Following this summer’s devastating fires in East Gippsland, it has taken enormous effort by the authorities to get roads re-opened and made safe. Removal of many thousands of fire affected trees is essential for the safety of road users. However, the scale of the clear felling of large habitat trees occurring along thousands of kilometres of East Gippsland’s roads has disturbed many people.
Residents describe ‘unprecedented clearing’ occurring around Buchan, Black Mountain, Combienbar, Orbost, Goongerah, Cann River, Mallacoota, Cape Conran, state forests inland from Bairnsdale, along the Great Alpine Way and many other fire affected roads in East Gippsland.
Claims are being made that:
- only a small proportion of trees being cut are actually hazardous,
- that the vast majority of clearing is being done by contractors, with very few arborists involved and apparently very little oversight,
- that forest is being cleared well away from roads (ie, not posing a conceivable public risk to people using roadways). This is likely to cause impacts on gliders and other species which will not be able to cross roadways because the canopy gap will be too large,
- there has been loss of significant vegetation (for instance, near Cann River many bloodwoods (Corymbia gummifera) have been cut)
- it appears that in many instances, tree tops and leftovers are being pushed back into the edge of the bush (ie; potentially increasing fire danger)
There are also concerns that the tree removal is ‘logging by stealth’ that creates an economic imperative to clear healthy trees. On February 14, VicForests stated:
“We are starting to collect the timber off the Princes Highway – about 15000 square metres (sic) – and some it is good saw logs so we will be to make arrangements for that to be delivered to customers”.
If trees are being legitimately removed for public safety reasons, no one would object to them being allocated to timber mills. However, a growing number of people are expressing the concern that, in the field and without adequate supervision, the imperative to cut economically productive timber will override ecological concerns, without making public roads any safer.
The Goongerah Environment Centre (GECO) says:
“Over-zealous road clearing of the Princes Hwy is complete and we’ve had reports of logs piled up along tracks into burnt and unburnt forests throughout East Gippsland. Roadside habitat is key refugia for fire-affected threatened species. Very unclear as to what sort of environmental and regulatory oversight is in place, if any”.
IMAGE: Princes Hwy near Genoa, Credit: Nick Clemann, from the GECO facebook page.