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Lifting the veil of secrecy on logging operations in Toolangi

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This article provides some background information about a handful of significant logging coupes shown on the Wilderness Society’s Self-Drive Map for an area of Toolangi State Forest in the Central Highlands of Victoria. Download map here (Right click and select 'save link as' to download)

On this map, the chainsaw symbol marks the centre of a logging coupe - an area of state forest set aside for logging. The ones we have picked out and lettered are particularly noteworthy - read on and you will find out why.

Sometimes there are multiple coupes side by side. Some have already been logged. Others are scheduled for logging: by the time you read this, these areas of forest may well be gone.

Since the advent of clearfell logging in the 1960s, there have been many thousands of coupes - logged and burnt mostly for woodchips. The cumulative impact of decades of logging is a significant part of the problem, and causes continual damage in forest ecosystems that will take many hundreds, if not thousands of years, to recover.

As you read through this article, bear in mind that every year, there are more than 400 coupes logged in Victoria, totalling more than 5,500 hectares - that’s an area 2,750 times the size of the Melbourne Cricket Ground.

A) ‘Leo’s Foot’ logging coupe

Leo’s Foot logging coupe is on the side of Mount St Leonard, the tallest mountain in the range that frames the famous Yarra Valley. At 1010 metres high, Mount St Leonard is taller than Mt Dandenong - another much loved tourist hotspot right on Melbourne’s doorstep.

Leo’s Foot is the first numbered stop on the Self-Drive Map. The scale of logging destruction at Leo’s Foot is a shocking sight, particularly if it is the first logging coupe you have seen. Leo’s Foot is 38 hectares in size, that’s equivalent of 19 times the size of Melbourne Cricket Ground.

On 18 May 2013, over 100 locals attended a public meeting in Toolangi. They pleaded with VicForests not to log their mountain, but their appeals fell on deaf ears. You can read more about their efforts here.

Leo’s Foot was once known habitat for the Superb Lyrebird, as well as the endangered Spot-tailed Quoll and Victorian animal emblem, the Fairy (Leadbeater’s) Possum.

If you’ve taken the Toolangi Self-Drive Map, and visited Leo’s Foot yourself, no doubt you were struck by the sobering sight: the scale of the logging and the impact of the post-logging burn. Perhaps you even wondered at the terror wildlife would have experienced as their forest homes came literally crashing down around them.

The destruction of important wildlife habitat was one of the reasons the Knitting Nannas of Toolangi staged a 'knit-in' at Leo’s Foot.

This unorthodox yet highly effective action was successful drawing attention to the problems of this logging, while further galvanising community efforts to stop this senseless destruction. You can read more about the ‘knit-in’ here.

In September 2013 a team of volunteer conservationists took to the skies to express their concern about the logging occurring all over the Toolangi State Forest. Releasing an enormous 37x15 metre banner - that reads "Save Victoria's Wild Forest Heritage" - against the background of recent destruction fringed by remaining magnificent Mountain Ash forest made for fantastic aerial photos demonstrating the impact of logging at Leo’s Foot coupe. You can read more about the day’s activities here.


Sending a strong message from Leo's Foot logging coupe


B) ‘Rusty’ logging coupe

Rusty logging coupe lies next to Sylvia Creek Road and alongside Leo’s Foot logging coupe. It was scheduled for logging in VicForests’ Timber Release Plans but is currently on hold due to local community members and farmers voicing concerns about the effect it will have on water in the area. This coupe will be on hold pending a hydrological investigation.  

Additional to this and quite unsurprisingly, a recent survey by volunteer conservationists recorded a large area of Fairy (Leadbeater's) Possum habitat (‘Zone 1A’ habitat) in this coupe. There were also sightings of the Fairy Possum in this area while surveys were being conducted.

Nevertheless, VicForests have marked out this coupe in preparation for logging. This means that VicForests are preparing to destroy important forest that provides much needed habitat for the endangered Fairy Possum.

As it is located right next to Leo’s Foot, should Rusty logging coupe go ahead, an even bigger scar on the landscape will be created than has already been caused by the Leo’s Foot logging. Check out this render that shows what will happen to the flanks of Mount St Leonard if VicForests logs the coupes as they intend.



C) Breaches of rainforest ‘buffers’

Just off the Tanglefoot walking track, and to the east of Wirrawilla, is a cluster of logging coupes. Two of these have recently come under scrutiny.

Logging in Victoria’s publicly-owned state forests are required by law to provide a 40 metre ‘rainforest buffer’ in an effort to diminish the heavy impacts of logging on sensitive areas of rainforest. The effects of clearfell logging in these fragile ecosystems include weed invasion, and excessive drying of these naturally moist ecosystems due to increased exposure to wind, sunlight and wildfire.

Despite the rainforest buffer prescriptions, logging activities such as bulldozing have occurred within rainforest protection zones in this area.

This image from the controversial Tanglefoot logging coupe shows that logging bulldozers have breached the 40m buffer intended to provide some measure of protection to the rainforest.

Tanglefoot - bulldozer track in buffer zone

Due to consistent breaches of the requirement to ensure rainforest is 'buffered' by some unlogged forest, conservationists are not confident that logging won't continue to impact sensitive rainforest communities into the future.

D) The ‘Sylvia Creek’ logging coupe and court case

In 2011, regional conservation group MyEnvironment challenged VicForests' logging operations in three planned logging coupes in Toolangi State Forest, called Sylvia Creek, South Col, and Freddo. The case was heard in the Supreme Court in early 2012. The Sylvia Creek logging coupe is stop number 5 on the Self-Drive Map. Also known as ‘Gunbarrel’ logging coupe, this is a particularly significant site with a history of litigation in the Supreme Court. MyEnvironment alleged that tax-payer funded state government logging agency, VicForests, had not conducted accurate and adequate pre-logging surveys for endangered animals before clearfell logging the areas, primarily for woodchips. Volunteer conservationists since recorded tiny families of Fairy (Leadbeater’s) Possum inhabiting the Sylvia Creek logging coupe.

For the full story of the legal battle, click here.

E) More known Leadbeater’s Possum habitat scheduled for logging

On the corner of Blowhard and Yea Link Roads is a magnificent pocket of forest that is scheduled for logging.

VicForests plans to log in this area despite recent scientific studies showing that areas within the proposed coupe are ‘Zone 1A habitat’ - some of the most important forest habitat for the endangered Fairy (Leadbeater’s) Possum.

In this area, there are trees over 120 years old and provide shelter to many species of endangered wildlife. There is a ‘pre-1900 rule’, whereby VicForests are bound by a regulation that stipulates that, in the Central Highlands, trees that began to grow earlier than 1900 won’t be logged. Conservationists continually find instances of pre-1900 trees being logged.

If logging at the corner of Blowhard and Yea Link Roads is to go ahead, it will undoubtedly have a devastating impact on the Fairy Possum families that call this forest home.

Last December,  ABC’s 7:30 ran a program showing conservationists surveying for the Fairy Possum in this very area of forest. To watch this very interesting segment, click here.


F) Nolan’s Gully

This is a cluster of already logged and scheduled coupes that lie mainly between Blowhard Road and Nolan’s Road and also a little to the north of Nolan’s Road. These coupes are located close to numbered stop 7 on the map.

In October 2013, VicForests sent logging contractors into one of the last mature and unburned stands of forest in Toolangi, called Nolan’s Gully.

Surveys of the Nolan’s Gully forest conducted prior to logging commencing prove that the tiny Fairy Possum was most certainly living there.

In fact the surveys identified that 70% of the area VicForests intended to clear was  ‘Zone 1A’ habitat. Large areas of ‘Zone 1A’ habitat were also identified in areas adjacent to this coupe.

This is significant as the impacts from logging extend much further than a coupe’s boundary. Animals are often killed during logging and post-logging burns,devastating populations of wildlife, many of which are already in decline. The periphery of logging coupes are over-exposed to the elements and struggle to function in a healthy way. Impacts on the water cycle are immediate, and can last for many.

The impacts from logging in Nolan's Gully can be seen in the photos above. The first photo is of a beautiful intact forest in Nolan's Gully, the second is how the area looked after loggers moved in.

 

The veil of secrecy around these logging operations is deliberate and it is evident why when you take a closer look. Logging native forests damages crucial wildlife habitat, damages water catchments and releases huge amounts of carbon into the atmosphere. Furthermore, most forestry jobs are in the plantation sector but state governments use our taxpayer dollars to sell native forests at artificially low prices, undermining the plantation sector and putting plantation jobs at risk.

The production of woodchips for pulp and paper is the largest driver of forest destruction in Australia. Japanese-owned Australian Paper, manufacturer of Reflex, is the largest domestic purchaser of pulp logs from Victoria's native forests.

Viable alternatives do exist. Australia currently has a vast amount of plantation wood available so there is no excuse for Reflex to be produced from the destruction of our native forests.

Helping implement a solution is easier than you think, read how here.

Another effective way of standing up for our forests is to write to your local MP and let them know how you feel about what is happening in these fragile ecosystems. You can download our letter writing kit here.

If you would like to get more involved you can volunteer with us and join the growing movement of passionate people taking action for our forests. Fill out the form here.

This article links via QR code from our Toolangi State Forest Self-Drive Map. Download map here (Right click and select 'save link as' to download) to help you navigate the beautiful forests and check out our beautiful guide to the Toolangi State Forest.