Professor Lindenmayer said that this was further evidence that logging in native forests increases fire risk.
In part this is because stands of young regrowth trees are drier ecosystems than old growth forests and in part it is because of the presence of roads in state forests, he noted.
“Roads are a double-edged sword when it comes to fires,” said Professor Lindenmayer. “On the one hand they give you access to fight fires, on the other hand fires are often started by some sort of human interaction, though this was not the case with the last season.”
Forests that had evolved to regenerate when burnt every 75 to 150 years were being burnt far more frequently and were unable to properly recover, the research found.
“Of the 1.5 million hectares burned during the 2019-20 fire season, 600,109 ha have burned twice, and 112,957 ha have burned three times over the past 25 years,” the paper says.
A tree in a Victorian forest now only has a 20 per cent chance of reaching 80 years old, the age at which it can be used for saw logs, and Victoria has lost 77 per cent of all its old-growth forest since 1995, the research found. In the north-east of the state, 59 per cent of the forest that the state government planned to log over the next five years was burnt during the last bushfire season.
“There is a competition between loggers and fires for the last of the forest, and the fires are winning,” Professor Lindenmayer told The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald.
The paper says that calls to extend logging into unburnt old-growth forests are “unacceptable because of the importance of the remaining unburnt areas for conserving biodiversity”.
Instead, the paper says that remnant stands of old-growth forests should become the focus of targeted protection from both logging and fire.
It calls for state governments to revise down the amount of wood they plan to extract from forests and to shift wood production into plantations.
“When so much is being lost to fire there is no certainty of supply of the resource,” said Professor Lindenmayer.
A spokesman for VicForests rejected Professor Lindenmayer’s findings.
“Many academics and fire experts agree that harvesting does not elevate fire risk. We work with partner agencies and use scientific research to develop a harvest program that protects the environment and mitigates the impacts of bushfires,” he said.
“VicForests is committed to the sustainable management of forest areas allocated to it for harvesting. We take great care to protect potential habitat and high conservation values, especially following fire.
“VicForests is proud that its ecologically sensitive approach also supports recovering regional families, communities and townships that have been impacted by the fires.”
According to a Deloitte Access Economics report, logging in Victoria generated $770 million in revenue during the 2015-16 financial year and supported more than 2500 jobs.
Nick O’Malley is National Environment and Climate Editor for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age. He is also a senior writer and a former US correspondent.