Forests Department (Western Australia)

The Forests Department was a department of the Government of Western Australia created in 1919 under Conservator of Forests Charles Lane Poole, that was responsible for implementing the State's Forests Act (1918-1976) legislation and regulations.

Forests Department (Western Australia)
Logo on Western Australian Forests Department's vehicles.
Agency overview
Formed1 January 1919
Preceding agencies
Dissolved21 March 1985
JurisdictionGovernment of Western Australia
Agency executives
Child agency

The Forests Department was incorporated all together with National Parks Authority and the Department of Fisheries and Wildlife on 21 March 1985 forming[1] the Department of Conservation and Land Management.

Status (at dissolution - 21 March 1985)[2]

Forest policies covered by the Forests Department involved the following management objectives:

  • Protect, control and rehabilitate forest areas that contribute to water supply requirements of the State,
  • Native forests sustainable timber production:
    • Regeneration in 1984-85, karri 2 184 ha, wandoo 177 ha, tuart 70 ha (the jarrah forest regenerates naturally from lignotuberous seedlings present on the forest floor following logging),
    • Saw logs hardwood production in Crown Lands (1984–85): 564 688 m3,
    • Other logs hardwood production in Crown Lands (1984–85): 258 121 m3.
  • Ensure sufficient supplies of softwood to guarantee Western Australia’s long-term self-sufficiency:
    • Area planted in 1984 with Pinus radiata: 1 996 ha, total area 31 431 ha,
    • Area planted in 1984 with Pinus pinaster and other species: 538 ha, total area 27 658 ha,
    • Saw logs softwood production in Crown Lands (1984–85): 39 550 m3,
    • Other logs softwood production in Crown Lands (1984–85): 116 857 m3.
  • Supply of minor forest produce as honey, sandalwood, wildflower seeds,
  • Extend access and provide additional recreational facilities for people,
  • Conserve the habitats of the many species of flora and fauna,
  • Set aside specific areas for education, reference and scientific study,
  • Rehabilitate areas upon which the original vegetation has been destroyed by mining operations: reforestation in 1984-85 376 ha,
  • Maintain reserved forest and protect forest from fire, insects and other pathogens:
    • Area of prescribed burning in 1984-85: 270 000 ha,
    • Wildfire outbreaks in 1984-85: number 183, area burnt 3 889 ha were attended by forestry crews in or near State Forest,
    • Reforestation of disease-killed forest in 1984-85: 2 590 ha.
  • Encourage private forestry.

The Department had also several tree nurseries to help with these objectives in Hamel, Manjimup, Narrogin, Broome and Karratha for a total seedling production of 7 307 000 in 1985.

The Forests Department had management responsibilities in:[2]

  • 1 897 925 ha of State Forest,
  • 119 116 ha of Timber Reserves,
  • 25 460 ha of freehold land held in the name of the Conservator of Forests and
  • 1 395 ha of land purchased for pine planting.

Some of the most severe West Australian wildfires, in chronological order, that the Department had to suppress:

FireLocationArea burned
(1 ha ≈ 2.5 acres)
DateHuman fatalitiesLivestock death/Properties damaged
1958 Easter block (Nannup) wildfire[3]Western AustraliaUnknown2 January 19584 FD firefighters (1 gang) working on foot.
1961 Western Australian wildfires[4]Western Australia1,800,000 haJanuary – March 19610160 homes, town of Dwellingup destroyed.
1963 Shannon River prescribed burning (Manjimup)[5]Western AustraliaUnknown8 January 19632 FD crews igniting
1978 Western Australian wildfiresWestern Australia114,000 ha4 April 197826 buildings (drop in wind in early evening is said to have saved the towns of Donnybrook, Boyup Brook, Manjimup, and Bridgetown.)

Preceding agencies

Earlier forms of forest management in Western Australia were under:[6]

Equipment

Around 1968, The Forests Department then was in full control of its destiny as mentioned[7] by a former forester and General Manager of Department of Conservation and Land Management: "We were more akin to an old Army regiment, with our regimental headquarters in Perth and our divisional centres in the field, our long traditions and powerful culture. Back then, the Forests Department was largely independent of Treasury (our revenue came from royalties from timber cut on State Forest), we recruited and trained our own field staff, had our own gangs of forest workmen, purchased and maintained our own vehicles, fabricated our own fire equipment, made our own maps, had our own private telephone system which spanned the entire South West, and even had our own settlements, complete with streets of houses and blocks of single men's hut."

The Department maintained and coordinated a range of specialist equipment and emergency response vehicles. This included pumpers and tankers and other equipment relating to operations involving fire spotting and firefighting.

In 1984-85, the Forests Department’s fleet of 9 Piper Super Cub aircraft was flown for approximately 5 600 hours to provide aerial surveillance of the State Forest and nearby Crown Lands and private properties.

Four lookout towers were used to maintain a continuous watch on important pine plantations, whilst another 20 towers were maintained as a back-up to spotter aircraft.

Notes

  1. Proclamation on 21 March 1985 of the Conservation and Land Management Act No. 126 of 1984.
  2. Forests Department. Western Australia: Annual report, 1 July 1984 to 21 March 1985.
  3. McCaw, L. (2013) Bushfire behaviour during entrapment and burnovers, Workshop on bushfire Personal Protective Equipment and Vehicle Protection Systems, WA Department of Environment and Conservation, March 2013.
  4. Matthews, H. (2011): Karridale Bush Fires 1961, Karridale Progress Association Inc. ISBN 978-0-9871467-0-0
  5. McCaw, L. (2013) Bushfire behaviour during entrapment and burnovers, Workshop on bushfire Personal Protective Equipment and Vehicle Protection Systems, WA Department of Environment and Conservation, March 2013.
  6. Information from the Aeon database at State Records Office of Western Australia.
  7. Underwood, Roger (2006): Old growth foresters: the lives and times of West Australian foresters: a personal account, ISBN 0 646 45878 7
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