Saturday, March 22, 2008

Tarkine bushfire destroying Australia's largest temperate rainforest

Australia's largest temperate rainforest is currently burning out of control. The Tarkine wilderness area in the north west of the island state that is now under threat of being lost to wildfire.

The fire is burning in the Arthur Pieman Conservation area, the Mount Donaldson Nature Recreation, and in the state forest near Corinna. 17 000 hectares have burnt so far, and windy conditions forecast for Thursday are causing concern for firefighters.

The Tarkine region covers over 440 000 hectares, from the Arthur River to the north, the Pieman river to the south and the Murchison Highway to the east.

The region contains a diverse range of landscapes, including fragile sand dunes; coastal vegetation; mountainous areas like the Meredith range; and the huge expanse of temperate rainforest.

The region takes its name from the Tarkiner Aboriginal people that inhabited the area. There are hundreds of significant Aboriginal sites in the Tarkine, mostly concentrated in the coastal region.

The Tarkine is home to more than sixty species that are listed as rare, threatened or endangered. It is a core habitat area for the Tasmanian wedge tail eagle, the largest eagle in Australia.

Dr Phil Pullinger is the president of the Tarkine National Coalition, an environment group established in 2004 that have been campaigning for the preservation of the Tarkine and eventual establishment of a Tarkine World heritage area.

Phil was not surprised to hear that the fire was started by a car that crashed and caught alight. The crash occurred on the Western Explorer road, known to locals as the road to nowhere. More than one hundred people were arrested while protesting against the roads construction in the mid 1990's. Conservationists such as Phil Pullinger argued that the construction of the road would dramatically escalate the risk of wildfire in the Tarkine region.

"Most wildfires are caused by humans, either by arson or misadventure. The more roads that are built into pristine wilderness area, you certainly escalate the chances of wildfire. If that access road wasn't there, the vehicle wouldn't have rolled and the fire may not have started".
"Buttongrass plain are well adapted to fire, it is a natural part of their life cycle, however there are significant parts of myrtle rainforest that have been destroyed by the wildfire. Wildfire is not a natural part of myrtle rainforest."

"This fire underscores how fragile this place is. If we want to have the Tarkine and its outstanding natural values so that future generations can enjoy the area, and our eco tourism industry can prosper, then we are going to have to have firmer guidelines about how the area is managed. That means being clear about how we manage access points into the area, and protect it as a national park. We need the Parks and Wildlife Service well funded, so that there are rangers and information for visitors. If the Tarkine is going to be enjoyed by future generations, this needs to happen now."

Chris Arthur, Parks and Reserve Manager of the West Coast in Tasmania agrees that the area currently burning has significant natural value. "Some of this myrtle dominated temperate rainforest could be up to 800 thousand years old."

However Chris Arthur says it is not as devastating as it first appears. "One of the things that people need to realise is that these rainforests are precious, but fire is very much part of the ecology of these forests and it's a basic form of accession."

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