Westies inspired by ecologist’s call to save the remains of Victoria’s native forests


    By Alex Ashley Chiew

    Imagine a forest.
    A real forest.

    So begins a poem, written years ago by the Scot, W. S. Graham, a man born to a country that famously cleared its own forests centuries before to leave nothing but hillsides and pastures.

    In Naarm/Melbourne, we don’t need to imagine real forests: they’re on our doorstep. Our love of everything tall and leafy brought a hundred or so of us together on a mild Wednesday evening in Footscray, to hear from celebrity scientist David Lindenmayer in conversation with fellow author, Kate Mildenhall.

    Inspiring wonder and worry, their articulate discussion took the audience on a winding tour through the awesome, remarkable qualities of tall, wet forests, the kind that still carpet swathes of Victoria’s Alpine region, from the northern border down to the glorious Mountain Ash stands that envelop the Dandenong Ranges.

    Of particular note were the specific differences between dense, intact, older growth areas, and coupes of trees that have been logged, ‘restored’, thinned, ‘salvaged’, ‘gardened’ or cut through with strips of clear-felling thousands of kilometres long in the name of fire suppression. 

    Alarmingly, degraded forests are more prone to bushfire, with greater oxygen flow and drier microclimates. They’re also significantly less diverse – both in age and variety. Importantly, the natural hollows which house the endangered Leadbeater’s possum – our faunal emblem – are greatly reduced or destroyed.

    Ten year old Greta from Kensington popped up on stage too. Sharp as a Lorax she reminded us that trees younger than 80 years can’t provide the hollows Leadbeater’s possums need to make their homes or protect themselves from predators.

    Cooler, wetter microclimates of southern greater gliders are also on a trajectory of going-going-gone. These furry wonders capture our imaginations but only exist as part of ecosystems under threat as much as the species they sustain.

    How is it possible, Kate asked, that so much of our forests have become so degraded? That only one percent of remaining Alpine and Mountain Ash forest can now be classified as ‘old growth’ – that is, enjoying more than 80 years of uninterrupted development since last they were felled?

    The answer is complex, according to David. But the solution is clear: just don’t believe the hype. Critical interest in the industry has already exposed native forestry as unprofitable and irrational, supported by shady practices like bad accounting, illegal intimidation, and failed restorations. David’s research is peer-reviewed and frequently cited. For a simple account of 37 myths, peddled by lobbyists, dispelled by science, check out his book, The Forest Wars. David makes a clear case that native logging will continue despite the closure of VicForests, unless these ecosystems are protected as national parks.

    “A Great Forests National Park,” he stresses, “is a placeholder name.” Indigenous groups, local communities, and tourism providers are collaborating on a plan to consolidate existing national reserves with our vast, vulnerable state parks, in order to protect these stunning tall, wet forests for everyone. Notably, the business case affirms it is far more profitable to let trees age than to repeatedly vandalise them for wood chips and pulp.

    Fragmentation, changes to the climate, and greenwashed salvage logging initiatives can collude to weaken stability – as heartbreaking damage to the Wombat State Forest recently demonstrated.

    The greatest takeaway though was that now is a moment of opportunity. Our forests exist, and can be restored – or they can tip into dramatic decline. 

    Anyone interested in real forests shouldn’t leave it up to the lobbyists. 

    Support the campaign by joining a Climate Action Maribyrnong meeting, or adding yourself to our mailing list:

    Our content is a labour of love, crafted by dedicated volunteers who are passionate about the west. We encourage submissions from our community, particularly stories about your own experiences, family history, local issues, your suburb, community events, local history, human interest stories, food, the arts, and environmental matters. Below are articles created by community contributors. You can find their names in the bylines.

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