Fanning the Flames

The sky is ablaze.

 

Waves of dirty yellows

wash over the ground,

as crimson smoke licks

barren clouds that loiter

jeeringly overhead.

 

Fuel litters the floor,

its perilous potential scattered

absently across the detritus;

the cost of its appearance

obscured by the multitude

of our transactions.

 

Silhouettes flicker across the canopy,

their panicked hosts seeking refuge

in havens that we have long since razed.

 

We branded these trees in all of our names,

Forgetting the forest until it burnt in the flames.

 

A helicopter tackles a wildfire in East Gippsland, Victoria state, Australia (Imaged Credit: Ninian Reid).

This poem is inspired by recent research, which has found that logging is partly responsible for worsening the recent Australian wildfires.

Between September 2019 and January 2020, more than 5.8 million hectares of Australia were burned by wildfires, with several million more hectares burned in the following months. Whilst much of the discussion around the origins and behaviours of these wildfires have centred around the impacts of anthropogenic (i.e. human-made) climate change, the contribution of land management, and in particular the effects of forest logging also need to be taken into account.

Logging causes a rise in fuel loads (i.e. the amount of flammable material that surrounds a fire), increases the potential drying of wet forests, and causes a decrease in forest height; all of which can result in making a forest more prone to fire. Logging also affects wildlife by creating habitat loss, fragmentation and disturbance for many species, with major negative effects on forest wildlife. Furthermore, repeated fires in these forest environments can lead to tree species failing to re-sprout, seed production and germination failure, and the death of young trees, triggering potential ecosystem collapse. In addition to acknowledging that anthropogenic climate change is making wildfires worse across Australia, policymakers must also recognize that logging operations have a profound effect on fire severity and fire frequency. Any future efforts to prepare for, and mitigate the extent of, wildfires must take this into account, for example by banning the logging of moist forests that occur near human settlements. By taking these steps now, policymakers will help to ensure that any future Australian wildfires do not occur at the tragic scale that was witnessed so recently.

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