Victorian conservation group, Goongerah Environment Centre (GECO) are stepping up their efforts to protect East Gippsland’s old growth forests from logging. The group have launched a citizen science program and public campaign to collect data and publicise the Kuark forest in the far east of Victoria.
The old growth forest of Kuark provides habitat for threatened species such as the Sooty, Masked and Powerful owls, Greater gliders, Long footed potoroos and a rare rainforest type where warm and cool temperate rainforest blend together in an ‘over lap” assemblage.
The state owned logging company VicForests plan on conducting extensive clear fell logging operations in the forest this year and local conservationists are getting organised to halt the proposed destruction.
Areas within Kuark forest are currently subject to a Supreme Court case run by Environment East Gippsland (EEG). EEG are suing the Victorian government and VicForests for failing to meet their legal obligations to protect sufficient areas of good quality habitat for the Sooty, Masked and Powerful owls.
The law states that a minimum area of good quality habitat must be set-aside in reserves, however the Department of Environment Lands, Water and Planning (DELWP) are failing to meet these requirements. To make matters worse, large fires in 2014 burnt 46 of the protected owl zones causing a reduction in roost sites and prey species such as possums and gliders.
EEG wrote to the Environment Minister under the previous Liberal government asking for a review of the protected zones to replace habitat that was lost in the fires. The Minister refused the request and so papers were filed in the Supreme Court. EEG is seeking a Court order for the owl zones to be reviewed and additional areas placed into reserves to replace habitat lost in the fires.
There are 81 areas of forest that VicForests have planned clear-fell logging operations where Owls have been detected. These areas of prime habitat are now subject to a logging moratorium until the end of June as they could be critical for the survival of the three owl species.
DELWP and VicForests may be in breach of the Flora and Fauna Guarantee Act, the East Gippsland Forest Management Plan, Action Statements for the Large Forest Owls, the Code of Forest Practices, the Precautionary Principle, the Sustainable Forests Act, the Forests Act, conditions in the Allocation Order and conditions in the Amended Timber Release Plan.
Volunteer field ecologists from Goongerah Environment Centre and Environment East Gippsland have been surveying proposed logging areas for the presence of the three species of owls, using play call back megaphones, GPS and cameras to detect their presence. These detections can be used as evidence in the Supreme Court case.
“VicForests pre logging surveys are woefully inadequate and often non existent, so it is really important that groups like ours are out there in the forest surveying for threatened species to hold the government accountable to their own laws and ensure threatened species are given the legal protection granted to them under State legislation.” Said GECO spokesperson Ed Hill.
“We are the eyes and ears of the forest and although we can’t be everywhere, by keeping an eye on logging operations and threatened species habitat we can prevent some of the destruction and safeguard the future of these forests.”
“Vic Forests don’t want to know about the threatened species and other special values, like rainforest and giant trees in areas where logging is planned. The presence of these values can reduce the size of logging operations as VicForests are legally obligated to prescribe measures to safeguard these values. So it’s a case of having legal protection for threatened species and prescriptions to maintain habitat but a self-regulating industry that fails to document these values and apply the legally required prescriptions. This is why our citizen science program is so important as we are doing the work the government should be doing to force them to obey their own laws.” Said Ed Hill.
GECO said that ultimately what is needed to ensure a future for threatened forest dependant species is not just adherence to logging prescriptions but further reservation of forests by placing them into secure reserves.
Kuark forest is exceptionally rich in biodiversity. A rare rainforest type occurs where warm temperate and cool temperate rainforest blend together. East Gippsland is a stronghold for ‘overlap’ rainforest and Kuark forest contains some of the best examples in the State. However the rainforest within proposed logging areas doesn’t appear on government mapping and it is appears that VicForests are unaware of its significance.
Volunteer field ecologists from GECO have been mapping the extent of this rainforest type within areas of Kuark forest earmarked for logging. The project is creating a species list to see how the diversity in Kuark forest compares to mapped Rainforest Sites of Significance. GECO surveys have documented the presence of rare slender tree ferns in the moist gullies of proposed logging areas and also the extremely rare skirted tree fern, a hybrid of the slender and rough tree ferns. Prior to GECO’s documentation of these species there were only about 100 records of the slender tree fern in Victoria and the Skirted tree fern was last reported in 1989. GECO’s survey reports on these rare species have been submitted to the government and have added several more records to the State databases. Read more about the rainforest mapping and survey project at the Kuark forest blog http://www.kuarkforest.com
Logging operations in 2013 in Kuark forest have encroached to within just metres of the rare ‘overlap’ rainforest community, which is changing the specialised microclimate required to support it. The edge effects of logging right up to the rainforest are exposing this rare vegetation type to excessive light, heat, greater risk of fire and exposure to wind. Future planned logging operations in the area will continue to impact upon the rainforest of Kuark and threaten the special values that GECO are documenting.
Over the Labour day long weekend in March 2015 a threatened species survey camp was held in the Kuark forests. About 40 people from across Victoria attended and participated in flora and fauna surveying workshops, nocturnal spotlighting, information sessions and bush walks through areas of old growth forest scheduled for logging.
Campaigner Dave Caldwell said, “people who made the long journey out here over the weekend were shocked that Vic Forests would want to destroy such a unique forest like Kuark. There are few places left in Victoria where you get old growth Eucalyptus forest full of giant trees, rare rainforest in the gullies and several species of threatened fauna all occurring together.”
“There was a really positive and pro active vibe over the weekend, with lots of enthusiastic people getting informed, active and inspired to join the campaign to protect East Gippsland’s forests’. Said Dave Caldwell.
Goongerah Environment Centre’s work is not just limited to remote field studies in the wild forests; they are also becoming increasingly media and tech savvy. A blog site has been launched by the group, telling the story of Kuark forest and the citizen science conducted in the area. They’ve also started an online petition to the Victorian Environment Minister, Lisa Neville MP and a crowd funding campaign to fund their efforts to protect Kuark forest from logging.
More survey weekends and open days to explore the threatened forests of Kuark are planned throughout the year. Check out the links below to stay updated and get in touch for more info.
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