July - August 2011: Sylvia Creek Blockade
Timber Harvesting in the Montane Ash Forests of The Central Highlands of Victoria:
CONCLUSIONS OF THIS STUDY:
1. Intensive and extensive clearfelling practices in the montane ash forests of the Central Highlands of Victoria are likely to have a highly detrimental impact on a range of species of arboreal marsupials and may result in substantial reductions in populations of these animals.
2. Losses of biodiversity that may be associated with present forestry practices indicate that such activities may not be ecologically sustainable in the long-term. Hence, the intensive and extensive use of clearfelling operations could be direct contravention of the broad Federal and Victorian State Government policy goals that underpin the concept of ecologically sustainable forest use.
3. Changes to forest management regimes are required in order to make forestry practices more ecologically sustainable and to enhance the conservation of biodiversity in montane ash forests. The changes required are: (I) modification of present clearfelling practices in a proportion of the forest that is designated for timber harvesting; (ii) withdrawal of some existing stands of regrowth ash-type forests from wood production and growing such areas through to ecological maturity. Ensurance of enhanced levels of habitat connectivity between retained areas; and, (iii) expansion of the present National Park system.
4. The implementation of improved conservation strategies in the montane ash forests of the Central Highlands of Victoria may be associated with a reduction in the yields of timber and pulpwood from the region. Impediments such as defacto resource guarantee agreements between the State Government of Victoria and the timber industry will need to be overcome to assist the development of ecologically sustainable forestry practices.
Impacts at Different Spatial Scales on Arboreal Marsupials and the Implications for Ecologically Sustainable Forest Use.
" A synthesis is presented of the key findings of an array of studies of forest-dependent mammals inhabiting the montane ash forests of the Central Highlands of Victoria, south-eastern Australia. These investigations have been completed at a range of spatial scales including the: (1) individual nest tree scale, (2) microhabitat or vegetation patch scale, (3) site scale, (4) landscape scale, and, (5) bioclimatic level. Data from these investigations have also been used in Population Viability Analysis (PVA) to simulate the long-term metapopulation dynamics of populations of arboreal marsupials.
The results of the various studies completed to date indicate that the present management regimes used in the Central Highlands of Victoria in which stands of montane ash forests are clearfelled on a 50-120 year rotation, will have a highly detrimental impact on populations of arboreal marsupials. Such activities may threaten the long-term persistence of several species of arboreal marsupials within wood production ash forests. Because of the effects of present logging practices on the long-term conservation of biodiversity, there may be conflicts between some of the overarching objectives of State and Federal initiatives that are designed to achieve ecologically sustainable resource use. A range of strategies will be required to overcome such potential problems. These include: (1) the application of revised silvicultural practices, (2) the development of larger and better connected areas of retained habitat within wood production forests, and, (3) an expanded National Park system to protect montane ash forests that are poorly represented in the present network of nature reserves. The implementation of these strategies will necessarily involve a reduction in timber yield and pulpwood production, and, in turn, a restructure of the timber industry in the region. However, the development of ecologically sustainable forest use in the montane ash forests of the Central Highlands of Victoria may be impeded by a number of factors. These include: (1) excessive on-going State Government commitments to timber resource agreements, (2) inconsistencies within and between the major objectives of present State Government natural resource policies, and, (3) problems in the on-ground implementation of such policies (e.g. breaches of environmental presciptions for logging operations) . . . "
"IMPEDIMENTS TO THE DEVLOPMENT OF ECOLOGICALLY SUSTAINABLE FORESTRY IN THE CENTRAL HIGHLANDS OF VICTORIA
The development of ecologically sustainable forest practices within montane ash forests may be impeded by a number of factors. These include: (1) Major inconsistencies between the stated objectives of resource and wildlife management policies. (2) Breaches of environmental guidelines for timber harvesting operations, and, (3) Legislated commitments to provide very large quantities of timber and pulpwood from montane ash forests. These impediments are discussed briefly below.
Conflicts in policy objectives
Many authors have highlighted the inconsistencies within, and between, present policies for Victorian State Government forest and wildlife management (e.g. Smith 1991; Wilson 1991). This is emphasised by some of the following examples. The State Conservation Strategy (Government of Victoria 1987, p.31), highlights an intention to... 'control or manage any activities threatening plants and animals'. This is also a fundamental aim of the Flora and Fauna Guarantee Act (Government of Victoria 1988; 1992). However, such amicable objectives are very difficult to reconcile with some of those of the Timber Industry Strategy (Government of Victoria 1986, p. 69) such as, to ensure 'increased economic contributions to the State by the (timber) industry'. Such conflicts are further highlighted by the The Draft Code of Forest Practices (Department of Conservation, Forests and Lands, 1989) which suggests that logging operations should ... 'optimise the production of native habitat and fauna whilst maximising the production of timber resources'. These varying and conflicting objectives make it difficult to reconcile how ecologically sustainable forestry can be achieved in the Central Highlands of Victoria, particularly given the extensive and intensive use of clearfelling practices throughout the region.
Breaches of timber harvesting prescriptions
On-ground attempts to mitigate the impacts of timber harvesting on forest fauna have been beset by two problems. First, surveys by Victorian conservation groups have revealed many breaches of prescriptions designed to minimise the effects of logging operations (Pittock 1988). This has been corroborated by inspections of more than 120 coupes that were completed as part of field studies of retained linear strips (Lindenmayer 1992b) and which revealed breaches of prescriptions at most of the sites that were examined (Lindenmayer unpublished data). Second, whilst there have been extensive ongoing multidisciplinary studies to attempt to identify more environmentally sensitive methods of logging (Squire et al. 1991a), budgetary constraints in Victoria have severely handicapped the progress of these investigations (Wilson 1991; Barnett 1993; Squire 1993). In addition, there has been a general reluctance to move away from established clearfelling methods in montane ash forests (Barnett 1993) and, accordingly, there have been few attempts to refine alternative silvicultural systems on an operational basis (Cherry pers. comm).
Over-commitments to produce timber and pulpwood
The Timber Industry Strategy (Government of Victoria 1986) and various other State Government agreements, have created 'defacto resource guarantee' legislation which has, in turn, locked the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources into the ongoing provision of substantial quantities of timber and pulpwood. These agreements commit an annual timber and pulpwood allocation from public forests to licence holders in the timber industry. If these commitments cannot be honoured, then the State Government must pay compensation to licensees. Thus, even though logging operations are known to have a detrimental impact on forest fauna, commitments to resource extraction make it difficult to modify both the amount of logging that occurs and the procedures used to cut the forest. This has removed the flexibility needed within timber production agreements to respond to changes to management regimes that will be required to mitigate their effects on other forest values (Barnett 1993)...