PARK WATCH December 2019 |

An announcement by the Andrews Government is a breakthrough – of sorts – towards securing better management of Victoria’s native forests. Overview by our Executive Director Matt Ruchel.

On 7 November the Andrews Government announced it would immediately protect threatened species habitat and cease logging of old growth native forests in Victoria – and ultimately stop all logging across our state in 2030.

The Andrews Government is to be congratulated for announcing this first step. However, there will be major future political tests in ensuring full and timely delivery of the commitments.

Below are four key elements of the announcement.

1) Immediate protection areas for threatened species:

According to the Andrews Government:

“Harvesting will be immediately excluded from these areas to preserve important habitat for more than 35 forest dependent species, including the Greater Glider and Leadbeater’s Possum”.

This applies to more than 96,000 hectares of high conservation value forest home to more than 35 forest-dependent species through the creation of ‘Immediate Protection Areas’ in the state’s east. This will be of real benefit in some areas, particularly for the forests of the Strathbogie Ranges. But there are still significant gaps in protection, particularly for the forests of the Central Highlands.

These ‘Immediate Protection Areas’ have no legislative basis as yet. They are a political commitment, which will need legislation or regulation to be properly secured into the future. A consultation process will commence early next year on “the best way to permanently protect the Immediate Protection Areas”.

Greater Glider populations have declined by 50 per cent in the last 20 years in East Gippsland, and up to 80 per cent in the Central Highlands. An Action Statement for the Greater Glider has also been released, but alarmingly it applies weaker ‘forestry rules’ to Greater Gliders than existing protections. Large areas of habitat for the critically endangered Leadbeater’s Possum are missing from the plans.

In the Central Highlands, the proposed Immediate Protection Areas indicated include protecting the connection between Baw Baw and Yarra Ranges national parks; the Armstrong and Cement Creek catchments; reserve buffers around the Ada Tree; and some of the last parts of intact forest around Toolangi. But large areas of ash forest will continue to be heavily logged at least until 2024, raising concerns about this already depleted habitat and level of protection for Leadbeater’s Possum.

Over half of the proposed Immediate Protection Areas are in East Gippsland, which expands protection for the Kuark forest, includes some areas which build on the Snowy River National Park, and extends protection south of the current boundary of Erinunderra National Park. However, some of the most significant populations of Greater Glider around Bendoc and on the Erinunderra Plateau are still under direct threat.

Around 17,000 hectares of Strathbogie forests is included in the proposed Immediate Protection Areas. This is a great result for the hard work by the Save Our Strathbogie Forest community campaign, which VNPA supported. Also proposed are further protection around areas of high local community interest near Mirboo North.

2) End to logging old growth:

According to the Andrews Government:

“Under the plan, 90,000 hectares of Victoria’s remaining rare and precious old growth forest – aged up to 600 years old – will be protected immediately”.

This is big commitment, but what is defined as ‘old growth’ will be based on computer modelling and will be implemented through ‘forestry rules’. There are dangers with basing on-ground decisions on computer modelling, and using forestry rules to protect areas can be fraught. According to the announcement, “the boundaries of old growth forest stands will be marked in the field and timber harvesting operations will be excluded from working within those boundaries”. The Andrews Government will need to be held to this commitment to immediately protect 90,000 hectares of old growth. Really, the only way to do this is to include these areas in permanent reserves, such as protection under the National Parks Act 1975.

3) New reserves:

A commitment for the “… biggest addition to our reserve system in over 20 years …”, however, there are no detailed timelines, and it is unclear what type of reserves these will be and whether or not they will be given the highest form of protection under the National Parks Act. It should be noted that the “biggest addition” is a questionable claim. In its seven years in office, the Bracks government created 224,962 hectares of parks under the National Parks Act, including the Great Otway (103,000 hectares), Box-Ironbark parks and marine national parks, as well as thousands of hectares of forest parks. The Brumby government in its three years in office created about 129,000 hectares of new national parks, including Cobboboonee and River Red Gum national parks. 

After five years in office, the Andrews Government has still not created any large new national parks, and is now playing catch-up. Legislation has recently been introduced into Parliament to enshrine in law greater protections for the Yellingbo Landscape Conservation Area; add a 3220 hectare-area of the Kuark Forest to the Errinundra National Park; and create the integrated Yallock-Bulluk Marine and Coastal Park between San Remo and Inverloch. If implemented properly, the new announcement will help this record, but after five years in office, they still need to be delivered.

4) Logging industry transition:

All logging in native forests across the state is to be stopped by 2030, starting with an initial step down in 2024. The writing has been on the wall for the declining logging industry for many years, and the admission by the state government that native forest logging is ‘unsustainable’ is refreshing. Government support for industry and worker transition is fair and a useful political move, but no payments will be available for industry buy-out until 2024, which will make it hard for industry and workers to look to transition sooner than later.

We are deeply concerned that logging will dramatically increase in the next five years – that whatever can be logged will be logged, particularly in the mountain ash forests, which make up 70 per cent of the logging industry (up to 80 per cent of which is used for pulp).

Announcements aside, most of the Central Highlands mountain and alpine ash forests still face a bleak future. Due to fire and over-logging, well over one-third of Victoria’s ash forests are juvenile trees unable to set seed, and much of the remainder is under 40 years old. In the ash forests of the Central Highlands, there are simply not enough trees left to last if logging continues for another 10 years.

2030 is a long time away and much can happen in that period, including changes of state government. In the meantime, will every last available tree be logged?

A new Timber Release Plan, which shows the location of proposed logging coupes, is understood to be released soon for consultation by VicForests, and could likely tell a different story to the announcement.

The principle to cease logging in important native forest areas is certainly positive, but this plan needs to be more than an aspiration. Significant political leadership and action is still necessary to ensure real-world benefits for our native forests. As always, nature needs more than just temporary solutions.

The Andrews Government’s announcement is a start in the right direction, but we will need to continue to work hard to ensure these commitments are actually delivered.


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