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Upper Catchment Issues Vol 2 No 1

Author: Tasmanian Community Resource Auditors Incorporated

Background

Introduction

The way forests are managed in the Break O'Day Municipality of north eastern Tasmania has been of continuing concern to several community groups. This paper describes the outcomes of a community audit conducted by the Friends of the Blue Tier, a local environment group that has formed to investigate alternatives to clearfell logging.

Context and Statement of the Issue

The Blue Tier is situated in North East Tasmania and comprises the most easterly extent of what is termed the North East Highlands. The closest major town is St. Helens, 24km to the east, in the Break O'Day Municipality (see Figure 1 - Map). The headwaters and major tributaries of the Ringarooma, Great Musselroe, Ansons, and George Rivers rise on the Blue Tier, making this land mass the single most important provider and source for many major river systems in North East Tasmania.

Since the signing of the Regional Forest Agreement (between the Commonwealth of Australia and the State of Tasmania - November 1997) forestry activities in the North East have escalated. Vast areas have been clearfelled (see Photo 1 - Mutual Valley/Weld Hill area), and despite community initiated consultation and negotiation with the land managers, little impact on levels of forest clearing has been achieved (see Photo 2a and 2b).

The Break O'Day Municipality covers an area of 350,000 hectares. Currently 92,100 hectares are in reserves, and 158,000 hectares are multiple use State Forest (Break O'Day Natural Resource Management Strategy - Attachment 1). This area is available for forestry activity. According to a Tasmanian Conservation Trust (TCT) document 119,605 hectares of the Break O'Day Municipality are in provisional logging coupes (Attachment 2).

With the release of the 10-year plan (Attachment 3) it was apparent that the forested slopes of the Blue Tier were to be clearfelled. The release of the current 3-year plan in February 2002 (Attachment 4) confirmed this - with approximately 200 hectares per year to be harvested on Lehners Ridge by Forestry Tasmania or Gunns Ltd.

In 2002, Friends of the Blue Tier (a local resident action group) began a campaign to protect a continuous tract of land. The aim of the campaign was to combine the existing Blue Tier, Frome and Weldborough Myrtle Reserve to form a continuous reserve of 13,600 hectares, 6800 hectares of which are contained in the existing separate reserves. The proposal was to protect the land as a Nature Recreation Area (see map - Attachment 5), bringing wide benefits to the residents of the region. The vision aimed to safeguard the water catchment, enhance tourism potential, protect rare and endangered ecosystems, conserve the valuable historical and culturally significant sites, protect native wildlife habitat, and preserve the area for future generations.

In February 2002 Friends of the Blue Tier obtained a copy of the 3-year plan for the Bass Forests District and discovering the extent of proposed logging operations, presented the relevant information to the Break O'Day Council (Attachment 6).

The chronology of events developed as follows:

April 2002 - Break O'Day Councillors passed the following motion: "That a discussion on the position of the Blue Tier be part of the Natural Resource Management Strategy assessment in the area" (Attachment 7).

September 2002 - Break O'Day Councillors voted unanimously to: ..."opposes all Forestry activities on the Blue Tier now and in the future"... (Attachment 8).

December 2002 - a petition with 800 signatures supporting the Council's decision was presented and Council were asked to: "Support a 3 year moratorium on forestry activities"... in the Blue Tier area (Attachment 9). The Mayor notified the meeting that the matter would be discussed.

January 2003 - Council General Manager, David Morcom, wrote to Steve Manson (Forestry Tasmania) reiterating the Council's unanimous support for no logging on the Blue Tier (Attachment 10). Mayor Stephen Salter wrote to The Minister for Forestry, the Hon. Paul Lennon requesting an eight-week moratorium (Attachment 11).

The Ministers response (Attachment 12) outlined the Regional Forest Agreement and advised that, while the Minister could not agree to a formal moratorium, there would be an eight-week period for Councillors to work through the details of harvesting with Forestry Tasmania.

Forestry Tasmania General Manager Evan Rolley in his response, (Attachment 13) advised that he had not yet seen the Natural Resource Management document, outlined obligations under the Regional Forest Agreement, and suggested that it was a matter for the State Government.

Friends of the Blue Tier identified an area that the Council agreed would form the proposed Blue Tier Nature Recreation Area (see Attachment 5). The proposed area covers a significant section of the glacial refugia, includes the headwaters of the Ransom, Groom, Ansons, Musselroe and Winifred Rivers, protects the mining and cultural heritage and forms a viable reserve comprised of a continuous tract of land.

From that point the following developments took place:

April 2002 - Break O'Day Council resolved to: ..."investigate the possibility of... [a Native Recreation] area on the Blue Tier"... (Attachment 14). The process is ongoing.

