Miranda’s Daily Blog: Day 20 & 21
I first visited this particular patch of Tasmania’s south west almost four years ago. A delegation was coming to Tasmania from the World Heritage Committee, International Union for the Conservation of Nature and ICOMOS. In preparation Still Wild Still Threatened did comprehensive surveys of 40 areas of forest scheduled for logging, all that were within 2 km of the boundary of the current Tasmanian Wilderness Wold Heritage Area (TWWHA). It was a hectic mission, but an inspiring one. Every day we would leave from Camp Floz in teams of four, off to different valleys – the Styx, Wedge, Counsel, and Tyenna.
I knew this place was special as soon as I saw it. I didn’t need the data on the survey sheet to prove it (though it did anyway).
It was a slightly overcast rainy day ( you know the ones typical of Tasmania’s wet forest) and we traipsed through the bush trying to keep our notebooks dry as we recorded the details of the spectacular world we’d found ourselves in. Gullies bursting to the brim with ferns, growing tall as trees, their rough bark scattered with epiphytes; filmy, kangaroo and finger ferns growing like a vertical garden up their trunks. Waterways spread through the valley everywhere, trickling their way down from Mount Mueller, which loomed above us. Up on the ridges we were met with vast tall eucalypts rising up from the ground 60-70 meters tall. These ancient trees are some of the most carbon dense in the world. Research done by Still Wild Still Threatened to radio-carbon date trees of a similar size in the nearby Styx Valley found that the trees had been between 400-600 years old when they were taken down by a chainsaw.
As we walked I could see a clearing in the distance. I looked at the map, but it didn’t correspond with any roads or clearings. I knew something wasn’t right. As we pushed on I could see the clearing was a road. Stepping out of the lush dense forest onto a brand new gravel road felt devastating. The road itself was like a clear fell, zigzagging its way up the hill, taking out most of the forest on the entire slope as it went.
It was then that it hit me – how precariously this forest was teetering on the edge of survival, so close to being lost forever. With the road complete and the Forest Practises Plan cleared, logging could begin at any time. We walked back through the bush a little quieter than before. Reflecting on what this meant for these ancient trees that stood silently around us, waiting defenceless for the moment when the evolution of an ecosystem would be brought to an abrupt and ruthless end.
The survey project for the World Heritage Committee delegation was a time of great hope for me. Recording meticulously the flora, fauna and the other world heritage values would surely provide evidence to the committee to show how important these forests were. I really believed that those coupes might never be logged.
The good news is that the World Heritage Committee and the IUCN did see the importance of the forests. In 2008 both these organisations voted unanimously in favour of the need for the TWWHA border to be extended to take in these forests.
You see, the thing about the TWWHA is that although it is quiet extensive, it is not necessarily representative of all vegetation types. The protected area covers mountain tops and alpine areas. These are significant ecosystems, but they were not under threat because they have no use to the logging industry. Looking at the map of the TWWHA you will notice the way the boundary follows the contours of the landscape. This is because where the mountain tops give way to the forest at the tree line, the border stops. The areas of tall trees, the areas most desired by the logging companies are excluded from protected zone. This is why the World Heritage Committee stated in 2008 “only 29% of tall eucalypt forest is included within the property (TWWHA) it has also been suggested that the values outside the property are different and complementary to those of the tall eucalypt forest included in the property. Areas of high potential value as World Heritage have consistently been identified, including tall eucalypt forests in the Styx Valley and the Upper Florentine” (WHC-08/32.COM/7B).
With the IUCN and World Heritage Committee making remmendations to the government for the boundary to be extended, it felt like there was a chance to save those precious forests at the base of Mount Mueller.
In 2009 we were out surveying again. This time we were not taking note of flora and fauna, we were taking notes of log piles, machinery, stumps and burning clear-fells. Still Wild Still Threatened reported to the WHC and IUCN that of the 40 coupes surveyed the year before 18 had been seriously degraded by forestry operations. In addition another 7 coupes within 2 km of the TWWHA border that had not been on the previous logging schedule had been impacted by operations. A year had passed and the government had done nothing to act on the WHC recommendations. It was clear that the area surrounding the TWWHA was becoming increasingly fragmented as more and more logging occurred in close proximity, sometimes even coming right up to meet the boundary of the protected area, with no buffer zone. Another year passed and still no action had been taken by the government. This time we reported an additional 11 coupes had been lost to logging operations and two more had roading complete.
That was two years ago now. We didn’t do an update report last year. I guess it just didn’t seem like the government would ever take notice of the World Heritage Committee’s recommendations. It seemed like the intact forest stretching out from the TWWHA would become fragmented and disjointed, separated by clear-fells and if we ever got the government to listen I feared it would be too late.
These forests at the base of Mount Mueller have always had a special place in my heart. I’ll never forget the giant tree we discovered in TN49A – 18.7 meters girth around the base. Part way up the trunk split, so that it almost looked like two trees growing closely together. Its nickname became “forked tongue.” It is one of my favourite trees. In TN48A we measured a tree 16.5 meters in girth. Neither of these trees made it into the “giant tree” list. To receive protection as a giant a tree must measure over 85 meters in height. This can be a bit of a disadvantage for the very old trees. Like people they tend to shrink a little with age. Their crowns begin to die and then drop off, shortening the tree. The dead crowns of old trees can be seen from a distance. As you look out across valleys of old growth you can see their pale grey sticks contrasting against the green forest. As for trees that are exceptionally fat, like ‘forked tongue” they get no special protection, unless they meet the criteria based on volume (280 cubic meters), which can be difficult to achieve without the height too.
Walking up Mount Mueller is a special experience, and if you’re ever out this way, you should give it a go. The track goes through a proposed logging coupe, so hopefully it is still intact when you get the chance to do the walk. Up on the mountain is a glacial lake called “Fossil Lake” it is surrounded by pandanii and looks out across the Styx and Tyenna valleys. I think there is something special about the fact that the mountain is also the beginning of three spectacular rivers that run through three of the most spectacular forests – the Florentine, Weld and Styx.
I remember a friend of mine whom I’d spent many walks with in these forests had to leave Tassie for a while. “Keep an eye on those Mueller coupes while I’m gone” he said. And I did. I have spent many nights in the rain and sometime snow, checking up on these forests. That feeling of driving up the road and your heart stopping for just a second as you round the corner…. Waiting to see what you will find, will the forest be there or will it be replaced by machines working their way greedily through the trees?
One night about two years ago now I had a night mare about this coupe I’m sitting in now. I dreamt that logging started and I tried to tell people but no one would listen. I wanted to stop the destruction but no one had time to help. It’s funny how I still remember that dream and the disheartening feeling it left me with when I woke up. But here I am today, sitting in this coupe, and lots of people are listening. Yesterday I checked my emails discovering all these messages from people in France who had read about The Observer Tree through a French website. Today I had a visit from local residents of the Derwent Valley who brought me fresh fruit and vegetables. People are listening all the way from New Norfolk to Paris! The government may not have listened to the WHC or the IUCN, but we are going to make sure that they start listening to us. Because the people of Australia and the world are recognising how unique and valuable these forests are and we are not going to let them be taken away forever simply to line the pockets of companies like Ta Ann.
Today marks three weeks since I started my constant vigil at the top of this tree. The word is starting to spread around the world, so keep up the good work in sharing this blog as much as you can.
Talk to you tomorrow, Miranda.