Last week, on Thursday September 11, the Victorian Minister for Agriculture Peter Walsh visited the Strathbogie Forest to see first hand the damage to our forests and to listen to our concerns. The Minister was accompanied by Member for Benalla, Bill Sykes and the National’s candidate for the new seat of Euroa, Stephanie Ryan.
Representing the Strathbogie Sustainable Forestry Alliance, Sim and Bert met up with the visitors in Strathbogie Township, car-pooled and then drove out to the forest. As we’d had previous communications with the Minister, he was already partly informed of our views. Our group had written a letter to the Minister on August 15, outlining our objections to VicForests’ management of the Strathbogie State Forest (link). On August 26, along with representatives from the major environmental groups in the State, we attended a ’round-table’ discussion with the Minister and his Advisors, where we were again able to put our case and reinforce the arguments underpinning our campaign (link).
We showed Minister Walsh the type of forest that VicForests insists is sawlog harvesting (pic link), as well as the ‘failed coupe’ (pic link), an example of what can happen when things go terribly wrong when logging mixed-species forest. The Minister, Bill and Steph listened to our concerns and participated in the discussion.
We outlined how we had come to begin a campaign to better manage Strathbogie Forests; that it was the mismanagement of Tolmie Forests (link) to the east that generated the initial alarm. And once we saw what VicForests was doing at Tolmie and their plans for Strathbogie, we felt we had to act and become vocal advocates for Our Forest and all the values that these forests contain and the services they provide.
At the failed coupe we met up with Ron Jones, a Strathbogie resident who has lived and worked in these forests since the 1940’s. Ron impressed on our visitors that current forest management was a direct threat to the forest and that if continued, the forest would only be producing pulp, not the sawlogs that VicForests insist are driving the local industry. Ron also pointed out that the large areas of even-aged stands would pose a significant wildfire-risk. Ron’s experience and support were invaluable; his credibility and experience gave considerable weight to his opinions and our group’s position.
We also reminded our guests that VicForests has local form for turning young forest into woodchips and firewood. Here’s a reminder of what happened to Tolmie forests in the last few seasons. Fortunately, this waste seems to have stopped, with Murphy Fresh sourcing biofuel from a Gippsland Mill. But we’ll be paying close attention to make sure there’s no resumption.
At our final stop, and in true Strathbogie form, it started raining towards the end of our one-and-a-half-hour tour and we finished our discussions sheltering under umbrellas and finally at the Strathbogie Store over a hot cuppa.
Our final message was that we want a stop to VicForests’ current logging plans, until there’s a transparent process that acknowledges the varied and significant values that these forests represent, including, but not exclusively the timber resource; we want a process that addresses the bigger issues of how these forests are being managed for the long-term and for the public good. We stated our preference for a VEAC investigation into management of mixed-species forests in the north-east, as the issue is bigger than just the Strathbogie Forest.
We appreciated Minister Walsh making time available to visit our forest and listening to our concerns. Many thanks also to Stephanie Ryan for taking an interest in our campaign and for facilitating the Minister’s visit.