Baw Baw Report

bawbaw report

This report, commissioned by MyEnvironment Inc, outlines the discovery of an extraordinary and deplorable abuse of bureaucratic power to serve the interests of the Victorian logging industry, a pulp mill and the jobs of the state bureaucrats whose existence is predicated on the continued logging and wood chipping of the state’s native forests.

This report shows that the Regional Forest Agreements (RFA's) and the mechanism in place to enforce them are failing to protect endangered species. It offers a compelling reason why the Regional Forest Agreements should no longer be exempted by Section 38 of the EPBC Act. Read more 

Introduction

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MyEnvironment Inc is calling for the immediate heritage listing through the Commonwealth’s Environment Protection and Biodiversity and Conservation Act (EPBC) of the Baw Baw plateau and escarpments to protect it from further logging. This listing will be based on the case put almost a decade ago in the now-discovered chapters of the ‘Ecological Survey Report No. 46 - Flora and Fauna of the Eastern and Western Tyers Forest Blocks and Adjacent South-Eastern Slopes of Baw Baw National Park, Central Gippsland, Victoria’ that details the high conservation values of the region and whose expert authors supported the protection of this extraordinary part of Victoria’s natural heritage.

The cost has been the ongoing destruction of one of the world’s most unique temperate forest ecosystems and the exposure of another example of how the Regional Forest Agreement (RFA) process failed to end the most heavily fought and divisive environmental debate in the state’s history – the conflict over the future of Victoria’s native forests.

This story outlines how members of the Victorian government bureaucracy removed crucial chapters of a state government commissioned report which recommended the protection of the Baw Baw plateau and escarpments. The removal of these chapters ensured that one of the world’s most significant ecosystems remained available for clearfell logging, a practice that continues to this day.

Of the 5 RFA’s signed in Victoria, the Central Highlands Regional Forest Agreement (RFA) received little campaigning from the environment movement. This may have been because they were in the wake of a devastating RFA decision federally, which had devastating outcomes for the Tasmanian and East Gippsland RFAs despite some small gains. Environment Victoria was the “peak” group for the region at the time.

There is little doubt that, as with Tasmania and East Gippsland, where some small gains were made, engagement in the Central Highlands RFA would have also achieved some small wins. It is generally thought that, had environment groups engaged at the time, this small win would have been the Baw Baw Plateau and its escarpments and the State's water supply (such as the Yarra tributaries).

Any legitimate conservation assessment would see the Baw Baw plateau and its environs protected. Along with the Errinundra Plateau farther east, the Baw Baw is one of the two great plateaus of South Eastern Australia, and is a recognised international site of significance for its animal life and national significance for its stands of old growth forests, rock formations and intricate water tributaries.

State government departments and bureaucracies with an interest in maintaining the maximum possible public land estate available for logging would have been desperate to ensure that the values of the Baw Baw region were understated or ignored. Nearly a decade later the length that individuals in these agencies went to has now been exposed. To further their cause they removed key chapters in the ‘Ecological Survey Report No.46 - Flora and Fauna of the Eastern and Western Tyers Forest Blocks and Adjacent South-Eastern Slopes of Baw Baw National Park, Central Gippsland, Victoria’.

The RFA process was supposed to, once and for all, resolve the land use debate over areas of public land native forest, by taking due consideration of conservation values and wood supply needs of the logging industry. The joint Commonwealth/State RFA process relied overwhelmingly on state bureaucracies for detailed data and other information on forest conservation values of the areas they were investigating.

The delivery of the conservation case for the forests of the Central Highlands RFA region and the Baw Baw plateau and escarpments in particular, relied heavily on a state report authored by seven departmental scientists. However, when it came time to present, the scientists involved were ordered not to take papers into the federal meeting, but rather rely on their basic knowledge and present verbally. This is the only information they were permitted to deliver into the RFA process.

