The Great Mirboo North Forest War

I would hope one thing that should be evident by now to anyone that reads my blog is that I’m pretty much a lover of nature and the Australian landscape, especially our forests. The preservation and utilisation of our forests is something that has always been of interest to me though, in saying that, I’ve never been an activist or such in pursuit of unrealistic ideals or ends. And, to be honest, I think it’s the activists that have done far greater damage to our forests than any single group or industry. That activism all too often prevents proper forest management, allowing things such as fuel loads to build to levels that when a forest fire occurs, it becomes something of a monster. It’s something that we’ve experienced a number of times in recent history and which became a serious issue in Mirboo North in 2009. The US is realising that the same activism is the root cause of the devastating California fires and is something that the government is now addressing, but we still have a long way to go.

Forests in Mirboo North - (source: Google Maps)

Forests in Mirboo North – (source: Google Maps)

Which brings me to another example of forest activism where the exaggeration and hysteria gets whipped up to drive a protest movement. In September of 2017, VicForests announced that it was going to log two coupes near Mirboo North, which form part of a long established logging area, and this subsequently caused a veritable activist implosion or explosion (take your pick). Mirboo North basically exists because it started as a logging town and the rail line that was constructed in the 1800s, which finished at Mirboo North, was built to support the timber industry and transport timber logged in the area down to the Latrobe Valley for processing. Many seem to conveniently forget about this sustainable industry that gave rise to Mirboo North and surrounding townships. The entire area is still a major timber production locality, with plantations running virtually the full length of the Strzelecki Highway from Morwell to Mirboo North and on to Leongatha. But what VicForests proposed was subsequently portrayed as an attempt to raze every tree as far as the eye could see and take Mirboo North physically off the map.

Train turntable at Mirboo North Station, circa 1925 - (source: Museum Victoria)

Train turntable at Mirboo North Station, circa 1925 – (source: Museum Victoria)

The moment that these horror stories started appearing in the local papers, my alarm bells began ringing and I awaited further information. These horror stories began by implying that every tree in and surrounding Mirboo North was to be logged, leaving nothing standing. Once this had run its course and proven to be wrong, Lyrebird Walk was instead to be razed, wildlife eradicated and  rumours started spreading that signs were being removed in preparation for the bulldozers and loggers to start their evil work. Letters to the local paper wailed about the loss of jobs in the area and then proclaimed that the proposed logging would ‘literally’ mean the end of the town as now no tourist would ever come to Mirboo North, the last tourist township in Victoria surrounded by trees, given the way that it was portrayed. I kid you not; these sorts of stories were being printed weekly. A meeting was subsequently held in town to try and quell the uprising, but I’m not quite sure what that achieved, other than probably more misinformation.

Forests in Victoria - (source: Google Maps)

Forests in Victoria – (source: Google Maps)

Forests in Gippsland - (source: Google Maps)

Forests in Gippsland – (source: Google Maps)

And one local farmer even offered to purchase ‘one part’ of the proposed logging area, which just happens to be adjacent to his beef cattle farm. Was he be prepared to pay the approx $8 million that the timber is worth (in the first harvest)?  I think not. It also appears that the irony of what this farmer was saying completely escaped him; a farmer wailing about land devastation due to cattle farming that required the removal of trees. If he truly lived by these convictions, he would abandon his cattle farm and convert it back to pristine forest:

Jon Wood runs beef cattle on the edge of the intended harvest area at Mirboo North in eastern Victoria, and said harvesting the logs would reduce land value.

“It’s a tiny little precinct of a biodiverse eucalypt forest, in a region totally devastated by farming over the last 100 years,” Mr Wood said.

“I disagree with the total premise of milling state forests. State forests are given to the State Government in trust for the community for our future children.”

One of the oft repeated issues is that logging these two coupes will devastate wildlife, threaten Lyrebirds, rare possums and other animals ‘newly’ discovered in this coupe. It’s always amazing how rare animals or insects are ‘suddenly’ discovered just in time to support some protest movement. No one ever seems to be interested in the diversity of wildlife in these areas until such a time arises. And when it comes to Lyrebirds, these are ground dwelling birds that run around the forest floor in an area that is increasingly infested with foxes, which are a far greater danger to wildlife than culling a few trees. Hunters bag hundreds foxes each year in the locality and no one knows how many really live around Mirboo North (I’ve seen them everywhere). Some of these activists should visit a local farm and see what foxes do to lambs being born, ripping them apart before they fully emerge from the womb. Foxes are becoming so brazen that they steal chickens from hen coops during daylight while people are feeding their chickens. But what of the threat to our precious native wildlife by introduced species? Out of sight, out of mind I guess.