In view of the strength of public feeling and the apparent gaps in previously attempted risk assessments, Friends of the Blue Tier decided to complete a community based risk assessment in relation to proposed forestry activities in the area known as the Blue Tier.

Case Study Area

(see Figure 1 - map of the area)
Of the area identified in Attachment 5 there are three coupes earmarked for forestry operations in the immediate future. Coupe GC165A in the Halls Falls area, Coupe GC134F in the Crystal Hill area (is still to be reassessed for botanical values and the variation to the Forest Practice Plan is not complete) and GC134D opposite the old Anchor Mine site (Attachment 15), which is the coupe selected for this study.

Biophysical Description
Soil

The geology of the whole area is granodiorite. The soil is a gravelly sandy loam without clay, and is held in place by the understory. (Attachment 16 - report by Dr. Owen Ingles, Geotechnical and Geomorphological Consultant).

Water

Significant water resources emanate from this steep sloped, high rainfall area. Surface run-off in these conditions is moderated by forested slopes and ground cover vegetation. Sufficient groundwater recharge, which determines summer flows, is reliant on local rainfall of 1250 - 1500 mm per annum (Attachment 17 - report by Brian Finlayson, Centre for Environmental Applied Hydrology, University of Melbourne).

Flora

The Blue Tier foothills (south and east facing slopes) are recognized as containing glacial refugia. This type of plant community is identified as having survived the last ice age 16,000 years ago, and as such contain many rare and ancient plants (Attachment 18 - report by Richard Schahinger, Consultant Botanist).

Fauna

The Blue Tier forests are habitat for many rare/vulnerable species including the North East Forest Snail, Simpson's Stag Beetle, Grey Goshawk, Tasmanian Wedge Tail Eagle, and Tiger Quolls.

Research Methodology

The methodology chosen for this audit was that used in the Diddlum Plains audit recorded in "Upper Catchment Issues Vol. 1. No.1." This was supplemented by information gained by Friends of the Blue Tier in attending two auditing training workshops conducted by the Tasmanian Community Resource Auditors (TCRA Inc.).

Research Methods

Friends of the Blue Tier and Greater Goshen Waterwatch are the researchers and authors of this community based audit. The methods employed to gather and analyze data were based upon those reported in Upper Catchment Issues Tasmania volume 1, No's 1, 2 and 3. In the cross-checking phase of the enquiry several recognized experts were called upon, and included: Dr. Owen Ingles (Soil Engineering and Risk Management Consultant), Dr. David Leaman (Geo-hydrologist), Associate Professor Dr. Brian Finlayson (Centre for Environmental Applied Hydrology, Melbourne University), Dr. Richard Schahinger (Consultant Botanist), and Greg Jackman (Archaeologist).

Essentially our enquiry involved a critical review of documented logging plans including a risk assessment conducted by members of our group, based on a "what could go wrong" approach. In the first phase, we walked the site documenting details of the topography. We noted streams, seepages, potential landslip areas, flora and fauna as well as any areas of potential cultural interest. In the next phase, we gathered local knowledge of the area, which included details of special features or properties of the overall site. We talked with local experts such as members of Landcare and Waterwatch. In the final phase, we took our findings, including FT's Forest Practices Plan to the selected experts (see above) for their critical review.

Finally, in order to cross-check the nature and extent of any mismatches between the Forest Practices Plan and the audit findings, a briefing to clarify issues surrounding the proposed logging was held between Forestry Tasmania and Friends of the Blue Tier.

Any mismatches from this project were then reported as significant audit outcomes requiring further investigation or corrective action's.

Audit of Coupe GC134D

March 2003 - A briefing between Friends of the Blue Tier and Forestry Tasmania was held to discuss the Forest Practices Plan for coupe GC134D. The following areas of concern were identified by a comparison of statements of fact and intent within the Plan and comments made within reports by the aforementioned consulting experts.

1. Soil

Dr. Owen Ingles (Attachment 16).
This report defines soil type to be: ..." silty fine sand... in it... [no] clay (on the slopes)...minor amounts may accumulate on flats." and found that this soil is HIGHLY erodible.

Associate Professor Dr. Brian Finlayson (Attachment 17).

This report claims that: "Soils developed on the granites of the Blue Tier are sandy and highly erodible"...

FT's Forest Practices Plan for Coupe GC134D describes the soil erodibility as "moderate" (Attachment 15).

Dr. Owen Ingles report states: ..."soil is held in place not by the large trees (which might be safely felled) but by the understory, which must at all costs be retained if severe erosion is to be avoided". Furthermore, Dr. Ingles visited the site as part of his assessment and queried aspects of FT's Forest Practices Plan. For instance, FT's Forest Practices Plan states that the slope does not exceed 11 degrees, whereas Dr. Ingles states: "I cannot reconcile the claim of a majority slope of 11 [degrees] with my (official) topographic maps, which show much higher angles".

