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Victorian forestry is definitely not ecologically sustainable

By any scientific yardstick, forestry operations in Victoria cannot be regarded as ecologically sustainable. Much of the attention of politicians, policy makers and the general public has been on the tall…

Logging of Mountain Ash doesn’t make the sustainable forestry grade. lizardstomp/Flickr

By any scientific yardstick, forestry operations in Victoria cannot be regarded as ecologically sustainable. Much of the attention of politicians, policy makers and the general public has been on the tall forests of Tasmania. But the state of Victoria’s forests is far worse than those in Tasmania - in terms of the number of species of conservation concern, the rate of overcutting, the loss of old growth forests, and the continued application of antiquated and environmentally-damaging clearfelling operations.

The Holy Grail of forest management is for it to be ecologically sustainable. Ecologically Sustainable Forest Management (ESFM) is defined as:

perpetuating ecosystem integrity while continuing to provide wood and non-wood values; where ecosystem integrity means the maintenance of forest structure, species composition, and the rate of ecological processes and functions within the bounds of normal disturbance regimes.

Loss of old growth forest

Our data gathered from nearly 30 years of work suggests that the area of old growth Mountain Ash forest at the time of white settlement would have typically been in the order of 60-80% of the total area of that forest type. It is currently around 1885 ha or 1.16% and is highly fragmented.

The loss of old growth forest is important because of the critical importance of large old trees as habitat for endangered wildlife like Leadbeater’s Possum – the faunal emblem of Victoria. The massive reduced area and fragmented nature of remaining old growth forest also threatens the viability of other iconic mammals. These include species strongly associated with large intact areas of old growth in Mountain Ash forests like the Yellow-bellied Glider.

The loss of old growth forest has arisen because of recurrent and widespread logging, repeated wildfires, and post-fire salvage logging. Logging is fundamentally altering the structure of stands of Mountain Ash forest as well as the composition of Mountain Ash forest landscapes. This means that logging operations cannot be considered to be ecologically sustainable.

Extinction of species

The paucity of old growth Mountain Ash forest, coupled with the widespread loss of large old trees means there is a significant and prolonged shortage of key nesting and denning resources for cavity-dependent species. Leadbeater’s Possum isn’t the only species on an extinction trajectory: more than 30 other cavity-using animals are at risk of localised extinction in Mountain Ash forests. Logging, fire, and the interactions between logging and fire are the key factors that have the potential to drive Leadbeater’s Possum to extinction.

The long-term paucity of hollow-bearing trees in Mountain Ash forests has led to calls for the use of artificial hollows (especially nest boxes) to address the problem for Leadbeater’s Possum. This approach is ecologically ineffective. Even if nest boxes worked for Leadbeater’s Possum, nest boxes are an economically ineffective approach to forest and wildlife management.

Conserving Leadbeater’s Possum has long been recognised as a testcase of ecologically sustainable forest management. The loss of this and other cavity-dependent species from Mountain Ash forests will result in an altered composition of native animal species in these ecosystems. On this basis, logging practices cannot be considered to be ecologically sustainable.

The Leadbeater’s possum is only one of many species affected by unsustainable forestry. D. Harley

Altered key ecosystem processes

The traditional form of logging in Mountain Ash forests is clearfelling. This alters fire regimes in these forests. Fire severity is significantly higher in stands that have been logged and regenerated in the past 10-40 years. Logging also changes the way fires spread in Mountain Ash landscapes.

The recruitment, decay and collapse of large old trees is a key ecological process in forests, woodlands and savannas worldwide. In Mountain Ash forests, clearfell logging significantly impairs the recruitment process for large old trees and rapidly accelerates their rate of loss.

These altered processes have major negative impacts on the structure, composition, species assemblages and overall integrity of Mountain Ash ecosystems. Therefore, based on the definition given at the beginning of this article, logging practices are not ecological sustainable.

Environmentally damaging logging practices

Clearfelling removes all of the merchantable stems in a 15-40 ha area – primarily for pulpwood or woodchip production. Debris (such as tree heads, bark and lateral branches) is left to dry then burned in a high-intensity fire to help regenerate new trees.

Clearfelling is an excellent system for re-growing uniform aged stands of young trees. But large old trees are virtually eliminated on clearfelled sites and many key species of plants are significantly reduced. Old growth understorey plants such as Soft Tree Ferns and Rough Tree Ferns is reduced by around 90% or more on logged sites. These plants play many key ecological roles in Mountain Ash forests.

Alternatives to clearfelling - such as the variable retention harvest system - have been proposed for more than a decade in Victorian forests. But there is no indication the Victorian Government will adopt this system, despite it having been successfully trialled in Mountain Ash forests. The Victorian Government lags well behind other Australian states and other nations when it comes to the use of ecologically sustainable logging practices.

Over-cutting and extinction of the sawlog industry

The most extensive areas of Mountain Ash forest remaining for logging are those that regenerated after the 1939 wildfires. This age of forest has been targeted for clearfelling for more than two decades.

chip_74/Flickr

Under the Victorian Government’s Timber Release Plan, 412 coupes (17,640ha) of 1939 Mountain Ash are proposed for clearfelling to 2016. This is out of around 38,000 ha currently available. Present cutting rates would exhaust the 1939 regrowth resource within around 15 years.

