Victoria’s tall forests
The forests of eastern Victoria are a window into Australia’s evolutionary past. They have a long past—make sure they have a living future.
In the east of Victoria you can walk through forest from the coast to snowy mountains, through rainforest environments unlike anywhere else on the continent with an incredible diversity of fungi, plant and animal life to match.
There are some parts of Australia that are largely intact, escaping much of the dramatic change wrought by European colonisation. One of these precious places can be found in the tall old forests of Victoria’s east, where landscape processes have continued for millennia and Traditional Owners have long and ongoing connections with continuing custodianship of the land and waters.
Here, an unbroken corridor of thriving vegetation stretches from coast to alps, unlike anywhere else on the Australian mainland. Even after decades of clearfell-logging and successive bushfires you can walk from the coast up through the temperate rainforests of East Gippsland and be met by colossal mountain ash in the Central Highlands.
Ideal conditionsIt’s the east of Victoria’s unique position, jutting out between two oceans, that has graced it with such diverse and spectacular forests. The combination of southern cool and eastern warm temperate climates create ideal habitat for rare plants like subalpine beard heath, monkey mint bush and violet westringia. The mighty ash forests begin here too, providing habitat to unique animals like the critically endangered Leadbeater’s possum.
“Knowing just a little about how this mix of rainfall and temperature has shaped the rare rainforests, Gondwanic-era mountain forests, and the species living in them makes this region all the more precious.”—Amelia Young, National Campaigns Director.
Warm temperate rainforests thrive in the wet gullies of East Gippsland’s lowlands, fed by moisture coming in off the Southern Ocean. At higher altitudes, sassafras and black olive berry trees form cool temperate rainforest canopies over small streams fringed with elegant ferns and colourful fungi. The variety of forest types, makes the region a window into Australia’s evolutionary past, with plants evolved from ancient species that were growing on the supercontinent of Gondwana hundreds of millions of years ago.
It's an ark of biodiversity where scientists are still unravelling secrets new to Western knowledge. Only in 2020, the greater glider (Petauroides volans), a nocturnal marsupial that glides through the forest from tree to tree, was found to be not one, but three unique species. If you’re in these forests after dusk, use a torch to catch a glider’s big eyes looking back at you (if you’re lucky).
Up on the plateaus, both warm and cool temperate rainforests exist in close proximity. These places, like the Goolengook valley, are a global rarity because of this and home to rare animals like the long-footed potoroo and sooty owl. Mountain mists swirl through the branches of giant Errinundra shining gums (Eucalyptus denticulata) that have stood sentinel here for 600 years or more.While in the Central Highlands, the magnificent stands of mountain ash (Eucalyptus regnans) blanket the mountains, the tallest flowering—and the tallest hardwood—trees on Earth.
In issue 1 of Wilderness Journal, in her own words read about National Campaigns Director Amelia Young's strong connection with East Gippsland forests and the journey she took through the region in the aftermath of the catastrophic 2019/2020 bushfires.
Mountains of forest
The misty mountains of East Gippsland, with Mt. Morris (foreground) and Mt. Ellery in the heart of the Wilderness Society's Emerald Link initiative. Image: Rob Blakers, GECO.
Kuark is one of Victoria's strongholds for old growth forest—home to rare rainforest and endangered wildlife such as the greater glider and powerful owl. Image: Rob Blakers, GECO.
Errinundra National Park
Life seems to get even more dense and intricate at the micro level in Errinundra National Park. Image: Ben Baker.
Both warm and cool temperate rainforest occur in the lush, ferny Kuark forest, making the East Gippsland region of Victoria unique. Kuark is also home to endangered owls, potoroos and gliding possums. Despite this, many areas within Kuark are earmarked for logging by VicForests. Image: Rob Blakers, GECO.
The sheer variety of forest types in east Victoria and their grand old age—descended from the forests of the Gondwanan supercontinent—have given rise to extraordinary biodiversity. There are a lot of habitat niches and there’s been a lot of time for species plants and animals to evolve to fill them.
