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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.

The current section provides the reader with a roadmap to the main body of the report. The appendix is inclusive of previously unavailable material detailing the significance of Mount Baw Baw.

 

1.2.2 Natural Values

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)

Chapter 2 explores the significance of each of these attributes and provides reference to the source documents from which they are detailed. The combination of the studies found that the forests surrounding Mount Baw Baw provide habitat for significant species including:

•The Global Population of the Critically Endangered Baw Baw Frog

•The Endangered Leadbeater’s Possum

•The Critically Endangered Spotted Tree Frog

•The Endangered Smoky Mouse

•The Vulnerable Sooty Owl

•The Endangered Powerful Owl

•The Endangered Spotted Tail Quoll

And significant ecological vegetation species and communities including:

•Montane Fen Community

•Alpine Fen Community

•Cool Temperate Rainforest Community

•Several endemic species

•Over 400 native vascular flora species

•45 rare or threatened plant species

•Over 70 mosses and 41 liverworts with one species listed under the Flora and Fauna Guarantee Act

•Several species yet to be fully described

1.2.3 Research on the Baw Baw Frog

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.

Chapter 3 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)

1.2.4 Forest Management around Mount Baw Baw

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 of 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. This will be explored further in the following chapters.

Scientific Reporting and Suppression of Recommendations

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. 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 properly 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 its findings and recommendations in Chapter 5. Testimony of why the chapters were deleted is also included. 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 revealed 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.

1.2.6 Logging the Baw Baw Frog Habitat

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 upon 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 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. Chapter 6 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 Minister for Environment. 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.

1.2.7 Logging and Leadbeater’s Possum

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.

1.2.8 The South Face Road

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. Chapter 8 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).

1.2.9 Cool Temperate Rainforest and the impacts of Logging

The issue of rainforest conservation has been the centre of intense 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. Chapter 9 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’ of the forest following the intrusion significantly furthered 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.

1.2.10 Logging and the Thomson Water Catchment

The Thomson Reservoir is situated along the eastern escarpments of Mount Baw Baw and carries approximately 60 percent of Melbourne’s water storage capacity (Howe et al 2005). It is surrounded by 48,700 hectares of forested catchment that includes the northern and eastern slopes of Mount Baw Baw, the southern slopes of Mount Matlock on the Great Dividing Range and the western slopes of the Aberfeldy Range. The Thomson is the largest of four major water supply catchments for Melbourne, with the others being Maroondah, Upper Yarra and O’Shannassy. All are located within the Central Highlands of Victoria (Howe et al 2005). The Thomson is the only large catchment upon which logging is permitted. The forest industry considers the Mountain Ash, Alpine Ash and Shining Gum forests within the catchment as highly valuable for timber and pulp and targets them for logging. These forests cover 33.5 percent of the Thomson Catchment (Alaouze 2004) and occur within the high rainfall areas, mostly along the escarpments of Mount Baw Baw. When regenerating after logging, these species have been observed to double their use of water through having a higher Leaf Area Index (LAI) (Peel et al 2000, Vertessy et al 1998). The Strategy Directions Report stated that if logging were to be phased out of the Thomson Catchment by 2020, it is estimated that it will provide an additional volume of water in the order of 20,000ML (Victorian Government 2002). This is almost the equivalent holding capacity of the Maroondah Reservoir. Chapter 10 provides an overview of the issues concerning logging in the Thomson Catchment and implications for future management. These are covered in the following sections:

•Annual Rainfall within the Thomson Catchment (Section 10.2)

•Forests and Water Use (Section 10.3)

•Predicting Impacts on Water Yield within the Thomson Catchment (Section 10.4)

•Logging within the Thomson Catchment (Section 10.5)

•Global Warming and the Thomson (Section 10.6)

•Implications for Future Management (Section 10.7)

Chapter 10 reveals significant problems with past and continued logging within the Thomson Catchment. It reveals that logging Ash Forests results in the greatest water yield loss for any forest type in the catchment. Almost 69 percent of the Ash forest area within the Thomson Catchment has been or will be logged. This exceeds the minimum of 20 percent for changes in the water yield to be detected.

