Keelty Review recognises positive role for forestry sector

Darian Schulz of PF Olsen and KI Plantation Timbers forest operations manager Brian Stewart during the bushfires in December 2019.

Local knowledge, use of forestry experts, and better understanding of fire behaviour in plantations is critical for future fire management on Kangaroo Island.

Incident Management Teams (IMTs) and fireground leaders need access to people with local knowledge, including suitably trained and qualified forest industry professionals, according to Mick Keelty AO, chair of the Independent Review into South Australia’s 2019-20 Bushfire Season.

His report released this week also recognises the scale of losses by the forestry sector in the 2019-20 fire season in South Australia, with $143.31 million out of $186.57 million (76 per cent) of losses incurred by agriculture attributed to the forest industry. Most of this loss was on Kangaroo Island.

Mr Keelty recognised the “devastating blow” to forestry from the fires and in his key findings said “the inclusion of liaison officers and greater use of sector commanders with experience in plantation fire-fighting may have helped improve the strategies and tactics used in and around areas of plantation timber”.

Kangaroo Island Plantation Timbers managing director Keith Lamb welcomed the State Government’s recent action to establish Forestry Industry Brigades, as previously recommended and widely used interstate.

“Our fire-fighting team and vehicles already work under CFS direction but this extra recognition will enable forestry expertise to be better integrated into the IMTs and will make a real difference on the ground.”

The 180-page report also recognises the importance of reducing fuel loads on public and private property and makes more than 60 findings and 15 recommendations about resourcing and response to bushfires, urging the State Government to implement recommendations from previous bushfire inquiries.

Mr Lamb said vegetation management for fire risk was the responsibility of all land owners and managers, government and private.

“Local government has a role to play and can use its existing powers to work with the community, farmers and foresters, to improve landscape planning and prevent future disasters such as we saw on Kangaroo Island. State government has a role to play, as the manager of national parks, and in reducing red tape and unnecessary bureaucracy. Researchers and professional managers can assist in educating the public on the natural role of fire in the Australian bush.

“Fire is part of the Australian landscape and is essential to the health and wellbeing of our ecology,” he said. “But when the balance is not right, and policies and practices allow unnecessary build-up of fuels, particularly near farms, dwellings, timber plantations and infrastructure, we see the disasters such as the 2019-20 bushfires which cause so much unnecessary damage to the local communities and economies. We all have a role to play in ensuring the lessons learned from the 2019-20 fire season are not forgotten”.

The full Keelty report is available here.