PARK WATCH Article March 2023 |

Plans to remove and sell fallen trees in the Dandenongs has raised alarms, reports Jordan Crook, Nature Conservation Campaigner and Robert Pergl, Southern Dandenong Ranges Landcare

VNPA and landcare groups have raised the alarm over plans to remove fallen trees and sell them from two forested areas in the Dandenong Ranges National Park and Silvan Closed Water Catchment, under the banner of largely unregulated fire operations.

The Dandenong Ranges National Park has long been a popular day trip for locals, visiting tourists from Melbourne and abroad. Tall trees and lush forest gullies with Tree-ferns are a major drawcard and a reprieve from the surrounding suburban landscape. This area was recognised for its unique cultural and natural heritage with early protection of the Ferntree Gully section starting in 1882. Sections have been added progressively to form a 3,500 hectares network.

It protects one of Greater Melbourne’s largest patches of intact remnant vegetation and is home to an array of unique plants, animals and landscapes.

Now in 2023 the parks conservation and recreational values are under threat from nefarious plans to salvage log sections of the park under the guise of fire management by state fire management organisation Forest Fire Management Victoria (FFMV), a section of the Department of Energy, Environment and Climate Action (DEECA).

Caption: FFMV fuel breaks on Board Track, Dandenong Range National Park. Credit: Jordan Crook

In June 2021 storms tore through Victoria heavily impacting the Dandenong Ranges as well as the Wombat Forest. The storms saw thousands of trees fall across the state, succumbing to the unusual wind directions, heavily sodden soils as well as past impacts on the trees caused by infrastructure, such as compaction, root damage and changes in natural hydrology.

The storm damage, with strong winds from the south and east, was dramatic with an estimated 25,000 trees felled in the Yarra Ranges alone. One power company told ABC Radio that the storm event had caused one years’ worth of damage in one night.

Locals and VNPA have been monitoring storm clean-up operations since days after the storm event and advocating for an ecologically sensitive approach to removing hazardous trees and clearing fallen trees from roads, fuel breaks and tracks.

So alarm bells were raised in December 2022 when FFMV notified locals and VNPA of a 100 hectare zone within the national park and in the closed Silvan Water Catchment. FFMV were to remove 40 to 60 per cent of fallen logs in the area before Christmas 2022 with the works being undertaken by state native forest logging company VicForests, with profits from the wood being split between VicForests and FFMV.

The proposal would see log haulers, bulldozers and other heavy machinery, most of which being over 20 tonnes, rolling around off-track into forested areas to remove logs while damaging and compromising the recovering forest and remaining trees that survived the storms initial impact.

We know salvage logging is the worst kind of logging, adding pressure to the recovering forest after the initial disturbance event and hitting the forest at its most vulnerable stage of recovery.

These works, if they go ahead, will not only permanently damage the forests and habitat that is supposed to be protected by the national park status but will also arguably increase the severity of fires in the area by encouraging regrowth of flammable understorey.

It has been well known for a long time that the clearing of intact forest and replacement with dense shrubs and tree seedlings increases the severity of bushfires. To date no one has been able to provide us with the fire modelling showing the fallen logs have increased the fire risk. We do know that logs pose very little increased fire risk and are vital for many of the species that call the area home such as the Tooarrana (or Broad Tooth Rat). Environmentally, the best outcome is to leave the logs in situ as habitat. But it is obvious they have some sort of commercial value.

The community doesn’t want the log removal operation. It will have a terrible impact on the park and the values it was established to protect with the works flying in the face of the objectives of the National Parks Act. The justifications behind the log removal operations planned by FFMV have been about gaining access for prescribed burning, Silvan water treatment plant and commercial timber salvage. None have standing in good management of protected areas such as national parks.

According to FFMV, the operation is not salvage logging but the motivation appears opportunistic as much as anything else. FFMV’s comment in The Age on Xmas Eve 2022, makes this pretty clear ‘…removing some of the large debris provides an opportunity for community and commercial use that would otherwise be burnt.’

FFMV do have the legal responsibility for these works, and essentially only need to consult Park Victoria. The big issue, however, is that their role is largely unfettered, without formal independent oversight and with only vague guidelines. Fire management salvage logging is not even subject to the Forest Code of Practice, but it is subject, at least in theory, to national and state threatened species laws.

The fallen trees have created structurally complex and diverse habitats for a range of wildlife. Broad acre fallen log removal into off-track areas of forest into the standing remnant vegetation will potentially permanently damage the forest. In the face of an uncertain future of climate change and biodiversity loss, public land management needs greater scrutiny and a science-based approach, not the type of poorly regulated and loosely justified operations as planned by FFMV in the Dandenong Ranges

This scheduled operation has a total lack of explanation and transparency of proper process. It sets a very poor precedent for management of our prime conservation areas, and under the guise of fire preparation logs are removed for commercial use. The community will not stand for this. It’s completely inappropriate.

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