Mt Cole State Forest
Despite countless reports and studies identifying the high conservation values of forests in largely cleared landscapes in central and western Victoria, some of them government initiated, logging continues in Mt Cole near Beaufort.
The Mount Cole State Forest contains high conservation significance vegetation. It sits within the Central Victorian Uplands and Goldfields bioregions, which are linked to creek systems flowing north, east, south and west.
The ranges within this landscape are well regarded for their abundant wildlife and wildflowers. The area varies from lush cool valleys, waterfalls and alpine plateaus to Box-ironbark forests of the lower forest areas. With stunning views and rugged mountains, the area is considered a walker's paradise.
The uplands associated with this landscape are well known for their abundant flora and fauna, with plants including the state-listed and rare Mount Cole Grevillea (Grevillea montis-cole subsp. montis-cole) and Shiny tea-tree (Leptospermum turinatum).
More than 130 bird species have been recorded in the area. The Powerful Owl, Speckled Warbler, Square-tailed Kite and Brush-tailed Phascogale, all state-listed as vulnerable, have been recently recorded within Mount Cole State Forest.
Important habitat for the state-listed and vulnerable Powerful Owl and a range of woodland birds, as well as the state-listed vulnerable Brush-tailed Phascogale and other common mammals including koalas, echidnas and wallabies.
In 2010 the VNPA undertook detailed assessment and identified 20 sites across central Victoria, including Mt Cole, which were worthy of better protection under the national parks estate. The report recommended that both Mt Cole and the Pyrenees ranges be reclassified as state parks.
It is 8926 hectares in area and acknowledged as a key biodiversity hotspot in central Victoria. It plays a critical role as a home for rare, threatened and endangered plants and animals, as well as an important natural asset enjoyed by locals and visitors.
The Mount Cole State Forest contains generally high conservation significance vegetation, with some patches of medium conservation significance throughout.
Rare plants, orchids and native wildflowers
The forest contains large Messmates and Manna Gums in the wetter southern part, with drier woodlands of Stringybark and Yellow Box in the north. There are rare plants including the Mount Cole Grevillea and many orchids and other native wildflowers.
Based on mapping conducted by the Department of Sustainability and Environment, 87% of the Ecological Vegetation Class within this forest are under-reserved for the bioregion, demonstrating that protection within Mount Cole would contribute significantly towards ensuring their conservation under the Comprehensive Adequate and Representative reserve criteria.
The nationally vulnerable Grampians Bitter-pea (Daviesia laevis) is recorded in Mount Cole State Forest. A number of state-listed rare flora species are also found, including Deane's Wattle (Acacia deanei), Mount Cole Grevillea (Grevillea montis-cole subsp. montis-cole), One-flower Early Nancy (Wurmbea uniflora), Shiny Tea-tree (Leptospermum turbinatum), Tight Bedstraw (Galium curvihirtum) and Yarra Gum (Eucalyptus yarraensis).
In 2011 the Victorian Environmental Assessment Council (VEAC) recommended this region (Central Uplands Bioregion) of central and western Victoria be the subject of a further VEAC study to better protect forests and other areas of public land in reserves and protected areas.
VEAC noted that there was an under-representation of protected areas in this region and that over half the bioregions' native vegetation (55.5%) had been cleared, making it a 'fragmented' landscape. Seventeen per cent of the remaining native vegetation was found on public land, including Mt Cole. Other forests in this bioregion include the Wombat forest, Enfield Forest (state park).
Parts of Mount Cole State Forest also continue to be harvested for firewood, and fallen logs are also collected for firewood.
As well as the impacts noted above, Sambar Deer are particularly problematic within Mount Cole State Forest, causing significant damage to vegetation. Pine trees from the adjacent pine plantation are also invading the eastern edges of the forest.
The state forest areas within the landscape are significantly impacted by continued timber harvesting. The landscape has a history of timber harvesting and as a result there are very few large or old trees. Firewood continues to be sourced from the forest, both through targeted harvesting of trees and collection of fallen timber.
Foxes, rabbits, pigs and cats are particularly problematic pests that threaten fauna in this area. Various programs are in place for fox management, but they are not necessarily consistent or particularly targeted. Weeds are prevalent, particularly along the edges of tracks.
Both Mount Cole and the Pyrenees ranges state forests be reclassified to become state parks. For the Pyrenees, this would include the inclusion of the Percydale Historic Area, Landsborough Nature Conservation Reserve, and Landsborough Hill Nature Conservation Reserve.