28 January 2016

How Forestry Tasmania Used Military Hardware To Change The Island's Ecology And Climate

In January 2016 Tasmania was experiencing unprecedented climatic change and ecological breakdown in the form of drought, bushfires, water shortages and energy shortages. Many of the drivers of this calamity were external to Tasmania but some were domestic. As one of the Worlds largest coal exporters and one of the Worlds largest deforesters, Australia has a pathetic ecological record.
Has Tasmania been intelligently managing it's evolved ecology? No.
Tasmania's largest land 'manager' Forestry Tasmania spent decades perfecting 'high intensity burns' as a method of increasing forest yields by allegedly speeding-up harvest time by 5 years. You could say Forestry Tasmania was a government agency obsessed with fire.


The Laser Ignition Cannon
By the 1970's the importance of burning 'slash' (slash and burn) had turned into an almost military campaign for the Forestry Commission. In 1975 Forestry and the UTAS Physics Department began work on a 'laser ignition device'. By 1977, Evan Rolley had taken-over from Phil Gourlay as chief coordinator of RandD on the 'laser ignition device'. It consisted of laser elements mounted on a Bofors gun. A Bofors gun is a 40mm anti-aircraft gun that Forestry had obtained from the navy. Inspired by US weapons research, Forestry wanted to ignite harvesting slash from 4 to 5 km away.
Lasers in the device were focused with gold-plated mirrors which had to be expertly polished and mounted. However, by 1982 field trials showed the laser ignition device could not ignite eucalyptus leaves further than 750m away.
In 1983 the project was finally abandoned as too costly and unworkable. Forestry had wasted 8 years on the laser ignition cannon.

Aerial Incendiary Bombing
It took the Forestry Commission some decades to perfect aerial fire lighting. Initially they experimented with giant matches, or DAIDs (Delayed Action Incendiary Devices). These were dropped from a helicopter onto targets. Forestry almost took-out a chopper when the head flew off a lighted DAID and into an open box of DAIDs inside the aircraft. The chopper was so full of smoke it was forced to land. Fortunately no lives were lost. This method was abandoned when 3 people were killed in Victoria after a helicopter crashed while deploying DAIDS. From there Forestry moved-on to the 'ping pong ball technique'.
Evan Rolley operates an AIM

Initially, 25mm plastic-cased balls containing 20g of potassium permanganate were injected by hand on an aircraft with 3ml of glycol and then thrown from the plane. The balls ignited after they hit the ground and stayed alight for 3 seconds. Forestry perfected an Aerial Incendiary Machine or 'AIM' which automated the priming and launched of the balls and spacing the spot fires more accurately. When the helitorch came on stream, it was used for regeneration burning and the AIM was used only for lighting fuel reduction burns.

The Helitorch
Developed in 1987 the device is best described by Forestry themselves. "The helitorch consists of a 200 litre container of jellied petrol carried as a sling load beneath a helicopter. The operation is controlled by a bombardier sitting beside and directing the pilot. The helitorch has revolutionised high-intensity burning in Tasmania. The speed, safety and enhanced control of the process compared with ground-based methods allow up to about 40 coupes to be burnt in one day".


From Wet Sclerophyll to Dry Sclerophyll Forests
Since Forestry Tasmania has been bombing forests the island's ecology has changed significantly. It may have been policy to convert wet or rain forests to dry forests for economic reasons. Forestry used buttongrass moorlands as "a priority target for systematic research on fuel reduction burning because of their flammability". "The Forestry Commission began fuel reduction burning in buttongrass in 1939 using ground-based lighting and started aerial ignition in 1969, with an annual program reaching 10,000ha by 1975".
At the same time Forestry were exporting massive amounts of 'resource' from the island's limited forests. This peaked in the late 1990's and 2000's. Overall, it would be impossible to conclude that the activities of the Forestry Commission-Forestry Tasmania did not significantly alter the ecology, landscape and climate of Tasmania for ever.

