National Parks Fueled Summer Bushfires in the Pilliga

IN January 2013, from the comfort of their lounge rooms, many Australians watched the forests of the Pilliga burn. The word Pilliga wasn’t mentioned in the sensational reportage as such. The stories were primarily about the devastation and drama of Australian bushfires. Mention was made of the town of Coonabarabran and of the Warrumbungles National Park.

The extent of the bushfire that ravaged the region – that also includes Baradine, Coolah and Dunedo – was in part a consequence of the creation of large areas of national park by a government that promised the creation of the National Parks would ensure the permanent conservation of the forests. There was no mention of this false promise in any of the television reportage.

Yet it is such recent history. Indeed in May 2005 then Premier of NSW, Bob Carr, banned logging in many of the Pilliga forests converting them to National Park and claiming this would ensure their “permanent conservation”.

Bob Carr said that these forests were iconic, the inference was that they were natural, and it was clearly stated that their conversion to National Park would ensure conservation. In reality most of the Pilliga forests are less than 160-years-old and were the creation of a timber industry.

When European explorers first saw this country in the 1820s they described much of the region as grassland and open woodlands. Pastoral leases followed and by the early 1870s it was estimated that 25,000 sheep and 30,000 cattle were grazing where forests would later grow. Severe drought resulted in stock deaths and the abandonment of the leases before flooding rains in the early 1880s triggered a massive germination of cypress and Eucalyptus.

Timber communities established. Wood cutters thinned the cypress, carefully managed cool fires to reduce the fuel loads that quickly accumulated on the forests floor, created fire trails and described themselves as the “eyes and ears” of the forest. So, instead of grassland or dense acacia, magnificent Pilliga forest grew.

Armchair environmentalists came to revere the same forests, writing of their incredible biodiversity and about the barking owls.

The timber communities began losing access to the forests that they had created in 1967 when 80,239 hectares became the Pilliga Nature Reserve. In 1986, under a new government-enforced management regime, the annual rate of cypress pine sawlog production was reduced to 53,000 cubic metres. The annual forest growth rate was estimated to be 70,000 cubic metres.

In 1999 there was a new and aggressive push to convert more state forest to national park. A decision was due in 2002 but it was not until May 2005 that the timber industry, until then generating $38.4 million and employing 420 people, was told that it finally had to go.

The Australian public was told that the NSW government had saved these iconic forests.

Not true.

But it is the victor who gets to write the history in his favor, and so the origin of the magnificent Pilliga forests that were so badly burnt this summer, and the timber communities that nurtured them over more than three generations is ignored – to one day be forgotten.


This is a modified version of an article by Jennifer Marohasy first published in The Land newspaper. The image is from a photograph from a bushfire in the Pilliga forest in, probably, the 2006-2007 summer.

41 Responses to National Parks Fueled Summer Bushfires in the Pilliga

  1. John Sayers March 9, 2013 at 1:01 pm #

    Disgraceful Jennifer – when are we going to return to the city folk running the cities and the country folk running the countryside.

    Each to their own.

  2. Robert March 9, 2013 at 6:35 pm #

    Nice article, Jen. Well, we were treated to that word “iconic”. Mercifully, no “pristine”.

    Timber has found a new global use, it would seem. Britain’s coal industry is converting away from the coal which lies near many plants and, at stupendous cost, converting to wood chip – imported, of course, like a Labor politician’s champagne. This will help Britain conform to some EU standard or directive from Brussels. (Is it too late to cancel Belgium?)

    No big deal. You lose a civilisation, sure, but with three or four hundred new coal plants being planned in China alone, someone will be able to manufacture the impotent whirlygigs that line the landscape. And every cool post-civilisaton needs impotent whirlygigs lining its landscape.

  3. Another Ian March 9, 2013 at 8:21 pm #


    Ironically our eldest son has just come home with a book for me

    Eric Rolls “A Million Wild Acres”.

    So I/m no stranger to this.

  4. Peter Sommerville March 9, 2013 at 9:04 pm #

    Good to see you are back Jennifer – and with a vengeance. Isn’t it amazing how a little history places a different slant on things. But the armchair environmentalists in our cities and their fellow travellers in our academic institutions aren’t really interested. They know everything and what is best forums already.

  5. spangled drongo March 9, 2013 at 9:19 pm #

    This country is quite capable of sustaining viable grazing, farming, fishing, timber etc industries without the govt destroying them in the name of sustainable ecology.

