A “hot topic” has come to a head after a Tasmanian academic study was retracted last week, fanning the flames of a long-standing forestry debate.
The UTAS study linked Tasmanian logging practices with an increased risk of bushfires, prompting a fierce round of political back-and-forth.
But contributing author and researcher Dr Jennifer Sanger says the retraction has had a “negligible” effect on the science, and was the fault of incorrect public information provided by the state government.
“We had to withdraw our paper because what we called plantation wasn’t plantation,” she said, referring to classifications the researchers had gathered from the government’s public resource, LISTmap.
“What we hope to do is get access to forestry maps and take some time to expand the study and do broader testing … and then we’ll republish,” she said.
Resources Minister Guy Barnett said on Sunday the retraction was “embarrassing” for the Greens, and questioned whether the party would now support the state’s “scientifically backed sustainable forest management practices”.
“The contemporary scientific consensus indicates that native forest harvesting does not exacerbate bushfires,” he said.
His comments followed a similar speech by Labor MHA for Braddon Shane Broad.
However, Dr Sanger said the retraction did not affect the prevailing findings of multiple other scientists across Australia and overseas.
“It’s not like our study is the only study out there,” she said.
“For us it’s the issue with the forestry maps that is particularly frustrating. There is this resource there that is not available to academics because for whatever reason the government wants to keep it private.
She said Mr Barnett’s statements in the meantime were “concerning” and “misleading”.
“That’s completely incorrect,” she said.
“There’s actually no evidence out there that logging forests helps fight fires… It’s a bit frustrating to see people claim that it’s the consensus in science when it’s not.”
CALLS TO RELEASE FORESTRY DATA
Environmental campaigner Bob Brown said a lack of information on Sustainable Timbers Tasmania’s forestry activities was at the heart of the issue, and called for the government to release the data to the public.
“It is a public institution running public forests. None of its data should be kept behind closed doors,” he said.
“After-the-event fault has been alleged with the University of Tasmania study but it is coming from pro-logging researchers using data which was not there for the university researchers.”
Greens leader Cassy O’Connor backed Dr Brown’s calls for STT to release the data.
“The Greens have no doubt that if the UTAS researchers have the correct data, the findings of national and international studies on logging and bushfire risk will be replicated in Tasmania,” she said.
“This is vital research. It should be strongly supported by Government and the Opposition, not attacked and undermined. This is a matter of life and death.”