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Forestry Management

Dr Rosalie Woodruff MP

Dr Rosalie Woodruff MP  -  Wednesday, 13 October 2021

Tags: Native Forest Logging, Bushfires, Climate Change

Dr WOODRUFF (Franklin) - Mr Speaker, I move -

(1) Acknowledges the paper 'Fire risk and severity decline with stand development in Tasmanian giant eucalyptus forest', by authors James Furlaud, Lynda Prior, Grant Williamson and David Bowman published in Forest Ecology and Management, issue 502, 2021.

(2) Understands the Paper assesses how fuels, microclimate, and resulting fire risk and potential fire severity changed among four stand-development stages from regrowth to old forests.

(3) Accepts the paper’s findings that -

(a) later development forests had a significantly moister understorey, an increased abundance of rainforest trees, and more vertically discontinuous fuels, resulting in a significantly reduced fire risk;

(b) high-severity fire was much more likely to occur in forests in the early-stages of growth; and

(c) intensive disturbance creates large areas of regrowth stands with increased risk of high-severity fire, which increases the likelihood of landscape-wide, demographic collapse.

(4) Agrees with the paper’s recommendation that these findings challenge assumptions about the fire regime of Tasmania's native wet eucalypt forests and indicates the need to update the approach to their management.

(5) Calls on the Government to prioritise community safety and update the approach to the management of our native forests accordingly.

The Greens are bringing this notice of motion on today because we wanted to bring to the House's attention a very important piece of Tasmanian-specific science which affects us all. The paper has been published in the journal Forest Ecology and Management, issue 502 this year, titled 'Fire risk and severity decline with stand development in Tasmanian giant eucalyptus forest'. The authors were University of Tasmania James Furlaud, Lynda Prior, Grant Williamson and David Bowman.

Before I proceed I draw the House's attention two guests, Dr Jennifer Sanger and Mr Steve Pearce. They are valued scientists and valued tall trees promoters, lovers and activists. I welcome them to the House today to hear the debate on this motion.

This very important paper by the authors compares the stands of different ages of tall, wet eucalyptus forest in south-east Tasmania. It presents the first empirical measurements that we have of all live and dead fine fuels, along with understorey microclimate across different age spans. The age spans that they compared were from regrowth to old forest ages. They used fuel measurements, microclimate measurements and fire behaviour models to estimate how fire risk and fire severity changes as our forests age.

They found that the understorey microclimate becomes more moist and the canopy gets higher as our wet eucalypt forests mature. This results, they found, in high-severity fire becoming much less likely in the later stages of forest growth. Very severe fires were much more likely in younger forests. They also found the understorey composition changed as forests developed with an increasing proportion of less flammable rainforest species being in the understorey area. This means that fire risk goes down as these forests develop.

They also found that the intensive disturbance of forests creates large areas of regrowth stands with increased risk of high fire severity in Tasmania and that that increases the likelihood of landscape-wide demographic collapse. It is an extremely severe condition which has happened in other ecosystems around Australia. It is happening in some areas in eastern Australia, particularly after the extreme fires of the summer before last. The first author of the report, James Furlaud, who is a wild fire ecologist said that:

The study found fire risk in older forest was much lower than in young forests and that clear felling, the practice of removing all trees from a coup, could increase fire risk.

We have had some further writing on this issue but this is the latest in a substantial body of evidence that we now have before us in the Australian and international literature, papers and reports that show that logging increases the risk of fire. There are no scientific studies from Australia that show that logging forestry decreases the risk of fire. I am quoting now from Dr Jen Sanger who had a piece in the Examiner on 12 October. She said:

Regenerating forests are usually dryer and contain young, highly flammable eucalyptus trees growing closely together. These young trees create a fuel ladder which allows a fire to easily travel to the canopy of the forest where it can become very difficult to control.

Old forests in comparison have a wet understorey which contains rainforest species and this moist understorey environment means that the forest is less likely to burn.

It is not rocket science. It is a phenomenon that every person can see for themselves when they visit these forests.

It is a notable difference to the wet eucalypt forests that are so prevalent in south eastern Tasmania compared to the eucalypt forest in other parts of Australia. It would be a mistake to make a direct comparison. That is why this Tasmanian-specific research is so important in providing us with detailed understanding of what is happening in our own forests and the fire risk that is created by different forestry management practices.

