Australian Forestry Group Warns of “Slow Motion” Economic Disaster After Fires

The Australian Forest Products Association says the wildfires burning large swaths of the country's forests will cause significant job losses and long-term economic damage. It's calling for a national consensus to replant and better protect Australia's forest "infrastructure."

The wildfires raging across Australia are likely to burn for weeks, but a deeper disaster could extend years into the future if steps aren’t taken to replenish lost forest plantations and make protecting and managing them a national priority, according to a statement this week by the Australian Forest Products Association.

AFPA “is appealing for a clear national consensus that the priority for deployment of resources should be to save lives first followed closely by livelihoods and jobs,” the association said in the statement published Tuesday.

When the fires are finally contained, it will be like a slow-motion train crash as the full downstream consequences are felt.

“Large areas of our plantation forest estate in key forestry regions in [New South Wales], Victoria, and South Australia are on fire, and the downstream consequences for rural communities will be severe,” said AFPA CEO Ross Hampton. “These trees take 10 years (in the case of trees for paper and cardboard making) or 30 years (in the case of the pine trees used for house framing) to grow, so when the fires are finally contained, it will be like a slow motion train crash as the full downstream consequences are felt.”

In an op-ed for The Australian [subscription], Hampton (who noted that he is a volunteer firefighter) wrote that solutions for better management of native forests are also necessary.  Options include hazard-reduction burns and efforts to thin out the forests using machines, particularly in areas near electrical lines, communications lines, or water storage.

“The only thing that can make a difference by next summer, and the summers after that, is to start to deal with our 132 million hectares of native forest as a connect­ed landscape that must be actively managed,” he wrote.

AFPA is calling for the federal government to supply more fire-fighting resources to supplement those owned by plantation companies and state forest agencies; an effort to salvage “damaged, but still usable” timber after the fires are extinguished; and federal funding for “urgent replanting.”

A scene from the Gregory River fire near Bundaberg, Queensland, Australia last month. (philips/iStock Editorial/Getty Images Plus)

Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is a former senior editor for Associations Now. MORE

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