Galah - Mirboo North Victoria

Galah – Mirboo North Victoria

And when it comes to the ‘tourist’ value of these specific forests, I think that’s being overblown like a snake oil salesman’s spiel. When you drive down from Morwell to Mirboo North along the Strzelecki Hwy, the road in the area concerned is so steep and windy that no one, not even the passengers, would be trying to admire a gum forest that you can’t see because of the high embankment. And at the bottom of that road you’ll come across our magnificent water treatment plant that I’m sure every tourist will slow down to admire, if not pull over to have a closer look. Or not. And the nearby Lyrebird Walk, is completely shrouded in trees, such that there’s no way that you’d see the coupe that’s identified for logging, unless you walked all the way back up to an adjacent road that affords seasonal wood collecting, trail bike riding and nothing else of great interest, other than a pathway back to Lyrebird Walk. And the much vaunted Doug’s Track is also considered to be under threat. I’ve been down this track numerous times looking for seasonal firewood and I’d sincerely recommend no tourist drive down this track in a regular car, even if they knew it existed.

The other aspect about tourism is that, from what I’ve observed, tourists are far more interested in the Rail Trail, bringing bicycles with them to ride the trail to Boolara and back, and along the way view logging areas that run parallel to the path for some distance and perhaps rest at an old railway stations where logs were loaded onto the trains.  And when our tourists travel onwards to places like Wilsons Promontory, they will pass by even more logging areas, very much like what they would have seen not far from Mirboo North while passing the HVP plantations, as well as earlier on when leaving Morwell. These logging areas are very stark and visible, standing prominently as a backdrop to the cleared farming land in between. I’ve never heard or read about concerns for our tourism, wildlife or anything else when it comes to these areas.

Darlimurla Railway Station - Mirboo North Victoria

Darlimurla Railway Station – Mirboo North Victoria

Logging in Gippsland

Logging in Gippsland

What I also find ironic is that many of these same people bemoan the loss/lack of jobs in the area, yet decry the very industries that provide not just direct jobs but also indirect jobs that support the logging industries. And what’s even more ironic are the letters to the local paper that constantly wail that logging is not sustainable, yet trees are probably the most sustainable of any product that’s in use today. The trees that grow in the area are not the typical slow growing trees found in the High Country, but mostly very fast growing gums that reproduce at an amazing rate. Even in our small plot of land we have to be constantly vigilant for the saplings that shoot up everywhere in our front and back yard due to the numerous trees in our yard. Were we not culling these saplings, our yard would soon become an impenetrable forest.  As it is, the Koalas, Kookaburras and multitude of other native animals find things pretty cosy the way they are.

Koala Bear and Baby

Koala Bear and Baby

Kookaburra sits in the old gum tree - South Gippsland Victoria

Kookaburra sits in the old gum tree – South Gippsland Victoria

How will this all pan out? Who knows, as the issue seems far from over. However, once we ban all timber harvesting in Australia, in order to save a natural and sustainable resource, we’ll start to import suitable timber and have no idea how that timber has been grown or how the land has been managed. And once our own, home grown, hardwood is no longer available and imported timber prices begin to escalate, exactly what will we use for building materials? Timber is already increasingly in short supply and is costing far more than it used to do, so maybe we need to increase the use of steel and concrete for building homes etc? That the manufacture of steel and concrete results in the production of CO2 (that deadly gas) that so many are worried about shouldn’t matter, for at least we’ve saved the trees. It’s never as simple as initially thought, is it?

Update 1. It appears that the protesters have succeeded, with the logging sites being reclassified and no longer being part of the allocated logging coupes, at least for around 12 months. I note that global warming has also been abated, as the temperatures plunged significantly following the announcement and heavy rains soon followed. I now wait to see a significant rise in local business ventures and tourism, given that all these were under imminent threat from the proposed logging.