Logging sharply increases fire risk for endangered forests

The Mountain Ash forests of southeastern Australia are renowned for supporting the world's tallest flowering plants.  Sadly, clear-cut logging and fierce fires have devastated these once-magnificent forests, with just a tiny fraction of the original old-growth forest remaining.  Now a new study shows that logged forests are far more likely to burn than those that have never been logged.

Razed forests...

Razed forests...

The study, led by Chris Taylor and renowned forest-expert David Lindenmayer, was based on careful statistical analysis of past fire and logging histories.  It found that younger forests -- those logged 7-36 years previously -- were far more likely to suffer intense fires during dry conditions.

Logged forests, they found, had an altered structure and flammable slash in the understory, which made the forests much more vulnerable to intense fires.

The intense fires have a huge impact on native wildlife, particularly the endangered Leadbeater's Possum, which requires mature forest for survival.  Such mega-fires have also killed hundreds of people and destroyed thousands of homes and private properties in southeastern Australia. 

The authors argue that current logging is creating a long-term legacy, making the small patches of surviving old-growth forest much more vulnerable to devastating fires in the future. 

Halting industrial logging, they argue, is the only solution for the endangered Mountain Ash forests.

Top ecologist: New park only solution to Victoria forest 'disaster'

Renowned Australian ecologist David Lindenmayer is among those leading calls for a Great Forest National Park in Victoria, following what is widely considered a disastrous legacy of forest mismanagement by the Victorian State Government.

Last refuge for really really big trees... (photo by Angela Wylie)

Last refuge for really really big trees... (photo by Angela Wylie)

In a new video, Lindenmayer decries a government forest plan that has seen old-growth Mountain Ash forests--which harbor the world's tallest flowering plants--shrink to just 1.2% of their original range. 

Over-logging and forest fires have been the main culprits.  Lindenmayer estimates that timber supplies from Mountain Ash forests, used mostly for paper pulp, will be exhausted in 12 years or less.

The Mountain Ash forests are also home to the Leadbeater's Possum, an endemic marsupial that relies on old-growth forests and is critically endangered.  The possum is the official faunal symbol of Victoria.

The plan for the new park is being endorsed by the Royal Society of Victoria, the state's pre-eminent scientific organisation.  Park advocates say the proposal has strong public support and would be a major attraction for tourism.