Plants like southern sassafras, soft tree-fern, and mountain pepper trees, and myriad primitive mosses and ferns have thrived here for millennia. The East Gippsland galaxias fish is only found in streams in Kuark forest, while these forests are critical habitat for unique Australian species like the endangered long-footed potoroo, greater and yellow-bellied gliders, and spotted quolls. Rare birds like boobooks and powerful owls call from the trees, while striking yellow-tufted honeyeaters and pink robins dart about the understorey.
Revealing just how old Victoria’s tall forests are, the Leadbeater’s possum, thought extinct until its rediscovery in 1961, emerged as a species in these forests some 20 million years ago.
Now its habitat, and that of all the other unique forest species, is under threat from clearfell logging and the worsening effects of climate change. We stand to lose the Leadbeater’s all over again if we don’t protect this remarkable and ancient place.
The Leadbeater's possum depends on tree hollows in old forests. Sadly, this critically endangered animal is having its habitat removed by the logging industry.
Splash of colour
Walk quietly through forest and keep an eye for a flash of pink. The sight of this dazzling pink-chested bird will have you scrambling for your camera.
Listen for the screeching call of a masked owl as it looks for possums and rodents, and other small mammals in the early hours.
Rare and wonderful
The East Gippsland Galaxias fish (Galaxias aequipinnis) is found nowhere else on Earth other than the Arte River catchment in Kuark Forest, East Gippsland. Image: Andrew Lincoln, GECO
Life on Mt Ellery
A lyrebird sings in the mountain mist. At 1230m above sea level, Mt Ellery is the highest peak in far East Gippsland. Forests are continuous from its summit to the coast of Croajingalong.
The Gippsland waratah (Telopea oreades) grows in tall wet forests and rainforests like Kuark. It produces large red flowers each spring. Image: GECO.
A world under threat
Victoria’s forests are home to hundreds of rare and threatened species—iconic creatures like the Greater Glider. But they also support humans. These forests clean our air. They work as giant air conditioners for our cities. They provide Melbourne with safe, clean drinking water, contributing $310 million a year to GDP. As tourist destinations, they add $260 million a year to GDP.
Logging Victoria's native forests
That makes them a valuable asset. One the native forest logging industry puts directly at risk.
A logging clearfell at Rubicon.
Victoria's forests are essential to the supply of clean, drinkable water. Photo: Ken Deacon
A logging clearfell at Toolangi.
Victoria's old growth forests are the last remaining habitat of the critically endangered Fairy Possum. Photo: Teresa Hu
A logging burn.
Discarded timber is burned, releasing stored carbon into the atmosphere. Photo: Chris Taylor
A mountain ash stump in a clearfell.
Mountain Ash have an average lifespan of 400 years. Many older trees are hollow making them only suitable for woodchipping.
Climate change and megafires
The 2019-2020 megafires decimated Victoria's forests. The fires were so intense that they burnt through rainforests that have never burnt before. Unlike other Australian forest types, temperate rainforest species haven't evolved to cope with fires like this. It was an unprecedented event; the intensity and scale of the fires has been unequivocally linked to climate change, which is making everything hotter and dryer.
The only way to mitigate the effects of climate change, and reduce the chances of disastrous fires like these in the future, is to tackle the root causes. The Wilderness Society is working in key areas all over Australia to stop deforestation and the logging of native forests that are vital carbon sinks. With your support we are also successfully preventing the senseless extraction of more fossil fuels from spectacular wilderness areas like the Great Australian Bight, Munga-Thirri/Simpson Desert and on the doorstep of Wollemi National Park in the Blue Mountains - an important contribution to the bigger emission reductions picture.
The planet can't tolerate anymore warming. We must stop new fossil fuels.
Following the 2019-2020 fires we supported the release of a major report, After the Fires: protecting our forest refuges highlighting critical areas of habitat, refuges for the wildlife that made it through the fires, that need to be spared from logging if endangered species are to stand a chance.
You're making a difference!
With your support we are working hard to safeguard Victoria's forests and the wonderful species that live in them. We’re establishing the Emerald Link, a community-led initiative based on nature-tourism opportunities and a positive vision for the forest and communities of East Gippsland, championing the formation of the Great Forest National Park, and helping people and businesses make an informed and ethical choice about the paper products they purchase.