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Top scientists back Australian ecologist in VicForests bushfire row

Professor Lindenmayer was elected to the academy on the basis of his substantial contributions to the field of landscape ecology, Professor Shine writes. “In these fields, which include salvage logging, Professor Lindenmayer is very much an authority.”

There has been fierce debate between conservationists and forestry scientists about the effect of logging on native forests following the summer bushfires. In March, the Goongerah Environment Centre in Gippsland wrote to Ms Dawson to inquire about logging in fire-affected forests, and referred to research by Professor Lindenmayer on the impact of salvage logging.

Professor David Lindenmayer has been hailed a "world-renowned and well-documented expert in the field of forest ecology".

Professor David Lindenmayer has been hailed a “world-renowned and well-documented expert in the field of forest ecology”.Credit:Michael Clayton-Jones

In her response, Ms Dawson said: “We do not accept the published opinions of Professor David Lindenmayer as reflective of evidence and do not consider him to be an authority in these matters.”

Professor Lindenmayer has previously called for an immediate end to native forest logging, saying his research shows logging makes native forests more prone to fire. This is partly because a young, regrown forest is more dense and burns at high temperatures, he says.

But other scientists argue there is no discernible impact of timber harvesting on fire severity, saying weather conditions, slope aspect, fuel levels and atmospheric stability influence the scale of fires.


US ecologist Dr Gene Likens, who is best known for co-discovering acid rain in America, told Environment Minister Lily D’Ambrosio in a letter that Professor Lindenmayer’s professional expertise was valued internationally on numerous topics: “Indeed, Professor Lindenmayer is one of the most distinguished and respected forest ecologists and conservation biologists in the world.”

Professor Hugh Possingham, a professor of ecology at the University of Queensland who has co-authored 35 articles with Professor Lindenmayer, wrote that according to Google scholar citations for forest ecology, Professor Lindenmayer is the most-cited forest ecologist in the world.

“I feel it is dangerous to attack published research, and globally respected scientists, without scientific evidence,” he said.

VicForests recently lost a landmark court case when the Federal Court found it had unlawfully logged areas of critically endangered possum habitat.

The agency is currently facing five court challenges from crowdfunded community environmental groups.

Barrister Fiona Hudgson, acting for VicForests, told a court recently that VicForests already had 65 coupes that were subject to injunctions.

The agency was “severely constrained” and further injunctions could “become the straw that will break the camel’s back”, Ms Hudgson told the court.

A spokesperson for VicForests said many academics and fire experts agreed that harvesting did not elevate fire risk.


The agency worked with partners and used scientific research to develop a harvest program that protected the environment and mitigated the impacts of bushfires, they said.

Professor Lindenmayer said he was grateful for the support.

“It doesn’t often happen in your life that something like this takes place and your colleagues spring in behind you and say this is not appropriate,” he said.

Environment Minister Ms D’Ambrosio said the Conservation Regulator would continue to work with VicForests to ensure salvaging and harvesting operations were compliant.

“We will continue to work with leading biodiversity scientists to protect our environment,” she added.

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