    This shutting down of our livelihoods does not help our wildlife [fauna or flora] and these sorts of negative, unintended consequences are happening as a result.

    And as for reducing CO2 emissions….

  6. Fortescue Bullrout March 10, 2013 at 1:18 am #

    I was going to recommend “A million wild acres” but Ian beat me to it. It and Les Murray’s “A Working Forest” are my favorite two books for insight into the evolution of the Australian landscape post white settlement.

  7. spangled drongo March 10, 2013 at 7:44 am #

    Wattsy has a great story on some smart moves with land and climate:

  8. ianl8888 March 10, 2013 at 10:03 am #


    ” … unintended consequences”

    This is a copout phrase (I know you are simply repeating it). It is meant to EVADE responsibility, accountability

    Such consequences may not be meant, but they are predictable with a relatively high degree of accuracy. The irresponsibility of greenies lies in their deliberate avoidance of acknowledging consequential predictions. When deleterious consequences occur, as predicted, the claim is “unintended”, ie. just bad luck … so the cowardly copout

    For example, the UK has exempted wood chip particulate emissions that are exhausted on combustion from the Clean Air Act on the insistence of a zillion greenie groups because wood is a “renewabubble”. Clean air emissions have predictably been exceeded during the very cold NH winters, so the greenies are now suing the UK Govt for allowing this to happen. Words fail one, of course

  9. spangled drongo March 10, 2013 at 1:59 pm #

    Yes Ian, those consequences would have to be anticipated and forseen, if not actively “intended”, by any reasonable person.

    They would be better described as “denial of consequences”.

  10. Another Ian March 10, 2013 at 6:54 pm #

    Comment from: spangled drongo March 10th, 2013 at 7:44 am



    Maybe more research required on past performance.

  11. spangled drongo March 10, 2013 at 7:30 pm #

    Another Ian, I think this philosophy would only apply in fragile ecosystems such as parts of Australia where there were no fences and stock were free range otherwise they would have to be closely managed in frequent paddock transfers. It is also governed by distance to permanent water in open range areas.

    But fire management is how it must be done these days in the absence of grazers and that isn’t really the answer.

    Maybe it is more people, more livestock and more active management.

  12. John Sayers March 10, 2013 at 9:28 pm #

    What Savory is proposing is Cell Grazing. Instead of one big 1000 acre paddock you have 10 x 100 acre paddocks. If you move the grazing animals every week it’s 2 1/2 months before they return to the first paddock which gives the plant life a chance to regenerate. A farmer in Yass is following up the cattle with free range hens and is selling genuine free range eggs to the local district as far as Wagga Wagga.

    I know Janet Holmes a’Court is cell grazing on her huge property on the Barkley Tablelands – it was an expensive setup as not only fencing is expensive but piping the water adds to it yet they believe it was worth it. They discovered a new set of plants had arisen and their pasture is now not a monoculture but a varied array of differing plants. As Peter Andrew says a good horse paddock should have 85 different plant species.

    Here’s the 2008 NSW Farmer of the Year talking about his cell grazing.

  13. Neville March 11, 2013 at 5:37 am #

    Good post Jennifer. Here’s another excellent post from Lawrence Solomon.

  14. cohenite March 11, 2013 at 8:43 am #

    Leon Ashby has been doing cell grazing and other regenerative techniques for many years:

    Leon is a prominent member of The Climate Sceptics.

  15. spangled drongo March 11, 2013 at 11:28 am #

    Yes cohers, I had forgotten about Leon. What a great battler! When you watch Leon Ashby’s work you realise he is ahead of Savory on this.

    What he points out so clearly is that the greens are their own, as well as our, worst enemies when it comes to achieving these real, SUSTAINABLE improvements.

    True “denial of consequences” in progress. This is part 2 of your video:

  16. Max March 11, 2013 at 11:31 am #

    Gwydir Shire fought the dedication, loss of jobs, etc and lost. The final decision was delayed until after the State Election held around that time but, I suspect, the Greens already knew what the outcome was going to be well before the directly impacted communities were told.

  17. Mark A March 11, 2013 at 12:05 pm #


    What he points out so clearly is that the greens are their own, as well as our, worst enemies when it comes to achieving these real, SUSTAINABLE improvements.

