Rare ferns and rainforest species have been discovered in a part of the Eastern Victoria region that is earmarked for logging, according to an environment group.
The Goongerah Environment Centre (GECO) has been running citizen science camps to map the biodiversity of the remote Kuark Forest, outside of Orbost in East Gippsland.
In an unreleased report given exclusively to the ABC, GECO said it had made a number of significant finds.
GECO spokesman Ed Hill said he and a group of volunteers who surveyed the Kuark forest in April found a bristly shield fern, which has never been documented in East Gippsland before.
“We took a sample and sent it to the herbarium in Melbourne and they verified it as the bristly shield fern, and the closest known occurrence of this fern is 250 kilometres to the west of here … just out of Melbourne in the Bunyip State Forest or to the north, just south of Sydney,” he said.
“So it’s a huge geographic extension and a really significant discovery.”
Volunteers had also found more than 90 types of rainforest species, including seven rare ferns, the report said.
Melbourne University senior research fellow Dr Craig Nitschke, who is working on an unrelated project that is partly funded by VicForests, said rainforests had particular historical significance in Australia.
“They really are links to our Gondwana past, there are species in there that have been around for a very, very long time,” he said.
“In the mainland of Australia, increasingly they have become rarer over the last 10,000 years, mostly due to the impact of fire on the landscape and the warming and drying of the climate.
“They are really relics of the past and there’s a lot of species in there too we only find in those ecosystems.
“There’s about roughly 175, 180 species that occur in rainforests and about half of them are only found in those ecosystems and some of them are threatened as well.”
Illegal to log Victorian rainforests
In Victoria it is illegal to log areas of rainforest, but Mr Hill said many of the rainforest species that volunteers found in the Kuark Forest were within the state-owned VicForests-planned logging coupes.
He said VicForests was not doing enough to identify areas of rainforest within the Kuark Forest.
“There are species out here and amazing rainforest and amazing conservation values that we don’t even know about,” Mr Hill said.
“The Government doesn’t come in and adequately survey these areas before they log, so we just don’t know what we are losing.”
But VicForests manager Nathan Trushell said that was not the case.
Mr Trushell said the state’s forestry management plan identifies the most important areas of rainforest across the whole of East Gippsland and reserves them.
He said VicForests also worked to identify smaller areas of rainforest.
“We’ve got a scattering of rainforest that occurs in gullies and small patches right across the forest and they are the areas we need to ensure we don’t harvest,” he said.
“So what we do is have a comprehensive process to identify those areas and to exclude them from harvesting.”
Mr Trushell, who had not seen the report by GECO when he spoke to the ABC, said many rainforest species were found throughout the forest, but were not necessarily in areas of rainforest.
“It’s only when they come into certain configurations and a minimum size of 0.1 of a hectare do we then identify and exclude those areas,” he said.
Mr Trushell said VicForests would consider any information that it was given.
GECO said it planned to send the report to the Victorian Government.
Listen to the audio from ABC AM 20 July 2015