Older trees are needed to produce sawlogs, but there are very few stands of forest older than 1939 (and those remaining are critically important for wildlife conservation). Past and present overcutting will collapse the sawlog industry. The forest industry will increasingly be dominated by low value woodchips and pulpwood from young forest.

Tens of thousands of hectares of Mountain Ash forest were burned in the 2009 wildfires. But there has been no reduction in the sustained yield of timber and pulpwood from Mountain Ash forests. Indeed, senior Victorian Government officials have supported a policy of “no net loss of forest to industry”. This has ramped up pressure on the reduced available green (unburned) Mountain Ash forest, making over-cutting inevitable.

Current management policies will fail in their ability to continue to: “… provide wood and non-wood values” as required under the definition of ecologically sustainable forest management.

Ministers in the Victorian Government have called for a “balance” between timber and pulpwood production and conservation. I agree this is important. But the old growth Mountain Ash forest estate has been reduced to an estimated 1/60th of what it once was and species like Leadbeater’s Possum are on an extinction trajectory. The so-called balance is tipped radically toward what are demonstrably unsustainable forest management practices.

What needs to change?

The current state of Victoria’s Mountain Ash forests is a result of decades of unsustainable forest management practices. There is an urgent need for reform.

The timber and pulpwood resources in Mountain Ash forests are overcommitted. There is straight-forward science to rectify this problem; as my colleague Professor Michael McCarthy notes – “It only takes some simple maths to get a handle on the scale of the problem. These ideas have also been around for decades. It is time that the managers of these forests started taking note of the long-standing research."

I estimate a 50-75% reduction in cutting rates is needed. Areas that are exempt from logging need to be transferred to an expanded reserve system where there is an increased chance that such stands can grow through to an old growth stage.

The Victorian and Australian governments need to agree on a “safety net” for workers in the Victorian Mountain Ash forests so they can permanently exit their unsustainable industry. The industry is already being subsidised by the taxpayer through the losses incurred by organisations such as VicForests. But exit packages are appropriate as Victorian Government agencies, together with industry lobby groups, have been those at the core of poor policies that have over-committed the forest.

There is no longer a place for clearfelling operations in Mountain Ash forests. Retention harvesting is safe and feasible. Alternatives to clearfelling should be adopted – albeit in a significantly reduced number of logging coupes than at present. Far fewer coupes need to be harvested as a result of a much-needed reduction in sustained yield.

Current management in Victoria is not ecologically sustainable forest management. The science is clear about the urgent changes that are needed. It is time for the policies to match the science.

Join the conversation

67 Comments sorted by

  1. John Newlands

    tree changer

    Clearfelling of stands of aged E.regnans is essentially mining not harvesting. The deposit is living wood that may have taken 400 years to grow in place. The practice disrespects the heritage of the forests nor does it provide for their replacement. As some visiting Germans told me recently they don't have any 400 year old trees left to cut down.

    You'd think by the 21st century all logging would be plantation based. Woodworkers complain that plantation bluegum timber is coarse grained. Perhaps they should go back to the 1600s in a time machine and plant some more seedlings of the slow growing species. I think mountain ash/swamp gum forest should be preserved and made accessible to those genuinely appreciative. As the world's tallest flowering plants they are marvels of nature.

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    1. Mark Poynter

      Forester

      In reply to John Newlands

      John

      Almost all harvesting of mountain ash in Victoria is in 1939 origin regrowth - so that's just 73 years old, not 400 as you are suggesting. Some older regrowth from 1926 origib is also harvested - so that's just 86 years old, not 400.

      Clearfelling is necessary to regenerate the species whose seeds require full sunlight on a burnt ash seedbed to germinate. Tyring to harvest these areas lightly and thereby making them very difficult if not impossible to regenerate would really be disrespecting them.

      The research work which supports the need for clearfelling goes back to the late 1950s and was instigated by widespread regeneration failure in ash forests that had been selectively harvested.

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    2. Henk van Leeuwen

      author, philosopher, greenie

      In reply to Mark Poynter

      Unfortunately nitpicking about what constitutes old growth ignores the fact that we are dealing with dynamic ecosystems. Well established forests need preservation and should be allowed to mature to provide the old-growth of tomorrow. The continued harvesting (i.e. mining) of these forests interrupts this process as well as leading to the problems well documented by Professor Lindenmayer, such as the disappearance of remaining wet forests and increasing the flammability of forests, lower water capture, habitat loss, etc. Now more than ever we need resilient ecosystems, undisturbed by ill-conceived 'management'.

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    3. Mark Poynter

      Forester

      In reply to Henk van Leeuwen

      Henk

      Since when has pointing out some facts been referred to as nit-picking? Harvesting and regenerating a renewable resource is not mining which is exploiting a finite resource. Wet forests are not disappearing, and there is no evidence that timber harvesting increases the flammability of forests beyond the natural flammability of regrowth regenerating naturally after bushfire. Several papers have recently addressed this as a result of Lindenmayer's earlier research which was largely about tropical forests, but was inexplicably extrapolated to Victoria's forests.

