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The forest worshippers and their failed mantras

By John Cribbes - posted Wednesday, 10 October 2007

Whether it is D. Cornwall for the 7.30 Report or Tony Jones for Lateline, the climate change believers of ABC television have allowed their faith to blind them to well known facts. The causes of the hyper bush fires of recent years have nothing to do with climate change (whether it be warming or cooling) but everything to do with the forest mismanagement that continues today.

Large infrequent fires have been caused by years of deliberate government decision making dating back to 1982 when the John Cain Government sacked the three Commissioners of the Victorian Forests Commission and disbanded it.

The three Commissioners were replaced in the superseding department, Conservation, Forests and Lands by ALP Party people who knew nothing about forest science but were aware of the need to obtain preference deals at the polls.


In the current corridors of power, the same political ideology continues to blind the same type of political guru despite the obvious evidence that politics cannot supersede the needs of a natural environment. The forest worshippers continue with their failed mantras and continue their pressure through promises of giving or withholding preferences at the forthcoming election. There can be little doubt that, in metropolitan areas around Australia, there is a great deal of support for the Greens. Rural folk are not so easily hoodwinked.

Current management are too proud to look at the record of their predecessors and find out why, from the time of Judge Stretton in 1944 to Athol Hodgson, President of Forest Fire Victoria (PDF 90KB), in 1982, Victoria enjoyed the peace and protection of good fire management. Government agencies rely upon Memoranda of Co-operation to silence any stakeholder organisation that is in a position to criticise their mismanagement.

The advent of aircraft and other modern appliances that have been thrust into the fire management equation have given current management the opportunity to promote fire suppression rather than fire prevention. The temptation to provide big toys for big boys has been irresistible. Government “spin doctors” enjoy highlighting “your taxes at work” while totally neglecting past research which shows that fire prevention is less costly and more productive than fire suppression.

Historically, forests around the Australian continent have supported an Indigenous population with food, clothing and shelter. Scientists have found evidence of widespread burning from ridge top to riparian zone, probably performed in the cooler months of the year. In thousands of years they have never been locked up and left alone - at least until 1982.

Australian eucalypts and many other species have always grown while shedding branches, bark and leaves onto a forest floor. In southern Australia it is usually very dry and consequently this has not aided the mulching of this dead vegetation. The lack of rainfall ensures that the dead foliage, full of highly inflammable eucalyptus oil is ready for ignition during any dry period of the year - but especially in late spring through to early autumn, when dry storms with a lot of lightning will provide ignition.

The fire fighting pyramid consists of low humidity; moderate to high northerly winds coupled with an ignition source and fuel on the forest floor. The only factor within the control of humans is the amount of fuel on the forest floor. The heavier the fuel load the more intense the fire and the higher its temperature.


Heavy fuel loads generate enormous amounts of heat energy which burns humus and causes erosion. It destroys burrowing animals and colonies of insects. Where fire intensity is too high, the soil is made hydrophobic. Where this happens the fire has already left the ground and is up into the tree tops where it destroys the tree top animals and the canopy and even kills some types of eucalypts.

The forest floor, without the protection of trees, branches and leaves is subjected to the scouring force of the rain. Earth is eroded resulting in mudslides and damaging torrents of water. This is what happened in Gippsland this year.

The Australian forest is predictable and uniformly demanding. If it is to be managed in accordance with an ideological gospel of the Greens, the consequences of human folly compound the innate problems of eucalyptus forest management and catastrophic bushfires are inevitable.

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About the Author

John Cribbes is a retired, 68 year old public service accountant with some commercial accountancy skills. Trained at one time as a Business Analyst by Dun & Bradstreet, he also has analytical skills. He is very comfortable with extracting information from people who have qualifications that authenticate their conclusions. This has enabled him to track down and examine various documents that are relevant in the current debate. His attitude to the environment is simple. Whatever man does to alter his environment, if nature does not like it, the venture will fail. It is no good hugging trees and worshipping at that high altar when the basic principle of fire in forest management is ignored or suppressed. He believes that without human intervention and science based management it is obvious that Australian forests are in decline.

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