The Forest as the “Sacred Cow”

Sustainable Forest Management and Fire

A sustainable forest management plan is an important preventative measure against fire destruction.   As such it should include local involvement which is of benefit to the forest and to people.  In Australia locals have no say or harvesting rights in their immediate forest environment.  In the Blue Mountains homeowners are not even allowed to reduce fuel build up in surrounding bushland by taking fallen wood for heating in winter for example. Forest fuel could be used to warm homes and save the importing, cost, and emissions from electricity and gas, and wood.

Such heavy top down rules which alienate people from the land and nature are characteristic of large or powerful nations where regionalism hardly exists and locals have minimal involvement in their immediate environment.  The rules are, in theory, to protect the forests by turning them into national parks.  But allowing fuel build up is no protection against fire, neither is burning forest, a very high impact prevention strategy.

Inherently large nations with centralised power also have a history of large land tenures and deforestation. It is understood that deforestation has to happen as it is part the national interests in the economic growth paradigm, and therefore it is also understood that forests need to be protected from deforestation in the way of national parks. But whether land is turned into a national park for tourism, or a cattle field, or a sawmill, it is profit that drives the interests and not the care of the land and the people in it.

Deforestation is part of the history of human civilization and resource depletion.  Deforestation takes place in many parts of the world including Australia. However sustainable forest management where some wood and fuel is extracted from the forests is not deforestation.

When we start seeing nature as something we can work with and not against it by exploitation, the forest stops being a museum and becomes an ally we can take care of and source valuable resources from.  This is not a utopic ideal, this had been common practice in regional communities around the world for thousands of years.

However the idea of locals sourcing fuel and thinning by selectively sourcing timber from our forests sends alarm bells ringing in the minds of many Australians as it is understood that people will just go wild chopping down trees, and deforesting.  David Holmgren’s in depth article Bushfire Resilient Communities and Landscapes explains the practice of thinning and its benefits on page 39.

There is a flip side to making National Parks untouchable, with almost no vegetation management other than weed removal.  In the Blue Mountains this fails to take advantage of the free labour resource of the many interested householders who care for their neighbouring bush, would like to reduce its susceptibility to fire, and could make good use of some of the forest thinnings.    The flip side is that the management of ‘production’ forests elsewhere, usually as much out of sight as possible, is done using severe industrial practices which require minimal labour, and with great waste of the lower value thinnings. Products tend to be either saw logs or wood chips.

Meanwhile firewood is brought in to the Blue Mountains.  It is difficult to obtain naturally durable pole timbers, which have to be brought in from elsewhere, despite the local turpentine poles being excellent for this.

The Australian bush, the “sacred cow” that cannot be touched, could be productive and less fire prone if we were to implement a sustainable forest management plan allowing local residents to source some timber and kindling.  Sadly we think of any interaction with our surrounding forests as destructive. Yet we can design appropriate plans to meet some of our needs for timber at a local level and reduce our fire risk in surrounding forests at the same time. There are fire prevention and resource extraction management plans in Europe which we can learn from as I expose in the last article of my fire series: A Bottom up Success Story Amongst Eucalyptus.

Paula Ajuria

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