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Ash forests on the brink of collapse without VicForests

Victoria’s Ash forests are on the brink of ecosystem collapse following a poor flowering season and repeated fire events, warns the State’s leading forest flowering and seeding expert. Source: Timberbiz

The issue highlights concerns raised by Forestry Australia, the seed collection services provided by VicForests, may be lost following the native timber sector shutdown in Victoria.

Ecologist Owen Bassett, who has continuously monitored flowering and seed crops in Victoria’s Ash forests since 1994, has reported that for the first time in 28 years, flowering did not occur as predicted, greatly impacting the natural regeneration ability and hampering seed collection efforts.

“What this means for Victoria’s Ash forests is that they are at serious risk of ecosystem collapse, because they will not have the capacity to naturally regenerate themselves come the next fire season,” he said.

Seed collection has also been part of Mr Bassett’s work with seeds gathered used to assist forest regeneration after fire and storm events. Forests harvested for timber are also resown using seed from the harvest sites with leftover seed contributing to a bank used to resow areas including national parks.

However, with repeated bushfires in 1998, 2003, 2006/07, 2009, 2013, 2018, 2019 and 2019/20, the seed bank was nearly exhausted.

“The Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning and VicForests undertook the largest sowing event in Victoria’s history following the 2019/20 bushfires resowing of 11,500ha of Ash forest,” Mr Bassett said.

“However, despite that world-leading effort, more than 10,000ha of Ash forest was not able to be resown and is not likely to recover following those fires.

“Another serious concern is that there is at least 143,000ha of fire-killed forest which is now regenerating, but extremely vulnerable to another fire event. If it burns it will be lost forever because it doesn’t have the ability to reseed itself and we just don’t have the seed to resow it.”

Seed collection is one of the services provided by Victoria’s forest agency VicForests which deposits into the seed bank seed from timber harvest and specific collection operations.

However, Forestry Australia President Dr Michelle Freeman said this service may be lost following the native timber sector shutdown in Victoria.

“With the closure of native forest harvesting and recent announcement that seed collection contractors are now considered part of that transition package, who will save our forests when the next bushfire comes?” she said.

Dr Freeman said the Australasian Fire Authority Spring outlook for 2023 identifies Gippsland will face high fire risk this season putting Ash forests at risk.

“In the face of these threats, active forest management is vital to build resilience against catastrophic fire and restore and maintain forest ecosystems,” Dr Freeman said.

“If we are serious about meeting Greenhouse gas emissions targets, then we must do more instead of taking people such as highly skilled seed collectors out of the forests.”