Ban the Burns
Enough is enough.
The Tasmanian forestry industry has been burning waste caused by logging in the forests for far too long. Take action: sign our online petition HERE.
An alliance of grass roots forest NGO’s are calling for a ban on the burns. Our Alliance includes Huon Valley Environment Centre, Still Wild Still Threatened and Code Green.
The entire model of forestry practices in Tasmania is broken. The forest industry has made attempts to ‘improve’ the community impacts of their “regeneration burns”, by having communication in the media for example. However, our organisations say that it is not good enough to continue to engage in the practice of burning the large amounts of waste in the logging areas, including rainforest species that have been left to burn.
The wasteful practice is polluting the clean air, threatening our health and environment and damaging the clean green brand of Tasmanian small industries.
Every year in Autumn Forestry Tasmania burns the waste left after large scale industrial logging has destroyed tracts of forest.
The so-called “regeneration burns” are a tool used to engineer the forest, killing off the rainforest species that naturally form the understory of Tasmania’s amazing wet eucalypt forests, and to encourage the proliferation of eucalypts which are the trees sought for future logging. The clearfall and burn method is destroying the natural forest ecology to turn it into a loggers wonderland, at the same time that it is dumping massive amounts of carbon into the atmosphere and polluting people’s lungs with particulates that are injurious to health.
In 2012 Forestry Tasmania planned to conduct 245 burns across the state of Tasmania.(1) Due to unfavourable weather conditions last season in 2011, more burns were planned for the Huon and Circular Head regions.(2)
Research that was published in 2012, conducted by the Menzies Research Institute Tasmania, an institute of University of Tasmania (UTAS) found that landscape fire smoke comprises emissions for forest, grass and agricultural fires. These emissions affect both climate and air quality. (3) Interventions in reducing smoke emissions from landscape fires could also potentially provide benefits for the slowing of global warming and slowing the loss of biodiversity. (4)
In 2009 Professor David Bowman, from the University of Tasmania’s School of Plant Sciences, co-author of the 2012 research mentioned above, stated that ‘burning was an unsophisticated 20th century approach and the licence to do it was dropping away. Finding an alternative to regeneration burns should be a number one priority’. (5) Prof Bowman and 21 researchers have had their findings on the contribution of fire to carbon dioxide emissions published in the journal Science. The 2009 international study funded by the US National Science Foundation found that fire had been overlooked as a cause of climate change. Bowman says, ‘Fires are one of the largest causes of increased carbon dioxide emissions in the atmosphere. There is also methane, aerosol particles in smoke and the changing reflectance of a charred landscape which contributes to changes in climate.’ (6)
High intensity burns carried out by the forestry industry in Tasmania release a large amount of carbon in to the atmosphere. A Forestry Tasmania study in 2001 found that approximately 700 tonnes CO2 is released into the atmosphere for each hectare of mixed forest that is burnt in the so-called “regeneration burns” after logging (7). More than 10,000 hectares of logged forest are burnt each year in this way, leading to more than 7 million tonnes of emissions annually. This is only slightly less than the emissions from all other measured Tasmanian sources combined!
Based on Forestry Tasmania’s estimation of the quantity of carbon released in regeneration burns, and their own figures from 2010 that the average area of forest burnt would be 45 hectares, taking in to account some areas would be much larger, though not really much smaller. (8) For 2012 it is estimated that approximately 7.8 million tonnes of CO2 will be released to the atmosphere from the annual season of burns, as Forestry Tasmania’s estimated 245 burns would be conducted.
