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A clear-felled area of Mountain Ash, with David Lindenmayer.
A clear-felled area of Mountain Ash, with David Lindenmayer.
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A Great Forest National Park for SE Australia

Professor David Lindenmayer

1st April 2014

A few hours from Melbourne lies one of Australia's natural wonders - a soaring forest of Mountain Ash trees up to 90 metres tall, with a host of endangered species. David Lindenmayer demands a halt to the logging, and the creation of a new National Park.

The science underpinning this important initiative is compelling. The political will to convert the concept into a reality is all that is now lacking.

The Mountain Ash (Eucalyptus regnans) forests of the Central Highlands of Victoria support some of the tallest flowering trees on the planet.

Forest giants exceeding 90m in height have recently been recorded, Lindenmayer 2009). And in 1881 a Mountain Ash was felled that measured 114.3 metres - just a metre less than the world's tallest tree today, a Coast Redwood.

This spectacular area lies just a few hours NE of Melbourne - Australia's second largest city. Indeed, these unique forests provide most of the city's water supply. (Viggers et al. 2013)

They are they are also the most carbon-dense forests on earth (Keith et al. 2009), and provide important habitat for endangered species like Leadbeater's possum - the faunal emblem of the State of Victoria (Lindenmayer 2009).

Thanks to their proximity to Melbourne - close enough for a weekend camping expedition, or a more leisurely week's holiday - the Mountain Ash forests have enormous potential for tourism.

Sadly, we have not looked after these wonderful trees

But unfortunately the forests have also been significantly degraded over the past 100 years. This is due to four key factors - all widespread over the entire forest biome.

  • historical logging - about a century ago more timber passed through the port of Melbourne than through other major timber ports like Seattle in the USA (Dingle and Rasmussen 1991).
  • industrial clearfelling - that has taken place since the 1970s.
  • wildfire - ten wildfires have occurred in the Central Highlands of Victoria in the last 100 years, including major ones that damaged extensive areas of forest in 1939, 1983, and most recently 2009.
  • post-fire salvage logging - in which clearfelling operations are employed in an attempt to recover some of the economic value of timber that is burned in a fire (Lindenmayer et al. 2008).


As a result of these substantial disturbances in Mountain Ash forests, once extensive old growth forests now covers just 1,887 ha (in 147 different patches) - or about 1/30th to 1/60th of what it would have been historically (Lindenmayer et al. 2013a).

Overall, the old growth high Mountain Ash forest covers just 1.16% of the entire forest area.

Old, hollow trees are especially valuable

In addition, there is a rapid rate of loss of large old, hollow-bearing trees (Lindenmayer et al. 2012a) (Lindenmayer et al. 2012b). This is making species like Leadbeater's Possum which are closely associated with such trees (Lindenmayer et al. 2014) highly vulnerable to extinction (Lumsden et al. 2013).

And it's not like the logging has come to an end. In fact, following the recent fires, the logging has been concentrated into smaller areas, making its impacts all the more severe. 

Adding to the tragedy, the wood that comes out of the forests is being pulped for paper production - when the state already has ample reserves of pulpwood from much less biologically important sources.

A wide range of studies indicate that current forms of industrial clearfelling:


These major ecological problems in Mountain Ash forest indicate the urgent need for careful future management, including an evidence-based forest conservation and restoration strategy.

A Great Forest National Park

My research team and I have developed such a strategy and it is based on targeted conservation of large old hollow-bearing trees and remaining patches of old growth forest.

It also involves removing one of the key processes threatening the integrity of Mountain Ash ecosystem - widespread industrial clearfell logging - from an extensive part of the forest estate (Lindenmayer et al. 2013a).

This last action has led to a call for what has been called the Great Forest National Park.

The Park has been specifically designed to encompass key areas of known habitat for Leadbeater's Possum, remaining old growth stands and areas supporting large old hollow-bearing trees.

It also targets places where complete protection should lead to the eventual re-development of old growth stands of Mountain Ash forest (Lindenmayer et al. 2013a).

And it will be relatively easy to achieve - all the forest we have designated for inclusion in the Park is already publicly owned. Taxpayers won't have to buy it from private owners, because we own it already!