    SD improvements of any kind be it societal, agricultural or whatever can
    only come from proving it in real life ie. in practice.

    Nothing wrong with ideas, theories, hypotheses but put them to a test first.

    Similarly to the climate change crowd, the greens don’t want to do that, it may prove them wrong,
    so just implement the ideas and we worry about the outcome after, is the way they like to operate.

    In contrast you see doers like Leon Ashby and others who quietly go about doing and achieving,
    not seem to be doing.

    I saw a documentary on his work once can’t find the link now but it’s worth watching if you can find it.

  18. Ralph Bennett March 11, 2013 at 6:09 pm #

    Hi Jennifer,

    Sadly, the Pilliga I’ve heard is going to be wiped-out by Whitehaven Coal .

    No more bushfires .

    Tell me (hopefully), that I am wrong.

    If not, it is another disgraceful act of vandalsim, to pay for the infrastucture costs of population growth.

    Time to stabilse our plague species, both here and elsewhere.



  19. John Sayers March 11, 2013 at 9:23 pm #

    Ralph – the O’Farrell government inherited all these Coal Seam Gas, and Coal Mining licenses from the previous Labor Government. (See ICAC.)

    Their legal advisers have told them they could be up for some serious compensation payouts if they cancel the licenses.

    So they have changed the rules as best they can so far. This only applies to CSG but I’m sure they are working on coal as well as Barry O’Farrell has indicated in the strongest terms he’s as concerned as you and I are.

    “Following on from the working group’s review, the NSW Government has announced:

    an immediate ban on the use of BTEX chemicals (benzene, ethyl benzene, toluene and xylene) as additives during fracking

    a regulation that requires any person or company proposing to extract more than three megalitres of water per year from groundwater sources to hold a water access licence

    an Aquifer Interference Policy to provide a framework to assist regulatory authorities to assess applications for water access licences – the policy contains guidance for managing the risks to groundwater sources, connected water sources, groundwater dependent ecosystems and the current uses of these sources and ecosystems

    a ban on the use of evaporation ponds relating to CSG production.”

    It sorta puts a spanner in the works as they say.

  20. Ninderthana March 12, 2013 at 1:21 am #

    Welcome back to the blogosphere. It is good to see a vibrant and independent voice back oon line.

  21. Neville March 12, 2013 at 7:37 am #

    Dr Don Easterbrook has started to pull apart the new Marcott et al hockey stick study.

    Judith Curry has allowed another blogger to question much about the study as well. Most importantly Steve Mc Intyre has commented at both blogs and will give his opinion soon.
    I can’t wait.

    Btw there are good graphs of recent Greenland temps in the above article that show the current warming below earlier 20th century temps.

  22. Neville March 12, 2013 at 8:35 am #

    I hope Steve doesn’t take too long , this new HS is getting smashed all over the net.

    This ones from Hank.

  23. cohenite March 12, 2013 at 10:44 am #

    Marcott is the tip of a deep dark ice-berg of fudging by AGW spruikers; for example the Climate Commission:

  24. Neville March 12, 2013 at 2:35 pm #

    Thanks for that link Cohers.
    An interesting new study shows that the Arctic was 3.8c warmer than today some 3800 years BP and 1c to 2c warmer 2500 to 1100 years BP.

    This study was carried out in the Kamchatka area of east Siberia. These earlier higher temps occuring NATURALLY with a tiny human population and no SUVs, planes, factories, CF power stations, concrete, bitumen etc. Amazing.

  25. Larry Fields March 12, 2013 at 5:04 pm #

    Hi Jennifer,
    Welcome back to the Blogosphere! I hope that you caught lots of fish. I also hope that you’re continuing to “knock ’em dead” with your Qld seasonal forecasts.

    On a related topic note, here’s my latest article at Hubpages. It’s probably old hat to you. But a few Americans are still caught up in the mythology of Smokey Bear.

    What to do about Forest Fires in the USA?

    Summary: We now know that forest fires play a vital ecological role. It’s not desirable or possible to prevent all forest fires. But how much is too much?


  26. John Sayers March 13, 2013 at 12:45 am #

    an interesting post over at Mike Smith news placed in his post about the antarctic sea ice extent.

