In March, Friends of the Earth (FoE) campaigners visited north eastern Victoria as part of a longer trip highlighting threats to the landscapes of the high country. While we were focused on the threat posed to native forests by logging, locals in the Upper Ovens wanted to show us some of the current harvesting of pine plantations in the area.
While pine (Pinus radiata) plantations have been located across the north east for decades, and provide valuable timber and local employment, the logging practices in many instances are appalling. This led to FoE making a series of recommendations to the land manager, Hancocks Plantations Victoria (HVP), about how to reduce the environmental impacts of future harvesting.
In the 1960s and 1970s, there was widespread clearing of native forests in the north east to establish pine plantations. ‘Planting peaked in 1969 with a record 5,183 ha and by the end of 1982, the Forests Commission Victoria had established 87,000 hectares of softwood plantations, a five-fold increase since 1940. Softwood plantation zones were concentrated around Bright and Myrtleford in the Ovens Valley, Portland-Rennick, Latrobe Valley-Strzelecki Ranges, Ballarat-Creswick, Benalla-Mansfield, Upper Murray near Tallangatta-Koetong, the Otways and Central zone near Taggerty.’
At the time, there were deep concerns raised about widespread clearing of native forests.
And concerns of pesticide use have been documented for many years, including protests by expectant mothers at Bright in the late 1970’s and Supreme Court Action by the Wandiligong Preservation Society about the aerial spraying of pine plantations with 2,4,5-T. 2,4,5-T which was contaminated with the most toxic chemical known, the dioxin TCDD and which had been linked to birth deformities during the Vietnam War. Herbicides still used by the plantation industry can contaminate waterways and remain active in soil years after application. Bright residents also formed the facebook group Bright Community Aerial Spraying Concerns a few years ago.
These lands were originally established and managed by the Forests Commission of Victoria, which later became the Victorian Plantations Corporation (VPC). It began as a State Owned Enterprise, but premier Jeff Kennett pursued a privatisation agenda, and in March 1998 the government decided to proceed with privatising VPC and this process was completed in late 1998 when it was sold to the Hancock Timber Resource Group for $550 million to form Hancock Victorian Plantations (HVP).
Several decades on, much of the pine estate is now being harvested. In some areas, mature plantations which are currently being harvested are seeing the clearfelling of entire hillsides in steep terrain, with limited or no protection of drainage lines. Plantations have more limited environmental protection as they come under the Private Forestry Code.
Heavy rainfall over clearfells can lead to high quantities of soil (and herbicides) leaching into local waterways, including the Ovens River. The north east continues to rely heavily on the timber industry - and the reliance on softwoods will continue with the imminent end of native forest logging - so it is important that we get the management and harvesting right. And we must remember that towns like Bright are changing to be more focused on outdoors and nature based tourism, with more people out in the bush and aware of the impacts of harvesting.
A logical proposal is the call for Hancocks Plantations Victoria to ensure that drainage lines are replanted with appropriate indigenous species when the pines are planted on the slopes, with a commitment to keep the drainage lines intact during the next harvest operations.
We wrote to HVP, asking them to commit to the following:
- Commit to replanting cleared drainage lines on steep slopes with appropriate indigenous species. We are not recommending a specific distance from drainage lines, but would trust that HVP would base this on the best available evidence about what will reduce erosion in the next round of pine harvesting
- Commit to exclude these areas from the application of broad acre pesticides
- Commit to excluding these drainage lines from harvesting in future harvest rotations. This would greatly reduce sediment load in drainage lines after the next harvest cycle
They declined the request.
This means that there will be additional erosion issues in coming months as harvesting continues.
If you live in the area and see harvesting on steep slopes and the potential for erosion, please take a photo and email to us (with specific details on where the image was taken). We will compile this and use it in our ongoing efforts to convince HVP to improve their land use practises.
Local group Upper Ovens Landcare has a range of projects which aim to 'protect, sustain and enhance our healthy environment in the Upper Ovens Valley'.
The Hancock Watch website has extensive information about Hancocks and maps of all the plantations in the north east.