Damn It’s Cold!

While we await global warming to arrive, winter has once again hit us with a vengeance, with the mercury failing to get above 10C once again all day. Now when we moved to the country, we understood that there were some things that we were giving up that are readily available to city dwellers and it was a price well worth paying. We haven’t actually given up all that much, but gained a hell of a lot more in return (that could be a post for another day). But winter heating is one area where our options are far less favourable.

A light dusting of snow - High Country Victoria

A light dusting of snow – High Country Victoria

With a fervent race to ensure that Australia will single-handedly change the world’s climate, heating (and cooling for that matter) are now almost luxury items for many. When you live in the colder regions of Australia, electricity is now a very costly way of heating and, with no natural gas, bottled gas comes in a very close second. So naturally, most residents use wood heating as the most efficient (some may argue it’s not the most efficient) and cost-effective (it most certainly is) method of heating for country folk. It’s also very pleasant and ensures that your home stays dry and mould free during winter, as you can have the fire burning slowly all day.

Next best thing to a campfire

Next best thing to a campfire

Now wood heating has it’s own issues and costs but, overall, it’s a cheaper option for most people. You have two methods for acquiring wood for winter, the first is buying it and the second is collecting it yourself. The first method is fine but it too can become costly, as redgum (the preferred wood) is becoming harder to get and licences apparently are being taken away from authorised timber collectors and wholesalers in the New South Wales timber forests. The second method is a lot cheaper, but requires appropriate equipment and locations for collecting.

Sometimes the gods smile and the council fells a tree in front of your house

Sometimes the gods smile and the council fells a tree in front of your house

Which brings me to the nub of this post. Every year, the Department of Environment and Primary Industry (DEPI), as it’s called today (I’ve lost count of the name changes), allocates areas of state forest that are accessible twice a year for wood collecting. For some odd reason, the maps provided are the most difficult to read, all of the areas just happen to be in the most inaccessible places (usually requiring a 4WD) and are closed off in winter when you need wood the most. The same areas are also recycled every year, so that the amount of wood available in these areas simply disappears and what you thought would be enough for the winter is far from adequate.

A miniscule winter wood pile

A miniscule winter wood pile

For those who are not aware, it is illegal to cut down any standing tree, even if it is utterly dead and in no way a habitat for any creature. It doesn’t matter if you’re a farmer and the tree is on your land, until nature topples the tree, it is completely sacred. Now this policy defies normal sensibilities, as trees are the ultimate renewable resource.

Bushfire aftermath, some struggling for life, but mostly dead - Gippsland Victoria

Bushfire aftermath, some struggling for life, but mostly dead – Gippsland Victoria

But back to DEPI and their inscrutable methods for allocating access to public resources. The cynical person would come to the conclusion that firewood collection areas were intentionally designed to be the most difficult to identify, the most difficult to access, to contain the poorest wood possible and be the smallest possible collection areas, in order to discourage wood collection in its entirety. Rather than being helpful and providing an essential service to the community, DEPI appears to strive to make life as difficult as possible for everyone and do little to provide a community service to country residents. The High Country, for example, has millions of dead trees following bushfires since 2003, yet no one is permitted to collect any of this wood whatsoever.

2003 bushfire aftermath - High Country Victoria

2003 bushfire aftermath – High Country Victoria

Wood collection is a healthy, environmentally sound and sensible way of providing warmth to country homes in the depths of winter. Why must it be made so difficult?

Hard work and healthy country living go hand in hand

Hard work and healthy country living go hand in hand

This week it’s been bitterly cold every morning with temperatures hovering around zero.

Keep that fire burning: The back yard, 8:30 am, fog rolling in and 1.4C - South Gippsland Victoria

Keep that fire burning: The back yard, 8:30 am, fog rolling in and 1.4C – South Gippsland Victoria

I’ve formally raised this issue with our local minister, but knowing how the beaurocracy works, I don’t hold much hope in even small wins as far as this issue is concerned.

Update. The local member (Danny O’Brien MLC) finally responded to my concerns, after having raised the issue with the Minister for Environment and Climate Change (The Hon Ryan Smith MP) and subsequently receiving his response. The Minister’s reply to my concerns was enclosed with the local member’s letter and clearly the Minister’s aids are well versed in cut and pasting words from the DEPI web site; stating the bleeding obvious is an understatement. The requisite buck passing (talk to the DEPI District Manager), was also invoked, so no reading between the lines was required. I’m sure that the DEPI District Manager operates only within the policy guidelines set by the Minister for Environment and Climate Change’s department, so guess where any queries would be referred?