Victoria has seen four megafires since 1939. Three were in the past 20 years

Victoria has seen a rise in bushfires, megafires and areas being burnt, a new study has found, prompting calls for a rethink of the state’s approach to logging and hazard-reduction burns.

Key points:

  • The researchers found Victoria has experienced four megafires since 1939, three of them in the past 20 years
  • Researcher Chris Taylor said the analysis showed areas were being burnt again before they could recover
  • The study raised concerns about the impact of logging on areas of unburnt forest in Victoria

Researchers at the Australian National University mapped bushfires that have occurred in Victoria in the past 25 years.

They found the state had experienced three megafires since 2000, but before that, Victoria had suffered just one megafire — in 1939.

A megafire is defined as a fire that burnt 1 million hectares or more.

The report also showed a number of regions in the state had suffered from two or three bushfires in the past quarter-century.

Researcher Chris Taylor from the university’s College of Science said parts of Victoria’s Alpine region had experienced multiple burns.

“If you have a fire coming back every seven or 15 years let’s say, that will be burning the forest before the forest is actually old enough to produce seeds, so the forest will not be able to regenerate after the fire and that is quite concerning for us,” Dr Taylor said.

He said the total area burnt in parts of the alpine region was also concerning.

“In the snow gum woodland area around the alpine area, we found in the past 20 years, 91 per cent of snow gum vegetation has been burnt,” he said.

Dr Taylor said his study needed to be considered by policy-makers dealing with hazard-reduction burns — where land is burnt in a controlled way by fire authorities, to manage forest fuel loads and reduce the risk of bushfires.

He said the study’s results had also raised concerns about logging in Victoria.

“We are concerned about the amount of logging that is occurring in those unburnt areas because these unburnt areas are shrinking,” he said.

Mountain Ash trees in a forest at Toolangi, photographed from the ground.

This Mountain Ash forest near Toolangi was unburnt in the 2009 bushfires, but is now scheduled for logging. (Supplied: Chris Taylor)

“The logging is actually occurring in a greatly disturbed landscape so we have to seriously rethink how we interact with these ecosystems.”

The study’s co-author, Professor David Lindenmayer, has previously spoken out against the logging of Victorian native forests affected by this summer’s devastating bushfires.

The Victorian Government last year announced it would phase out native timber logging over the next decade, with the volume of native timber available for logging reduced from 2024-25.

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