State Forests fire expert to study in US

30 Mar 2004

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Tony Scherl

Tony Scherl

State Forests of NSW fire branch will lose its southern fire services officer Tony Scherl in April, but only for a year.

Mr Scherl, who was based in Coffs Harbour before moving recently to Queanbeyan, has been awarded the Gottstein fellowship, which allows an Australian timber industry employee to study in the United States for 12 months.

He will be based in Portland, Oregon, at the World Forest Institute, also known as the World Forestry Centre, where he will study the new United States Healthy Forests policy.

“I will be doing some fire-related work on the ecological effects of fire exclusion on fire adapted ecosystems,” Mr Scherl said.

“The US has discovered that its famous ‘Smokey Bear’ approach to fire exclusion has resulted in forests that are carrying heavy fuel loads and becoming dangerous to manage.

“They are looking at a new program to bring their forests back to what they might have been 100 years ago. They might be using more prescribed burning methods, which is what Australian and particularly State Forests of NSW fire managers are focussed on.

“What is obvious from the experience of other countries, with fire-adapted ecosystems like Australia, is that the trend towards a deliberate policy of fire exclusion in these ecosystems eventually leads to more higher-intensity wildfires at greater frequencies.

“In September 2002 the Bush Administration announced a package of measures under the ‘Healthy Forests’ initiative, designed to allow for the re-introduction of prescribed burning and other fuel management techniques, including non-commercial thinning, into US Federal Forests.

“This was an important step in recognising that exclusion of fire in the US federal forest context had created continuing problems and active steps were necessary to alleviate the situation.

“Australia has an opportunity to gain from the experience of other countries in avoiding these problems and potentially drastic and costly solutions.”

Mr Scherl, now 34, has been in fire branch for about three and half years, mostly based out of Coffs Harbour where he was northern fire services officer. He has been involved in firefighter training activities across the state.

He went to the United States last year with a group of Australian firefighters called on to assist in fighting wildfires in the Rocky Mountains.

The Joseph William Gottstein Memorial Trust Fund was established in 1971 as a national education trust for the benefit of Australia's forest products industries. The fund gives opportunities for selected people to acquire knowledge which will promote the interests of Australian industries which use forest products.

Bill Gottstein was an outstanding forest products research scientist working with the Division of Forest Products of the Commonwealth Scientific Industrial Research Organisation when he was killed in 1971 photographing a tree-felling operation in New Guinea.

Mr Scherl follows another State Forests forester, Phil Lacy, of Coffs Harbour, who has been in Portland for the past year studying silviculture.

Media contact: Tony Scherl on 0428 620814.