Key benefits

There are a number of important key benefits of the Great Forest National Park:

  • the protected forests would provide critical habitat for the protection of Leadbeater's Possum and a wide range of other species of the Mountain Ash forests.
  • the Park would provide a major long-term store of forest carbon and therefore play a valuable role in attempts to mitigate the impacts of rapid climate change.
  • the forests would be an integral part of supplying high quality water to Melbourne - and as forests age they will help offset the need to use extremely expensive water from a recently constructed desalination plant.
  • by growing forests through to an old growth stage, there will be an opportunity to eventually reduce the risks of widespread, high-severity wildfires associated with the extensive areas of young, logged and regenerated fire-prone forest that are prevalent throughout the Central Highlands region.
  • Finally, the Great Forest National Park could (and indeed should) become a focal point for forest-based tourism infrastructure that will attract visitors to the Central Highlands region. This will, in turn, help recover local and regional economies that are currently depressed.


This exciting prospect means that the local community and an array of local businesses have become increasingly supportive of the concept of a Great Forest National Park.

The science underpinning this important initiative is compelling. The political will to convert the concept into a reality is all that is now lacking.

 


 

David Lindenmayer is Professor at the Fenner School of Environment and Society, The Australian National University, Canberra. He can be reached at David.Lindenmayer@anu.edu.au.

Join: the Great Forest National Park campaign.

Youtube link: youtube.com/watch?v=dPN52e3WFc8

 

References

Dingle, T. and C. Rasmussen. 1991. Vital Connections: Melbourne and its Board of Works 1891-1991. Penguin Books, Melbourne.

Keith, H., B. G. Mackey, and D. B. Lindenmayer. 2009. Re-evaluation of forest biomass carbon stocks and lessons from the world's most carbon-dense forests. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences106:11635-11640.

Lindenmayer, D. B. 2009. Forest Pattern and Ecological Process: A Synthesis of 25 Years of Research. CSIRO Publishing, Melbourne.

Lindenmayer, D. B., P. S. Barton, P. W. Lane, M. Westgate, P. Gibbons, and G. E. Likens. 2014. An empirical assessment and comparison of species-based and habitat-based surrogates. . PLOS One(in press).

Lindenmayer, D. B., D. Blair, L. McBurney, S. C. Banks, J. A. R. Stein, R. J. Hobbs, G. E. Likens, and J. F. Franklin. 2013a. Principles and practices for biodiversity conservation and restoration forestry: a 30 year case study on the Victorian montane ash forests and the critically endangered Leadbeater's Possum. . Australian Zoologist.

Lindenmayer, D. B., W. Blanchard, L. McBurney, D. Blair, S. Banks, D. Driscoll, A. Smith, and A. M. Gill. 2013b. Fire severity and landscape context effects on arboreal marsupials. Biological Conservation:In re-review.

Lindenmayer, D. B., W. Blanchard, L. McBurney, D. Blair, S. Banks, G. E. Likens, J. F. Franklin, W. F. Laurance, J. Stein, and P. Gibbons. 2012a. Interacting factors driving a major loss of large trees with cavities in a forest ecosystem. PLOS One 7:e41864.

Lindenmayer, D. B., P. J. Burton, and J. F. Franklin. 2008. Salvage Logging and Its Ecological Consequences. Island Press, Washington DC.

Lindenmayer, D. B., R. J. Hobbs, G. E. Likens, C. Krebs, and S. C. Banks. 2011. Newly discovered landscape traps produce regime shifts in wet forests. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences108:15887-15891.

Lindenmayer, D. B., W. F. Laurance, and J. F. Franklin. 2012b. Global decline in large old trees. Science 338:1305-1306.

Lumsden, L. F., J. L. Nelson, C. Todd, P. Scroggie, E. McNabb, T. A. Raadik, S. Smith, S. Avecedo, G. J. Cheers, M. Jemison, and N. M. 2013. A new strategic approach to biodiversity management - research component. Arthur Rylah Institute for Environmental Research, , Melbourne.

Viggers, J. I., H. J. Weaver, and D. B. Lindenmayer. 2013. Melbourne's Water Catchments. Perspectives on a world-class water supply. CSIRO Publishing, Melbourne.

 


 

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