Last June, we experienced a wind storm of such ferocity that large swathes of the Wombat Forest were simply flattened. Precious large old growth trees with hollows crashed to the ground, and the forest canopy was rendered unrecognisable in places such as Bullarto. I have been saying – its ok – the patches will eventually create a more patchy forest, with the open canopy allowing for growth of wattles and other midstorey trees. The legacy of logging in this forest has created big areas of even aged trees, with close regrowth, and a bit of canopy opening is ok.
BUT this is on the proviso that we let the forest heal itself. We leave the soil undisturbed, we leave the logs on the ground, for habitat and for the eventually rotting wood to recycle back into the earth for a regenerating forest.
Unfortunately the opposite is happening. “Forest Recovery” logging by VicForests is now occurring in the Wombat Forest, at the moment at Babbington Rd.
Gayle Osborne and Trevor Spiers from Wombat Forestcare have been meeting with DELWP regarding the proposed salvage logging, trying for outcomes that are less damaging. These meetings, for some six weeks, were progressing well – with proposed Greater Glider nest boxes, and input from Wombat Forestcare on avoiding the most sensitive areas. And minimising the damage.
But VicForests, part of the Victorian State Government, is now involved, and the situation is more serious than we could have envisaged!
Where to begin? Well readers may recall that after a very long and protracted process the VEAC committee finally released its recommendations – that sections of the Wombat State Forest be designated National Park (see map below). The presence of significant Greater Glider and Powerful Owl populations was a big driver for the nomination. Ten months later from the announcement, no moves have been made by the Andrews government to actually legislate and make this happen.
So now, out of the 175 “Forest Recovery” logging coupes, at least 80 of these are in these proposed National Parks areas. We believe all of the Wombat Forest is important for its biodiversity values, for its rare fauna and rare plants, its role as wonderful green sponge at the top of no less than five river catchments, and all the precious carbon stored in all these precious living beings. Yet these 80 coupes were so special that the committee decided they were worthy of permanent protection.
And now in one of these very areas, near Babbington Hill – we have a huge bulldozed log landing cut into beautiful sedgy riparian woodland and forest. I attended a photo shoot with Wombat Forestcare and friends from near and far to 1) take photos so that the issue could be widely reported and 2) so we we could all see the damage for ourselves!
Happily, the media has taken up the story – reported in the Midland Express and The Age. And from what I hear, Mary-Anne Thomas is not at fault here, nor DELWP. Amazingly. This is a Dan Andrews decision. And relates to the hideous situation where we have our successive state governments propping up a state-owned organisation that continually breaks the law, and while doing this, they run at a massive loss! Last year the loss was a staggering $4.7 million, which they attribute to “an unprecedented number of court challenges from community environment groups and the destruction of timber in the Black Summer bushfires of 2019-20 (from the Age article)”. I think this is referring to the incredible work by WOTCH (Wildlife of the Central Highlands)
If you go to VicForests website and have a look at the extent of the logging operations, you can see how so many coupes are clustered together, forming large areas. There will be very significant cumulative impact of each bulldozed log landing, each road widened and all the bulldozed areas to get through the forest to get at each of the logs. In the image below the green lines are coupes.
VicForests – who are they? They describe themselves as ” a state-owned business managing the harvest, sale, and regrowing of sustainable timber from Victorian state forests on behalf of the Victorian Government.”
A quick online search reveals all sorts of skulduggery, including logging on steep slopes, failing to regrow forests after logging, and even spying on protestors. According to Professor David Lindenmeyer (a deadset legend advocating for the Great Forest National Park for decades) “There are some fundamental reasons why we’re seeing such widespread breaching of forest laws, and that is that VicForests is running out of timber. VicForests would not be able to survive without continuing to log illegally and continuing to log important areas for biodiversity.”(Lawless loggers Nov 2021 ABC .)
I have been blessed to be part of a group of friends and colleagues here in the Wombat Forest since the early 2000s. We attended a million and one community meetings with DELWP after the commercial logging stopped – to trial “Community Forest Management”. Did it succeed? Not really – trying to manage a forest together between competing interests groups such as four wheel drivers, beekeepers, forest activists, sawmillers was too hard – waaay too hard – but what our forestry trial at the Mudlark Coupe found was that ANY logging of timber that kept biodiversity in mind simply wasn’t economically viable. Selective logging for quality timber could be done – but it was expensive in terms of labour, and the OHS risks deemed too great..
It reminds me of using animals for food – sure you can minimise harm in a small backyard operation or “artisinal” enterprise, but once you need to make money you need to do things AT SCALE. And to do this, the animals suffer. To make this worth their while VicForests has to cover a lot of the forest and get a lot of logs – and the forest suffers. And the tragedy is that these logs, and the loss of habitat and the damage they represent will not even help VicForests break even economically. So one asks – what is the point of all this?
I know that people are still hurting so badly after the storm. Their favourite walks and tracks are inaccessible, beautiful patches of forest simply flattened and unrecognisable. Some may say that this will clear up the forest so we can use it and enjoy it again, but looking at the maps, the coupes look like just that – coupes – not an initiative to clear up our favourite walks and picnic areas.
The Community Forest Management trial of the early 2000s gave us all a whole lot of post traumatic stress as the various interest groups screamed at each other at poorly facilitated meetings. But happily out of the process came WOMBAT FORESTCARE! Whose members, especially Gayle, have been quietly meeting with DELWP for decades on fire plans, and wood utilisation plans, and the VEAC investigation and any number of other issues. AND coordinating wonderful biodiversity and citizen science projects such as the VNPA Caught on Camera Project and submitting flora and fauna records to the Biodiversity Atlas. (Check out their amazing newsletter for reports on these great projects, and some great nature writing too!)
For VicForests to now swoop in under the guise of “approved Timber Utilisation Plan Forest Recovery” after decades of effort and indeed relationship building is simply heartbreaking.
I know my readers are aware that now is the time we need to redouble our efforts to save threatened species such as Gang-gang Cockatoos and Greater Gliders. And yet the environment seems to be getting no airtime whatsoever in the election so far. This is a very good reason to write to or call your state and federal politicians, explaining what forests and what threatened species mean personally to you, as a citizen and a voter. The VNPA, who were so instrumental in the VEAC investigation, have a great page on how to help.
I close this rather long post with a lovely photo – Sandy Scheltema directing some of the crowd! Sandy has done so much great work with her photography, advocating for Powerful Owls, documenting last year’s storm, and helping Wombat Forestcare with shoots such as this one.