31 Jan 2007 LOGGING OLD-GROWTH FOREST IN TASMANIA
I have just got back from a twelve day visit to Tasmania, staying with Hugh and Pauline Alexander who have been renting a house near Launceston for the past year. I stayed with them for five days last March. On this visit we made a six day, five night trip to Strahan, Lake Pedder and Hobart.
Then as now, the one place in Tasmania I wanted to see more than any other was the Styx Valley, home to the biggest recorded Eucalyptus regnans, the world’s tallest flowering plant.
But the Tasmanians I had asked about the Styx were vague as to its whereabouts. It is not part of a national park, but is an active logging area managed by Forestry Tasmania on behalf of a timber industry bent on clear-felling as much of Tasmania’s old-growth forest as it can get its hands on – for no better purpose than to provide woodchip for making news-print.
After crossing the Styx River we finally came to the Big Tree.
CROSSING THE STYX
Talk about unknown knowing. It is still holiday time in Tasmania,
so we booked all our accommodation in advance, choosing to spend the third night in Maydena at the edge of the wilderness because it was the closest place to Lake Pedder. It turned out that Maydena, a timber industry hamlet, was also close to the only public access to the Styx Valley and its Big Tree Reserve, just a few kilometres along the road to Lake Pedder.
I thought I had been given a foretaste of the Styx in Mount Field National Park the previous afternoon. It contains numbers of Eucalyptus regnans; the tallest is 79m high, the first branch occurs 37m up the trunk. It is truly mind-boggling to be in the presence of such mighty trees.
But the Styx is different. It is on a vaster scale and it is still being logged, a fact which distresses and outrages me in equal measure. For 10km the well-graded logging road descends gradually to the Styx River between the towering trees of old-growth forest, the largest of which are over 400 years old.
But, stirring and seductive as the sight is, and though we were the only people on the road, where we were is not all pristine wilderness. For a start, thousands of trees were destroyed to make the road. Then there are the disquieting glimpses of slopes which have been clear-felled and are now growing plantation timber, a fate befalling other large areas of the valley. It is tragic that our species is so rapacious and heedless of the earth’s generosity and beauty that this rainforest and others like it, are logged at all.
The Styx River is crossed by a dilapidated wooden bridge. From it one can see the confluence with the South Styx. The river is modest in size, but endowed with a haunting aura because of its formative role in creating the place where the earth’s biggest hardwood trees grow. Beyond the bridge the road is not as smooth – no logging trucks are able to cross the bridge. Timber is trucked out at a point closed to the public, further down the valley.
Gentle rain started to fall as we pulled into the car park at the Big Tree Reserve, but we hardly felt a drop as we entered the rainforest. Tasmania’s temperate rainforest is lush and dense.
The vegetation, including the tree ferns, is different to that on Tamborine Mountain, where the crowns of the tallest trees, one or two perhaps reaching 60m, spread out more than those of Eucalyptus regnans.
After a short walk we came to the Big Tree. It is 86m high but is shrinking as it ages. Fifty years ago its height was 98m. It is said to be 450 years old. There is a taller tree in the reserve which is appropriately called the Bigger Tree and rises to 87m. Across the logging road from the reserve, a path leads down to the river between tree ferns and more giant trees. The river is wider here. It is tranquil and beautiful with open views upstream and down. The upstream view reveals a row of trees on a ridge, towering over the forest canopy. By the time we drove out of the car park, another car had arrived.
A few kilometres further down the road to Lake Pedder we passed a banner drawing attention to the clear-felling about to begin in the Upper Florentine Valley which contains comparable old-growth forest to the Styx. The Wilderness Society Tasmania is monitoring the situation, while a group of independent activists have succeeded in stopping work at an early stage, on a 6km long logging road due to be driven through virgin forest.
The combined land area of the Styx and Upper Florentine Valleys is some 36,000ha. In October 2004, as part of the federal election campaign, the Australian Prime Minister John Howard promised ‘immediate protection of 18,700ha of old-growth forest in the Styx and Florentine Valleys’. Early in 2007, a federal election year, only 4730ha of old-growth forest have been designated for protection – a prime example of cynical, election politics. Howard – who knew that the term ‘immediate’ in practice meant ‘delayed’ – must have calculated that with this promise he had got the conservationists off his back, because they had no alternative but to believe him.
The rest of the 18,700ha remains at risk, as the logging scheduled for the Upper Florentine amply demonstrates. The Wilderness Society website www.wilderness.org.au provides extensive coverage of the plight of Tasmania’s forests. It contains grim reading, which is all the more reason to support the Society’s campaign to protect them.