      Yes, two-thirds of Victoria's CH mountain ash forests are in reserves and are able to grow towards old growth subject to a lack of future fire. By failing to mention this, the article quite mischievously creates a wrong impression that all forests are subject to logging - they are not.

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    4. Dianna Arthur
      Dianna Arthur is a Friend of The Conversation.

      Environmentalist

      In reply to Mark Poynter

      "Clearfelling is necessary to regenerate the species whose seeds require full sunlight on a burnt ash seedbed to germinate."

      Mark, Mountain Ash evolved by adapting to burning which has a completely different structure and impact on a forest to clear felling. There are chemicals, nutrients which are eventually taken up by the soil after dormant seeds from grasses and herbaceous set to start propagation after heat and fire, taller under-story plants have evolved to re-generate just as do the eucalyptus…

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    5. David Arthur

      resistance gnome

      In reply to Mark Poynter

      Harvesting and regenerating a renewable resource is all very well, but you seem utterly oblivious to the concept of a forest being anything more than a "resource".

      As it happens, it's also where a great many other components of ecosystems reside, affects downstream waterways and hence riverine ecosystems all the way to the cost and inshore waters.

      If it is also exploited from time to time by migratory species, then it affects the ecology of other areas on the migratory species' iteneraries.

      Finally, it's all very well that only 9% of extant forests are logged, or at least it would be if the area of forest was still as it was in 1788.

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    6. Mark Poynter

      Forester

      In reply to Dianna Arthur

      Diana

      It seems you don't understand that clearfelling (often also referred to as the clearfall-burn and sow method) is immediately followed by a fire lit to burn the debris and create the requisite ash seedbed and open-up the ground to full sunlight. This effectively mimics the natural adaptation to which the species has evolved.

      As for David L's quote: Its all very well apart from the fact that old growth Mountain Ash forests have not been logged in Victoria for around three decades. Accordingly as I have said elsewhere, David L is being deceptive in implying that this is still occurring.

      With regards to the origins of clearfelling, we are talking here about Australia, not America. I've got no doubt that it would have been used here earlier than 1950s alongside of the greater use of selective harvesting, But it was in the late 1950s and early 60s that research proved that it was the way to regenerate ash species after logging.

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    7. Mark Poynter

      Forester

      In reply to David Arthur

      David

      Having studied, trained, and worked in forests for almost 40-years I suspect that I have a pretty well balanced appreciation of what they are and what they do, but the article is about their limited use as a wood resource and thats why the discussion focusses on this point,

      By the way, the Central Highlands Mountain Ash forests which this article is chiefly about, still occupies about 97% of its pre-1788 extent.

      More broadly across Victoria, agricultural clearing stretching back to pioneering days was strongly focussed on open woodlands rather than the dense mountainous forests that are best suited for timber harvesting.

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    8. David Arthur

      resistance gnome

      In reply to Mark Poynter

      Thanks for that Mr Poynter. I've been thinking about some information that you profferred to this conversation, where you wrote:

      "Clearfelling is necessary to regenerate the species whose seeds require full sunlight on a burnt ash seedbed to germinate. Tyring to harvest these areas lightly and thereby making them very difficult if not impossible to regenerate would really be disrespecting them.
      "The research work which supports the need for clearfelling goes back to the late 1950s and was instigated…

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    9. Mark Poynter

      Forester

      In reply to David Arthur

      David

      In fact, when Hume and Hovell tried to traverse Mount Dissapointment in the early 1800s they found the Mountain Ash forests to be virtually impenetrable, much as we know them. Whereas, all other forests they came across were far more open than they are today and carried the evidence of frequent burning which kept undergrowth in check and maintained forests in an open state.

      Hately (2010) speculates from this that the wet ash forests have always been relatively unaffected by aboriginal…

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    10. Murray Webster

      Forestry-Ecology Consultant/Contractor

      In reply to David Arthur

      Hi David,

      "but traditional "land-owners" (Native Title claimants?) could be consulted regarding optimal forest management practices?"
      I think it would be good to do that, but you will find huge resistance from environmentalists. And I am not sure that the local traditional knowledge still exists.
      It seems most land managers and bush-fire specialists are of the opinion that we cannot go back to aboriginal land management practices. But yes I think we need to do more burning particularly on…

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    11. David Arthur

      resistance gnome

      In reply to Murray Webster

      So, we stick with half to one hectare harvesting (presumably avoiding harvesting across deep gullies and watercourses) and send the environmentalists to remedial science school.

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    12. David Arthur

      resistance gnome

      In reply to Mark Poynter

      Mountain Ash forests only burn every 100 to 400 years?

      In a fire-prone region like Victoria, that can only be because they aren't very flammable, which in turn can only be because they tend to stay wet.

      A wet forest up in the mountains sounds like a jolly good water source for downstream regions, helping stabilise and purify water resources in those downstream areas.