The ‘censored’ report contained several chapters outlining the high conservation values of the Baw Baw plateau and escarpments and recommends that they are protected from logging. These chapters of the report were ordered to be ‘burned’ by senior foresters and were unreachable (even by previous attempts at FOI until May this year).

In 1999 Alan McMahon in a parliamentary inquiry into the RFA made the following statement:

“... the RFA is failing to protect national estate values. In the draft project report, National Estate Values in the Central Highlands, the Australian Heritage Commission and CNR recommended a 30,040 hectare proposed national estate place in the Baw Baw region. That is compared with the present 13,000 hectares national park. This included most of the south face. It also found the Baw Baw area to have a greater range of national estate values than anywhere else in the Central Highlands”.

“While the Central Highlands RFA process was under way, the Victorian government passed the Wood Pulp Agreement Bill without reference to the outcome of the process. They ignored it blatantly, and I think they compromised it, placing the validity of the process itself in question.”

In his submission to the Commonwealth Senate Inquiry into the RFA’s, Senator Bob Brown pointed to the omission of the missing chapters:

“that the environmental studies which should have allowed for a proper assessment of forests before they were signed over to logging have not been done as far as the south face of Baw Baw is concerned”.

The Inquiry Chair stated this to be a fairly serious charge and made a commitment to find the report…this never eventuated until now (2006).

The existence of the report’s missing chapters was brought to the attention of the TCHA President over several years of discussion with various people. After requesting the report from the DSE, TCHA was told they could not have it. A separate request was then made by another party, only to receive the document ‘doctored’ and bereft of the missing chapters. On legal advice, the other party questioned where the chapters were and the relevant chapters were finally delivered in May 2006.

The missing chapters detail the intrinsic conservation values of the Baw Baw environs.

Senior bureaucrats, many of whom are still in the current Department of Sustainability and Environment (DSE), should come under intense scrutiny for the role they played or knowledge they have about the removal of critical aspects of the report and the devastating effect that has had on Mount Baw Baw.

Current forest based, ecological science suggests that the present Victorian government forest policy will lead to the extinction of many forest dependent species. Primary indicator species include: Spot Tailed Quoll, Sooty Owl, Baw Baw Frog and Leadbeater's possum are under immediate threat.

An urgent review of highly significant areas such as Baw Baw and East Gippsland is required.

Roadmap to the Baw Baw Report

 


The purpose of this report is to provide the reader with a comprehensive reference to the significance of and threats to Mount Baw Baw and its associated escarpments. The report is a collation of scientific data and contextual layering to provide the reader with a coherent overview. As a reference document, it has been complied by a number of experts under the co-ordination of The Central Highlands Alliance Inc. Many of the contributors have requested to remain anonymous given their close working relationship to the issues as outlined below.

Chapter 1 Introduction to the Issues

bolder coupe intro

Introduction to the issues

Chapter 1.pdf- download here

Summary

Mount Baw Baw and its forested escarpments, located 130 kilometres east of the City of Melbourne, has been recognised by several key scientific studies as one of Victoria’s most biologically significant sites and one of its most important water catchments. However, the Victorian Government chose to not to acknowledge the significance and allow its department governing forestry to log it extensively. In 1989, the community expressed concern over the potential impacts of logging and major roadwork taking place throughout the region. In response, the Victorian Government commissioned a study to assess these impacts to assist it in managing these forests (Davies et al 1994). However, the findings detailing the significance of the study area, the potential impacts of logging within in it and the management recommendations, were all suppressed in 1994 (Hansard 1999) and logging and road construction continued unabated. For the remaining forests around Mount Baw Baw currently providing habitat for much of the critically endangered Baw Baw Frog population along with other endangered species, the Victorian Government intends to continue logging in the guise of a ‘scientific experiment’.

