On January 1, 2024, all native forest logging on public lands in the east of the state will end. This is a wonderful win for forests, animals, landscapes and the climate, and comes after decades of hard work by many thousands of people. In recent years Friends of the Earth (FoE) has been campaigning to protect areas of high conservation forest in the north east of the state from logging. We are proud to have played a significant role in the long campaign to gain an end to native forest logging in the east of Victoria.
Here is a brief summary of the campaign in the north east and the high country.
The Victorian high country – that section of the Great Dividing Range that starts in the mountain ash forests near Healesville and stretches up to the Snowy Mountains on the Victorian /NSW border is a beautiful and diverse part of the state. Rich in biodiversity and dramatic landscapes, the high country is also the starting point for many of our most important rivers.
From the mixed species forests of the foothills into the alpine ash, then snow gum, to the true alpine zones above treeline, there are multiple threats to the high country, including invasive species, climate change and logging.
We acknowledge that these forests exist in the Cultural Landscapes of the unceded sovereign lands of Victorian Traditional Owners.
There has been a gap in forests campaigning in the north east in recent years. With strong campaigns in western Victoria, the Central Highlands and East Gippsland, the north east has, in contrast, seen little campaign activity. A number of groups like Friends of Bats and Habitat have been tracking logging in the region but no larger groups were campaigning there. FoE decided to work on protecting significant areas of the Victorian high country that were at risk from logging. We have also been highlighting the need for the state government to act to reduce the threats posed to these forests by climate change driven bush fires.
Much of the high country is protected in the Alpine national park. However the park tends to include the higher elevation areas which don’t contain commercially useful species like alpine ash. When the park was created, much of the boundary was created according to the location of commercially viable forests, which were then excluded from the park. Some areas were even subject to ‘once only logging’ then included in the park.
FoE looked at the unprotected areas and identified a number of really important and high conservation areas that were scheduled for logging. The values we looked for included high species diversity, the presence of older forests and intact unroaded catchments, their physical connection to existing national parks, and importance for tourism. Three key areas were identified, and we set about gaining protection for them. The areas were around Mt Stirling, between Mt Wills and Mt Bogong (Warkwoolowler) – which is the state’s highest mountain, and the headwaters of the Little Dargo River. We organised free guided walks to these areas, carried out citizen science surveys to find threatened species, generated media, lobbied ministers and other MPs and raised the profile of these forests through mobilising outdoors groups with an interest in each area.
These places are now safe from logging
Mt Wills is an 'island in the sky' - a small plateau in north eastern Victoria which supports wonderful old growth snow gum woodlands, surrounded by lower valleys. It is connected to Victoria's highest mountain - Bogong (Warkwoolowler) by Long Spur. Latrobe University academic John Morgan has identified these forests as being one of the key strong holds of old snow gum in the state. There are impressive, older alpine ash forests on Long Spur, below the Mt Wills summit, which were scheduled for logging, which would have increased fire risk in the area. FoE led multiple trips to the area to highlight its values and encourage people to lobby the government for their protection.
Mt Stirling is a famous and popular spot for cross country skiing, walking, mountain bike riding, trail running, camping and four wheel driving and is literally next door to the Mt Buller ski resort. It had 11 areas of forest scheduled to be logged. Logging would have had dramatic impacts on recreation, as well as fragmenting the high elevation forests that circle the summit area of the mountain. FoE led citizen science trips to find endangered species, alerted the outdoor sports community to the risks of logging, and lobbied state government to remove the area from logging schedules. Mt Stirling is now safe from logging.
The Little Dargo
The Little Dargo river is a special, un roaded headwater area between the Dargo High Plains and the Alpine national park that contains old forests of mountain gum and recovering alpine ash. Unlike much of the surrounding area, it has only been lightly burnt in recent decades. Logging was planned for the entire area of the upper valley and would have devastated this fire refuge and the pristine Little Dargo river. FoE worked with the Treasures, a local grazing family to ensure protection of the Little Dargo.
Thankfully these areas are now protected from logging. Our vigilance in guarding these areas helped secure their survival.
We also tracked and responded to logging that was underway in a range of areas across the Alps, raising concerns with government and sending reports to the Office of the Conservation Regulator, generated media stories and lobbied government to have logging stopped.
Some of these areas included:
- Logging of fire damaged forests near Mt Pinnibar,
- Logging along a section of the Australian Alps Walking Track (AAWT) to the east of Mt Wills,
- ‘Hazardous Tree Treatment’ adjacent to the Alpine National Park in the Upper Jamieson catchment.
Forests and fire
Another key threat to the high country comes from climate change driven fires, which pose an existential threat to both the alpine ash forests and snow gum woodlands. The massive bushfires in 1998, 2003, 2006, 2009, 2013, 2014 and 2019/20 burnt more than 97% of alpine ash distribution. Many of these forests are now facing ecological collapse. In the case of alpine ash, it is estimated that there is about 140,000 ha of vulnerable (young) ash regrowth in the state that will not self-regenerate if burnt again. In response to these threats, the state government has initiated an ash seeding program which seeks to keep the ash community viable into the future.
The snow gums face a similar threat and there is, at present, no targeted program to ensure the survival of the Snow Gum woodlands. FoE has been campaigning to gain a state government intervention to protect these at threat communities. We know that snow gums can recover from fire, provided we are able to exclude wildfire while they are growing back. The state government needs to assess the threats to this species and provide commitments to protect the forests from fire even in bad fire seasons like the Black Summer of 2019/20.
We already know that if we can exclude fire from snow gums as they recover, there is a good chance we will see the development of old forests again. Groups like FoE have ideas on how to respond to the threats (you can read our rescue plan for the snow gums here) but state government needs to take action to assess the threat and then allocate resources.
Now that clearfell logging has ended, there are decades of work to be done to assist the forests as they recover. We also need to ensure that logging by other names does not continue, such as salvage logging occurring in the west. There will be a government process announced in 2024 which will outline how decision making about ‘what next’ will occur. We assume this will be through the creation of an ‘eminent persons’ panel. There will be opportunities to engage with and express your views through that process.
We are advocating to ensure that traditional owner groups are decision makers, not just stakeholders, as the government considers the future of these public land forests.
Please send an email to the state environment minister the Hon Steve Dimopoulos and the State government to take steps to protect the iconic Snow Gum forests.
A brief report on FoE’s work in the high country.
A briefing paper on the alpine ash seeding program.
Read our report An Icon at Risk, which details the many threats to the Victorian high country.
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