Rainforest protection fails again

Last Easter, three EEG members entered a beautiful rainforest and old growth area in the Bonang River catchment on the Errinundra Plateau. It was being logged. They found what they considered illegal logging of a buffer, which should have been protecting the rainforest in the gully. Morally, a chainsaw should never have come near the entire area but we can only argue with what’s considered “legal’ by our government.

Foresters, not botanists, mark out these areas. We alerted the DSE manager in Orbost, Steve Henry, who’s also a biologist. He agreed to check out our concerns and visited the area about a week later. In the past, these breaches seemed intentionally lawless but now they’re mostly due to incompetence and not knowing what a rainforest is.

A directive was given in 2004 by DSE’s “Director Parks and Forests Stewardship’, Ian Miles, to trial a new way of identifying rainforest. All of Gippsland was to adopt the use of a plant key to help identify rainforest. The staff and foresters were obliged to use this system when there were any uncertainties or disputes. Steve Henry didn’t use it and went by the old, redundant definition.

His report found that no breach had occurred. We questioned the easily-confused identification between a rainforest eco-tone (change between rainforest and eucalypt forest) and a mixed forest (eucalypt forest with rainforest understorey). An eco-tone is unprotected and used as a buffer. A mixed forest is protected and should have a buffer of its own. No wonder foresters are able to identify these rainforests to suit their needs.

VicForests benefits financially from logging – the more trees logged, the more profit. It is also in charge of tagging areas to log. This is like putting Japan in charge of protecting whales.

The government’s own EPA logging audits have consistently found that regulations for rainforest protection are the most frequently breached of all the logging rules. There is an urgent need to adopt the plant key system as the only method for determining rainforest. Having trained botanists on the job rather than tree-counters would also help. The need for sub-catchment protection of rainforest, rather than 20-40 metre buffers, still appears to be a long way off though.

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