BROWN MOUNTAIN – a short history

Brown Mountain was assessed and listed as an old growth National Estate area by the Commonwealth Heritage Commission in the 1980s.

That means it has the same values as a National Park. The management of these areas were handed to the state government which promptly set about clearfelling them in 1989.

The protests on Brown Mountain attracted much media attention when 300 people were arrested and charged with entering the coupe. A moratorium was put on the logging while the state govt carried out a “Prudent and Feasible Study” into alternatives to logging National Estate listed forests. As compensation for the year-long moratorium, the Federal Government gave the State Government $10 million. This was used to blatantly push new roads into the heart of the very areas being studied – in anticipation of the outcome. It was also used to carry out plantation trials in regrowth forests – part of the long-term agenda to convert publicly owned native forests into industrial tree farms. (National Estate contained 4% of total timber volumes in E Gippsland.)

Environment groups have highlighted the conflicting promises of the Labor party in opposition and in Government now. Since the mid 90s, the destruction of native forests has escalated, but John Brumby, who then acknowledged the “open slather approach”, now happily defends this same style of management.

In 1995, John Brumby said “… we need an independent commissioner for the environment to ensure that governments honour policy commitments … there is no better example of that than in forestry where there have been flagrant abuses of commonwealth and state processes, where there has been an open slather approach, where the minister’s department is run recklessly and irresponsibly … “

And in a 1995 speech to over 2,000 people in Melbourne, he said “… when we’re in Government – no more export woodchipping … and the proper protection of our high conservation value forests”. “

In the Labor Government’s 2006 election policy promises they stated they will Immediately protect … the last significant stands of old growth forests currently available for logging and In East Gippsland Labor will invest $1.3 million to create a new tourism opportunity, the Great Short Walks … (including) Old Growth Walk – Goongerah (Brown Mt).

Brown Mountain stands out as the quintessential high conservation value forest with colossal old growth trees, a fern-strewn understorey, rainforest steams and rich populations of wildlife, of which many are endangered. The area has seen local community members and environment groups work to establish a tourist walk through these forests. This site was the top of the list for areas being negotiated by the conservation groups the week before VicForests sent in bulldozers as a bloody-minded act of strategic destruction. This destroyed any good will and trust along with the 500 year old trees.

Mr Brumby could have halted this destruction to honour his government’s promise and his previous promises when opposition leader. The area was earmarked for the old growth walk that was promised by them in 2006. It has had two site visits by government officials and many discussions regarding its remapping as an easy old growth walk – the most recent being 6 weeks prior to the logging starting.

In June 2006, the combined green groups presented a detailed study of essential HCV areas critical for protection. It included Brown Mountain and the reasons. In November 2006 the Labor Government rushed together a map of the areas they considered to be their ‘significant stands of old growth available for logging’ that should be protected. After investigation, many have been shown to be sparse burnt regrowth, a cow paddock, existing protected areas and previously logged forest. It is suspected the areas proposed were ‘edited’ by the logging interests before they were made public.

When Brown Mountain old growth forests were put on the logging schedule for 2007-08, local environment groups objected via a formal public comment process (early 2007). Despite this clear communication, VicForests and DSE recently stated they didn’t know it was contentious.

The government first refused to reassess the offering, but have now agreed many of the areas were poorly mapped and are not old growth. Again, conservation groups have presented the top priority areas to include Brown Mountain and Yalmy. The government is now saying they didn’t know Brown Mountain was one of our asks.

While the government has dithered on this mapping, and while shabby, struggling regrowth is protected by a moratorium, hundreds of hectares of exquisite old growth forest which should have been protected, have conveniently been destroyed forever.

The VEAC investigation into Goolengook (2005) was stopped midstream and never had any recommendations drawn up. The Government has promised to protect this area, regardless of a VEAC outcome, but that also is still waiting to be properly gazetted. Until this is done, the ancient forests and threatened wildlife in them are as threatened with destruction as any other temporarily protected area.

There seems to be no reason why the government is delaying these promises. Though strong lobbying from within the ALP’s ranks could be one reason. After all, the ex state secretary of the Forestry Union is now a senior advisor to John Brumby!

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