Miranda’s Daily Blog: Day 221
(Images: Forest monitoring and documentation, Still Wild Still Threatened 2010).
I have come to love and hate maps.
Over the past five or so years they have become a constant companion. Helping me to navigate my way through amazing tracts of forest, to find spectacular caves hidden deep in the Upper Florentine Valley, or giant trees in the Styx. They have guided me through the forest on dark nights, by head torch, to take action. They have helped me find the perfect spot to place wildlife cameras and helped me find my way back again to watch the footage of Tasmanian devils and spotted- tailed quolls. But maps have led me to places I wish I didn’t have to go. They have taken me on dark and raining nights through mazes of logging roads, to coupe after coupe of clearfelled forests.
Each year Forestry Tasmania puts out a new wood production plan. It is one of my least favourite times of the year. it means trolling through list after list of coupe names. It is like a lottery draw, where if your number comes up you lose everything. As soon as it is released I am going through it with anticipation to see which of my favourite places will be taken this year. And then the sad task of drawing the lines of each coupe boundary onto my own maps. Each year our worn out 1:25,000 topographical maps are filling up more and more with the scrawl of coupe boundaries. In increasing numbers, the shaded-in ones; the ones that have already been lost, begin to take over the pages.
These past few weeks, as you will have noticed, I have been doing a daily post, with the help of crew from HVEC, Code Green, The Last Stand and Markets for Change, profiling a different forest everyday. Sadly many of these areas are clearfells. These are forests that should have been protected by a moratorium announced well over a year ago now. And then by the conservation agreement announced last August.
Tonight I feel a sense of loss for places I have known and loved and lost. And for other places that I will never have the chance to know. Tonight the maps tell a story, and it is one of devastation. The other day I wrote a coupe profile about what had been one of my favourite patches of forest. It’s called the Counsel forest. And it has the most spectacularly giant trees. I remember the first time I ever went there. I was amazed. There are some forests that have had such a high profile, like the Florentine and the Styx. And these are incredible forests that deserve to be known! But then it is interesting to stumble across areas that not many people know about or hear about. And to discover a whole new, equally amazing world in there!
What amazed me was the diversity of flora. When I first visited this area many years ago now, it was early on in my career as a “plant nerd.” I had been enthusiastically learning every single plant I could find in the Upper Florentine Valley. And I thought I had a good handle on this plant ID thing. Then I walked through the Counsel, and discovered I had no idea! There were so many new species for me to discover and learn, that were not commonly seen in the neighbouring valleys. The other thing I loved about the counsel when I first went there is its rocky disposition. The rocky outcrops, that look out over the valleys below. And of course, the tall trees!
I have found some amazing trees in that forest. One of my favourite trees in the Counsel was discovered in logging coupe CO002B. Every year SWST conduct a report for the IUCN and World Heritage Committee, to asses the level of damage done to the forests bordering the world heritage area. One of those areas was CO002B, the boundary of which runs right up to the world heritage border. On the day we went to document it for the 2009 report, we arrived to the devastating scene of logging machinery and fallen trees. I went for a walk and just up the hill, on the very edge of where the logging had gotten to that day, was a giant tree. It had a huge girth of 17.5 meters. It was a beautiful tree and I thought maybe we would have a chance to save it. Given that the Forest Practices Code says that trees above 14 meters girth would receive a buffer zone and remain standing until they were assessed for status as “giants.”
The following day we were standing amongst a very different “forest”, a garden of planted tree ferns in the atrium of Forestry Tasmania’s building. Handing in our paperwork to report the discovery of this amazingly wide tree. The next time I returned to the coupe, our tree was still standing but they had logged right up to it. Something I thought they were not supposed to do. We found out it had failed to be classified as a giant. The reason for this is that while tall trees are given giant status, if they are above 85 meters in height. But there is no protection for trees that are exceptionally wide. They have to meet a criteria based on volume. And so those old trees that have lost their crowns as they have aged, often fail to be classified. And unfortunately this one fell short. The next time I returned all that remained was a 17.5m round stump.
After the felling on CO002B came the felling of CO010B. This was particularly distressing, because it is right in the middle of a significant tract of intact old growth. This tract is bordered by the TWWHA on one side and an informal reserve running along a river on the other side. There were not even any roads encroaching into the forest. That was until CO010B. A road was pushed right through the informal reserve. And then logging started. This was at a time when Forestry Tasmania were meant to be rescheduling coupes in line with the Statement of Principles and the declared moratorium. This was the moment for me when warning bells started ringing about the whole process. Why was logging allowed to go ahead in a tract of intact old growth forest, bordering the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area, when it was meant to be on its way to be included into the reserve? It just didn’t make sense. There was already an argument out there being used to justify areas not being included in protected areas, based on the fact that they were fragmented by logging. Yet, here they were going ahead and fragmenting another area of forest, right before it was to be reserved. Now there is a scar in the landscape of the counsel forest. A sad reminder of the failure of the moratorium to do what it should have done, and that is to ensure that the areas on the table for new reserves did not suffer any further degradation or fragmentation.
CO0010B and C0002B should be restored and included into the TWWHA along with the surrounding forest, to ensure connectivity. The trees that once stood here have been forever lost. But it is not too late to protect the rest of the Counsel. And other high conservation value forests in Tasmania.
The maps hold a story, and it is part of my story. Because the scars that mark the maps have left their mark on me too. Places in the Styx, Tyenna, Wedge, Florentine, Plenty, Wentworth Hills. The places that I have visited, monitored, documented, photographed, set up fauna cameras in, climbed trees in, taken action in, written reports about, talked to the media about, and eventually bore witness to them being felled and burnt.
As much as the maps hold a story of devastation, they hold a story of hope. Because there are places on the map with little scribbley outlines of coupes that are not yet shaded in. These are the places we have not lost yet. Some of these are the coupes that we have been able to defend from logging. The Upper Florentine Valley is full of these. Proposed logging coupes, numbering 15, scatter across the 2000 hectare valley. The majority of these remain untouched, because the community has prevented logging in the valley since the logging schedule for the area was announced about five and a half years ago. The Upper Florentine could survive forever, if it is given the legislative protection that is needed, as part of 563,000 hectares of forest that is on the table for proposed reserves.
The map that outlines those 563,000 hectares tells a story of core habitat areas for Tasmanian devils, spotted tailed quolls, masked owls. A story of wedge–tailed eagle nesting sites and waterways that are home to hydrobiid snails and Galaxias johnstoni. Of sink holes, caves and karsts systems, of important Indigenous heritage sites. Of remnant rainforest patches, glacial lakes, giant eucalypts. Of a landscape that is unique to Tasmania. That map tells a story of a long battle to protect Tasmania’s forests, and the possibility that some of our most significant areas may finally be able to be safely guarded by the protection they should have had a long time ago. But this is a story that has not finished, an open ended story, and we are waiting to hear what the next page will hold.
And as I sit here on the eve of the day that the “deal” is due to be announced, I am looking at that map and holding onto the hope that sense and science prevail, that our unique fauna and flora is protected, Indigenous heritage sites are not lost any further and that we become a beacon of sustainable evolution instead of ecological devastation. And that those scars of clearfells in high conservation value forests will be the last of their kind.
The hope that tomorrow I will be erasing the lines of logging coupes from my maps, not adding them.