In response to scientific and community concern, the regional environment non-government organisation (NGO), The Central Highlands Alliance Inc. (TCHA) conducted its investigation into the logging of the forests of Mount Baw Baw. Over a 5-year period, it has consulted with biodiversity experts, reviewed extensive literature, obtained information formally suppressed, conducted wildlife surveys and carried out mapping and on-site analysis. The outcome is the following report and it reveals evidence of the gross mismanagement and environmental degradation of:

• A Site of Global Zoological Significance;

• Sites of National and State Botanical Significance;

• Sites of National Geological and Geomorphological Significance;

• Sites of National Estate Value;

• Sites of Significant Rainforest;

• Melbourne’s single largest Water Catchment.

In 1995, substantial works began on the Victorian Governments largest infrastructure project for logging, the South Face Road. This road has provided access for the industry to log large areas of forest along the southern escarpments of Mount Baw Baw to supply Victoria’s largest pulp and timber mills in the Latrobe Valley (EPA 2001). In 2001, the Environment Protection Authority recognised the road as an environmental risk to the upper Tyers River Catchment and the road has already collapsed along several sections. To stabilize the road, the Department of Sustainability and Environment (DSE) has used rock from ‘quarrying’ the regions’ unique rock formations and features, all within a site of National Geological and Geomorphological Significance.

Scientists and the community have asked the Victorian Government that the remaining forest areas around Mount Baw Baw be protected from an industry sector desperate for pulp and timber and that degraded areas be rehabilitated. Yet the government remains indifferent to the crisis. The fate of these forests reside more in ‘political muscling’ than on current scientific research. This is where we do not want to be. The assurance of ‘Sustainable Forest Management’ by the Victorian Government has proven to be misleading as this investigation reveals that current forest policy poses a significant threat for the remaining areas of significance. The culture of mismanagement must be brought to an end and the values of Mount Baw Baw recognized and protected for the greater benefit.

This report aims to inform the reader of the current problems facing forest conservation at Mount Baw Baw, inform forest management of the original biologists findings and recommendations and provide a way forward to ensure that the significance and importance of Mount Baw Baw, its forests and water catchments are preserved.

Chapter 2 Values

Values of Mt Baw Baw

fen

Chapter 2.pdf- download here

Summary

During the early 1980’s, the Ministry for Conservation carried out several studies and surveys on the Central Gippsland region of Victoria to identify sites of natural significance. The results of these studies were published in several reports and all identified Mount Baw Baw and its associated escarpments as containing sites of outstanding natural value. These are listed below:

• Site of Global Zoological Significance (Section 2.2)
• Site of National Botanical Significance (Section 2.3)
• Site of National Geological and Geomorphological Significance (Section 2.4)

Further to these, later studies by the Commonwealth and Victorian Governments revealed that the area surrounding Mount Baw Baw also contained:

• Sites of National Estate Value (Section 2.5)
• Sites of Landscape Value recognised under the National Trust (Section 2.6)

This chapter explores the significance of each of these attributes and provides reference to the source documents from which they are detailed.

Chapter 3 Baw Baw Frog

Victoria’s Only Endemic Frog

 

 

pdf- download hereChapter 3

Summary

The Baw Baw Frog (Philoria frosti) is endemic to Mount Baw Baw and its associated escarpments and is listed under the IUCN red list as ‘critically endangered (IUCN 2004). The confinement of the Frog to the mountainous environment of Mount Baw Baw predisposes it to rarity as they have a restricted distribution (Hollis 2004). The species has recently experienced a massive population decline and is extremely sensitive to logging and other forms of environmental stress (Hollis 2004). In

1996, the majority of the current known population was found on the western and southern escarpments of Mount Baw Baw. These forests were to be logged under existing licensing arrangements. In response to the discovery and given the significance of the Baw Baw Frog, the Department of Sustainability and Environment (DSE) proposed a ‘scientific logging experiment’ to take place in these forests to determine whether the frog can survive a ‘logging operation’. This experiment will be further explored in Chapter 6.

