By Miki Perkins
Residents and farmers have raised the alarm over logging in a small forest north of Wilsons Promontory, an area of remnant bushland home to rare and endangered species like powerful owls, greater gliders and Strzelecki koalas.
State government logging agency VicForests has begun logging in four coupes in Alberton West State Forest, in the state’s south-east, but locals have described the move as “madness”, with millions in federal funding spent on Landcare works over 15 years to create wildlife corridors to link the isolated forest to the nearby Strzelecki ranges.
In the face of dwindling koala numbers in NSW and Queensland, Strzelecki koalas have a growing national significance because they are more genetically robust than other Victorian koalas. They have a small but healthy population in Alberton West.
Richard Appleton worked for 16 years as an environment officer at nearby HVP Plantations, which is one of Australia’s largest private timber plantation companies and has a forest reserve for Strzelecki koalas.
These koalas are unique, and their genetic diversity may be invaluable in future efforts to halt the downward trajectory of the species in NSW and Queensland, where koala populations are declining to the extent that within 30 to 50 years they may well be extinct, Mr Appleton says.
In contrast, the rest of Victoria has an abundance of koalas but they are genetically poor and vulnerable to disease.
“My biggest concern is that in one single fire event we could lose that entire population”, says Mr Appleton. “It makes it so important to have wildlife corridors and different populations that can repopulate core areas.”
Resident Kevin Heggen has a long involvement with the wildlife corridor project, and says millions of dollars in federal money and countless hours from Landcare volunteers has gone into excluding stock, creating wildlife corridors and preserving native forests across the Albert River catchment area. This makes logging in the Alberton forest “illogical”, he says.
“It’s just plain bloody madness. I understand the arguments around the need for timber but it’s not our fault the government signed poorly constructed contracts with mills,” he says.
Fourteen environment groups, including Environment Victoria and Friends of the Earth, have written to Environment Minister Lily D’Ambrosio, urging her to extend the 28-day deadline for community feedback on proposed changes to the state’s logging code.
While some of the changes reflect simple corrections of errors in the 2014 version, many of the 3000 proposed changes are highly technical and complex and will require analysis to see if they weaken environmental protections, they say.
A spokesperson for Vicforests said all of the coupes in Alberton West State Forest were comprehensively surveyed before harvesting operations to ensure they met all timber harvesting and biodiversity requirements.
In one coupe, 40 per cent will be untouched and the rest of the coupe harvested using a “thinning” system, while in another about 60 per cent would be retained, they said. “This means that plenty of trees with hollows will be left behind for native species to nest.”
But Victorian Greens spokesperson Ellen Sandell says logging at the forest would drive the extinction of the greater glider and powerful owl.
“Right across Victoria we’re seeing logging in the last remaining critical habitat full of threatened species ... showing again and again why 2030 is too late to end native forest logging in Victoria,” she said.
A spokesperson for the Victorian Government said the Conservation Regulator was aware of community concerns relating to timber harvesting at Alberton West and had sought more information specifically about any surveys, observations of threatened species or alleged illegal activity.
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