The Australian Forest Products Association (AFPA) has again commended all fire-fighting services and co-ordinators at a local, state and federal level, but with many more weeks of the fire season still to run, is appealing for a clear national consensus that the priority for deployment of resources should be to save lives first followed closely by livelihoods and jobs.
Chief Executive Officer of AFPA Ross Hampton said that while the bulk of media attention has been on the human stories of trapped holiday makers on the east coast, the much deeper disaster is unfolding with little coverage.
“Large areas of our plantation forest estate in key forestry regions in NSW, Victoria and South Australia are on fire and the downstream consequences for rural communities will be severe. These trees take ten years (in the case of trees for paper and carboard making) or thirty years (in the case of the pine trees used for house framing) to grow, so when the fires are finally contained it, will be like a slow motion train crash as the full downstream consequences are felt,” Mr Hampton said.
“The plantation trees provide more than 80% of the timber and fibre products we produce as a nation and for years we haven’t been able to even fill our own needs. That’s why the Federal Government has been working with the industry to generate plantings in key forestry regions of another one billion trees.”
If we are to avoid the decline and hollowing out of regional communities, it will be vital that four things happen:
- As many plantation trees as possible must be saved by nationally supported fire-fighting assets supplementing those resources owned by the plantation companies and state forest agencies;
- A massive salvage operation must be supported to enable damaged, but still usable, trees to be stockpiled;
- Plantations must be considered an infrastructure asset and urgent replanting supported under the federal Government’s $2billion reconstruction fund or other mechanisms, and
- The one billion trees program must be fast-tracked – not delayed