Forestry Tasmania is one of the State’s key firefighting agencies. We are obliged to control and extinguish any bushfires that occur on the land we manage, and many of our staff are trained firefighters, planners and incident controllers.
Forestry Tasmania staff make a major contribution to fighting bushfires across the state, and also in contributing to statewide fuel reduction burning programs. For more information, see Fact Sheet No. 4 Bushfire management.
Our priorities when fighting bushfires are to protect life, property, community assets and forest resources.
Firefighting across land tenures
Along with the Tasmania Fire Service and Parks and Wildlife Service, Forestry Tasmania is part of Tasmania's Interagency Fire Management Protocol.
This protocol is the only one of its kind in Australia, and ensures that streamlined communications, adequate resources and a strategic approach are provided for all bushfires in Tasmania, regardless of land tenure.
Under the protocol, Forestry Tasmania also fights fires on land other than the forests we manage.
Bushfire management principles
We organise our bushfire management activities around four principles: preparedness, prevention, response and recovery.
Preparedness - ensures that appropriate firefighting capacity is maintained, through programs such as staff training and maintaining fire trails and water storages.
Prevention - aims to minimise the incidence and severity of bushfire, through fire detection and fuel reduction burns.
Response - is the reaction to uncontrolled bushfires, and includes firefighting and investigation.
Recovery - includes post-fire activities, such as site rehabilitation and reviewing the effectiveness of prevention, preparedness and response procedures.
Planned burns and smoke management
Forestry Tasmania undertakes planned burns for two main reasons:
- To improve the safety of the community by reducing fuel loads in production forests and other identified high priority areas
- To regenerate harvested forests in a similar manner to natural regeneration following bushfire.
Forestry Tasmania plans and conducts its burns based on evaluation of weather and site conditions to optimise burn ourcomes and smoke dispersion away from population centres. For more information, see Fact Sheet N0.7 Regeneration burns, and Fact Sheet No.14 Smoke management.
Fuel reduction burns
Fuel reduction burns are generally low intensity and reduce the quantity of vegetation on the forest floor, without damaging standing trees. Used strategically, they can help to protect property and forestry assets from bushfires. They can also be beneficial to some vegetation communities, such as coastal heath or buttongrass.
Forestry Tasmania carries out fuel reduction burns where required and when weather conditions are suitable, usually in spring and autumn..
Fuel reduction burns are used to:
- protect communities and assets from bushfire
- maintain the health of fire-dependent vegetation communities
Smoke from fuel reduction burns typically remains near the ground and can cause pollution, so wind conditions and direction must be right before a fuel reduction burn can be carried out. Weather conditions must also be right: not too hot, not too dry or wet and, ideally with a light wind blowing smoke away from any local communities.
Coordinated Smoke Management Strategy
Forestry Tasmania has been instrumental in improving smoke management in Tasmania. This has led to the development of the Coordinated Smoke Management System now in place across the State.
This program, which was developed with the Environmental Protection Authority and is run by the Forest Practices Authority, sets a maximum amount of smoke that can be released each day into 11 defined Tasmanian ‘airsheds’.
Key principles of the Coordinated Smoke Management Strategy include:
- planning for burns to take place when forecast weather conditions indicate the smoke will be dispersed away from communities
- minimising or not conducting burns on days when poor smoke dispersion is likely
- not conducting burns that may affect significant public events
Currently, the Coordinated Smoke Management Strategy only applies to burns carried out by the forest industry and the Tasmanian Parks and Wildlife Service. Other agencies and private landowners who also conduct burns, do so outside of these arrangements. For more information, see Fact Sheet No.14 Smoke management.
Tall wet eucalypt forests are most successfully regenerated if there is a major event that replaces the whole stand of trees leaving an exposed mineral earth layer. This allows new seedlings to germinate. In nature this is produced by wildfire . Over the past 20 years scientists have researched alternative ways to produce these conditions but no acceptable alternative to clearing and burning has been found.
Regeneration burns are undertaken in a way that creates an intense convection current to take the smoke produced into the upper atmosphere and away from local communities at ground level. They are typically done in autumn. For more information, see Fact Sheet N0.7 Regeneration burns.
Regeneration burns are used:
- to regrow harvested wet eucalypt forests, by reducing fuel levels and creating a nutrient-rich seedbed for seed germination (mimicking natural conditions)
- for on site preparation as part of plantation establishment, to reduce fuel levels and increase planting space.
While the smoke columns from these burns can sometimes be very visible from local communities, they rarely cause pollution at ground level.
There is a significant amount of planning to ensure conditions on site as well as weather conditions are suitable to achieve an effective regeneration burn.