Public conversation about the recent announcement of an end to logging of old growth forests in Victoria has so far focused on the implications for East Gippsland, where large areas of ‘Modeled Old Growth (MOG)’ is expected to be protected, and the Central Highlands, where there will be very little protection. Given this announcement covers forests right across the east of the state, what does it mean for the High Country?

The short answer, at this stage, is ‘we don’t really know’. While the government map that has been circulated shows considerable areas of MOG throughout the foothills and valleys of the High Country, and even what looks like older Snow Gum Woodlands, we are yet to get the details on what the protection of these areas will look like.

Friends of Mt Stirling have identified areas that should be protected around that mountain. They say:

‘Although the Mount Stirling Alpine Resort is not directly affected by the decision to cease native forest logging, the mountain is surrounded to the north, east and west by State Forest which contains many areas which have been designated as VicForests logging coupes at some time since 2017. The coupes are shown as yellow polygons on the map.

Whilst we await details, cancellation of these logging coupes will certainly be beneficial to the biodiversity of sub-alpine forests and watercourses in the region.

Mt Stirling loggingMap legend

  • Yellow polygons = VicForests logging coupes, defined at any time since 2017
  • White polygon = Mount Stirling Alpine Resort
  • Orange polygon = Mount Buller Alpine ResortGreen polygon = State Forest component of Stirling Alpine Link
  • White polygon + Green polygon = “Stirling Alpine Link”, proposed by the VNPA as an extension to the Alpine National Park’.

We really don’t know how these scattered areas of Old Growth in the North East and Alps will be protected, beyond the promise from the government that all modeled Old Growth will be protected.

Good news for the Strathbogie Ranges

The situation in the Strathbogies Ranges in north east Victoria seems more straight forward. The Save Our Strathbogie Forest (SOSF) community campaign has welcomed the Victorian Government’s announcement that native logging will be phased-out by 2030.

lily-dambrosio-announcing-protection-strathbogie-forestsmallSOSF ‘applauds the Andrews Government’s announcement to remove all logging and immediately protect the Strathbogie Forest’.

Bertram Lobert, spokesperson for SOSF, said “By taking this step the Andrews Government is showing far-sighted leadership with regards to Victoria’s natural environment and climate-change action – recognizing the over-arching value of these forests for biodiversity, carbon sequestration, water yields, recreation and ecotourism, over and above their short-term value for low-grade timber products.  This is a great day for our forest, and for many other significant areas of native forest to be protected forever as a part of this package announced by the Government last week.  What we now need to ensure is that these commitments are followed through, and that the Government keeps working to protect other, irreplaceable native forests in Victoria.”

The back story

According to the Goongerah Environment Centre (GECO):

Recently the Victorian government announced that logging native forests will end in 2030. The government has also committed to state-wide protections for 90,000ha of old growth forests, and 96,000ha of new protected areas, 48,500 of which are in East Gippsland. An action statement for the threatened Greater Glider was also finally released, after two years of inaction following it’s up-listing to threatened in 2017.

Groups like GECO, Friends of the Earth and The Wilderness Society have congratulated Minister D’Ambrosio and Premier Andrews for making these commitments and for ‘finally breaking their paralysis on the issue and showing leadership’. However, there are still a lot of details missing about how the protection will happen, and these must be publicly released to reassure Victorians that the government’s commitments will actually provide what they say they will and deliver meaningful and lasting protections for threatened wildlife and ecosystems.

Significantly, the entire area of the Kuark forest in East Gippsland has been protected. Some of Kuark was already protected by Minister D’Ambrosio in March 2018, the new protected area announcement expands protection for the Kuark forest in a significant way and extends protection to forest located south of the current southern boundary of Errinundra National Park. There are plans for a long distance walking track from the coast to the mountains that will pass through the Kuark.

How will the protection happen?

The lack of clarity about the process is the crux of the problem that we are currently facing.

While the government has announced an immediate end to old growth logging, committing to immediately protect 90,000ha of mapped old growth forest that is outside of existing parks and reserves, how will this actually mean? GECO notes that a map of the modelled old growth has been released but it’s very hard to read.

Based on what the government has communicated, 90,000 hectares of forest that is currently mapped as ‘old growth forest’ and that is outside of existing parks and reserves, will be excluded from logging. VicForests will have to work around the old growth areas and not log them. The long term tenure of these areas is not yet clear. GECO says ‘this is a good move, but will it protect all old growth forest from logging? Unfortunately not’.

‘Old growth forest will not be ‘protected’ but there will be a ban on logging mapped old growth forest. In theory, this should make logging unviable in several areas that VicForests has earmarked for logging this summer. We are seeking a clear commitment from the government that VicForests will not be logging in areas with mapped old growth forest this summer, as they have planned to’.

Additionally, ‘Old growth forests also exist outside the old growth mapping areas, i.e they are not defined as old growth by the mapping. These forests are unprotected and earmarked for logging. Old growth forest at Granite Mountain in East Gippsland is not mapped as old growth but is being logged right now. This untouched forest has never been logged and contains trees hundreds of years in age, but sadly the old growth protection plan will fail to prevent the destruction of this forest’.

‘We hold grave concerns that VicForests will be using a dodgy field identification tool to self identify what they determine to be old growth in areas that are not mapped as old growth. This tool will declassify old growth in the field. Putting VicForests in charge of self identifying old growth forests and volunteering them for protection is like putting Dracula in charge of the blood bank.

Minister D’Ambrosio must ensure the most rigorous regulatory oversight is put in place to identify and protect old growth forest that occurs outside of mapped old growth areas and make sure VicForests is not put in control. The Environment Department is currently developing their own field detection method, and if its anything like VicForests’ method, old growth forests will not be safe from logging’.
The official government announcement about cessation of native forest logging is available here.