Posted by: Lisa Hill | May 9, 2020

#Yarra Valley (online) Writers Festival Saving the Environment: It’s Not Fire & Brimstone, it’s Science, with David Lindenmeyer

Today, I’m trying something different.  The Yarra Valley Writers Festival is online today, and I’m going to try to report on each session as it comes along.   There may be more typos than usual, and I’ll apologise now for any mistakes in reporting on-the-run.  (Feel free to correct me in comments if necessary.)

I’m listening to Michael Veitch doing the welcome as I type this, and before I start I want to say a heartfelt thanks to everyone who’s made this festival happen.  In its original form we would have been enjoying all the delights of the valley and its beautiful surroundings.  But what was meant to be the very first #YVWritersFest had to be reimagined because of COVID_19, and I congratulate the entire team on making the festival happen in its current form.

The keynote address is from David Lindenmeyer, AO,  Regarded internationally, he is an Australian scientist and academic. He is an expert in landscape ecology, conservation and biodiversity, and he has made the Yarra Valley his area of interest as well…

Lindenmeyer is keen to ‘inject an understanding of science’ into our understanding of fire. He’s been studying this for a long time, not just our most recent catastrophic ones, and he says its important to study different environments in different places.  But he’s also a ‘people person’ and he showed us a slide of his own mother-in-law and her experience in the recent fires.  So it’s personal for him too.

Our recent fires damaged 12 million hectares, 12 times the size of the Amazon.  It was unprecedented.  Professor Lindenmeyer shared a slideshow which I’ve attempted to capture here, but it’s too hard to multitask in this way and I found myself losing the thread of his argument.  But what I clearly understood was that climate change is a key driver of fire behaviour because the background temperature, influenced by CO2 in the atmosphere, influences fire behaviour.

As we could see from the slideshow about the densely wooded valley at the beginning, hazard reduction burning is a complex issue.  It needs to be done in remote areas, and despite what the shock jocks say, that means more hazard reduction burning doesn’t help with the risk of house losses.

The rate of regeneration in old forests is much greater than in young forests, and that creates implications for logging areas.  There is a much greater risk with fires close to the logged area, and there is greater risk of canopy fires.  (And by definition, there are communities near logging areas.)  And ‘salvage logging’ i.e. logging damaged forests after burning is disastrous, it is the most damaging form of logging.  It damages the environment, and it increases the risk of more disastrous fires.

Studies show that some of the areas burnt last year were earmarked for logging in the future, and the economic implications of that is that the money generated from logging is reduced.  So it’s not so profitable as to make it worthwhile, especially since a lot of it goes overseas for the woodchip industry, and doesn’t do much for jobs here in Australia.  We need to transition to using only plantation timber and rethink what we do with our natural assets.  (And plantations are much easier to defend than the bush).

As usual, the shock jocks and the tabloid media peddle simple solutions.  They appeal because they’re simple, but they don’t work.  Lindenmeyer listed a range of strategies that will make a difference, all of which come from long-term monitoring of the situation, i.e. from science.  The enduring campaign for cattle grazing in alpine areas, for example, is countered by the science which shows unequivocally that it increases fire risk. And yet the LTER (Long term environment research, I think) was axed in 2017.  [Note the dates, it tells you which federal government did that.]

The point that I take from all this, no matter where we live in Australia, city or bush, these critical issues are matters where public opinion and votes, matter.  So it’s very important that we educate ourselves and others about the science that lies behind our knowledge of fires.

Phew!  Next up Fire & Climate, with Tony Birch, Alice Bishop, Tom Griffiths & Michael Cathcart.

PS I haven’t got time to proof read this!






  1. Looking forward to following this, have fun!


    • Doing my best! The Spouse is bringing my brunch to the computer!!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. :)


  3. […] for access to old growth forest, 92% of forestry employment is in logging plantations.  But check out Lisa’s report for a much more coherent summary of his presentation than […]


  4. Commenting to say here that this is a wonderful idea of you to report this event, and this kind of initiative is a great way to keep books and bookishness in high profile!


    • LOL it was hard work, but worth it…I taught myself to do this when I went to conferences for work. Primary teachers have long been denied opportunities for professional development because the school is underfunded for it, so our school like many others adopted a policy of sending one teacher to a conference, and she would then come back to school and report on what she had learned. But when I became a teacher of Indonesian, and then of ESL, and finally in the last ten years a teacher-librarian, I was the only one in that role at my school so there was no one for whom my learning had been relevant. (I should add that I got round the problem of not being funded to go, by being a presenter. That way the conference organiser gave me free attendance and paid for my replacement back at school. And my principal couldn’t refuse permission for me to go.)
      When as a librarian I learned how to blog, I would take my laptop, and blog the sessions as the day progressed, and publish the conference proceedings on the day on my LisaHillschoolStuff blog. I gathered a small but loyal audience of teachers who could never get to these events.
      My main motivation for doing it for this festival is because it was their inaugural year, invested with so much hope and energy and then COVID_19 struck. I love little regional festivals and I really want this one to succeed because they invite my kind of writers and it is in such a beautiful place. I want it to be back next year.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I missed this one but will try to hear it this week. You probably know that David Lindenmeyer is Karen Viggers’ husband?


    • No, I didn’t know that.
      Actually I might watch it again too, it was quite dense in content and I know I haven’t grasped everything he said…

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Well it’s too late to say good luck with your effort to try something different (though as you say, you did it with teaching). I was bemused to see all the posts appearing but I was working and have only now begun to catch up.(Labor/CFMEU-led logging of burnt forests is criminal)


    • Logging is an endlessly difficult issue, it’s been going on since I was a girl, and for every step forward we take forward, we seem to take another step back. And it doesn’t help that policy gets manipulated by both sides of politics to win marginal rural seats.


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