      That's a pretty strong argument for ceasing Mountain Ash forestry altogether. Perhaps Mountain Ash forestry should be replaced with agroforestry in those very downstream areas? After all, the presence of healthy Mountain Ash forests would help ensure water availability.

      To get or heads around it, perhaps we cold call it an "ecosystem service".

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    13. Murray Webster

      Forestry-Ecology Consultant/Contractor

      In reply to David Arthur

      David,
      I guess it is an argument but not one that is based on scientific research.
      I think we are in agreement that most of the mountain ash forests are in a regrowth phase, with most of this regrowth initiated by wildfire and a smaller proportion by logging. Fire regrowth tends towards very large areas of almost even aged forest. Whereas logging creates a patchwork mosaic of different aged regrowth with interspersed patches of reserved areas such for catchment protection, fauna, flora and a range…

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    14. David Arthur

      resistance gnome

      In reply to Murray Webster

      Good points Murray, which certainly make a case for 'thinning', or selective logging, instead of clearfelling.

      I'd suggest that improvements in water yield as a result of thinning occurs because there are fewer trees using water for growth, so more water runs off.

      In turn, this could lead to a suggestion that as a mountain ash forest matures, the water yield again increases because fewer trees are in 'growth' phase. Alternatively, with tree cover maximised and with soils redeveloped, even…

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    15. Murray Webster

      Forestry-Ecology Consultant/Contractor

      In reply to David Arthur

      furthermore, perhaps ironically for most environmentalists, thinning the even-aged fire regrowth stands would make them attain some old-growth characteristics sooner - larger, well spaced trees and increased development of tree-hollows.

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    16. David Arthur

      resistance gnome

      In reply to Murray Webster

      Conclusion: thinning Mountain Ash regrowth appears to be beneficial, as opposed to clearfelling them - which seems pretty close to Prof Lindenmayer's argument.

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    17. Murray Webster

      Forestry-Ecology Consultant/Contractor

      In reply to David Arthur

      Well yes. But only in State Forest. Thinning of Mountain Ash in National Park is not considered at all, despite the obvious benefits. Quote from article:"Areas that are exempt from logging need to be transferred to an expanded reserve system".

      If more thinning of regrowth in national park and catchment protection areas was organised, then we could maintain more timber production - in comparison to just stopping clear-felling in state forest as the only measure. In addition we would maintain regional employment, fire fighting capability, all the while decreasing the amount of clear-felling and reduce our reliance on imports of tropical rainforest timbers.

      It will take decades to thin all the regrowth.

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    18. David Arthur

      resistance gnome

      In reply to Murray Webster

      With no thinning in National Parks, comparison with State Forests affords a long-term experiment.

      Regarding more timber production, perhaps encouragement of agroforestry wouldn't go astray?

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    19. Murray Webster

      Forestry-Ecology Consultant/Contractor

      In reply to David Arthur

      I can see the logic in your thinking, but I think we already have those answers. And at the moment there would be something like 90% of the 'experiment' in national park, and environmentalist activists wanting all of it.

      In Tasmania there were huge fires in 1898, more in 1934 which burnt large portions of the 1898 regrowth, then 1967 which burnt large areas of '34 regrowth. Tassie overdue for another big one.

      Victoria has a similar history with fires being the main that stands in the large…

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    20. David Arthur

      resistance gnome

      In reply to Murray Webster

      Thanks Murray.

      I don't understand the remark about ".. 90% of the 'experiment' in national park, and environmentalist activists wanting all of it".

      Do you mean that environmental activists may not appreciate that, without anthropogenic management, national parks won't revert to near-pristine "old-growth" conditions, but rather will become weed-infested feral nightmares?

      On your other point regarding fire in mountain ash, Mark Poynter cited evidence that old-growth mountain ash forest tends to not be fire-prone earlier in this thread.

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  2. Brendan Sydes

    Lawyer

    "Current management in Victoria is not ecologically sustainable forest management. The science is clear about the urgent changes that are needed. It is time for the policies to match the science."

    There's a massive institutional failure unfolding here The laws are are all there but they're being ignored by the Victorian and Commonwealth governments.

    Victorian laws:

    The Sustainable Forests (Timber) Act 2004 requires forestry in Victoria to be ecologically sustainable.

    The Flora and Fauna…

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    1. David Arthur

      resistance gnome

      In reply to Brendan Sydes

      Thanks for this background on the pertinent legal and governmental accountabilities.

      While the Commonwealth government is partially accountable on environmental and conservation-related (courtesy of the EPBC Act) through such treaties as the Convention for the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage, the Ramsar Wetlands Conservation Convention, and the 1992 Convention on Biological Diversity, the States have no such constraint.

      Perhaps it's about time the Commonwealth took over…

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    2. Mark Poynter

      Forester

      In reply to Brendan Sydes

      Brendan

      Lets see, only about 9% of Victoria's public native forests are used for timber production, so 91% is either formally reserved in parks or in management reserves such as stream buffers or threatened species sites, or is simply unsuited for harvesting. This more than meets the requirements for ecological sustainability under the FFG Act and the EPBC Act.

