Image of Barjarg Flat Eucalypt by Bertram Lobert (supplied).

Endangered greater gliders are facing extinction following the relentless logging of Victoria's Strathbogie Ranges. Dr Ian Herbert reports.

THE STRATHBOGIE RANGES were once clothed in 250,000 ha of forest and woodland — from Seymour to Benalla and from Euroa to Mansfield.

About 80 per cent of these forests and woodlands were cleared for agriculture and timber in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The forests that now remain – about 60,000 ha – occur primarily in the wetter and steeper parts of the ranges.

Of this remaining area, approximately 8,000 ha is pine plantations, managed by HVP Plantations and logged all year round on a rotational basis. Log trucks use local roads to take pine logs from the forests out to the Midland Highway to be processed regionally into sawn timber, paper, panel board and treated Roundwood.

The majority of community members in the Strathbogie Ranges are not opposed to logging. Many appreciate how well the pine plantations are managed and how HVP Plantations seeks to be a good neighbour. HVP also recognise that their forests are a resource for recreation, education and community events.

The remaining native forest has been a source of timber for many generations. The names of many tracks through the forest indicate this past history — for example, "Howes" and "Harpers". Large trees were selected and extracted and milled on sites within the forest. Trees of irregular shape or hollowed were left and younger trees were left to grow for future extraction (and future generations). We recognise that the native forest has been considered a resource and afforded a livelihood for many generations.

Old time foresters shake their heads in disbelief, though, about what is happening in the forests today. What is primarily being sought are large numbers of small to medium size straight trees (basal diameters of only 30 to 50 cm) which can be readily stacked on log trucks and taken down to Mansfield to be cut into firewood. This total tonnage far exceeds the sawlogs which go for milling. 

VicForests claims:

‘The products made from the wood we sell have a unique hardness, strength, durability and beauty that only slow grown native hardwood timber can produce. This operation will produce a range of products that will go to mills throughout the State’.

But clearly, the tail which wags the dog is the firewood industry.

To extract these logs – 50 per cent of the basal area and much greater than 50 per cent of the trees – most of the undergrowth is destroyed and much of the canopy removed. This canopy is home to the largest concentration of the vulnerable greater gliders Patauroides volans) in Victoria, as repeatedly observed by local scientific monitoring and by independent studies. Greater gliders are listed as threatened species by both State and Federal Governments.

In choosing to log Parlours Creek coupe in 2017 and now Barjarg Flat coupe in 2018, VicForests have launched an arrow at the very heart of the greater glider population. Recognising that VicForests was set on logging in the Strathbogies and couldn’t be stopped, the Strathbogie Sustainable Forests group implored it to at least select a designated logging coupe for 2018 operations, which was outside of this heartland. The answer from VicForests was a firm "no".

Now, in February 2018, we witness logging operations commencing in the Barjarg Flat coupe and the local community protesting to VicForests and the responsible Minister for Energy, Environment and Climate Change, Lily D’Ambrosio.

The local community is not only protesting, it is in mourning for the destruction which is about to be wrought — mourning for the animals and for the trees which have no voice except ours. People drive through and walk in and enjoy the beauty of these forests all year round and breathe the fresh mountain air. They admire the diverse fauna and flora and wish it to be looked after and treated with respect.

It is not a case of a community opposed to logging but a case of community outrage that this precious resource which belongs to all of us is being destroyed — and for what purpose? Primarily, firewood!

There are large sustainable logging operations taking place year round in the Strathbogie Ranges. We ask that if native timber is to be harvested, then the model established by the pine industry be adopted and applied by VicForests — namely, the use of hardwood plantation timber on a rotational basis to source logs. Certainly, not the cutting down of the forest's young straight trees just for firewood. That defies all logic.

The Victorian Government set up VicForests and established the rules. It is within the Government’s control to ensure the rules are being followed, to change the rules or even to disband the organisation if it is not meeting community expectations. The Minister could immediately issue an interim conservation order under the Flora and Fauna Guarantee Act

Last year, Ms D’Ambrosio said that the Government was listening to the experts and that,

“We will work with the department and VicForests to investigate reasons for the greater glider’s decline and ensure that appropriate protections are in place.”

We call on the Minister to do as she promised and protect our forest right now before it is too late.

Dr Ian Herbert is a retired scientist.

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