    “Before I make any statements,,, I have worked in Antarctica 4 times. Wintering over twice. Working with glaciologists (5.5 months spent inland on glaciological traverses) and with marine biologists (2.5 months marine science in the Southern Ocean).
    The icecap is not melting, if anything it is actually growing. Don’s news is of no surprise to me.
    As for sea levels rising. According to the buoys we picked up (and deployed new ones) the sea level of the Southern Ocean has not changed more than 3mm in the last 30 years.”

  27. Neville March 13, 2013 at 7:52 am #

    Interesting list of many of the worst hurricanes to hit the New York area and from a gov site.

    Sandy of course wasn’t a hurricane on land fall, but a whopping big storm just the same.

  28. Mark A March 13, 2013 at 1:05 pm #

    Good post on the possible slight cooling trend at Jo Nova’s site

  29. Neville March 13, 2013 at 2:01 pm #

    Just further proof of the type of numbskull the clueless Gillard govt calls on for advice.

    Fancy asking this idiot for advice on reducing emissions when he doesn’t even understand simple sums.
    What are these hopeless dummies paid for I wonder?

  30. Neville March 13, 2013 at 3:08 pm #

    Good article from Quadrant about our so called hot angry summer. Very good graphs as well.

  31. Debbie March 13, 2013 at 3:41 pm #

    Great post Jen,
    I hate seeing perfectly good resources just go up in smoke or get flushed down the river etc simply because of impractical and questionable ideological bureaucratic rules that result in POOR MANAGEMENT PRACTICES!
    Mark A also makes a sterling point about ‘testing’ before wholesale implementation.
    Hats off to John Sayers re his first comment about city folk and country folk.
    Whatever happened to sensible and achievable risk management?
    It’s heartbreaking to see the damage caused by not sensibly managing bushfire risks.
    It’s also hearbreaking that any attempts to conduct an inquiry usually results in a finding that says ‘no rules were broken’.
    How silly!

  32. John Sayers March 13, 2013 at 11:23 pm #


    Those people at the online forum are driving me crazy – why do I bother, why do you bother Cohers? They are worse than the Deltoids.

  33. Neville March 14, 2013 at 7:18 am #

    Climategate 3 could begin very soon. Only one password away.

  34. Neville March 14, 2013 at 7:42 am #

    Easterbrook shoots more holes in the Marcott study. Very good holocene graphs and ice age plus the Greenland 1950 to 2004 period.

  35. el gordo March 14, 2013 at 9:21 am #

    It now seems a foregone conclusion that Abbott will be PM after September, but what if he fails to win both houses?

    Plan B: Bob Carter is made the Climate Commissioner after Flummery is sacked. Bob, in his own quiet way, will explain to the electorate that it hasn’t warmed and ….

    Should we be organising a petition to bring this about? Maybe a suggestion to the Bolter?

    We can change the world.

  36. ianl8888 March 14, 2013 at 1:04 pm #


    ” … but what if he fails to win both houses?”

    Well, he won’t control the Senate, the numbers are impossible for the LNP

    So a Double Dissolution + Joint Sitting will be needed. The absolute numbers from both Houses then matter – ie. is LNP MHR+Senate number > ALP+Green MHR+Senate number or not ?

    Simple, brutal arithmetic. September 14 won’t decide that, only the results of a Double Dissolution can

  37. el gordo March 14, 2013 at 4:02 pm #

    Maybe that’s a good thing Ian, because it would force Abbott to be revolutionary and all the world could see.

    The key is getting someone like Bob Carter as Climate Commissioner, so that he can allay fears and basically tell the scientific truth.

    Abbott needs to dismantle the Klimatariat, scuttle the tax and the monstrous green machine built around it. No easy task but once the electorate realises the whole things been a fraud…. LOL.

  38. cohenite March 14, 2013 at 7:21 pm #

    John Sayers; a lot of pollies read/lurk at OLO; I want to make sure the crap is put in its place; as well people like Bugsy and Agronomist are ‘insiders’, possibly CSIRO or BOM, and can, inadvertently, put out some useful info.

    The rest are ratbags and boofheads and can be fun to play with; what else can you do?

  39. Binny March 17, 2013 at 8:35 am #

    Hmm … It would seem that, with human influence removed. Nature is trying to revert that area back to its ‘natural’ state … Open grass land.

  40. Polyaulax March 22, 2013 at 9:30 pm #

    The area burnt this year was the Warrumbungle National Park. The Pilliga Forest was barely touched.

    When was your article originally published in ‘The Land’, Jen?


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