1.2.11 Unlawful Logging within the Thomson Catchment

In the winter of 2006, coupe 353-501-0001 was logged. Part of this coupe falls within Thomson Water Catchment. The catchment is closed to logging operations between May 1st and November 30th as stipulated in Appendix R of the Central Highlands Forest Management Plan. In addition, the location of the coupe was not revealed in the Timber Release Plan issued by VicForests. The Sustainable Forests (Timber) Act 2004 requires that the details of the location of logging to be included in the Timber Release Plans. This did not occur. As a result, the community was not adequately informed about VicForests’ and DSE’s intent to log an area of what scientists and the community regard as a significant site for water catchment and biodiversity. Therefore, in reference to the above, the logging of coupe 353-501-0001 was ‘unlawful’. This is covered in the following sections:

•Details of the Logging Operation (Section 11.2)

•Non-compliance with Forest Management Plans and Legislation (Section 11.3)

1.2.12 The Reserve Proposal

The outcome of this investigation reveals that the current reserve system around Mount Baw Baw is inadequate and that current forest management practices are degrading sites of significance. Chapter 11 details the recommended expansion of the current Baw Baw National Park to be inclusive of:

•The entire site of Global Zoological Significance,

•Sites of National and State Botanical Significance,

•Site of National Geological and Geomorphological Significance

•The global distribution of the Baw Baw Frog,

•Rainforest Sites of Significance

•Sites of National Estate Value

•Areas of high rainfall within the Thomson Catchment

As large areas of forest surrounding Mount Baw Baw have been degraded through extensive logging operations, the reserve agenda proposes a ‘restorative management zone’ upon where proactive conservation measures are implemented to rehabilitate these areas. The agenda is supportive of Associate Professor Jean marc Hero’s recommendation for the recovery action of the Baw Baw Frog, which include:

•Complete protection of all known and predicted habitat for the Baw Baw Frog

•Proactive actions to mitigate the known threats

•Monitoring to determine if mitigating actions are effective

•Research to determine new or unknown threats to the species

•Proactive actions to mitigate new threats

(Hero 2004 – Pers Comm)

This proposal provides a continuous reserve system that joins the Baw Baw National Park with the Yarra Ranges National Park and the Moondarra State Park. It will incorporate the diverse Ecological Vegetation Communities found within the region that fall outside the current reserve system.

1.3 Recommended Outcomes

As Mount Baw Baw and its associated escarpments have been recognised as a site of outstanding natural significance, appropriate conservation, protection and management need to be immediately implemented. The Victorian Government must ensure the community that the abuse and degradation of significant natural sites do not re-occur. Informed by the following report, The Central Highlands Alliance Inc., along with other stakeholders, request the following:

•That all logging immediately cease within sites of zoological, botanical, geological and geomorphological significance on Baw Baw and the Victorian Government subject these sites to a moratorium

•The cancellation of the Baw Baw Frog ‘Timber Harvesting Experiment’

•The immediate protection of forest where the Baw Baw Frog is located

•Allow for informed and broad stakeholder approval of the Baw Baw Frog Recovery Plan under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation (EPBC) Act 1999

•To allow for informed and broad stakeholder review of the Baw Baw Frog Action Statement under the Flora and Fauna Guarantee Act 1988

•A formal investigation into the suppression of biologists recommendations in the report titled ‘Flora and Fauna of the Eastern and Western Tyers Forest Blocks and Adjacent South-Eastern Slopes of Baw Baw National Park, Central Gippsland, Victoria’

•An investigation to the impacts of logging in the Thomson Catchment with all logging suspended to minimise any further potential degradation

•To cease any further planning and construction of the South Face Road

•An independent and transparent investigation into the planning and construction of the South Face Road and the impacts that it has had on forest biodiversity and catchment integrity

•An independent assessment into the quarrying of the granite tors within sites of geological and geomorphological significance

•Areas degraded by past logging operations restored as part of a long term restoration program

•That roads built for the purposes of logging throughout high conservation forest and/or on eroding soils be closed and rehabilitated

•The reserve proposal be implemented as detailed in Chapter 11