Dr. Brian Finlayson states in his report: "As assessed from the topographic map, this is steep topography with measured slope angles in some cases exceeding 50 [degrees]".

2. Water

The Forest Practices Plan (Attachment 15) states that: "Fire will be kept out of theses Class 4 streams (if possible)" and "Special care should be taken to ensure the [wildlife habitat clumps, wildlife habitat strips] and streamside reserves are not burnt". (emphases by Friends of the Blue Tier).

The community auditors group believed "if possible" and "should" needed to be clarified.

Brian Finlayson, in his report (Attachment 17) states: "One of the more alarming features of recent developments on forestry in northeast Tasmania under the Commonwealth Regional Forest Agreement is that major vegetation change is being carried out with no prior assessment of the consequences for catchment water yield".

Dr. David Leaman (Attachment 19) supports this assertion, stating that: ..."forest operations are not subject to, nor preceded by, any environmental impact statement nor any assessment of the possible effects of such activities upon water supply".

3. Flora

Richard Schahinger states his concerns regarding the adequate protection of areas identified as glacial refugia (Report 4 - Attachment 18). These concerns are supported by Kirkpatrick and Fowler (1996), "rainforest or mixed forest occurring on the eastern slopes of Blue Tier deserve secure reservation and National Estate listing".

The southern and eastern slopes of the Blue Tier are believed to be the only sites in the North East Highlands likely to have supported rainforest during the last ice age, some 16,000 years ago. These sites are important to protect because they are the source of the more extensive rainforest, which covers the area today. They are places where the plant and animal life are most likely to survive any further extremes of climate change (Kirkpatrick and Fowler 1996, Attachment 18).

4. Landscape Management

The area surrounding the proposed logging coupe was recognized by the community as a tourist destination. The Break O'Day Regional Tourism Association has recently advertised the Blue Tier and the Bay of Fires as the icons of the municipality and Senior Forest Practices Officer, Bass Forest District - Chris Dare, says ..."the district needs to consider the sensitivity of the view from the perspective of the regional community." (Notification Form - Natural and Cultural Values - Attachment 20). According to the Forest Practices Plan the proposed logging operation would have the following visual impact: 10/60% visibility (of the clearfelling) from Crystal Creek Road 55% and 10% from Anchor Road and 75% visibility from Australia Hill. These locations represent areas of both tourist and local resident scenic interest.

5. Archaeology

In 1998 Greg Jackman's study of the Blue Tier mining heritage was published as "An Archaeological Survey of the Blue Tier Tin Field".

In a letter from Greg Jackman (Attachment 21) it is stated that: ..."the area bounded to the south by the Groom River and to the east by, say, the line of longitude passing through Lottah is thematically unified and archaeologically rich, and constitutes the cultural landscape par excellence that should be conserved as a high priority".

Summary and Conclusions

In the Break O'Day Municipality there are 158,300 hectares of unprotected State Forest. This land is Public Land, managed by Forestry Tasmania and is available for timber harvesting. Vast areas have been clearfelled, burnt, and converted to plantations. The Blue Tier area is the last tract of wet mixed forest left relatively intact in Break O'Day. A further 6000 hectares protected (as a Nature Recreation Area) would combine the existing reserves into a viable tract of land. This represents approximately 4% of the State Forest area available to Forestry Tasmania within the municipality. A Nature Recreation Area is defined under the Tasmanian Protected Lands Classification System as: an area of land predominantly in a natural state or containing sensitive natural sites; and which should be managed for public recreation and education in a manner that ensures the protection of natural and cultural values.

The community believes that this area should be kept intact and preserved for future generations - 2000 signatures attest to this belief (the Blue Tier Nature Recreation Petition 2003). The full protection of the Blue Tier clearly meets the triple bottom line criteria: social, environmental and economic sustainability. We believe the evidence presented in this document and the overwhelming public support points to the most obvious conclusion - the area must be protected to ensure the ongoing wellbeing of the Break O'Day Municipality.

Recommendations

Experts agree that the area should be kept intact. Their key findings and recommendations are as follows:

Dr. Owen Ingles states: ..."this soil is held in place, not by the large trees... but by the understory, which must at all costs be retained if severe erosion is to be avoided... removal of the understory to bare earth... in such a high rainfall zone, is likely to lead to a very rapid loss of soil cover over the base rock... Clear felling and burning would present a grave risk of destroying the asset in a quite short time." (Attachment 16).

Denise Gaughwin, Senior Archaeologist with Forestry Tasmania in an address to the St. