Image for Fire in the Tarkine – A Dynamic Ecology

*Pic: Ted Mead’s picture of rain fog across the Tarkine rainforested wilderness ...

Fire is no stranger to the Tarkine landscape.

The present manifesting impacts upon the Tarkine biota have arrived from modern human involvement such as commercial logging of mature forest, land clearance, irrational fuel reduction burning and the consequential climate change phenomena.

In the case of the Dempster Plains, fire has been active there at least 3 times in the last century, which indicates that the natural fire regime since European colonisation is about 30 to 35 years.

It is probable that these wildfires were caused by lightning strikes also?

Most of the past major fires in the Dempster plains area seemingly burnt throughout the diverse heath/scrub matrix, whilst some encroached deeper into the denser/ more mature eucalypt forests.

This summer’s fire was notably extensive due to the low winter/spring rainfall, which created an extremely high soil dryness index (SDI) across the entire northwest of the state.

It should be recognised that the fires in the Tarkine this summer were due to a high SDI not subjection to catastrophic fire conditions. Had there been strong winds concurrent with extreme temperatures then the 2016 fires would have probably swept across the entire accessional rainforest wilderness regions of the greater Tarkine destroying a unique environment that has not experienced intense fire for numerous centuries.

Fortune was with us regarding the extent of this summer’s fire, though the current climatic trend outlook is less than auspicious, and it is possible that the loss of the largest single tract of temperate rainforest in the nation could be a reality within the next few decades.

In the greater Dempster region there appears to be have been a large wildfire that burnt some grand tracts of old growth forest about 200 years ago, so one could assume that fires such as the magnitude in the 2016 summer have occurred before, but are not frequent.

However the intensity and size of future fires may change as we continue to reduce the expanse of wet forests due to the ongoing clearfell and burn logging practices.

Under normal summer conditions, wet sclerophyll and rainforest general discourage and suppress fires, but as we diminish these forests to mono-cultured plantations and open up the landscape which reduces the moisture levels, we subject forests to higher fire prone potential.

One of the greatest threats to the Tarkine ecology is the frequency of fires. It has been estimated that peat soil accumulation takes about 100 years to gain 1 cm in depth. Fire can quickly retard that process, and in many places the landscape of Western Tasmania has been reduced to bare rock from such activity.

This activity is becoming far too frequent as the pyromanical culture of successive governments in Tasmania continue to partake in the burning of our western heathlands in a irrational ideology towards fuel reduction, which has no supporting science behind it.

For decades Tasmania successive governments have believed that the willy-nilly burning of heath and scrub across Western Tasmania reduces the risk of broad-scale fire, when in fact all it does is encourage more fire-conducive vegetation that accelerates burning intensity in extreme or catastrophic conditions.

Retaining a wet forest type is the ultimate solution to fire suppression.

As a result of catastrophic fire events such as in the Victorian King Lake area in 2009, both the Vic and Tas governments have adopted a kneejerk reactive policy of annually burning 5% of the state’s landscape as a means of reducing future fire risk. In simple, this is a blindfolded strategy, and already land management agencies in Victoria are declaring that the process is fundamentally flawed as their objectives are simply not being achieved.

Predictably our pathetic sheep-thinking and bleating Tasmanian government is merely trotting down the same blinkered path as they continually waste $ millions by unnecessarily torching the western landscape of our island.

Oblivious to the values of natural fire ecology the TFS has scheduled several burns in the Arthur Pieman Conservation area this autumn after the Easter break. The TFS methodology is to systematically burn the entire northwestern heath country over successive years to the point where they would re-enact the same perpetual process as some sort of cyclic fuel reduction objective. This myopic activity far exceeds any natural fire regime, and disregards the notion of retaining any semblance of biodiversity.

Each of these burns progressively retards ongoing evolutionary processes, reduces biota balance, erodes peat soil depth, and through a process of attrition diminishes wet forest communities.

Ecology, biodiversity and conservation are just a few words that have failed to be included in the Tasmania’s redneck vernacular.

If Tasmanians are serious about preserving one of the world’s most superlative tracts of cool-temperate rainforest for posterity then attitudes will dramatically have to change, and change very rapidly.

EARLIER on Tasmanian Times ...

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Nicole Anderson, TARKINE: After The Fire ...