Fuel Reduction Burning, Facts and Myths

KRM Branch 18th July 2022

The guest speaker for the July meeting was Tom Chvojka delivered a presentation entitled ‘Fuel Reduction Burning, Facts and Myths’. Tom is a musician and string instrument repairer who lives on a woodland property (that has not been burnt for 37 years) near Dunsborough. He is also an active opponent of Fuel Reduction Burning and welcomes the opportunity to deliver his message to groups such as KRMB.

In the presentation, Tom presented evidence against the practice of fuel reduction burning currently employed in southwest WA, which intensified to record levels in 2021. Many of these burns are very hot and destructive, covering large areas up to 2,500 ha, and in no way could be compared to the mosaic burns practised by the traditional owners. Fuel Reduction Burning directly harms and kills a vast range of flora and fauna (as recently exemplified by the loss of a large proportion of the Numbats at Perup). The burns emit large quantities of Carbon Dioxide, thus contributing to climate change and damaging the soil structure and pH such that the soils become less fertile. Burning too frequently can impact the seed bank available in the soil for regeneration if the regrowth is subject to another burn before reaching the level of maturity required for seed production.

Tom explained how the current approach destroys many mature trees, showing photos of trees where fire has attacked and destroyed trees through damaged trunk sections. Contrary to fuel reduction, the practice can increase fuel loads for subsequent years due to the increased germination of opportunistic species, often dominated by a single species such as Karri Hazel Trymalium floribundum, and consequently harms biodiversity. Peppermint, Agonis flexuosa, does not naturally dominate Jarrah or Karri forests because of competition from those species. Still, after a fire, the rapidly growing Peppermint can become dominant due to the slow growth of Jarrah and Karri.

Tom believes that burning is a lazy way to manage our forests and suggests that there are better, less wasteful ways of managing fuel loads. For example, Tom explained that practising Silviculture is beneficial to the health of a woodland, supporting this claim with photographs of a section of woodland before and after its application. In this process, the forest is selectively thinned, and trees that contribute to the bulk of fuel get removed or thinned. Tree canopies do not get scorched, remain closed and vibrant, and do not contribute to immediate leaf drop and new fuel build-up. Useful materials for use in craft, such as firewood or fence posts etc., are not destroyed but instead used beneficially. Such use could sustain small businesses in our forest areas. He highlighted this with a series of photos of how the timber in a fallen tree on his property was used in the construction of his house.

Tom wound up his presentation by showing images of flora and fauna found on his property that outline the biodiversity in a healthy woodland or forest. He also stated that many eminent experts and representatives of the Nyoongar Traditional Owners support the views expressed in his presentation. Tom’s extensive presentation, of which this report is only a summary, certainly provided a considered argument against the current practice and received support from most, if not all, of the audience members.

Colin Prickett