We also have some information from -

Ms O'Connor - Sorry, Dr Woodruff. Mr Barnett fled the table seconds after you got to your feet.

Mr SPEAKER - Order.

Dr WOODRUFF - It is interesting. I was so busy talking about this important piece of research that I assumed that there were members from the Government in the Chamber who were listening. Clearly the minister is not prepared to listen to this science. It is extremely important science and is germane to the way he manages his portfolio responsibilities.

On that point I seek leave to table this paper now. I circulated it to the Opposition, the Government and other members yesterday. Mr Speaker, I seek leave to table the paper from Forest Ecology and Management, 'Fire risk and severity decline with stand development in Tasmanian giant eucalyptus forest'.

Leave granted.

Dr WOODRUFF - I hope Mr Barnett will read that paper or have someone explain it to him if he does not have time. Professor Lindenmayer has done so much incredible work over decades in south eastern Australia. The message is clear: logging always contributes to higher severity fires. The evidence, he says, is compelling from studies not only in parts of Australia, from Victoria, New South Wales and now Tasmania, but also from Patagonia, western North America and eastern North America. They are showing exactly the same dynamic.

This information is important because it gives us an opportunity to change our practices and keep communities safer. We have a rapidly heating climate. We have a rapidly changing and drying landscape. The ecologists who are being trained today at the University of Tasmania will be leaving in only three or four years, depending on the length of their degree, into a different landscape to the one they started out in four years previously. It is changing that fast.

It is amazing to have scientists who are doing this work on the public's behalf - independent scientists who are not receiving money from lobby groups. They are not part of industry, they have no conflict of interest. They are working for the public good, doing this research.

That really is what this motion today is about as well. Understanding that when we receive information from scientists, it is their work on our behalf, looking at the way things are. It is up to us to see it in that light, and understand that they are not, and cannot, be attacked and blamed because the evidence that they provide us makes us uncomfortable, and challenges our systems and how we operate.

We need to accept the science. We have had situations recently - to the shame of some members of this House - where scientists have been attacked. They have been slandered, blamed and they have been publicly hung out to dry by people like Dr Broad. Dr Broad had a frenzied attack when another paper from the University of Tasmania appeared in the journal Fire, from an early career researcher, Suyanti Winoto Lewin, Dr Jennifer Sanger and Professor Jamie Kirkpatrick, who is a well-established, significant and globally recognised figure in his field. This work was the subject of a football debate in this parliament, with Dr Broad on one side, Mr Barnett on the other side, and the unfortunate ball in the middle that was being kicked around was our scientists. The comments made by Dr Broad were really slanderous. He talked about the paper besmirching the reputation of foresters -

Dr BROAD - Point of order, Mr Speaker. There are some quite horrendous allegations being put accusing me of slander. I take offence to that and I ask the member to withdraw.

Dr WOODRUFF - Mr Speaker, I will respond to that. I cannot withdraw what other people are saying.

Mr SPEAKER - Order. The member has taken personal offence to your comments. I ask you to withdraw those comments.

Dr WOODRUFF - I will not withdraw the comment about slander, because it is what other people have said, and I am about to read it into the House.

Mr SPEAKER - Order. No, when a member says something about another member and they take personal offence, it is a tradition in this Chamber that you withdraw that personal offence. If you have to talk about it in another way, then you may. I am asking you to withdraw that comment.

Dr WOODRUFF - What was the comment that I withdraw?

Mr SPEAKER - That he made slanderous -

Dr WOODRUFF - He made slanderous implications about scientists.

Mr SPEAKER - Has that been proved? I am asking you to withdraw that comment and reword it in a way that you wish. Do not accuse the member. I have given you a direction. Will you please withdraw that comment.

Dr WOODRUFF - I will withdraw. I cannot remember what the comment was, but I withdraw the word 'slander', that he 'slandered' somebody. Instead I will read the words into the House that other people have said, which I am entitled to do, because this is from a newspaper and it is published. If he wants to take The Guardian to task, go right ahead, but meanwhile, these words have an effect. Dr Broad is more than happy to attack scientists and besmirch them and to use them as part of his political attacks on the Greens. We can take it, that is why I got elected. It is my job to come in here and represent people. He does this to me every day. So what? It says more about him than it says about me.

