Miranda’s Daily Blog: Day 112
The Mercury reported on April 2nd that the high level of smoke in the air was a potential risk for asthma sufferers. The article specifically mentioned the forest industry burn off that took place near me (the footage of which I uploaded on April 1st). They are also running a poll about whether forestry burn-offs are necessary or not. The majority of people, so far, have voted no.
There have been some comments on my blog about the burn off not being done by Forestry Tasmania. So I thought it would be good to clarify this a bit more. The burn off that is the subject of that footage was conducted by a company called Norske Skog. This company owns quite a bit of land in the Tyenna Valley, on which they grow and harvest plantations. There are quite a lot of plantations in my view of the valley, in fact. For this reason, I wrote on the video that the burn was done by the “forest industry”. (I didn’t name Norske Skog, as it is not a company we campaign against, so I’m sorry if that lead to any confusion). Some people have dismissed the burn, saying it’s only a plantation-based burn. And I think this brings up some interesting issues.
There are problems with forest industry burn offs. So far in my blog I spoke a little bit about the reasons why burning the type of forests where I am currently living (wet forest) is problematic. I spoke about the fact that it is an anthropogenic transformation of these mixed forest ecosystems into eucalypt dominated regeneration. This is one reason that burning is problematic. Of course, such issues are irrelevant when considering the industry burn off that took place on Sunday; because the land had already been stripped of its ecosystem long before this took place, back when it was first converted to plantation. However, there are still some serious concerns about these burns that need to be addressed. The health impact is a very important issue and was the subject of the Mercury’s article yesterday. The smoke was so thick that, according to the Mercury, the Environmental Protection Authority declared a “red alert” in the Derwent region and surrounds, due to the sudden increase in dangerous smoke particles. The level of damaging particles in the air was at 68 in New Norfolk on that day. This seems quite high considering the article declared anything over 25 to be of concern. Asthma sufferers in particular are at risk and were urged to take caution. Norske Skog said they would investigate whether the burn-off they conducted had anything to do with the situation.
Recent studies undertaken by Prof Bowman (University of Tasmania) and Dr Fay Johnston (Menzies Research Institute Tasmania) assessed the health impacts of smoke from forest burns and wood smoke. The Mercury reported (on Feb 21st 2012) Prof. Bowman to say “”If the industry says there are no alternatives, I say they are not trying hard enough.” He went on to explain that wood smoke needed special consideration as there were specific concerns around the harm it causes to human health.
This issue brings me back to a point that I made to the media on Monday, stating that there are many issues that need to be addressed to find a sustainable solution for the forest conflict. Although formal reserves for high conservation value forests is a critical component, it is not the only issue that needs addressing. It is no good to simply reserve an area of forest, without changing the forestry practices in areas that will continue to be subject to logging. And this includes plantations. Although the environment movement has strongly advocated for a transition out of native forest logging into the plantation that already exist, this does not mean that current plantation practices are perfect and should go unquestioned (including the issue of burn-offs). Since the beginning of the negotiation talks it has been clear to those involved that there are many issues that will need to be resolved, these include the question of alternatives to high intensity burns and also issues around plantation management.
Apart from the health effects of the burns, there is also the issue of carbon. These high intensity burns release a large amount of carbon into the atmosphere. At a time when climate change is an ever increasing problem, this is surely an issue that needs further attention. Forestry Tasmania estimated that in their burn-offs 197.6 tonnes carbon was released per hectare (Slijepcevic 2001 <http://www.forestrytas.com.au/assets/0000/0208/281_290.pdf>). This is for Eucalyptus obliqua forest. Statistics may vary when it comes to different types of logging operations, so these figures may vary for plantation burns. I wasn’t able to find any specific statistics on these.
I can’t claim to be any kind of expert on the issue of burns. But I do know that seeing that burn-off so close to me and dealing with the after-math of smoke throughout the night, definitely made me think that there does need to be questions raised about this practice, whether it be on private or public land, plantation or native forests, there are still health risks and carbon issues. I think that more work needs to be done to find alternatives, as Professor Bowman suggested. If Tasmania is going to have a ‘clean, green’ image it has to go beyond the number of hectares reserved and also include best practice for all elements of the industry.