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    3. Brendan Sydes

      Lawyer

      In reply to Mark Poynter

      You're missing the point of the article and my comment. Logging in the areas in question is increasing the risk of extinction for the possum and other threatened species. This is not ecologically sustainable (the point of the article). It is also completely contrary to the Flora and Fauna Guarantee Act and the EPBC Act (my point).

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    4. Mark Poynter

      Forester

      In reply to Brendan Sydes

      Brendan

      I'm not missing any point. Ecological sustainability is a landscape scale concept, and when over 90% of the forests are effectively reserved, then it is drawing an extremely long bow to suggest it isn't being achieved. Also, the timber production zones in the CH Mountain Ash forests are being managed entirely in accordance with the FFG Act Leadbeater's Possum Action Statement, despite the errant impression created by this articles refusal to discuss the balance between conservation and production.

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    5. Murray Webster

      Forestry-Ecology Consultant/Contractor

      In reply to Brendan Sydes

      Certainly can't argue with that Brendan.
      Q1: what is it that has killed more Lead Beaters Possum populations and destroyed (at least temporarily) more potential LBP habitat that anything else? Note just more, vastly more.
      Once you've got the answer to Q1: what is the most affective methods we have to ensure protection of LBP populations?

      NB while ENGOs have been targetting the well-reserved forests of tasmania and Victoria for political activism, one of our species went extinct without any protests:
      http://www.smh.com.au/environment/conservation/unmourned-death-of-a-sole-survivor-20121116-29hbg.html

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  3. Dianna Arthur
    Dianna Arthur is a Friend of The Conversation.

    Environmentalist

    I notice the decline in mature trees (by undisturbed standards); mostly messmates, but some mountain ash in my area. Also on my precious patch of ground, tree-ferns are suffering from this summer's unseasonal heat which has blazed too early in the season for the fronds to mature and develop sufficiently to withstand February's usual heat.

    Clear felling was always inefficient and unsustainable, with variable climate fluctuations it is as untenable as it is unconscionable.

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  4. Robert Rands

    retired science teacher

    As the author says, tall trees are'nt the whole picture. This conversation helps underline their importance:

    http://membercentral.aaas.org/blogs/qualia/worldwide-decline-large-old-trees-alarms-scientists

    "Large, old trees play a critical role in many environments, from forests and savannahs to human-dominated areas like cities and farm lands. But a new study in the journal Science documents an alarming decline among trees 100-300 years old in ecosystems around the world. [Author Mary Bates] spoke with one of the study's authors, AAAS Member and University of Washington professor of ecosystem analysis Jerry Franklin, about why this trend is so disturbing and what can be done to save these ancient giants."

    See also:
    Global Decline in Large Old Trees in Science
    http://www.sciencemag.org/content/338/6112/1305

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    1. Robert Rands

      retired science teacher

      In reply to Robert Rands

      Mention of David L's work is is also accessible to the public in this article, which mentions the Mountain Ash. The bibliography cites two of his articles:

      Societal challenges in understanding and responding to regime shifts in forest landscapes

      http://www.pnas.org/content/108/41/16863.full?sid=8b1c1d76-88d8-420a-ae6c-36f7401f3ecb

      The authors note that
      " ... increased efforts at forest protection should be considered. However, outside of the urban-wildland interface, such efforts should…

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    2. Mark Poynter

      Forester

      In reply to Robert Rands

      Robert

      No one disagrees with this, but the reality is that old forests are no longer harvested for timber in Australia to any significant extent, and the cause of the decline is undoubtedly due primarily to bushfire and past habitat loss for agriculture and, more recently, urban development, despite the claims being made in this article.

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  5. Anthony Nolan

    logged in via email @hotmail.com

    Thanks David for this clear, concise and sensible article. This type of article is exactly why I read The Conversation.

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  6. Mark Poynter

    Forester

    This is a quite deceptive article because it fails to make mention of the existing balance between conservation and production in Victorian forests and thereby denies readers the critical information required to assess the veracity of its claims about timber harvesting and ecological sustainability.

    In fact, just 9% of the state's public forests are being managed for timber production on an 80 to 100-year cycle of harvest and regeneration. The remaining 91% is either contained in formal parks…

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    1. Mark Poynter

      Forester

      In reply to Mark Poynter

      Further to my first comment above, some more specific points I would make in relation to Mountain Ash are:

      Contrary to the article, the loss of old growth from the CH MAsh forests has been overwhelmingly associated with the bushfires of 1926, 1939 and 2009. The first two of these fires killed 85% of these forests, and did the most to reduce the area of old growth.

      No old growth Mountain Ash forests have been harvested in the Central Highlands for the past 3 decades.

      Large old trees are important…

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  7. Chris Owens

    Professional

    Folks, we should not expect objectivity from Mark Poynter. He is the media spokesperson for the Institute of Foresters of Australia. His tactic of choice is to attack every alternative opinion to bully you into submission.

