Page 410 - Week 02 - Tuesday, 15 February 2005

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on the important role of catchment management in increasing and enhancing water supply as well as water quality.

In January 2003, 11,000 hectares of the softwood estate was burned in a dramatic firestorm event that also destroyed over 400 homes in Canberra suburbs and surrounding rural communities. Some of these houses burned precisely because they were located near the pine forests, and the government has decided not to replant in areas adjacent to residential areas.

The area of ACT pine plantations, before they burned, was less than two per cent of the total of Australian softwood plantations. As a percentage of the whole Australian plantation timber industry, ACT forests were less than one per cent. When the ACT pine plantations were originally established, it was because there was a need for local building material, coupled with the need to stabilise soil and vegetate the area for erosion control. This was in the 1920s, when rabbits were running amok. People were concerned about protecting water catchments then and they used the technology available to them, which seems to be logical. Pinus radiata was the latest and newest thing.

People are still concerned about protecting water catchments, but we are now more aware of the dangers of fire and we are better informed, more sophisticated and willing to finetune our activities to implement the latest research into catchment management. ACT soils are not suited to the replanting of pines. There is also limited economic viability for replanting pines in the areas where they were burnt out. The timber production from ACT pine forests was never fully realised as commercial value due to repeated outbreaks of fire. With highly competitive timber industries in our immediate neighbourhood at Tumut and Tumbarumba, for example, there is no need to waste valuable resources in replanting softwoods.

In consideration of whether pine should be replanted in the same area, there are persuasive arguments against this option due to, firstly, extreme combustibility of pine forests and groundcover of pine needles; secondly, loss of biodiversity that accompanies any monoculture, particularly Pinus radiata, and, thirdly, their impact on water going into the aquifers which feed our rivers.

In the wake of the fires the ACT government commissioned a study of future non-urban land use, which resulted in the final report, titled Shaping our territory. In its conclusions and recommendations related to water resources planning, the report states that:

Clean water is crucial to Canberra’s future and is a first order priority in determining land use and land management in catchment areas. These areas must be adequately protected.

With this key issue of public importance in mind, I want to put forward a case for managing the Molonglo, Cotter and Murrumbidgee catchments overall for water quality and quantity, as well as to reduce vulnerability to fire. The key feature of my argument for a catchment-based approach involves letting go of the idea that the ACT is a softwood producer.

We have been spared the replacement of many of the lost pines only because the last planting season was considered too dry to risk the investment and time in planting

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