The Institute of Foresters of Australia/Australian Forest Growers (IFA/AFG) is planning a national conference in Launceston for October. I had intended to present a paper, even though it clashes with my annual get-together for the Supercars at Bathurst with my eldest son. IFA/AFG describe themselves as follows:
Our members are forest scientists, professionals, managers and growers operating in all aspects of forest and natural resource management throughout Australia. We advocate for and provide professional development to ensure balanced, integrated forested land use, as well as sustainable management that meets community and environmental needs.
The title of the conference is Your Forests, Our Future.
I prepared an abstract for Conference Theme 1 – Forests in the face of change: risks and opportunities, and the sub-themes – Climate and Fire. I am disturbed because IFA/AFG has stated that mild burning is not the panacea for our bushfire problem. They’ve recently promoted junk science by academics claiming that climate change caused by humans is driving megafires and causing chronic decline of eucalypts, wrongly described by the academics as ‘dieback’.
In fact, bushfires and forest health problems are two sides of a coin. In regard to forest health we have only one major environmental problem in this country – lack of ecological maintenance by mild fire. Here’s my abstract:
People can restore healthy, safe, diverse and resilient landscapes in the face of climate change
Aborigines reshaped Australian landscapes long ago. The firestick maintained durable cultures and economies through an ice age, rapid global warming, extreme climatic variability and hugely rising seas. Europeans doused it and turned country upside down. Soils, roots and canopies deteriorated, and woody weeds, robust tussocks or prolific forbs choked out delicate flora. Many small mammals were lost.
Foresters were blind to fire’s critical importance. We created inhospitable wilderness, prone to pestilence and holocaust. Then we realised our mistakes and reintroduced sustaining fire. Now, a new generation of theoretical ecologists has unleashed wildfire once again. They attribute lost ecological resilience, chronic eucalypt decline, pestilence and megafires to climate change caused by human activities.
However, experience teaches us that explosive three-dimensionally continuous biomass fuels firestorms. Sadly, many people don’t appreciate the inverse relationship between biomass and biodiversity. ‘Hazard Reduction Burning’ is a term which underscores this blinkered view. Mild burning is simply ecological maintenance. Fuel doesn’t accumulate. Nutrients are recycled.
Lack of maintenance suppresses biodiversity, promoting plagues of irruptive species, both native and exotic. Megafires inevitably follow, exacerbating the problem in a vicious circle. The modern conservation paradigm is fatally flawed. An holistic view of ecology perceives that ecosystems need people. This aligns perfectly with traditional Aboriginal knowledge.
Our ecological history, from 1789 when Aboriginal maintenance was first disrupted by smallpox, through to our Black Summer of 2019/20, is disturbing. But we need not despair. A basic paradigm shift can restore a healthy and safe environment to sustain our society and biodiversity.
The organisers didn’t like it. Here is their response (emphasis added):
Thank you for your recent abstract submission. The Program Committee and reviewers have requested a revision of your abstract, before reviewing again.
Reviewer Feedback: While there is merit in this abstract, the abstract would benefit from a revision. Could the author please focus on the science to support their statements and also modify the language to be less emotive and more inclusive of the diverse audience and the experiences and knowledge that will be represented among the delegates and audience. For example, use of the term ‘holocaust’ has specific meaning to some people and terminology such as ‘we need not despair’ and ‘the modern conservation paradigm is fatally flawed’ verges on personal opinion, as opposed to a constructive scientific argument for how management can be improved.
It will come as no surprise that I did not like their response:
Thanks for the notification. This is censorship and insult.
There is not enough room in a 250-word abstract for the statements and “the science to support the statements”. I supplied a list of 30 references on both sides of the argument with the abstract.
Holocaust is defined in the dictionary as “destruction or slaughter on a mass scale, especially caused by fire or nuclear war”. “The Holocaust” has an entirely different meaning.
‘The modern conservation paradigm is fatally flawed’ and ‘we need not despair’ are essential to the statement, flow from the title, and will be supported by science from the listed references to show how management can be improved.
Please note that I had a letter to the editor of Australian Forestry wrongly rejected for similar reasons. It proposed that Victor Steffensen [traditional Aboriginal burning expert] should be a keynote speaker at the next conference. Lo and behold, he is! This reviewer feedback suggests that the choice was political rather than scientific.
Please reconsider the abstract as it stands. Please employ a reviewer with a better command of the English language and the scientific method.
Vic Jurskis FIFA [Fellow of the IFA]
The organisers insisted my abstract had been properly peer-reviewed:
Thank you for your email. All abstracts are reviewed by at least two reviewers, with at least one from a strong academic background, being A/Prof, Prof or Dr. Your abstract was reviewed by three people, and there was consensus of feedback. We encourage you to revise your abstract based on the feedback and resubmit it, and do hope you will do so.
All the best,
So ‘scientific consensus’ prevails again:
Thanks for your response. It confirms my fears that the Institute has become an ineffective political lobby group dominated by academic/bureaucratic groupthinkers. Many years ago, I joined a professional organisation supporting experienced, pragmatic and scientific land management and healthy debate. It’s a sad day for me. As I pointed out in Firestick Ecology, ‘scientific consensus’ is an oxymoron.
I will neither revise my submission nor renew my membership.
Politically correct academics and bureaucrats fiddle around with their like-minded friends in conferences and peer-reviewed papers and media releases, untouched by reality, whilst Australia crashes and burns:
Naomi has passed on your email and I note that you do not intend to renew your membership.
I would like to take this opportunity to acknowledge and thank you for your years of membership as well as support of the IFA/AFG and wish you all the very best for the future.
Jacquie [CEO of IFA/AFG]
Looks like I’ll be seeing the Supercars at Bathurst after all.
Vic Jurskis worked for NSW Forestry Commission as a labourer, forester, researcher, manager and finally, Silviculturist for the Commission’s Native Forest Division. He investigated chronic eucalypt decline across Australia in a Fellowship with the Gottstein Trust, and with a Maxwell Ralph Jacobs Award from the Australian Academy of Science. He has published two books, Firestick Ecology, and The Great Koala Scam, both available from Connor Court