    Of the often cited 91% of public lands not available for logging, a significant proportion of this has already been logged. Two examples are a 2,000 Ha park near my home which has been logged on and off until the 1950’s before it was handed over to DSE /Parks Vic and there is…

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    1. Mark Poynter

      Forester

      In reply to Chris Owens

      Chris

      Could it be ... could it just be that someone such as myself, who has studied and worked in forestry for almost 40 years would actually know something about the topic? Perhaps that is why I took up the role of acting as a voluntary spokesperson for the IFA.

      Could it also be that having a bit of knowledge can make someone such as myself pretty frustrated when reading something that is deceptive by leaving out important points to create wrong impressions, as well as the subsequent comments…

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    2. Chris Owens

      Professional

      In reply to Mark Poynter

      Mark,

      Our respective qualifications to comment on the subject is an interesting topic. My professional qualifications have no relevance to the discussion. My passion is however native forests and wildlife. I am also a director and part time propagator in a not for profit revegetation business that grows 200,000 indigenous plants per annum. I also am the current custodian of 70Ha of mountain ash forest which includes areas of old growth. I spend all my free time there and have documented every…

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    3. Murray Webster

      Forestry-Ecology Consultant/Contractor

      In reply to Chris Owens

      Hi Chris, I have no doubt that you care enormously about our native vegetation flora and fauna. But that's not enough to preserve biodiversity which continues to decrease despite declaration of millions of hectares of national parks.
      There are numerous points in your above comment which I can demonstrate do not agree with scientific studies. There are also definitional issues.
      However you are right to point out that despite all the references to science, this is actually a battle of beliefs.
      Humans. fighting over beliefs, who would have thought ...?
      If we are unable to discuss the range of scientific studies to at least bring common understanding closer together, then all that is left is adversarial politics and attempts to beat the other side into submission. Prof Lindenmayer seems to me to be engaging that battle.

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    4. Mark Poynter

      Forester

      In reply to Chris Owens

      Chris

      So, I will concede that you have some knowledge of Mountain Ash forest ecology, but I would also point out that just because I own a car doesn't make me a mechanic...... so your self-righteous opinions on forest management are still far from warranted.

      You chiefly lack sufficient knowledge of Govt forest management planning to have a proper perspective of the existing balance between timber production and conservation, but this doesn't seem to stop you presuming catastrophic environmental…

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    5. Chris Owens

      Professional

      In reply to Mark Poynter

      Mark,

      You talk about balance between timber production and conservation, but why is the Toolangi forest being logged after massive loss of Leadbeater’s and their available habitat on Black Saturday? Is this the precautionary principal from the logging industry? Your “balance” makes available for logging prime Leadbeater’s habitat including Zone 1A forest provided it is less than 3 Ha and Zone 1B forest less than 10Ha within the block. The remaining areas may contain old growth trees and still…

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    6. Mark Poynter

      Forester

      In reply to Chris Owens

      Chris

      Its not my balance - its the balance determined by Govt-based land use management planning and it was set in place in 1998, well before the 2009-fires.

      What you seem to be suggesting is that every time there is a fire which cooks some parks and reserves, the management plans be altered to compensate by adding unburnt State Forest into the parks and reserves mix.

      Actually, I would agree that that adding that sort of flexibility to forest management planning could have advantages. However…

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    7. Chris Owens

      Professional

      In reply to Mark Poynter

      Mark,

      What I am saying is if there is a material change in the assumptions on which the logging of an endangered species habitat is based (widespread wildfire), then the precautionary principal should be employed.

      As I said in previous posts, habitat stags left behind after logging are often destroyed in the post harvest burn.

      It has been confirmed Leadbeaters occurs in the Toolangi, and therefore your response confirms the lack of regard the industry has for endangered species. The industry seems to forget the forests are in public ownership and access is not a right.

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    8. Mark Poynter

      Forester

      In reply to Chris Owens

      Chris

      Just because LBP occurs in the Toolangi area doesn't mean it occurs in the planned harvesting coupes which are typically 73-yo regrowth which is unsuited to the possum. However, where there are scattered older trees in which the possum is found to reside, harvesting is excluded from these trees.

      Typically, around 30% of each planned coupe is not logged due to reservations for environmental values and steep slopes so there are substantial parts of the Toolanga area that won't be logged…

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  8. Murray Webster

    Forestry-Ecology Consultant/Contractor

    I have great respect for the work Professor Lindenmayer has done on Leadbeaters Possum.

    Perhaps (?) we can agree that virtually all of Victorias old growth forest are in reserves and most of the native forest, leaving a relatively small percentage available for timber supply.

    Can we also agree that Leadbeaters Possum's preferred habitat requires periodic disturbance (given the need for wattles)?

    I just don't understand how LBP habitat can be maintained in National Park. The only disturbance…

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  9. Henk van Leeuwen

    author, philosopher, greenie

    Comments by Diana and Lindenmayer's work himself demonstrate the importance of attentive personal observation. Having walked and closely monitored the Victorian hills and mountain forests since 1960 I am deeply concerned about their palpable deterioration (degraded, dryer, lower biodiversity, aesthetics etc.) due to ill-considered management practices, such as clearing, inappropriate burning and logging. Caring for country requires an intimate relationship.

