Much of FoE’s work happens in regional communities. In 2023 we think its time to be catching up with our allies in the regions, meet new friends and supporters, and build the profile of some of our key campaigns. So we will be hosting a series of road trips to different parts of the state during the year.
The first one, held from March 14 to 19, focused on north eastern Victoria. We visited Bright, the upper Big River valley, and Mt Wills and met with a range of local conservation groups active in the region. Here is a quick diary from the trip.
March 14 – Bright – Local issues meetup
This forum aimed to showcase some of the great environmental work being done locally. We were hosted by Bright Brewery.
We heard from Eliza Stokie from the brewery about their great sustainability efforts.
Then Graham Barrow, president of Sustainable Upper Ovens.
Sustainable Upper Ovens (SUO) is community-based organisation formed in 2018 aimed at helping householders and small businesses to adopt improved energy efficiency measures, switch to renewable energy and maximise opportunities to reduce, reuse and recycle our resources.
Martyn Paterson, vice president, Upper Ovens Valley Landcare, presented on the many fantastic projects underway across the Ovens catchment.
The Upper Ovens Valley Landcare Group is ‘interested in empowering our community to ensure a sustainable future for our land, water and biodiversity. We cover the Ovens River Valley from the town of Ovens south to Bright, Harrietville and into the Victorian Alps and river headwaters.
We promote sustainable land and water management practices that balance: economics and ecology, productivity and resource protection.
Recent projects have focussed on riparian areas along the Ovens River with over 8000 trees planted at sites near Porepunkah at the confluence of the Ovens and Buckland Rivers, and at Germantown’.
Finally, Alana Mountain, forests campaign co-ordinator with Friends of the Earth Melbourne talked about some of the special places in the high country at risk of logging, including the headwaters of the Little Dargo River and forests between Mt Bogong and Mt Wills.
Extreme logging in the Upper Ovens
While we were focused on the threat posed to native forest 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. 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.
Mature plantations which are currently being harvested are seeing the clearfelling of entire hillsides in steep terrain, with limited 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. Fertilisers used on plantations can also be sourced from waste water treatment plants and can contain PFAS chemicals. Log trucks rumbling through the town can also cause traffic, noise and diesel pollution. The north east used to rely heavily on the timber industry but towns like Bright are changing to be more focused on outdoors and nature based tourism.
A logical campaign which we support 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.
Native forest logging near Bright
We then visited a planned logging area which is a few kilometres to the south west of Bright.
Locals are concerned that the native forest (which has a lot of radiata pine in it due to the adjacent pine plantations) is on steep terrain and will lead to erosion once it is cleared.
[ABOVE: native forest scheduled to be logged]
March 16 – highlighting logging in the upper Big (Mitta Mitta) river
On Thursday morning, we gathered at the Big River bridge in Glen Valley to highlight the threat of logging which is planned upstream from the bridge towards the Bogong High Plains in the headwaters of the Big River. The logging coupe in the upper section of the Big River valley is potentially the start of a series of future coupes which would dramatically impact and fragment the wild zones of the upper Big River between the Bogong High Plains and Mt Bogong (Warkwoolowler). At present this side of the High Plains is a wild and largely intact place.
We were joined by an enthusiastic contingent from Extinction Rebellion (XR) North East Victoria–Albury Region, who brought along their new and wonderful Pygmy Possum and Gang Gang costumes.
The Big River joins the Cobungra River to become the Mitta Mitta, and is important for the water it supplies downstream to the Dartmouth Dam and the Murray River. It is a fabulous rafting river and draws many paddlers each year to the remote upper reaches of the valley as well as huge numbers of fly fishers. Logging, especially at scale in the headwaters can be expected to negatively impact on water quality.
[ABOVE: the Big River]
Logging threatens eco tourism accommodation’s water supply
The Glen Wills Mountain Retreat draws many people to the upper Mitta Mitta valley. It provides nature based tourism opportunities, and is the only accommodation along a significant part of the valley, from Anglers Rest to Mitta Mitta. However, proposed logging in the catchment where the retreat’s water supply comes from threatens the viability of this important local business.
We visited some of the areas where logging is planned, and were impressed to find older forests dominated by Alpine Ash at the higher elevations. Adjacent areas that have previously been logged showed poor and patchy regrowth.
