Facts for a burning issue

coarse woody debris in nature reserve

Woody debris on public land provides precious habitat. Collecting it as firewood is a threatening process to biodiversity and should not be encouraged.

The Victorian Government has abolished fees for collecting firewood on public land despite expert advice that removing dead trees from forests threatens native bird species. This strikes me as outrageous but when I attempted to find a bit of information to support my stand I found myself struggling. Can you help me?

The facts of this story were presented in a short article in The Age newspaper titled Firewood fee given the chop. The story says the Victorian Government was making firewood collection easier in state parks by scrapping a $28 a cubic metre charge and permit application process. Critics accused the government of being environmentally irresponsible and putting at risk a growing farm forestry industry.

And these claims accord closely with my own background knowledge on this topic. And that is that the collection of firewood in nature reserves and public land is a key threatening process to birds, small mammals and reptiles. What’s more, I thought this was explicitly stated on the Federal Government website. And surely the best way to stop wood collection is to make people pay for the privilege, thereby making it too expensive to do.

Now, while I like to argue these points amongst friends, to enter the public debate I want to be sure of my facts and have good empirical evidence for my side of the argument. Unfortunately, like everyone, I’m time poor. If I can’t access information quickly I’ll usually give up.

In this case I googled collecting firewood, threatening processes and the EPBC Act (the law that sets out these threatening processes) and got a heap of hits but no little nugget of gold that set it all out for me. What’s more, I couldn’t find the explicit discussion of firewood collection as a threatening process in Australia. Have you ever tried to quickly find a short and explicit statement from a government website? It’s like searching for a needle in a haystack.

So, I gave up.

Well, I’m close to giving up but I thought maybe the CLEAR-as-blog crowd could help me out on this. What I need is a link to a government statement (on an official website) that states collecting firewood is a threatening process. I also need one or two scientific articles or reports that explicitly (and briefly) outline the connection between firewood collection and biodiversity. Is that too much to ask? If it is I don’t know how we can claim to be working in conservation science.

Of course, this is not just about one ‘outrageous’ policy by a state government (though if you want to throw fuel on your outrage, read the comments that follow the story on The Age website). It’s about having appropriate information to counter ‘unacceptable’ policy changes. In this case ‘I know’ in my heart it’s wrong but I can’t find the right facts quickly enough to substantiate my claim. And in a busy world, the ‘quickly enough’ is a critical consideration.

Whenever we come across outrageous statements or acts that fly in the face of our science, it’s beholden on us to craft a suitable response, not just rest on our publication record.

A point in case is another recent outrageous act, a submission to the government to import silver foxes as pets. I’m not going to even go into the rubbish that was included in the submission saying foxes aren’t really a problem. I’ll just tell what the Invasive Animals CRC said in its reponse:

“The Invasive Animals Cooperative Research Centre opposes this application on the grounds that Vulpes vulpes is a Key Threatening Process listed under the EPBC Act that impacts on 76 EPBC listed threatened species, and costs farmers $21.2 million a year in lost productivity (through predation of livestock). Foxes are declared in all States and Territories except NSW (where foxes are controlled on a regional basis). The Tasmanian fox eradication effort is one of Australia’s biggest conservation challenges where 78 native species as well as the Tasmanian lambing industry is now at risk.”

The application to the government can be read at:
http://www.environment.gov.au/biodiversity/wildlife-trade/invitecomment/vulpes-vulpes.html

Surely we can say something as concise and compelling on the collection of firewood on public land?

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About David Salt
David is a science writer based at the Australian National University in Canberra. He is the editor of Decision Point.

3 Responses to Facts for a burning issue

  1. Hi David,
    Here is a couple of things I have. I had two Federal Government publications linking to impact of firewood collection on threatened birds but they recently relocated the links. I will track them down eventually and let you know.
    Otherwise there is mention in two ACT government documents, a paper on fallen timber for brown treecreepers, and a federal document on firewood collection written by Don.

    http://www.tams.act.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0020/154361/yellow_box-red_gum_grassy_woodland.pdf

    http://www.tams.act.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0011/61499/actionplan27t5.pdf

    http://www.esajournals.org/doi/pdf/10.1890/1051-0761%282002%29012%5B1588:EEFPBE%5D2.0.CO%3B2

    EXPERIMENTAL EVIDENCE FOR POTENTIAL BENEFICIAL EFFECTS OF FALLEN TIMBER IN FORESTS. Ecological Applications, 12(6), 2002

    http://www.environment.gov.au/land/publications/firewood-impacts.html

    Cheers

  2. Megan Evans says:

    Hi David,
    You can search the Australian Government’s SPRAT database (containing all threatened species listed on the EPBC Act for keywords).
    Enter “firewood” into the ‘Faceted search of species profiles’ (or metadata)
    http://www.environment.gov.au/cgi-bin/sprat/public/sprat.pl
    It’ll return a collection of species which are threatened by firewood collection, including Swift Parrot, Superb Parrot and Regent Parrot.
    I’ve also ranted about the silverfox issue on my blog: http://wp.me/p1MGLm-1z

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