Renowned scientist David Lindenmayer, along with experts Chris Taylor, Elle Bowd and Phillip Zylstra have researched and analysed evidence which suggests hazard reduction burns are not needed in certain ecosystems. Lindenmayer finds that repeated burning and thinning is unfavourable to the ecology of tall, wet forests and can make them more fire prone.  

Traditional literature suggests that fire is needed to return forests to their ‘pre-invasion’ state. However, the authors have found compelling evidence to suggest most areas of mountain ash forests were likely to be dense and wet during British invasion. 

Their recently published scientific paper, “What did it used to look like? A case study from tall, wet mainland Mountain Ash forests prior to British invasion,” analysed historical documents from first-nations people’s recorded testimonies, scientific evidence – like carbon dating, tree rings and pollen cores, colonial expeditioner diaries, paintings, photographs and basic ecology to conclude that mountain ash forests evolved in conditions where high-severity bushfires were very infrequent. Eucalypt trees were relatively widely spaced in these forests, but there was dense broad-leaved shrubs, tree ferns and mid-storey trees underneath. There was no evidence of active and widespread use of recurrent low-severity fire or thinning in these areas.  

After conversations with First-Nation Elders the researchers found that cultural burning takes into consideration the specific landscape, rather than generalised burning patterns. There is no doubt certain areas were subject to cultural burning for a number of important reasons before British invasion, but knowing where to burn was crucial in supporting the ecology of different environments. The authors collected a key quote from an elder;  

‘Aboriginal fire knowledge is based on Country that needs fire, and also Country that doesn’t need fire. Even Country we don’t burn is an important part of fire management knowledge and must be within the expertise of a fire practitioner.’ 

The authors discovered that constant burning, even low severity fire is not suited to the ecology of tall, wet forests – and that it can lead to its collapse and the replacement by completely different vegetation.  

They concluded mountain ash forests were dense, wet environments and not open and park-like, at the time of British invasion. Deliberately burning or thinning these certain forests is detrimental and restoration should involve the maturation of forests.   

To read the original article click here:  

To find the scientific paper written by David Lindenmayer, Chris Taylor, Elle Bowd and Phillip Zylstra click here: 

Top image: Unsplash


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