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  10. Tim Scanlon

    Debunker

    Whenever I think of logging I always remember the old classic Warner Bros cartoon, Lumber Jerks (1955). http://www.dailymotion.com/video/x12vlj_lumber-jerks_fun The scene is of a whole tree being turned down into one toothpick.

    Logging targets trees, old trees, big trees, trees that tend to be replaced with middle storey and lower storey instead. I think that we need to move away from forests and go completely to plantation timber.

    Or we could use our tried and trusted policy of exploiting overseas forests in South America and Asia.

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    1. Murray Webster

      Forestry-Ecology Consultant/Contractor

      In reply to Tim Scanlon

      It used to be true that logging targetted the largest oldest trees. This is not the case anymore in native forest logging in NSW at least. As part of the regional forest agreements negotiated in the 90's, timber industry participants were given assistance to change equipment to handle smaller size logs. This is the new normal in NSW. Most mills cannot handle large logs now.
      Generally I find that people who want to stop all harvesting in native forests have a belief system that includes the 'balance…

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    2. Tim Scanlon

      Debunker

      In reply to Murray Webster

      I wasn't aware that logging no longer targeted the older trees.

      I don't think that changes the argument that trees are still targeted. King Pine, Sassafrass, etc, are targeted over other varieties of trees and bushes. So I don't think it is a reasoned argument to say that "humans have been managing the ecosystem for 50,000yrs" therefore logging is needed. The reasoned argument it that there is a complex ecosystem that does require management, especially for grasses and lower storey flora.

      I…

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    3. Mark Poynter

      Forester

      In reply to Tim Scanlon

      Tim

      Could it be that our society actually uses and demands hardwood timber and that is why we harvest forests? True, we have for a long time exported mostly low grade waste wood, but harvesting rates and sustainable yields of native forests are based on sawn timber production which is primarily used domestically.

      As I said earlier there is a world of difference between mining a finite resource and managing a renewable one which is capable of regrowing.

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    4. Tim Scanlon

      Debunker

      In reply to Mark Poynter

      How many jarrah forests are we regrowing, Mark?

      How about the other hardwoods?

      Because I'm pretty sure we aren't replacing what we remove, but instead growing other stuff that is easier and quicker to grow.

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    5. Mark Poynter

      Forester

      In reply to Tim Scanlon

      Tim

      I don't know where you get your information, but you perhaps need to do some more research. I think you will find that every Jarrah forest harvested is then regenerated.

      Your implication that they are all being replaced with Blue Gum plantations is wrong as these plantations have mostly expanded on cleared farmlands in WA.

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    6. Tim Scanlon

      Debunker

      In reply to Mark Poynter

      I was generalising, but my info came from a research scientist who was doing rehab work in forestry.

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    7. Melissa Bennett

      Research Scientist

      In reply to Tim Scanlon

      Actually Mr Scanlon, every jarrah forest that is utilised for native forestry in Western Australia is regenerated as jarrah forest. In fact some areas cleared for mining and planted with eastern states eucalypt species are being cleared and regenerated with jarrah forest species, by foresters of course! Forest that is cleared and not replaced is for urban or agricultural development. Other than historical plantings of eastern states eucalypts on mine sites which has now ceased, all plantations in WA in the last 20 or more years have been planted on ex pasture or agricultural sites. Foresters have been responsible for re-foresting many ten of thousands of hectares. I think I have stolen your title

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    8. Tim Scanlon

      Debunker

      In reply to Melissa Bennett

      Actually, when you consider that the mining removes much of the interstitial soil layers, cause compaction and limit sub-soil water flow, you can't just replant jarrah trees. This was what my friend was researching.

      Considering that most of the WA tree farming is pine, blue gum or sugar gum (none WA native), I can't see how your claims hold up. http://www.fpc.wa.gov.au/content_migration/_assets/documents/about_us/publications/tree_farming_and_industry_development_wa.pdf

      Also considering that…

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    9. Melissa Bennett

      Research Scientist

      In reply to Tim Scanlon

      Tim you are correct about the ability to rehabilitate mined areas. I only used mine rehabilitation as an example of exotic species being replaced by jarrah forest species. You are also correct to say that tree farming is mainly pine and blue gum, certainly there are no jarrah plantations established. However the point I didn't make very well is that the plantations are established on ex-agriculutural land not on jarrah forest, but I see this point has already been made.
      I too am concerned about drought deaths in the jarrah forest and hope that we can move past the anti-forestry ideology as active management, primarily thinning overstocked areas of the forest is the only way we can mitigate the effects of drying climate.

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    10. Tim Scanlon

      Debunker

      In reply to Melissa Bennett

      I'm actually wondering what the effect of ground water pumping has had on the forests, especially those on the Yarragadee aquifer. I reckon that has really hurt the forests, on top of the stress they have from falling rainfall.

