The VicForests Board of Directors has endorsed this statement about the way VicForests will respond to the implications of the 2019/20 bushfires in Eastern Victoria.
Bushfire Response and Recovery – our commitment
VicForests is committed to supporting the protection and restoration of environmental values and economic development and employment in regional Victoria.
Our business supports jobs and livelihoods for about 2500 Victorians. Many of these are in rural towns, including towns affected by the 2019/20 Bushfires.
We know we must responsibly and sensitively balance our continuing operations with ecological recovery and regeneration.
Continue to contribute to Victorian Government bushfire response and recovery. This includes using our skill, equipment and technical and local knowledge to support firefighting, community safety and regeneration.
Remove excess timber from road clearing and community fire protection activities at the direction of Forest Fire Management Victoria. If suitable, this will be used for fence restoration, commercial and community firewood and timber processing.
Not harvest in unburnt parts of areas affected by the 2019/2020 fires until the ecological status of these areas has been assessed by the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning (DELWP).
Look to distribute available timber from unaffected harvest areas across VicForests customers so far as is practicable to support all processors’ operations until the impacts of the fire are understood.
Contribute our significant store of seed to forest regeneration.
Gippsland, Tambo and North Eastern Victoria Biodiversity Management Strategy
VicForests will continue its significant on-the-ground support of regional communities during this devastating fire event and after the fires have been put out.
This includes continued involvement in clearing trees to open roads or to establish firebreaks. As at 31 January, VicForests and its contractors had committed around 90 staff and 45 machines to the critical tasks of safety clearing, reopening major roads and recovery. Timber generated through these activities will be removed when possible and will be distributed for community purposes, including fence restoration and firewood. Any timber suitable for sawn processing will be distributed to VicForests’ customers where possible to reduce pressure on forest supply.
Recovery and Forest Regeneration
The large scale of the unprecedented bushfires currently affecting Eastern Australia has the potential to have significant long-term negative impacts on forests and biodiversity.
More detailed aerial and field assessments are required to fully understand fire impacts. These efforts have commenced as data becomes available and safe road access into the fire-impacted areas is restored.
These assessments will identify remnant unburnt or low-severity burnt habitat and corridors that may provide immediate refuge for surviving resident and/or displaced wildlife.
Unburnt areas in the East Gippsland fire zone will not be harvested by VicForests until Government has determined the priority areas to be preserved to provide the best opportunity to support the recovery and long-term viability of threatened species.
Our extensive seed bank of Victorian native tree species will be used to plant or sow appropriate areas to promote forest recovery with the appropriate species types. DELWP is also supporting VicForests to undertake an additional seed collection program to complement existing seed stocks. These will be used to treat and regenerate young stands of trees that are too young to carry a seed crop and self-regenerate.
With favourable conditions, the future re-colonisation of affected areas can start almost immediately for some species
Harvesting in Fire Affected Areas
Through our Bushfire Recovery Harvesting approach, our team of expert ecologists and foresters will identify and preserve surviving biodiversity and habitats and, where possible, ensure flora and fauna are connected to healthy forest. We will also sow seed and plant seedlings
VicForests will work with DELWP to understand the prescriptions and controls needed to harvest, considering the whole post-fire landscape.
Severely fire affected trees that will provide timber suitable for timber processing may be harvested following consultation with DELWP and under the guidance of VicForests’ Fire Recovery Harvesting Prescriptions. This will be a priority activity for 2020.
Short-term actions (once safe to enter fire areas)
Field checks to validate fire severity mapping and desktop impact assessments.
Refine a short-list of potential recovery areas based on desktop and field assessments.
Conduct pre-harvest surveys of existing biodiversity values in potential recovery areas.
Design ecologically-sensitive harvesting strategies to support habitat, biodiversity and connectivity.
Field assessment of areas for re-seeding program.
Long-term actions (Monitoring and Research)
Conduct post-harvest surveys of areas harvested under recovery operations to assess any impact on biodiversity values.
Ongoing monitoring of coupes harvested under new variable retention harvesting systems.
Ongoing monitoring of coupes harvested as part of the Greater glider research trial in the Bendoc area (not currently impacted by fire).