• This is one of a few articles I published elsewhere long before Green Path was conceived or begun but is still relevant enough to deserve a place on the blog. The date-stamp will say 2005, the date of first publication, although the article was only added to GP in 2016.
I was lucky enough to be able to visit Tasmania for a mixture of business and social reasons at the end of March 2005. The Tuesday after Easter was a perfect Autumn day in Hobart and my host suggested a trip to Hartz Mountains National Park, just over an hour’s drive South-West of Hobart (more info here). By the time we arrived it was nearly lunchtime, but we set off towards Hartz Peak anyway.
We walked as far as Lake Esperance and stopped for a sandwich. While we were there, another hiker pointed out to us a small cloud of smoke rising from a valley over to our East, between us and the Huon Valley.
We continued as far as Hartz Pass, the saddle leading to the peak, then decided that climbing all the way to the Peak would probably, unfortunately, turn the descent into a race against the sunset. (That isn’t the Peak behind our resting spot – it’s just the first hump to get over on the way to it!)
Did I mention the weather was gorgeous?
On the way back down we paused at this little pool near Ladies’ Tarn for a photo.
But look up: what’s this band of cloud across the top?
Look to the left, and up again… this was what that ‘little cloud of smoke’ had become.
We continued back to the carpark. On the way we noticed that the monster had a smaller partner nearby. We drove down the mountain to Waratah Lookout and stopped there for a few minutes. We realised that the cloud that was dimming our sunshine was the smoke from the two fires. It was still high enough overhead that we didn’t smell it, but it was making a bright day very grey indeed.
From Waratah you look down on the treetops, or out to the North and West…
Our monsters had friends.
By this time it was after 4 o’clock so we drove on down the mountain towards Hobart. The road runs alongside the Huon River beween Geeveston and Huonville. It had been a very beautiful part of the trip that morning, but on the way home it was oppressive and quite ugly: the lowering sun shining through the smoke turned the river black with dull red highlights and the golden grass to rust colours, and almost the whole sky was a murky grey-brown. The smoke was coming down to ground level too, and we could smell it in the air.
We might have stayed in the Huon Valley for the evening, looking around the craft shops and galleries and maybe buying something before finding somewhere nice for dinner but did not want to stay under that choking pall any longer than we had to. The Huon Valley lost our tourist dollars.
Our monsters ‘had friends’ in more ways than one. They were deliberately lit, by Forestry Tasmania.
It seems Forestry Tasmania call this kind of fire a ‘regeneration burn.’ It is the last stage in clear-felling a block of forest before planting it with seedlings which will in turn grow up to be clear-felled.
Now, the rationale for clear-felling rather than selective logging, the rationale for then turning perfectly good timber into woodchips, the rationale for then exporting the woodchips so that somone else can add value to them and re-sell them to Australians, and the reasons Australian taxpayers should support the whole scheme through government subsidies all strike me as being extremely dubious at best but I’m not going to address them here. I am not even going to discuss the morality of scattering poison baits afterwards to kill the wildlife which has been left nothing but seedlings to eat. I just wanted to talk about the ‘regeneration burn.’
Turning good organic matter into ash and carbon dioxide, killing every living creature in the process, contributes to regeneration the same way ‘ethnic cleansing’ contributes to peace and love. Calling it a ‘sterilization burn’ wouldn’t make the act any better but it would at least be an honest description of what Forestry Tasmania is doing. (Both phrases are offensive in themselves, too, because both are so grossly and deliberately misleading.)
Any industry which released this much CO2 and particulate emissions into the atmosphere would be regulated and/or fined into responsible behaviour by any rational administration. But not this industry, not in Tasmania.
I don’t usually think of myself as a tourist, but that is just what I was for most of that week, visiting Port Arthur, Bruny Island and the beginning of the ‘Ten Days on the Island’ arts festival. Most of my week was wonderful. This wasn’t.
‘Tourist’ means ‘money’ – clean, renewable, job-creating, environmentally friendly (but environmentally dependent) money – to the people of Tasmania and their government. ‘Souvenir’ means, literally, ‘memory.’ This is one of my souvenirs of a week in Tasmania.
Googling ‘regeneration’ plus ‘Forestry Tasmania’ will get you hundreds of hits. Explore them as you like. Please also feel free to write to the responsible bodies about the issue: Forestry Tasmania and the Tasmanian government will not change their current polices without encouragement.
• This page was created in April 2005 and uploaded to my older website. Sadly, it is still not out of date now, in 2016. Here are three recent results from the Google search I proposed 11 years ago: Forestry to fire up 245 burns in autumn in The Examiner (2012); Bob Brown calls for ban on autumn Forestry burns in The Mercury (April 2016); and Smoke from forest regeneration burns in Tasmania seen in BoM imagery on ABC News (also April 2016).