human assets – not including the logger’s timber allocations – should occur.

*This article is only concerned with protecting forests as a carbon store. There are many other aspects of concern for biodiversity with burning for example see here.