The state government logging agency, VicForests, intends to log a total of 11 “coupes”, or sections, of mature forest, much of it dominated by Alpine Ash, in the headwaters of the Little Dargo River, an area of state forest that lies right next to the Alpine National Park. These coupes are located in a series of clusters, where separate sections of bush will be harvested, creating a large zone of cleared land over time.
One coupe has already been logged. The remaining coupes have not yet been scheduled for harvesting. There is still time to stop this ecological disaster – if we act now.
The Little Dargo is roughly 15 kilometres south of the Mt Hotham ski resort in the mountains of north eastern Victoria. Background on the logging can be found here.
What is happening in the Little Dargo catchment is emblematic of a much wider threat occurring across the mountain environments of south eastern Australia.
Background – fire is pushing Alpine Ash to extinction
Victoria’s mountain forests have been terribly impacted by fires in recent years. There is no doubt that our fire seasons are getting longer and more intense as a result of climate change, and this is starting to have potentially landscape changing impacts. While our mountain forests are fire adapted, they are used to infrequent fires. There is concern that Alpine Ash forests could be wiped out in some areas where fire comes in multiple waves before the recovering trees can set seed. Alpine Ash parent trees tend to be killed by fire, and the seedlings require a minimum of 15 years between intense fire in order to be able to produce seed. Parts of north eastern Victoria have been burnt three times in a decade. Mountain Ash forests face similar threats.
And as we know, the ‘Black summer’ fires of 2019/20 had a devastating impact on the east of the state: The 2019-20 bushfires burnt more than 1.25 million hectares of forest across eastern Victoria, killing millions of animals, threatening the survival of hundreds of species, and pushing many ecosystems to the brink of collapse.
Bushfire severity mapping shows that more than half the area in the fire extent experienced moderate to high fire severity.
[IMAGE: failed regeneration of logged Alpine Ash forests, Dargo High Plains].
It is tragic that fires are becoming so frequent and intense that we face the prospect of seeing these vegetation communities collapse.
Craig Nitschke is an Associate Professor in Forest and Landscape Dynamics at Melbourne University and has a long connection with forests and fire in the high country. He says “some areas have been burnt up to four times in a short period and the impacts in some areas are absolutely shocking. The Upper Ovens Valley and the Carey State Forest (just north of the Avon Wilderness) and surrounding Alpine National Park areas are priority areas for reseeding, as is almost anywhere along the spine of the Alps where the ash grow.”
The mountain forests, which are dominated by Alpine Ash trees are now so threatened by fire that the state government has an aerial seeding program to stop the collapse of these forest systems. Owen Bassett, one of the people involved in the seeding program has said “with no intervention, these ravaged forests would eventually turn into a different type of ecosystem, like savanna or grassland”.
We don’t know how much old Alpine Ash forests still exist. In the Central Highlands, closer to Melbourne, it is estimated that only 0.47% of old growth Ash remains. The figure is unknown in the mountains of the north east, but we do know that large areas of burnt forest face the prospect of ecological collapse and very little old forest remains.
What we do know is that unburnt areas are especially important and should not be logged, especially forests with documented older trees and threatened species. Sadly, this is exactly the type of forest currently under threat on the Dargo High Plains.
The Dargo High Plains
The forests currently being targeted by VicForests in the Dargo High Plain are especially important because they are mature and largely unburnt. Investigations by community activists such as the Gippsland Environment Group have documented the enormous ecological value of these stands. They are also home to a range of threatened plant and animal species.
One coupe, 17 hectares in size, at Jones Creek, has been logged, in autumn 2021.
Remaining coupes should be removed from the logging schedule.
[IMAGE: logging in the Jones Creek coupe].
UPDATE – coupes in upper Little Dargo River to be logged (SEPT 2021)
This spring, the cluster of coupes right beside the burnt Alpine National Park located in the upper Little Dargo River will be logged. This is incredibly high value, long unburnt Alpine forest.
The logging road which will be built to access these coupes will cut through around ten kilometres of the Alpine National Park (see below) and remains on VicForests maps as an ‘approved roadline’, with it’s status given as being an ‘active coupe’ of 72 hectares. It is not clear whether an alternative route, connecting the Jones Creek coupes with the Little Dargo coupes will be used as an alternative.
According to Friends of Bats and Habitat Gippsland, only one coupe in this cluster has had a fauna survey even though there are critically endangered Alpine Tree Frogs in this area and 3 critically endangered Masked Owls were recorded in that one coupe. And the incredibly rare Dargo galaxias are present in the little Dargo River.
A logging access road through a national park?
There is also a disturbing precedent that would see an unacceptable impact on the Alpine National Park. VicForests have been planning to construct a logging road from the Dargo High Plains road along Kings Spur track and then Long Spur track right through the Alpine National Park to access the northern end of the coupes of the Jones Creek Track cluster in the Little Dargo catchment.
This would be a 70 ha ‘linear’ coupe (number 535-501-0003) and road through the Alpine National Park to access the coupes in the upper Little Dargo River. Under state legislation, it is allowable to approve new roads in National Parks.
Following a public outcry and good coverage in The Age newspaper, VicForests announced in March 2021 that they “will not be constructing roads, including (535-501-003), through the Alpine National Park.”
However, as of September 2021, the road remains on VicForests maps as an ‘approved roadline’, with it’s status given as being an ‘active coupe’ of 72 hectares. The map also shows an ‘approved driveway’ on the entry point to the coupes, just inside the national park with the coupe ID of 535-501-0002.
Large areas of forested country were logged under ‘once only logging’ provisions before being placed in the Alpine National Park. These forests have been slowly recovering in recent decades but now face grave threats posed by climate change driven fire seasons. It is completely unacceptable for the government logging agency to consider destroying any part of a national park in order to access logging coupes.
[IMAGE: this is the track which VicForests proposes to upgrade to a logging road].
[IMAGE ABOVE: VicForests map showing the planned logging coupes, in blue, in and around the Dargo High Plains. The darker green area is the Alpine National Park].
[IMAGE ABOVE: detail of the planned access road, through the Alpine National Park].
VicForests is a State-owned business which is accountable to the Victorian Government through the Minister for Agriculture and Regional Development and the Treasurer.
Please write to the state Minister for Agriculture, Mary-Anne Thomas, and the Treasurer, Tim Pallas, and urge them to immediately stop further logging on the Dargo High Plains, and publicly rule out any roading associated with logging in the Alpine National Park.
Further contact details for the Agriculture Minister available here.
Further contact details for the Treasurer are available here.