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Pine trees stall Brataualung Forest Park handback

Environmental cliche no. 444. "Its a marathon, not a sprint".

Where were you in October 2006? 17 years ago, John Howard was Prime Minister, Kim Beazley was opposition leader. Steve Bracks was Premier and Ted Baillieu had been state opposition leader for 5 months after the demise of Robert Doyle. Steve Irwin had died one month earlier from a sting ray barb and a few months earlier the world had been gripped by the Beaconsfield mine collapse in northern Tasmania.

In terms of FoE forest issues, a new Heads of Agreement was signed concerning the handback of 8,000ha of forest called the Cores and Links Reserve in the Strzelecki Ranges. Friends of the Earth, Friends of Gippsland Bush, Trust for Nature and others had been involved in 2 years of tense negotiations to get the Heads of Agreement signed between Hancock, Australian Paper and the State Government. The land was supposed to be gifted to Trust for Nature to manage. The deal was signed under duress. Eight years earlier the land in question, which included rainforest, old growth forest and habitat for a range of species including the Strzelecki koala, had been effectively sold to U.S based Hancock Victorian Plantations for $4,000 per hectare by the Kennett Government. Hancock did not want to relinquish what they had purchased including 1,500 hectares of "plantations" within reserve. A more detailed history can be found here.

Some of the pines on old Whitelaws Track: Photo Anthony Amis August 2023.

A decade later in July 2018, the first handback of 2,400ha occurred. We had been expecting the second and third tranches of land, totalling 3,000ha to be handed back in 2021, however Covid slowed the process down somewhat and another, more complicated issue has arisen over the past year which has slowed the process down further.

A stand of old pines at a location near Old Whitelaws Track in the Jack River catchment has been causing some headaches. A "standoff" occurred between the State Government and Hancock Victorian Plantations over who is responsible for the removal of these trees.

August 2023: Pine wildings are already emerging in forest that had been replanted for the Brataualung Forest Park.

It was thought that Hancock was supposed to remove the trees during logging of plantations which occurred almost 10 years ago. Some of the pines are definately located on Hancock land, but there are also a number of the trees located on what appears to be a state government (20m wide?) road easement which occurs on both sides of Old Whitelaws Track. This means that the easement trees are the responsibility of the State Government and not Hancock.

Google Earth image of site in January 2014, after removal of plantations, within the future Brataualung Reserve. Pine trees are marked with "P" pins. The logged areas have since been replanted with the regeneration now almost a decade old.

The trees are already seeding and during a FoE visit in early August a number of pine wildings were located. Although not listed as a noxious weed in Victoria, radiata pine can cause all sorts of wilding problems. This map highlights the areas around Victoria for most concern of pine wildings. The Strzelecki's is clearly an area of concern. Also of concern is that Hancock is now converting their hardwood plantations across the Strzelecki's to pine, including other areas surrounding the future reserve. Hancock licences are also perpetual meaning that they will most likely extend beyond 2098.

An old copy of an LEGL Victorian Plantation Corporation (VPC) map which clearly shows the roadside are not covered under the VPC Act, which means that the roadsides are a State Government responsibility.

It would appear that since the FoE visit, the State Government will start a plan to remove the trees in question. About 1.5 kilometres of road will also have to be upgraded to allow log truck access.  It is also good that the State Government located the problem in the first instance during a regeneration audit. We definately don't want pine trees reseeding in the reserve. FoE is however frustrated that the issue had taken months to resolve and that the issue wasn't dealt with when it should have been 10 years ago, when the logging was occurring. We hope that the issue is resolved ASAP. Meanwhile we'll will patiently wait for the land to be reserved, as was promised all those years ago.

On a good note koala scats were found on Old Whitelaws Track under some Mountain Ash trees, which is the first time that koalas have been recorded in this area. The Mountain Ash in this image is about 200m from the site of the where the pine trees need to be removed.

SKAT is continuing to look for koala scats at Mullungdung State Forest. Donations are always appreciated and help us keep the pressure up.


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