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Hollow firewood

By Graham Parton

In the winter months who doesn’t like a nice warm fire to warm the house up. Unfortunately, this may be something we should be giving up if we want to preserve native species such as koalas and gliders.

The main driver for species extinctions in Australia is not climate change, or cats, or shooters, it’s habitat loss. About 44% of Australia’s forests and woodland has been cleared since European “settlement” and there is no sign of us slowing down. In 2017 Australia was in the top 10 land clearing nations of the world, the other nine all being developing countries.

Bush Heritage Australia has noted that about 90% of native vegetation in the eastern temperate and south-western temperate zones has been removed for agriculture, industry, transport and human habitation. About 50% of Australia’s rainforests have been cleared and the proportion of Australia covered by forest or woodland has been reduced by more than a third.

Around our own area, old growth trees are now being chopped down for firewood. The distinctive feature of old growth trees is hollow logs, and to my dismay I found many in my latest firewood delivery.

It takes anything from 150 – 300 years for trees to develop hollows that are useful to mammals, birds, insects and reptiles. Trees that were saplings while James Cook was sailing down the east coast, are now providing domestic heating for a few hours before disappearing up in smoke. Millions of animals have lost their shelter and ultimately their lives due to this loss of habitat. Replacing an old tree with a new one works to a point, but it will be more than a century before the new one is any use.

Some of the logs I received had hollows large enough for a squirrel glider to live in, and it’s fairly certain that a few weeks or months ago a family of gliders probably did live there. If they survived the chopping down of their home, they may well have died in the winter frosts.

The solutions are simple. If you don’t have a wood burner, don’t get one. If you have one, use it less – perhaps save it for special occasions. When you do use it, make sure your firewood supplier is not using old growth forest wood.

Photos: Hollows evident in purchased firewood