Effects of altered fire intervals on critical timber production and conservation values

Date: 15, Mar, 2021
Author(s):   Cary, G.J., Blanchard, W., Foster, C.N., Lindenmayer, D.B.
Publisher: International Journal of Wildland Fire

Forests exhibit thresholds in disturbance intervals that influence sustainability of production and natural values including sawlog production, species existence and habitat attributes. Fire is a key disturbance agent in temperate forests and frequency of fire is increasing, threatening sustainability of these forest values. We used mechanistically diverse, theoretical fire interval distributions for mountain ash forest in Victoria, Australia, in the recent past and future to estimate the probability of realising: (i) minimum sawlog harvesting rotation time; (ii) canopy species maturation; and (iii) adequate habitat hollows for fauna. The likelihood of realising fire intervals exceeding these key stand age thresholds diminishes markedly for the future fire regime compared with the recent past. For example, we estimate that only one in five future fire intervals will be sufficiently long (~80 years) to grow sawlogs in this forest type, and that the probability of forests developing adequate habitat hollows (~180 years) could be as low as 0.03 (3% of fire intervals). Therefore, there is a need to rethink where sawlogs can be sourced sustainably, such as from fast-growing plantations that can be harvested and then regrown rapidly, and to reserve large areas of existing 80-year-old forest from timber harvesting.