Rather than an untidy mess, fire-damaged trees and half burnt logs left behindby a fire are valuable habitat for recovering wildlife, according to a groupof leading Australian environmental scientists.

Professor David Lindenmayer from the Fenner School of Environment and Societyat the Australian National University has over 35 years of experienceresearching the effect of fire on Australian wildlife and ecosystems. Thisincludes studying the recovery of wildlife after the Black Saturday fires in2009 and major fires in coastal New South Wales in 2003.

“Fires burn patchily, and small unburnt patches, half burnt logs and dead orfire-damaged trees are commonly left behind,” said Professor Lindenmayer.

“Our research has demonstrated that these patches and remaining woody debrisare very important to recovering wildlife populations.

“Wanting to do something constructive, people and organisations may sometimesfeel an urge to clean these up, but resisting this urge can be one of the bestthings people can do for wildlife.

“We have found that when burnt areas contain small unburnt patches – even assmall as a single surviving tree – it helps an area recover much faster.

“The unburnt patches and surrounding unburnt areas are an important source ofanimals to repopulate burnt areas and they also offer essential food andshelter until burnt areas recover.

“It is important to protect any of these remaining patches by not clearingthem, and ideally to manage pest animals and weeds around these areas.

“In some cases fires are so hot that they burn even the seeds in the soil, andthen unburnt patches become essential sources of seed for native vegetation tore-establish.

“Standing fire-damaged trees as well as dead trees and fallen logs alsoprovide many resources to surviving and recovering wildlife such as food,shelter and breeding hollows.

“Many trees that look dead will still be alive. In the months ahead, buds willsprout from under the blackened bark.

“Of course where something is a hazard, like a dead tree close to a road, thehazard needs to be managed, but this could involve felling the tree andleaving it onsite for the benefit of wildlife.

“At a time when habitat is so scarce, practices like burning or mulchingremaining timber, salvage logging and mop-up burning rob landscapes of thefeatures that wildlife will need to recover.”

Image: Epicormic shoots on burnt eucalypt_CREDIT David Blair ANU

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