This chapter will provide an overview of:

• Key findings of current scientific research on the Baw Baw Frog (Section 3.2)

• The cause of the decline in the species’ population (Section 3.3)

Chapter 4 Forestry

Introduction to Baw Baw’s Forestry

bare coupe

Chapter 4.pdf- Download here

Summary

The lower and middle forested slopes of Mount Baw Baw have been subjected to extensive clearfell logging operations for over the past 20 years. Mount Baw Baw is located in close proximity to some the largest pulp and timber mill facilities operating in Victoria. These Include:

• Australian Paper (Maryvale Pulp Mill)

• Neville Smith Timber (Heyfield Timber Mill)

• Drouin West Sawmill (Drouin and Morwell Mills)

To supply these mills, the Victorian Government subjected the forests around Mount Baw Baw to an unsustainable management regime. In order to maintain existing license commitments administered under the Forests Act 1958, the region was ‘overlogged’ to where in 2002, it was recommended to the Victorian Government that the sawlog yield be reduced by 50 percent. This chapter explores these pressures and its resulting impact on forest biodiversity. This is detailed in a mapping analysis showing past and proposed logging coupes onto sites significance as detailed in Chapter 2. An overview on current and proposed logging operations as outlined by the DSE is then provided. All of this is further explored within the following sections:

• The Forest Industry and Mount Baw Baw (Section 4.2)

• The impact of logging on Mount Baw Baw and its escarpments (Section 4.3)

• Current forest management in Sites of Significance (Section 4.4)

• Proposed Logging within Sites of Significance (Section 4.5)

It is recommended that proposed logging not proceed in the sites of significance surrounding Mount Baw Baw. It is also recommended that the Australian Paper for the Maryvale Pulp Mill request for additional wood pulp supply not come from VicForests as the RFA, upon which the extensions refers to, falls short of ensuring adequate protection for significant ecological communities.

Chapter 5 Suppressed Science

Suppressed Science

tyers river

Chapter 5.pdf download here

Summary

In late 1993, the then Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) completed a study, ‘Ecological Survey Report No.46 - Flora and Fauna of the Eastern and Western Tyers Forest Blocks and Adjacent South-Eastern Slopes of Baw Baw National Park, Central Gippsland, Victoria’ (Davies et al 1993). The report was the first DCNR ecological survey for the Central Highlands’ Gippsland area and was carried out by the Flora and Fauna Survey Team set up by the State-wide Planning Policy Advisory Group – an initiative of the then Minister for Conservation, Forests and Lands. The report was commissioned as the result of public concern over the potential impacts of major road networks and logging on environmental values in the forests of the Central Highlands of Victoria. The report initially comprised of the following chapters:

1) General aspects of the Upper Tyers River Catchment

2) Vegetation

3) Mammals

4) Birds

5) Amphibians and Reptiles

6) Fish

7) Butterflies

8) Conservation of Flora and Fauna

9) Significant Communities and Habitats

10) Effects of Land Use Activities on Flora and Fauna

11) Biologically Significant Sites and Wildlife Corridors

Upon the publishing of the report in 1994, Chapters 8, 9 and 10 were removed. Chapter 11 became Chapter 8, however, the biologists’ recommendations for the management of Biologically Significant Sites and wildlife corridors were removed in Chapter 8. Upon being published, the report was withdrawn by the DCNR, and what remained of chapter 8 (originally chapter 11) and the map locating the sites, were removed. The report was reissued with the pages of chapter 8 and the map simply ‘missing’. The removal of this information prevented forest management from being adequately informed about the significance of the region (Hansard 1999). Since then, the Upper Tyers River Catchment has been subject to extensive clearfell logging. The Central Highlands Alliance Inc. located the deleted chapters and presents their findings and recommendations below. The following also provide testimony of why the chapters were deleted. These are covered in the following sections:

• Purpose for reporting on the Upper Tyers River Catchment (Section 5.2)

• Details of the ‘Deleted; Chapters (Section 5.3)