Smoke from burns can cause very high particle levels in the air overnight, and have the potential to cause public health harms. Fine smoke particles are known to affect breathing. The smaller the particles, the deeper they go into the lungs. These particles can cause a variety of health problems, from itchy or burning eyes, throat irritation and runny nose, to more serious conditions such as bronchitis and asthma. Smoke can also aggravate existing heart and lung conditions, including chronic bronchitis, emphysema and asthma. (9)
In March 2012 a burn was lit in the Plenty area, a logging region behind Huonville. Forestry Tasmania admitted the next day, smoke from smouldering heavy logs and stumps following yesterday’s burning became trapped in the overnight fog leading to elevated particle concentrations being measured at Judbury, Huonville and Geeveston, in southern Tasmania. (10)
The culture of acceptable burning for so-called “regeneration burns” by the forest industry also influences private industry and householders to conduct vegetation burn offs. In April 2012, a large burn off was conducted by a sector of the forest industry, not Forestry Tasmania, and subsequently spread smoke to Hobart, Tasmania’s capital city. The Asthma Foundation of Tasmania Chief Executive Officer Cathy Beswick made a public statement, ‘Be very, very careful about your asthma management plan and avoid the smoke, stay indoors, keep the windows and doors shut’. (11)
During the burns season in 2010 Tasmania’s Director of Public Health stated that the poor air quality in and around Burnie, in North West Tasmania, was unacceptable and advised people with breathing difficulties to take a number of precautions due to smoke from Forestry Tasmania’s regeneration burns. The precautions included staying indoors with windows and doors closed and avoid vigorous exercise. (12)
During 2011, Forestry Tasmania commissioned CSIRO to compare the smoke pollution from “regeneration burns” and wood heaters in the Huon Valley. Forestry Tasmania attempted to justify their burning practices by comparing one type of smoke pollution with another. However, all smoke pollutions are an unwanted nuisance for the community, particularly people with respiratory problems. The findings of the report did nothing to justify the out dated and unsustainable practices of “regeneration burns”. The study did find that smoke from regeneration burns exceeded healthy limits three times between April 2009 and May 2011. (13)
In 2012 an investigation into the health impacts of wood smoke by Prof Bowman and Menzies Research Institute Tasmania research fellow Fay Johnston found pollution from landscape fires contributed to 339,000 deaths worldwide between 1997 and 2006. The impact is most pronounced in Sub-Saharan Africa and Southeast Asia. Professor Bowman said wood smoke deserved special attention in terms of pollution that could harm humans. Furthermore, Professor Bowman says there are implications for forestry burns in Tasmania. He states, ‘We are exposing populations to risks and preventative measures have got to be taken. There has got to be an understanding that people who complain about the smoke have a legitimate case, the medical science is on their side now.’ (14)
Solution End the logging industry waste burns, Forestry Tasmania’s unnecessary and damaging practice of so-called “regeneration burns” must be banned. The integrated model of industrial logging that generates massive waste must be abandoned.
Forest Furnaces Not a Solution
Forestry Tasmania attempts to allay the community’s fear and outrage about “regeneration burns” is to push ahead with plans to burn native forests in polluting and inefficient power stations. (15) Burning native forests for energy is not a solution. These proposed forest furnaces would only exacerbate the climate impacts of logging our native forests and perpetuate the slaughter of native forests. Native forest furnaces would continue to damage climate, biodiversity and the jobs and sustainability of Tasmanian communities. Clean electricity doesn’t come out of a smoke stack.
Article by: Huon Valley Environment Centre, Code Green and Still Wild Still Threatened.
References (1) Blanks, Tony. Examiner Newspaper, Forestry to fire up 245 burns in autumn. Rosemary Bolger, 21 Feb, 2012
(2) Blanks, Tony. Examiner Newspaper, Forestry to fire up 245 burns in autumn. Rosemary Bolger, 21 Feb, 2012 (3) Johnson, F. and Bowman, D. University of Tasmania, 2012, Fire-smoke important contributor to deaths worldwide, http://www.utas.edu.au/tools/recent-news/news/fire-smoke-important-contr… (4) Johnson, F. and Bowman, D. University of Tasmania, 2012, Fire-smoke important contributor to deaths worldwide, http://www.utas.edu.au/tools/recent-news/news/fire-smoke-important-contr…
(5) Bowman, D., in Scientist warns on forest burns, By Clark, N. in The Mercury Newspaper 29 April 2009 (6) David M. J. S. Bowman, et al, Fire in the Earth System, in Science 324, 481 (2009); http://firecenter.berkeley.edu/docs/bowmanetalscience.pdf
(7) A. Slijepcevic, Forestry Tasmania, Loss of carbon during controlled regeneration burns in Eucalyptus obliqua forest Tasforests Vol. 13 No. , December 2001, http://www.forestrytas.com.au/assets/0000/0208/281_290.pdf
(8) Forestry Tasmania 2010, The forest industry’s regeneration burning and re-seeding program, http://www.forestrytas.com.au/uploads/File/pdf/pdf2010/planned_burns_lea… (9) Taylor, R. Director of Public Health, in Health Warning – Smoke in the Burnie area 22 April 2010, http://www.media.tas.gov.au/print.php?id=29443TheThe (10) Forestry Tasmania, Media Comment, 14 March 2012
(11) Paine, M., 2 April 2012, Health Alert over smoke, The Mercury Newspaper (12) Taylor, R. Director of Public Health, in Health Warning – Smoke in the Burnie area 22 April 2010, http://www.media.tas.gov.au/print.php?id=29443TheThe
(13) Meyer, M. et al, August 2011, Impacts of smoke from regeneration burning on air quality in the Huon Valley,Tasmania. http://www.forestrytas.com.au/uploads/File/pdf/pdf2011/huon_valley_csiro… & Study clears forestry fires ABC 24/08/2011, http://www.abc.net.au/nature/news/NatureNews_3301319.htm (14) Johnson, F. and Bowman, D. University of Tasmania, 2012, Fire-smoke important contributor to deaths worldwide, http://www.utas.edu.au/tools/recent-news/news/fire-smoke-important-contr… & ABC online, Wood smoke linked to deaths, http://www.abc.net.au/news/2012-02-20/wood-smoke-linked-to-deaths/384057… (15) Forestry Tasmania, April 2011, http://www.forestrytas.com.au/news/2011/04/biomass-part-of-the-solution-…