Tasmanians are acutely aware of the damage that bushfires can cause. This season has kicked off early, with the East Coast suffering its first major fire in just September. For farmers, the risk is huge, with not just homes but livelihoods on the line. Stock, pasture, fences and crops may all be destroyed causing devastation to infrastructure and revenue, well into the future.
Unfortunately, the global fire risk is only increasing. A study led by Dr Paul Fox Hughes at the Hobart-based Antarctic Climate and Ecosystems Cooperative Research Centre has projected a steady increase in both the length and severity of the fire season in Tasmania’s future – ‘Very High Fire Danger’ days are expected to increase by 120% and ‘Total Fire Ban’ days by 75% by the end of the century. The scientific consensus is that climate change is making bushfires more likely, to last longer and be more intense. (IPCC 2014).
While the benefits of agroforestry are many, fire risk alone can sometimes be enough of a deterrent for farmers looking to diversify their assets. Alex Tabor, ActivAcre’s Land Assessment Manager says: “The bushfire risk is increasing and the severity of the events is increasing. The wet-dry cycle caused by climate change is escalating the bushfire threat in Tasmania”
We manage the plantation and take on the bushfire risk, this is all-inclusive in the ActivAcre offer. Eliminating fire risk allows farms to benefit from the advantages of managed forestry plantations.
These positive impacts include enhanced soil profile, reduction of salinity and water-logging, as well as protection from wind and water erosion. Trees can help reduce erosion by slowing wind and water flows, providing protection, holding soil together and increasing filtration.
Trees also reduce wind velocities across farmland and provide shelter and shade for livestock. By partnering with future-focused land management company ActivAcre, farmers can have all the advantages of trees on their farms without being liable for the risk associated with bushfires.
A cornerstone of the lease agreement with ActivAcre is that if the plantation is lost to fire, ActivAcre will replant at its own cost while continuing to pay the lease fees. Defending the plantation is always preferable to replanting. Fire mitigation and defence begin well before the first seedling is planted
“We have planned the layouts of the plantation infrastructure to be defendable. We ensure effective fire breaks of the correct size and quality are in the right locations” explains ActivAcre’s land assessment manager Alex Tabor.
We have fire breaks that can take class 2 tankers. We have helipads if necessary. We ensure the weeds are under control, and all the tracks are open and ready to go.
“We always know our properties well. We know where gates are, and we know where water is. We come prepared. As well as good plantation management, we have deployable appliances ready to protect the asset,” says Alex.
“We are also involved with fire management at a regional level, so we monitor the weather and get fire notifications. By the time the farmer knows there is a threat the team is probably already on our way to assist!”
Carbon forestry projects add another layer of concern. If the plantation is a carbon project where carbon has been monetised, the farmer may be required to pay back the fund for the unrealised carbon sequestration if the plantation is destroyed. A plantation owner may have insurance to cover the loss of the timber value, however, the financial loss of the carbon credits is often uninsurable.
Alex explains “If a catastrophic event occurs that destroys a private carbon project landowners will likely be liable for the carbon lost in the fire. They may have to pay the carbon credits back at a significant cost. Alternatively, they may lose carbon credits acquired by subsequent plantations.
With an ActivAcre plantation, we take all the liability for loss of carbon credits. We also continue to pay the lease rate.
Australia needs farmers to plant more trees to rebuild and grow depleted timber resources. In the unprecedented bushfires on mainland Australia in the summer of 2019/2020, 8.3 million hectares of native forest and 130,000 hectares of plantation were burnt. This, combined with the closing of the Victorian and Western Australian native forest industries has exacerbated Australia’s already significant timber shortages. The only place for new resources to be planted for ongoing supply is on private land.
“The nitens in the existing plantations are leaping out of the ground, they look magnificent. The trees we are planting now are being grown for long-term products, ideally large-diameter pulp or sawn timber. There are export ports close by at Burnie and Bell Bay and the property is in close proximity to sawmills in the north of the state, which makes Keeton’s property ideal for plantations.”
ActivAcre aims to derisk tree planting for farmers by reducing the chance of the asset burning through forest health management, by providing infrastructure in the event of a fire and by carrying the carbon and fire risk.
SFM is the Tasmanian-owned plantation and natural assets management company that manages the ActivAcre program. Andrew Morgan Managing Director of SFM says “With climate change and the growing future demand for timber in Australia, we need programs like ActivAcre that are flexible in nature and strive to partner with landowners and the community – the right tree in the right place for the right reasons.”.
Farmers who partner with ActivAcre to get more trees into the ground will benefit from trading in carbon and growing a valuable asset, without the worry of fire threat or the financial implications of lost trees, and lost carbon – all while continuing to receive ongoing lease fees.
Access to Carbon Forestry Projects for southern Tasmanian landowners
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ActivAcre Program heralds a new era in Tasmanian agroforestry