The immense trees that have sheltered and raised hundreds of generations of owls and gliding possums are now being hacked down by VicForests. The under-storey of tree ferns and waratahs, twining silkpod and musk daisy bush is being crushed into the mud by 40 tonne dozers.
Victoria’s Brumby government is allowing their logging department to destroy these ancient treasures – home to threatened species like the Powerful and Sooty Owls, the Long-footed Potoroo and the secretive Spot-tailed Quoll. This is the forest that was promised for protection in 2006 by the State Labor Government. So why is it being destroyed now?
Flawed maps and broken promises
In 2006, the then Premier, Steve Bracks, made a promise to “protect all significant stands of old growth currently available for logging”. This, with several other areas called icon forests amounted to about 41,000 ha. However, he also promised there would be no impact on the logging industry – an impossible undertaking.
A few days before the 2006 election, the Environment Minister’s office (then John Thwaites) did a quick and dirty job of throwing the old growth maps together. It was so badly mapped it included cow paddocks, logged forest and burnt regeneration. In the two years since this promise was given, hundreds of hectares of Old Growth Forest have been logged while conservation groups have tried to engage a stubborn government to reassess the maps. Cow paddocks were safely protected, but magnificent old growth was crashing to the ground.
The government has delayed so long, it’s tempting to say their delays are deliberate. After all, the longer the delay, the less old growth to preserve, the logging industry stays off their backs and they get the opportunity to announce the whole farce again at the next election.
Fiction writers employed while old growth logged
Post election, the Labor government engaged a couple of logging industry supporters to write a report on how the industry in East Gippsland would manage if these forests were protected. Pete Steedman was an old ALP hack and Graham Gooding was the former head of the Victorian Association of Forest Industries. The result was a great piece of fiction and spin that only the logging industry can create. For instance, despite the fact that the declining industry provides less than 2% of the region’s employment, their document claimed it was 50% or more. Fearful of a union backlash, the government did nothing – no reassessment of maps, no protection, no tourist walks, no pay-outs; just more clearfelling of old growth forests.
Old Growth Walk for visitors
The maps also left out the very area that was promised for the visitors’ walk. In the 2006 policy document Victoria’s National Parks and Biodiversity, Mr Bracks stated he would “Invest $1.3 million to create “the Great Short Walks of East Gippsland”. This was to include the “Old Growth Walk – Goongerah” (Goongerah is the nearest settlement to Brown Mountain). It was a clear election promise. The policy was released before the election, to attract environmentally conscious voters.
In the late 1990s, a member of EEG had discovered a magnificent stand of old growth forest on Brown Mountain and called it the Valley of the Giants. Since then hundreds of visitors have experienced these grand trees, which have names like Almo, Lofty, Uncle George, Steadfast and Big Foot. The track was tagged and has become a well known but unofficial walk that is easy to access on a gentle slope and with the Brown Mountain Creek rainforest running through the centre.
We have taken two parties of DSE and Parks officials in there in order to negotiate this area becoming formally recognised as a walk. But now half of it has been hacked down by VicForests.
VicForests ignores government policy
VicForests was created in August 2004 to ensure logging public forests was profitable. Despite millions in handouts, it hasn’t happened. The unruly band of old-school loggers within VicForests could see that Brown Mountain might be protected before they could get to its real estate, so in early 2007, they planned for the last stands of unprotected old growth to be wiped out.
EEG duly sent our formal objection to VicForests, as part of the sham called “public consultation”. VicForests duly told us that it was all perfectly legal and to bugger off. Then they later told the Minister’s office they didn’t know this coupe was contentious or a planned walk!
In late October 2008, VicForests sent the loggers in to start wiping these carbon, water and wildlife rich forests (not to mention our old growth walk) off the face of the planet.
Then to rub salt into the wound, VicForests named the logging coupe “The Walk”, to show the world that they knew exactly what they were doing, and the government knew, and nobody cared; another example of the goading, fibbing, white-collar-criminal cowboy nature of this organisation.
These trees would have been mature when Shakespeare was writing his plays. The tree ferns that shelter beneath them could be twice as old, surviving hundreds of years of storms, snow, drought and the occasional fire. They were obliterated from the landscape in four weeks by a team of five men – as part of an “approved logging operation”. Work for five blokes for four weeks. Gone forever.
The great irony is that in 1995, when John Brumby was in opposition, he made a very stirring speech at a forest rally in Melbourne.
“… that’s what we’ll do when we’re in government – no more export woodchipping, an industry in the future based on plantations and the proper protection of our high conservation value forests.”
Is this government so easily cowed by a bunch of cold-blooded, gluttonous, woodchip servants that run VicForests? Or is it the weedy might of the loggers union that scares them?
Please – write letters to Gavin Jennings and John Brumby expressing your outrage. Enough old growth forest has been destroyed and converted to pulpwood farms in East Gippsland over the past 40 years. Far too much of what little remains has been butchered into oblivion since their 2006 promise.
The logging of this most significant stand of old growth on Brown Mountain is the ultimate statement of contempt for the public’s deep concern and love for our ancient native forests.
Hon John Brumby
Premier of Victoria
1 Treasury Place
Melbourne, Vic 3002
Hon Gavin Jennings
Minister for Environment,
50 Lonsdale St
Melbourne, Vic 3002