But it is not okay to attack scientists, because we need scientists to remain independent and fearless about doing research into the way the world really is - and that is the most important thing. In the changes that are coming, the changes that are happening now, we have to hang on to the reality of the way things really are. Otherwise, the hot air in this place will evaporate anything about the way things really are.

Dr Broad, you should know the effect of your comments. In parliament, you were referring to the paper, 'Propensities of Old Growth, Mature and Regrowth Wet Eucalyptus Forest, and Eucalyptus nitens Plantation, to Burn During Wildfire and Suffer Fire Induced Crown Death'. [OK] That was the Winoto Lewin, Sanger and Kirkpatrick paper. You referred to that as besmirching the reputation of foresters - but it also exposes the disdain, you said, 'which some academics hold for their colleagues who publish research which contradicts their views'.

You also said:

The issue is that the scientists did not check that the maps were accurate and that was their fault.

You said -

The authors did not ask the holder of the data whether it was accurate.

You said on 15 September -

They could not be bothered.

You said the scientists could not be bothered to check the data.

Dr Broad - I will check Hansard.

Dr WOODRUFF - Well, you check it. I have it here. It is all marked up. You said the words.

Dr Broad, the point is, in reality those researchers were frustrated with the difficulty of not being able to access the high-resolution forestry coupe data that was being held from them by Forestry Tasmania. We had forestry industry coming out and also using it as an opportunity to stick the boot in. We had people from the forestry lobby demanding that the University of Tasmania - formal complaints against the integrity of the scientists. The University of Tasmania did do an investigation and, guess what, they did not find anything, any problem, with what the researchers had done.

Instead, while they were at it, the Australian Forest Products Association called the paper 'fake bourgeois research' and claimed it was thrown out by an independent journal. Jamie Kirkpatrick made the point that it was slanderous that the paper had not been thrown out, but that was withdrawn at the request of the scientists.

The point is, Dr Broad, that your comments on two occasions in parliament had a damaging effect on those scientists. One of the things I found very disturbing to hear - and this was reported on 3 September, a year ago, in The Guardian. I do not know if you have met Professor Jamie Kirkpatrick, but he is a wonderful, very kind gentleman who has done quiet, gentle work for decades. He said in relation to the attacks from Dr Broad, from the Forest Products Association, and also from Mr Barnett -

Ms O'Connor - Who has fled the Chamber.

Dr WOODRUFF - Yes. A whole media feeding frenzy. Professor Kirkpatrick said -

We all make mistakes. I find it devastating to be part of.

He was the co-author of the study, which was retracted by the authors themselves from the journal Fire when they found some small errors - but they had intended to get the information from Forestry Tasmania. Whether they are doing that work or not - I am not sure where it is up to - they identified some errors in the forestry coupe maps. Where is the problem really at in Tasmania, if our researchers cannot get high quality information? Professor Kirkpatrick said:

I have written 333 referee papers. That's the only one I've ever had to retract.

Ms O'Connor - And he did the right thing.

Dr WOODRUFF - He did the right thing and yet -

Dr Broad - That is right. I am not arguing that.

Dr WOODRUFF - No, he was vilified by you.

Dr Broad - I have never vilified him for that.

Mr SPEAKER - Order.

Dr WOODRUFF - He was vilified by you.

Dr Broad - I did not say he was - people are outrageous. You are outrageous.

Dr WOODRUFF - Mr Speaker, what is important to understand is that the minister, who is not in the Chamber at the moment but I am sure he will take note, has also made some false statements and he needs to correct the record. On 30 August last year, he put out a media release in relation to that earlier paper and he said:

Tasmania's native eucalypt forests naturally build up large amounts of fuel which increases the likelihood and intensity of devastating bushfires.

That is false. It is incorrect, and that is exactly what this study has found. The minister says earlier in the media release that: 'The Government has a scientifically-backed sustainable forest management practice'. He needs to update the science behind his forest management practice, and that is the message of today's debate. We can have many conversations about whether and when we need to end native forest logging. However, the clear message that the researchers make very strongly in this paper is that it vindicates the main findings of the Winoto-Lewin paper that is now retracted, that there is a lower flammability of older forests.