[ABOVE: forests scheduled for logging upstream from the Glen Wills retreat]
March 18 – a wander on Mt Wills
Victoria’s highest mountain, Bogong (Warkwoolowler in the Waywurru and Dhudhuroa languages, meaning the mountain where Aboriginal people collected the Bogong Moths) is protected in the Alpine National Park. It sits high above the town of Mount Beauty and is a drawcard for hikers, skiers and backcountry snowboarders. There are no roads on the mountain, and access is slow because of the steep climb up from the valley. It is an alpine wonderland of wildflowers in summer and deep snow in winter.
Most people approach the mountain from the Ovens Valley or across the Bogong High Plains. There is another route on the eastern side, following the appropriately named Long Spur to Mt Wills. This is all high elevation woodland and forests, and is the route by which the famous Australian Alps Walking Track (AAWT) leaves Bogong as it heads towards the Snowy Mountains. The 700 km long AAWT crosses the Alps from Walhalla to the outskirts of Canberra, and follows Long Spur from Bogong to Mt Wills before turning south and dropping into the valley of the Mitta Mitta River.
Mt Wills itself is a magical ‘island in the sky’ of isolated snow gum woodland, largely dominated by older trees. While it is connected by the long and high ridge back to Bogong, mostly the land around the mountain falls away to deep river valleys and forests that are initially dominated by Alpine Ash.
Now logging threatens the area between Bogong and Mt Wills.
The higher mountain areas on this side of the Bogong High Plains are largely intact, although significant areas have been burnt, often several times in close succession, in recent years. But now there is a threat posed by logging in the area where the AAWT/ Long Spur track starts the climb up to Mt Wills, which would create a large clear cut area of more than 100 hectares.
There are four coupes in total planned for the Long Spur area:
- three where the AAWT starts the climb up into the intact snow gum woodlands of Mt Wills and
- one closer to Bogong itself. This last one is a worry because it is in the headwater area of the Big (Mitta Mitta) River, which flows from a valley between Mt Bogong and the Bogong High Plains. See the section above for more details on this logging.
On Friday and Saturday, we led groups to the summit of Mt Wills to explore the wonderful old snow gum forests, and down along the AAWT through the areas that will be clearfelled. We found spectacular alpine ash forests above Big River saddle which would be devastated if they were logged. Older alpine ash is getting rarer by the year. There is no justification for logging these precious forests.
You can read more about the threats to these forests here.
For a summary of our forests work in the north east, please check here.
[ABOVE: forests along the AAWT where three logging coupes are planned]
A new FoE group in the north east
It was clear from this visit that there is a space for a new environmental advocacy environmental group in the north east. So on the walk on the Saturday we announced the formation of Friends of the Earth North East Alps.
If you live in the north east and would like to get involved in the group, please get in touch: [email protected]
Please take action
We have a good chance to get these forests protected - if we act now. Here are some things you can do:
1/ Tell the minister. A minister has many issues to deal with - we need to get the logging issue on their radar. Please send a message directly to them, either via phone, email or social media. Tell her that people care and want action.
Please contact the environment minister and urge her to protect the Mt Wills and Big River coupes by removing them from the Timber Release Plan (please add the coupe numbers listed above to your email): [email protected]
Example email below:
I write regarding plans to log remote areas near the Alpine national park and Victoria's highest mountain.
Four coupes are planned which cross or end at the Australian Alps Walking Track, a popular long distance trail that runs from Walhalla to the ACT. These forests survived recent bush fires, and the planned coupes will impact on the headwaters of the Big (Mitta Mitta) River - one of our most significant rivers. The coupes planned for Mt Wills will pose a threat to the incredibly important old growth snow gum forests of Mt Wills. There are three coupes planned on the north west side of Mt Wills (where a fire is likely to come from), below the Mt Wills forest, and highly flammable regrowth from logging will pose a threat to these significant forests for decades to come.
With all the damage caused by the 2019/20 fires across the mountains and East Gippsland, there is just no excuse to be cutting older forests like these.
Please protect this area by removing these coupes from the Timber Release Plan:
685-505-0001 (35 ha and a 2 ha road corridor).
685-507-0001 (9.4 ha)
685-507-0004 (45 ha)
686-511- 0002 (45 ha)
2/ If you're short for time, then please sign this online letter to the Minister. It takes less than a minute to send.
3/ Please tell people about these special forests and the need to protect them. If walking in the Bogong / Mt Wills area along the AAWT, please take an image of the forests as you walk through – see the map above – tag in the Minister @IngridStitt and add the hashtag #ProtecttheAAWT and #ProtecttheMitta
4/ Please sign our petition to the Victorian environment minister Ingrid Stitt, urging her to end native forest logging as a matter of urgency.5/ If you like our work, please consider making a tax deductible donation, or, even better, becoming a member.