26 September 2023

Fire research finds logs more than a match

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A team of Australian researchers from a number of Australian universities has analysed the fire footprint of the 2019-20 Black Summer bushfires, finding that logging increased the risk of high-severity fires.

Researchers from the Australian National University (ANU), Curtin University, Macquarie University and University of Queensland contributed to the study.

David Lindenmayer (ANU) said that while weather conditions had the biggest influence on the severity of the fires, these effects were amplified by logging as logged forests always burned at greater severity than intact forests.

“Logging increases the probability of canopy damage by five to 20 per cent and leads to a long-term elevated risk of higher severity fire,” Professor Lindenmayer said.

“On the other hand, if disturbance due to logging is minimised, canopy damage can be reduced, in turn reducing the risk of uncontrollable fires.”

Professor Lindenmayer’s colleague at ANU, Chris Taylor said that even in mild fire weather, logged forests were more likely to suffer high severity fire than unlogged forests under more severe weather conditions.

Michelle Ward (University of Queensland) said research showed that forests became dramatically less likely to burn when they matured as mature forests were less likely to carry fire into the treetops.

James Watson (University of Queensland) said the impact of mega-fires on people’s lives should never be forgotten.

“We need to use the evidence to reduce the risk of future mega-fires wherever possible and it is obvious logged forests increased the risk and severity of these fires,” Professor Watson said.

“Reducing the amount of logging can reduce the risk of uncontrollable high-severity fires that endanger humans, homes, and biodiversity,” he said.

The Black Summer bushfires burned through more than 24 million hectares and destroyed thousands of homes.

The research has been published in Nature Ecology and Evolution and can be accessed for a fee at this PS News link.

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