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Friday analysis: moving on from pseudo-science in bushfire research

There is some hope that the recent research paper authored by six eminent forest ecology and bushfire scientists led by Professor Rodney Keenan and Professor Peter Kanowski from the ANU might go some way in shutting the hysterical blame game that logging of native forests increased the risk and severity of the terrible 2019/20 fire season.

Accusations post-fires flew thick and fast from the anti-logging lobby blaming logging saying it had made the fires worse.

Academics also weighed in, with University of Queensland researchers, for example, claiming “logging regimes have made many forests more fire prone for a host of reasons”.

Another offered that there were land management actions available to stop these fires from occurring in the future, the first of which was to prevent logging of moist forests, particularly those close to urban areas.

The wheels of the largely academic-led bandwagon got a bit wobbly late last year when a paper suggesting forestry harvesting activities make forests more bushfire prone was withdrawn by the Journal Fire due to a number of errors.

Moreover, in a further major embarrassment for the anti-native forestry industry activists, the Australian Senate joined the growing list of those condemning what a Senate motion described as “bodgy” science.

The Senate motion – supported by the Coalition and the Opposition also called on the Bob Brown Foundation and the Australian Greens to apologise.

It is doubtful such an apology was forthcoming.

It is also very doubtful there will be any concession from the anti-forestry lobby after the Keenan/Kanowski report.

That report stated, rather bluntly, “the proportion of forested conservation reserves burnt in these fires was similar to that for public forests where timber harvesting is permitted, and the proportion of forest burnt with different levels of fire severity was similar across tenures and over time since timber harvest”.

In other words, the fires were equally bad in forestry areas as they were in conservation zones.

As Australian Forest Products Association CEO Ross Hampton put it, forest harvesting in multi-use forests in southeast Australia was not to blame for the severity of the bushfires, it was the preceding years of drought.

Does this mean we may have at last, as Mr Hampton put it, moved on from some of the “pseudo-science”?

Maybe, just maybe. But don’t count on it.