      Actually, I've just been doing some figures for the medium rainfall areas of WA agriculture and they have lost between 60 and 100mm, mainly in the growing season. So recharge alone is impacted, especially when medium rainfall wheatbelt tends to be the start of river and ground water systems. I haven't done the higher rainfall areas for a while, but I wouldn't be surprised if they have lost a similar chunk of rainfall. Add to that root stress from irrigation and households pumping and you could quickly kill off some forests.

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    11. Dianna Arthur
      Dianna Arthur is a Friend of The Conversation.

      Environmentalist

      In reply to Tim Scanlon

      "I'm actually wondering what the effect of ground water pumping has had on the forests,"

      I have been given to the same concerns. There is much we have been doing to the long term viability of our environment from small scale unpublicised to large fracking and over disturbances to the water table.

      We do not know nearly as much as we think we do. Foresters who claim that clear felling is sustainable, that forests can be returned to the complexity and diversity of old growth forest are fooling…

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    12. Dianna Arthur
      Dianna Arthur is a Friend of The Conversation.

      Environmentalist

      In reply to Dianna Arthur

      Bad Typo, should read:

      " There is much we have been doing to the long term viability of our environment from small scale unpublicised infringements to large scale fracking resulting in disturbances to the water table."

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    13. Murray Webster

      Forestry-Ecology Consultant/Contractor

      In reply to Melissa Bennett

      As long as environmentalists continue their negative campaign, (funny that such left-wing groups would share a trait with the federal conservatives) the media will continue to focus on the battle rather that addressing optimal methods of maintaining biodiversity, water quality, fire management, regional employment etc...

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  11. Nev Norton

    Farmer

    Murray Walker and Mark Poynter, I'm not sure why you guys bother to comment in here, you have to remember that the Environment and Energy part of the site is the playground of those that will oppose to the death everything you stand for, and everything that has built society as we know it, including primary Industry in general, as far as I can gather. Environmentalist's are probably the least objective people on the planet.
    It is also instructive to remember that this is also home to Greenpeace, the EDO, et al, and unlike you guys who put their association on display, they won't want to tell you what their ENGO links are.
    Full marks for putting your view points across though, unfortunately wasted here.

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    1. Mark Poynter

      Forester

      In reply to Nev Norton

      G'day Nev

      Don't disagree with what you're saying. I guess I hate to see things that are wrong go through without being challenged, and I live in the (possibly) vain hope that there are some open-minded readers who might learn something, or at least create doubt that the 'green' view of forestry is correct.

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    2. Nev Norton

      Farmer

      In reply to Mark Poynter

      I commend you and Murray on your efforts to provide a balanced view.
      I have just recently begun to give some thought to how logging practices may be utilized to reduce atmospheric Co2, old growth forest would seem ideal, as mature trees no longer undergoing active growth are no longer actively absorbing Co2.
      Given that if we can slow/halt Co2 emmissions in the near future, then we still need a means of scrubbing the portion of Co2 from the atmosphere that is out of the balanced cycle. Of course those logs would need to have their Co2 locked up in such a way that it can't re-contribute to the overall Co2 concentration of the atmosphere. Regrowth trees are then actively absorbing Co2 that is outside the balanced cycle. with the whole cycle repeated over and over.
      I envisaged a mosaic system with patch harvesting that would allow fauna to move back and forward between old growth forest patches and maintain suitable habitat for species requiring particular tree conditions.

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    3. Nev Norton

      Farmer

      In reply to Murray Webster

      Thanks for the link Murray, I thought the idea had merit, but see it's been legislated out of existence, another one of those perverse environmental outcomes.

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  12. Caroline Copley

    student

    My understanding from the stuff I did in East Gippsland back in the 1990s is that fire frequency studies from wood segments taken from the increasingly rare 350 year old trees gave a figure of about 1 in 50 years as a minimum wildfire frequency. Then I got to watch as large swathes of Gippsland burnt down in 2003 and 2007, but I am not there to see it and all the wildlife, all go up again as I am typing. That is 3X in one decade!
    My understanding of ecology is that a steady-state forest is…

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    1. Murray Webster

      Forestry-Ecology Consultant/Contractor

      In reply to Caroline Copley

      Hi Caroline,
      you have covered a lot of ground there. There is one point I would like to take up. A number of times you have referred to "steady-state forest", "Such a forest is in an undisturbed, old growth state".
      I refer you to a scientific paper that reviews 30 years of ecological research:
      http://www.ecologyandsociety.org/vol10/iss1/art15/
      a few quotes from this paper:
      "The fundamental shift in ecological thinking centers
      on the change in perception of ecosystems from
      static entities…

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    2. Melissa Bennett

      Research Scientist

      In reply to Murray Webster

      Why environmentalists spend so much time and effort on forestry is beyond me. As a form of primary production, forestry is the most sustainable and retains infinitely more biodiversity than mining or agriculture. Its impact on water and soil is less and it uses much less chemicals than agricultural production. Wood and wood products are a renewable resource. They replace the use of non-renewable resources.
      The decline in forest cover is a result of clearing for agriculture to grow your food and clearing to build your house. If you are concerned about sustainability and by sustainability I presume you mean sustaining existing natural areas, you would have to curtail population growth. Forestry is neither here nor there.

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