West Tamar Talk would like to thank Evan Rolley for encouraging the documentation of the history of Research and Development at Forestry Tasmania. The result was "A History of Innovation Eighty-five Years of Research and Development at Forestry Tasmania" available here.

2 comments:

williambtm said...

So this form of ecological slaughter and destruction was once upon a time the mindset of Forestry Tasmania's future CEO and who is currently the CEO of a foreign owned Tasmanian Forest Raiding Timber Company.
In my mind this does not auger well for this same person to be considered a man of honourable integrity, nor a person to hold the position as he once was appointed to Premier Paul Lennon's secretary, as well as Cabinet Secretary.
The intervening years of the life of Mr Evan Rolley indicate that his time at the helm of Tasmania's government business enterprise's appears to have been the most ruinous and destructive cause as well as the cause to the loss of so many of the species of todays highly sought after Special Timbers species.

Further that during that regrettable period in the history of Tasmania this same individual referred to in the above, had become a person obsessed with his desire to eradicate a greater portion of Tasmania's enormous realm of Gondwanaland Forests by designing a aerial transported ignition mechanism containing jellied petroleum to convert Tasmania's former Ancient forested areas to an environment suited to support a species of plantation styled mono-species timber tree farms.

No doubt that this activity would have soon become the cause for the later vastly increased usage of aerial discharged toxic chemicals and poisons, ostensibly to aid the survival rate of whichever selected intensive single species eucalyptus was chosen for its suitability limited to wood-chipping yet very little value for alternative usages.

Another factor to the credit of this doyen of pyro-manic forest destructive fame was his term as the CEO if Forestry Tasmania who then went on to preside over the hundreds of millions of dollar losses during the formative years of this same Forestry Tasmania government business enterprise.

One has to wonder how both Evan Rolley and Premier Paul Lennon in their zeal to convert Tasmania itself into an Island dedicated to the growth of wood-chip preferred mono species timbers.

There are a great many citizens in this State that would be seeking a range of criminal charges be lodged against this duo at the height of their infamies and solely catering to the whims of one particular major wood-chipping business known as Gunns Ltd, (now bankrupted and its former chairman and CEO has since become a convicted criminal.)

It is arguable from the criminal perspective that the combination of both Lennon and Rolley could well become summarily charged as being complicit to the ruinous period in Tasmania's history of directing such a vast amount of this State's revenues into the conversion of Tasmania's Ancient Crown Land Forests to later become the specific timber products sought by the chairman CEO of Gunns Ltd.

(Albeit all the above being funded by this State's then Premier's woefully inadequate control of this State's Revenues, in having the many multi-millions of this State's revenues being directed into a enormous support mechanism for a private listed company. That company being the notorious standover operation known as Gunns Ltd)
I find it simply amazing that these 2 individuals are still capering about to suit their whims, one of which is their continual profiteering at the expense of the now hugely reduced community services and health services formerly available to the citizens of this State of Tasmania.

Where stands the State's Justice Department in that they could see no evils being enacted during those former times, for they in their robes of justice had chosen to continue their act not unlike the manner of ship's silently passing in the night.

William Boeder.

An addendum to my comment is the fact that during the height of Forestry Tasmania's reign of mass destruction, a simple man off the street could be charged and found guilty simply for cutting up a fallen dead tree in a nearby forest 'solely for domestic use' then made to suffer severely under the penalty imposed through this State's courts.

Jack Lomax said...

From the mid 80s through to the early 90s I sometimes made up the number when the TWS forest experts eg Geoff Law , Alec Marr, Alistair Graham faced off against Evan Rolley in his office or in other places.I never failed to be impressed at how the clearly stated facts from TWS rolled off him. Maybe that is how he got his name. It wasn't like suit of crude armor but rather an unobtrusive front where damaging facts were turned on their heads and rolled up on a smooth layer of verbiage. Meanwhile the forests burned unimpeded.