Last summer’s fires devastated huge sections of Eastern Victoria, and disrupted regional economies in the east of the state.

They burned 1.4 million hectares, much of it forested public land. They destroyed more than 50% of the habitat for 185 rare and threatened Victorian plants and animals. They pushed already critically endangered species like the greater glider, smoky mouse, others perilously close to extinction. They also impacted large areas of Alpine Ash forest, which the government now intends to log.

Salvage logging is the worst

Research performed by David Lindenmayer, a researcher at the Australian National University and one of the world’s most cited forest ecologists, and colleagues over the past three decades has mapped regeneration and growth in areas of forest up the east coast of Australia – areas that have been badly damaged in bushfires.

This research has shown remarkable rates of recovery in areas of forest that appeared decimated by fires – but only if that forest is left alone in the aftermath. The worst thing that we can do post-bushfire is to allow the logging of these burned areas, known as salvage logging.

This practice can set forest regeneration back by decades, and for about 40 years these areas of forest carry an increased risk of canopy burns (setting the regeneration back repeatedly). According to Lindenmayer, some species of animal that miraculously escaped the fires, if they are not killed in the logging process, are unlikely to return to logged areas for up to 180 years, if ever.

Salvage logging has been shown to be the most damaging form of logging native forests.

Yet this is exactly what the Andrews Government is proposing to undertake in East Gippsland and North East Victoria.

Salvage logging in East Gippsland and north east VIC

Despite having announced an end to Old Growth logging, and committed to end all native logging by 2030, the state government intends to clear large swathes of this essential habitat, setting back the recovery of these ecosystems for decades. The Victorian government’s logging agency, VicForests, has revealed plans to log 3,500 hectares of forests burnt during the catastrophic summer fires in the next few years, saying salvage logging will occur in areas where “most of the standing trees have been killed”.

The 2030 date is now untenable; if the East Gippsland forests are to have any chance of recovering, we must refrain from logging the burnt alpine ash.

In the first part of the logging, VicForests have identified 59 areas that they propose to log in East Gippsland and North East Victoria. There was a brief public consultation about their plans which closed on the 10th July.  It was extended after a public outcry until the end of the month.

What are the likely impacts?

Victoria’s state-owned forestry agency, VicForests, has released a Timber Release Plan’ to allocate new areas of burnt forest to logging. An assessment of the federal government’s threatened species database and maps of the timber release plan shows that this logging would affect habitat for more than 34 threatened species, including the regent honeyeater, the spotted-tail quoll and the greater glider. Each of the 59 coupes contained habitat for threatened species, with 39 containing habitat for critically endangered species.

There is an additional threat posed by this logging: it will happen in alpine ash forests that have been ‘impacted’ by fire. Unlike many other eucalypts, intense fire kills mature Alpine Ash trees. They require up to 20 years between fires to allow the regrowth to be old enough to produce seed. Alpine Ash seed is tiny, and does not survive for long in the soil, so if parent trees are killed in repeated fires, the forest may not grow back.

It is well known that Alpine Ash forests face potential collapse because of fire impacts. For instance, the research paper, ‘Biological responses to the press and pulse of climate trends and extreme events’, which appeared in Nature Climate Change volume 8 (2018) identified ecosystems across Australia that have recently experienced ‘catastrophic changes’. This included ‘large-scale conversion of alpine forest to shrubland’ due to repeated fires from 2003–2014.

The report notes that:

‘A combination of high fire weather conditions and dry lightning storms resulted in extensive wildfires in 2003, 2006, 2009, 2013, 2014, burning over 97% of E. delegatensis distribution, in some case reburning areas two to three times. A large proportion of E. delegatensis populations are currently in an immature stage following the 21st century fires, rendering most populations vulnerable to local declines or extinction if reburnt, with consequent conversion to non-forest. The capacity of the species to recover is constrained because hotter and drier conditions reduce tree growth, seed production and seedling establishment’.

While the use of fire after timber harvesting, to provide a receptive seed bed on which the germination and growth of seedlings is maximised, has been practised in alpine ash forests in Victoria for decades, we must now question the use of this method given the point made above: ‘capacity of the species to recover is constrained because hotter and drier conditions reduce tree growth, seed production and seedling establishment’.

Salvage logging will expose soil to erosion, drying and hotter temperatures. Given that all native logging will end by 2030, any salvage logging and subsequent regeneration of forests will be for biodiversity conservation, not timber production.

Therefore, a wiser option is to cancel the salvage logging, and allow natural regeneration (aided by aerial seeding if required). This provides a low cost regeneration of these alpine ash forests without the damage of post fire logging operations.

You can read more about VicForests plan, and see details on the location of the proposed logging here.

Please say no to salvage logging

Because VicForests wants to receive ‘site specific’ feedback on the proposed coupes, it is difficult to send a submission unless you have been to them since the fires. The proposed logging areas are clustered in remote sections of the High Country and far north east of the state. They are difficult to access.

So instead of sending a submission to the TRP process, we recommend you write directly to the premier and ask him to halt the salvage logging program.

Please send a simple message to the Premier.

With the subject line:

Forest industry transition now/ no salvage logging

And say something like:

The Hon Daniel Andrews
Premier of Victoria

Dear Premier

I write to call on you to immediately implement the transition plan to move the native forest logging industry out of our forests.

Last summer’s fires had a massive impact on forests and wildlife. It is essential that your government show leadership and act now to protect native forests through fast-tracking the transition out of native forest logging. Allowing ‘slavage’ logging through the Timber Release Plan proposed by VicForests will further entrench the damage of last summer’s fires. Salvage logging has been shown to be the most damaging form of logging native forests. 

I welcome your commitment to phase out native forest logging. However, 2030 is too far away. Please act now to protect our remaining forests and support workers through the inevitable changes that are coming to this industry and stop the plan to open 59 areas to salvage logging.

(the more you personalise your email, the more impact it will have).