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New Report Offers Smart Solution for Super-Fires, Drought, and Climate Change

A new report into reforestation in areas affected by the Black Saturday fire zones offers a radical yet deceptively simple solution to help solve Victoria’s future fire threat and water shortages, as well as ameliorate climate change.

It proposes replanting fire-ravaged zones with green corridors of cool and warm temperate rainforest species that have been proven to decrease the threat of super-fires.

Released in April 2009, the report entitled “Southern Rainforest Corridor 2050,” was written and compiled by the founder of Southern Rainforest Brett Cowan and Dr Maria Gibson, plant biologist and senior lecturer at Deakin University.

Native rainforest species like Myrtle Beech once covered all of Victoria and most of south-eastern Australia (Hill 1994) before being reduced by thousands of years of Aboriginal fire stick farming, and finally destroyed by centuries of European Australian grazing, mining, and logging.

They were ultimately replaced by forests of fire-fuelling eucalypts with a grass fodder understory, offering the perfect conditions for super-fires. Although we now view this type of eucalypt forest as natural bush, re-growth stands where trees are all the same age show they are, in fact, a result of decades of clear-fell logging.

By contrast, the original native rainforest species were naturally fire-retardant, being cool and dense enough to slow and then extinguish fire.

In addition, they assisted in hydrating and stabilising the landscape, shading and building topsoil, creating firebreaks, and increasing rainfall to our water catchments.  Re-vegetating fire-ravaged zones with rainforest corridors would also connect fragmented animal and plant species populations, encouraging greater genetic diversity.

Cowan made the connection between cool temperate rainforests and fire prevention and retardation when driving through Marysville to the Lake Mountain turnoff following the devastating Black Saturday 2009 fires.  In addition to the expected burnt forest he saw large pockets of green – it appeared as if the forest had stopped the fire in places.

Investigating further, he discovered a different type of forest to those surrounding the destroyed towns.  There were pockets of Mountain Ash (Eucalyptus regnans), but the majority of trees were Myrtle Beech (Nothofagus cunninghamii), one of Victoria’s original rainforest species. He had stumbled across a unique preservation zone set aside in the Cumberland Scenic Reserve in the 1920’s to preserve 1,000 acres of the original forest of the Great Dividing Range.  He realized that, as rainforest naturally retards fire, establishing corridors of rainforest as firebreaks might offer a logical solution to fire control and prevention.

Inspired by this initial discovery, Cowan began speaking to local bushfire survivors and council members to learn more.  He was told that although the Royal Commission following the1983 Ash Wednesday fire had recommended the establishment of firebreaks using fire-retardant plant species throughout the Great Dividing Range, nothing had been done.

Discussing the possibility of rainforest as fire-retardant with Kinglake’s Forestry Department showed a singular lack of interest in pursuing such matters.  Instead Cowan was told the forests surrounding the burnt-out towns had already begun regenerating, as was “the natural cycle following a fire,” even though this would, in time, be likely recreate the exact same conditions as Black Saturday 2009.

Cowan realized he would have to do more than talk.  Galvanised into action, he met with Deakin University plant biologist, Dr Maria Gibson, to discuss his proposal. She agreed to assist in thoroughly researching the benefits and effects of establishing a rainforest corridor across Victoria.

“A rainforest corridor up to 10km wide reaching from the Otways, through Lake Corangamite, Hepburn Springs, Mount Macedon, Kinglake, and Marysville to the Strzelecki ranges and Wilsons Promontory would connect fragmented rainforests to each other and encourage the growth of both flora and fauna,” explains Cowan.

“It would link all of our water catchments together, benefiting the rainforest and us. Most importantly it would fireproof and protect people and towns, such as those destroyed on Black Saturday, Ash Wednesday, and Black Friday,” he adds.

Cowan’s research has convinced him we need to replant affected fire areas with rainforest to avoid or decrease the risk of such catastrophic events happening again.

It concludes with a call for urgent and extensive community consultation and education as well as parliamentary debate about the efficacy of the matter.

“Rainforest has existed in Victoria for more than 150 million years. It still survives in small pockets and gullies, but we need to help it proliferate.  If we don’t, our population will be increasingly threatened and ravaged by fires, drought, and desertification,” says Cowan.  “Our only path, for the sake of our grandchildren, is to help rainforest to flourish to cool and hydrate our landscape.”

 

If you would like to become involved in Southern Rainforest’s longterm vision and become part of the original plan, please fill in form on home page and provide a brief outline.

 

Reference:

Hill, R.S., (ed). 1994.   History of the Australian Vegetation. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.