Importantly, it points to the need for us to shift our conversations in this Chamber, and set aside the conversation about whether we agree on ending native forest logging. Clearly, we do not. That is something the Greens will continue to prosecute because we know that the science is behind it. We know we have to do everything we can to keep our carbon stores in the ground. We know that when you only have 300 swift parrot breeding pairs left - at the very most - that we cannot take habitat that those birds, and so many other critically endangered and threatened native animals, need. There are many animals that need habitat in our forests and there are so many reasons why we cannot continue with native forest logging but it is abundantly clear that the Labor and the Liberal parties are not at that place yet. You will get there; but you are not there yet.

The message of this paper here today is that there are things that not only can be done but must be done to look at the forest practices we have in place at the moment that are making our communities less safe, are threatening not only the settlements of people living in forested areas in Tasmania, but are also threatening the World Heritage Area. They are threatening Gondwanan landscapes that can never be replaced; and they are especially threatening communities like Geeveston, which suffered in the bushfires nearly three summers ago now. People in Geeveston live in a landscape which is surrounded by a mixed patchwork of forests.

Dr Sanger makes the point in her Examiner article last week. She said:

If we continue to log our native forest we are making the landscape more flammable. It is the cumulative impact of logging that counts. Don't be fooled by the small proportion of forest that is logged every year, it is the cumulative impact.

Between 1997 and 2016, 33 per cent of Tasmania's southern forests were logged and that means that vast areas of the Huon Valley are now up to seven times more likely to have high severity fires and this means that it's putting our communities at greater risk. That is something that people who live in the Geeveston community understand very clearly. They know that they live in a varied landscape, and some of that landscape is more flammable than others. The landscape that has the old Tasmanian wet eucalypt forests with the moist understorey, the very tall trees with canopy high up in the air, those are the landscapes which are less flammable than ones which are in the regrowth stage.

We must get more information about how to manage our eucalypt forests. James Furlaud says that his paper is highlighting the fact that we need to think about modernising and developing innovative new management and logging techniques that can reduce fire risk - unlike clear felling, which this paper is suggesting and at least in the Tasmanian case, that may be increasing the risk of fire.

We obviously need to have a conversation between Forestry Tasmania and scientists like Dr Furlaud, Dr Sanger, Dr Kikpatrick, Dr Prior and Dr Williamson. These are people who are out in the field, conducting on ground research. They are modelling, with a high degree of detail, the fire behaviour, fire flammability and looking at the risk and severity for different fire conditions and different age spans of trees.

Mr Speaker, it is important that Mr Barnett comes into this place and makes a statement about his commitment to looking at the changed forest management practices that need to occur, in the new understanding we now have of the risk in the Tasmanian landscape from legacy Forestry Tasmania practices and the continuing operations of Forestry Tasmania.

We have decisions to make about how we manage our nitens population plantations. We have to understand how we can reduce the fire risk of growing plantations. Clearly, we have commitments to plantation growth timber in areas, but there is a lot we can do to make them safer. Many of those plantations are right on the border of rural towns, small townships that are not necessarily close to fire truck protection; houses and little settlements. These are the sort of places where we need to be looking at the proximity of the plantation forests, the proximity of regrowth coups and we need to understand and grade the risk. We need to look at how we can redeploy Forestry Tasmania expert staff into not clear-felling new areas of wet eucalyptus native forests, but to come in and use their techniques to make the forests that have already been cleared, safer. We have options, and we can do that.

Thank you, minister, I look forward to hearing your response now that you have turned up. You might like to at least get the message that this paper is critical research. It is something that Forestry Tasmania needs to understand in minute detail and probably need a briefing from staff about the implications for forest practices.

I am very pleased to have some of the scientists in the Chamber with us here to rewrite the balance. They have been spoken of badly, and there is no doubt that they do their work in good faith for the benefit of us all. It is our children who will be living in rural Tasmania into the future, who really need to be confident that this government is doing everything it can to make their communities as safe as possible, to protect the biodiversity of their local forests and to have forests which are able to survive the changing climate and fire conditions - and to have the best shot at survival in what is an increasingly hotter, dryer climate and landscape.