• Biologically Significant Sites and Wildlife Corridors (Section 5.4)

• Significance of Sites Identified (Section 5.5)

• Why were the Chapters and the Map detailing the Sites deleted? (Section 5.6)

• What are the Impacts? (Section 5.7)

• Sites of significance as outlined in the Central Highlands Forest Management Plan (Section 5.8)

• Implications for future management (Section 5.9)

The Chair of the Senate hearing on the Regional Forest Agreement Bill described the act of suppressing this information as a fairly serious charge (Hansard 1999). It reveals that forest management acted in the interest of meeting ‘unsustainable’ timber and pulp license commitments at the expense of forest biodiversity and the public good.

Chapter 6 Experiment

Scientific Whaling of Our Frog

baw baw frog log

Chapter 6.pdf-download here

Summary

In 1996, significant populations of the critically endangered Baw Baw Frog were discovered in the State Forests on the southern escarpments of Mount Baw Baw (Hollis 2004). In response, the Central Highlands Regional Forest Agreement (RFA) called for an interim ‘precautionary approach’ to be taken in forest above the 1000m contour where coupes would not be logged where Baw Baw Frogs were known to occur and additional buffering would be implemented around known sites. The Central Highlands RFA calls for further study on the species, including surveying the response of the species to ‘disturbance in Montane Wet Forest’ (Commonwealth of Australia 1998). The Baw Baw Frog Action Statement and the Baw Baw Frog Draft Recovery Plan later referred the ‘response to disturbance’ as ‘experimental timber harvesting’, upon where the habitat of Baw Baw Frog occurring within the Montane Forests around Mount Baw Baw would be logged employing various methods of silviculture, including clearfelling. Following this, monitoring is to take place to establish whether the critically endangered species can survive logging within their habitat. This chapter explores the issues surrounding the experiment under the following sections:

• Logging Experiment Overview (Section 6.2)

• Scientific Critique (Section 6.3)

• The Baw Baw Frog Recovery Plan and the EPBC Act 1999 (Section 6.4)

• The Baw Baw Frog Action Statement (Section 6.5)

• Logging within the Baw Baw Frog Habitat after the RFA (Section 6.6)

The experiment commenced in December 2004 despite it not yet being approved by the Federal Environment Minister. However, the experiment was placed under an informal moratorium within days of commencing as a result of opposition from scientists and environmental Non-Government Organisations (NGO’s). Associate Professor Jean-Marc Hero described the ‘experiment’ to the Victorian Government as ‘ludicrous at best and unethical at worst’, as the species has been found to be extremely sensitive to environmental change (Statement in Appendix 6).

Chapter 7 Leadbeaters Possum

Victoria’s Faunal Emblem

 

 

Chapter 7.pdf download here

Summary

The Leadbeater’s Possum is a small arboreal marsupial that is one of the significant species inhabiting the forests surrounding Mount Baw Baw. It was thought to be extinct for the first half of the 20th Century until it was rediscovered in 1961 (Lindenmayer and Possingham 1996). Upon its rediscovery near Lake Mountain in 1961, the known global population range of the Leadbeater’s Possum is currently restricted to the Central Highlands of Victoria. These include populations throughout the Mountain Ash, Shining Gum, Alpine Ash Forests and Snow Gum Woodlands surrounding Mount Baw Baw (Lindenmayer and Possingham 1996, DSE 2003, DSE BioMap 2006). The species is listed as ‘Endangered’ under the IUCN red list and its population trend is in decline (last count as of 2006 stands at approx. 2,500 individuals) (IUCN Red List). It has been widely documented that clearfell logging poses a serious threat to the survival of the species through the loss of hollow bearing trees. As most logged sites around Mount Baw Baw are clearfelled, the forest structure has been undergoing dramatic change rendering the landscape unsuitable for the species to inhabit. These issues are explored in the following sections:

• Habitat requirements for the Leadbeater’s Possum (Section 7.2)

