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Calls from industry and unions for increased thinning in forests to reduce bushfire risks have been met with concern from conservation scientists. They suggest forest thinning makes forests more fire prone.
So who's right? Well, it's complicated. The short answer is forest thinning is a good way to lower the risk of fire and is a widely-used strategy to improve forest health. However, there are potential downsides. Thinning needs to be carefully planned to avoid effects on soil, water or sensitive habitats.
Clearfell - Logging - Selection - Harvesting - Thinning
Unlike clearfell logging and selection harvesting, mechanical thinning for timber involves felling about half the trees in even-aged, uniformly structured forests. Recently, forest managers are using the practice more for ecological outcomes.
If we look to the future, the recent fires have created conditions for forest regeneration on a large scale. These regenerating forests will thin naturally over time, creating more fuel and increased risk of more large-scale fires. Mechanical thinning can remove this potential flammable vegetation.
Forest - Thinning - Ways - Management - Resilience
Forest thinning should be one of the ways we tackle fire management and forest resilience in future, but we need more research to understand the best way to go about it. Here's what the evidence says.
What is thinning?
Thinning - Forest - Process - Numbers - Forests
Thinning is a natural forest process, where tree numbers in most even-aged forests reduce through competition over time. For example, Mountain ash forests regenerating naturally after a severe fire might have hundreds of thousands of new seedlings per hectare that self-thin to a few thousand after 20 years, and a few hundred after 80 years.
Mechanical thinning for producing timber is a long-standing commercial forestry practice that uses herbicides, chainsaws or mechanical harvesters. It reduces tree numbers and concentrates growth on fewer trees so they reach a valuable size more quickly. This is to improve commercial timber quality, or to more quickly remove trees that would die through natural...
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