EARTH FIRST: Enjoy your fire with a clear conscience

PROTECTION: Bush stone-curlews, whose habitat is threatened by firewood removal.FINALLY we are getting much-needed rain, but with it cold, miserable weather.

I envy those of us who have the luxury of cosying up to a warm, cheerful wood fire. Unfortunately, there is a downside to the enjoyment of this luxury. If we do not take care about how we source our firewood, we could be unwittingly causing problems for the environment.

Environmental problems associated with the collection of firewood have been officially acknowledged as a key threatening process under the Threatened Species Conservation Act 1995.

Removal of dead wood and dead trees through collecting fallen timber for firewood has been determined by the NSW Scientific Committee as being a major contributor to environmental degradation.

The removal of dead wood and dead trees is a key threatening process as it represents a threat to biodiversity. Dead wood and dead trees are essential habitat for a wide variety of native fauna .

They are also vital components of many ecosystems. If dead wood is removed from the natural environment it can have consequences for loss of habitat, disruption of ecosystem processes and increased soil erosion.

Dead wood and dead trees often contain hollows used by native Australian birds and animals for nesting and shelter.

Australia has approximately 290 species of birds, mammals, frogs and reptiles that use tree hollows for shelter and breeding. Hollows available for this purpose can take up to 100 years to form, so removal of old growth dead timber can contribute to an already existing shortage.

Fallen timber also provides camouflage, protecting ground-dwelling species such as endangered bush curlews from predators.

Dead wood is essential for maintaining forest and woodland ecosystems. Along with the living under storey, leaf litter and soil components, it is vital for maintaining ecological processes. A diverse range of specialised insects, other invertebrates and fungi species depend on dead wood for their survival.

The removal of dead wood from the ground can expose the soil to wind and water, which can lead to an increase in soil erosion and sedimentation.

To avoid environmental damage when sourcing firewood it is necessary to make sure that we don’t use firewood that has been obtained contrary to any regulations that control forest management.

We need to be sure that any wood we obtain will not be collected from any threatened species habitat or ecosystem. We also need to be reassured that any wood harvested does not affect soil erosion or sedimentation of watercourses.

It is preferable that firewood is sourced from plantations and sustainably managed native forests, leaving dead timber and ancient hollows to provide habitat for native wildlife.

Have a chat to your wood supplier about sustainable firewood sourcing. Reputable suppliers will be aware of these concerns and will be sourcing their wood supplies in a sustainable manner. If yours does, you can enjoy your fire with a clear conscience.

Sources: Australian Government Voluntary Code of Practice for Firewood Merchants, NSW Office of Environment and Heritage

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