• Impacts of Logging on the Leadbeater’s Possum at Mount Baw Baw (Section 7.3)

• Impacts of Logging on Dead Stags (Section 7.4)

• Surveys at Tyers River West Branch (Section 7.5)

• Protection requirements for the Leadbeater’s Possum (Section 7.6)

A significant number of Leadbeater’s Possum colonies have been found around Mount Baw Baw that fall outside the Zone 1A Special Protection Zones set aside under the Central Highlands Forest Management Plan. These unprotected colonies are under extreme risk of being destroyed by logging as the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation (EPBC) Act 1999 has exempted all logging carried out under a Regional Forest Agreement (RFA). A number of these colonies fall within the boundaries of the coupes listed as part of the Baw Baw Frog Logging experiment

Chapter 8 South Face Road

All in the Name of Tourism

southface road

Chapter 8.pdf download here

Summary

In 1995, the then Department of Natural Resources and Environment (DNRE) began substantial works of its largest and most complex infrastructure project, the South Face Road (EPA 2001). The majority of the road straddles the mid southern escarpments of Mount Baw Baw within the Upper Tyers River Catchment and opened previously inaccessible forests for logging. The purpose of the South Face Road was to provide a permanent transport route to move timber from coupes west of Mount Baw Baw to mills located in the east (EPA 2001). These include the major Gippsland facility, the Maryvale Pulp Mill and the Neville Smith Timber Mill at Heyfield. The construction of the road has had a wide spread negative impact on the sites of significance along the escarpments of Mount Baw Baw. These include increased erosion and turbidity for the many rivers in the region, degradation of Rainforest Sites of Significance (detailed in Chapter 9), degradation of Sites of Biological Significance (detailed in Chapter 5) and the destruction of Sites of National Geological and Geomorphological Significance through rock blasting. This chapter provides an overview of:

• The EPA Tyers River Catchment Audit Findings (Section 8.2)

• Onsite observations made by The Central Highlands Alliance Inc (Section 8.3)

• Quarrying of Granite Tors (Section 8.4)

• Assessment of Quarrying made by Neville Rosengren (Section 8.5)

The construction of the South Face Road poses a severe environmental risk to the region. As the granodiorite derived soils in the region are highly susceptible to erosion, several sections of the road have ‘collapsed’, exposing the Upper Tyers and Tanjil River Catchments to continued erosion and increased sedimentation. The road has also permanently fragmented the forest, disrupting connectivity for ‘non-flying’ species, such as the Leadbeater’s Possum, to forage (Lindenmayer and Franklin 2002).

Chapter 9 Rainforest

Rainforests

rainforest river

Chapter 9.pdf-download here

Summary

The issue of rainforest conservation has been the centre of intense environmental debate for several decades. The escarpments of Mount Baw Baw contain several Rainforest Sites of Significance and these have been impacted by forestry operations, especially in the construction of the South Face Road. This chapter provides an overview of the issues and the impacts of forest management on rainforest sites throughout the Mount Baw Baw area in the following:

• By providing recognised definitions of Rainforest (Section 9.2)

• Listing Rainforest Sites of Significance around Mount Baw Baw (Section 9.3)

• Describing inconsistencies between scientific surveys and the Central Highlands Forest Management Plan listing Rainforest Sites of Significance (Section 9.4)

• Rainforest Sites of Significance and the Impacts of road construction and Logging (Section 9.5)

• The impacts of Logging Cool Temperate Mixed Rainforest (Section 9.6)

The construction of the South Face Road has resulted in the degradation of a Rainforest Site of State Significance through the permanent removal of a section of the stand. The infection of the fatal pathogen ‘Myrtle Wilt’ in the forest following the intrusion significantly furthered the degradation. In addition, the extensive clearfelling of Cool Temperate Mixed Rainforest has also changed the floristics' of the region. These rainforest communities provide important habitat and refuge for the Baw Baw Frog.