Are You Burning Their Homes to Warm Yours?
Logs have life inside
Collecting firewood is one of humankind's oldest activities. Australians enjoy the beauty and warmth of a wood fire, and in many regional areas wood fires are the only practical source of heating.
Dead trees, often with hollows, make popular firewood as they are seasoned and burn well. But firewood collection comes at a cost to the environment, the consequences of which may not be entirely understood for years. Many firewood users are unaware of the ecological price of collecting dead trees and fallen logs. Often they mistakenly think they are just keeping the forest or farm tidy.
Firewood harvesting has an effect on our native woodlands, and a variety of threatened species. Dead standing and fallen timber provides crucial habitat for numerous species of animals and birds. It is now recognised that the removal of this wood for firewood is contributing to a significant loss of wildlife, particularly in the woodlands of south-eastern Australia. It is not just native animals that benefit from old wood left lying on the ground. This debris is valuable shelter for stock too. How many times have you found a newborn calf or lamb against an old log - safe from the weather?
Photos: G. B. Baker
Not only does standing and fallen dead wood provide important habitat for animals and birds, it also plays an essential role in maintaining forest and woodland nutrient cycles. Scientists from CSIRO believe that dead wood is at least as important as living trees, fallen leaves and soil for the maintenance of ecological processes sustaining biodiversity.
The CSIRO was recently commissioned by Environment Australia to research the extent and environmental impact of firewood collection in Australia. The research report, Impact and Use of Firewood in Australia, revealed the following:
- up to 5.5 million tonnes of timber is harvested annually for domestic firewood use. When industrial firewood use is included, the total amount rises to between 6-7 million tonnes, or roughly double the amount of eucalypt now exported annually from Australia as woodchips;
- inland forests and woodlands in mid-low rainfall zones appear to be most threatened by firewood collection, as they contain popular firewood species, have been extensively cleared for agriculture and have very slow growth rates.
- evidence suggests that at least 20 bird species are threatened by firewood collection and other species are affected by the removal of dead wood, including mammals, reptiles, invertebrates and amphibians;
- firewood collection impacts on soil by removing the nutrients that keep it healthy - many species of invertebrates and fungi live on dead wood and help turn it into these nutrients; about half of all domestic firewood is collected by consumers;
- eighty four per cent of domestic firewood is collected on private property;
- popular firewood species are River Red Gum (1.1 million tonnes per year), Jarrah (0.61 million tonnes per year), Red Box and Yellow Box (0.54 million tonnes per year) and Iron Bark (0.47 million tonnes per year).
So how can we reduce the environmental impact of collecting and burning firewood?
Five Easy Things You Can Do
- Leave some dead wood behind - standing or fallen - it provides habitat for birds and animals - don't deprive them of a home.
- Ask your wood merchant whether they can supply a mixed load of hardwoods (eg. more than one type). This will help to reduce the pressure on woodland species that aren't regenerating.
- Use plantation timber instead of native forest or woodland timber. This will help conserve declining forests and woodlands.
- If you own a property - try to plant as much as you take. That way you will create your own renewable source of wood.
- Recycle - use old fence posts and off-cuts. If you live in an urban area, keep an eye out for trees that have been cut down by your council or neighbours and seek their agreement to take it. Once seasoned this is an excellent source of cheap wood.
For further information visit our web site: http://www.environment.gov.au/land/pressures/firewood/index.html or contact the Community Information Unit by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or phoning 1800 803 772.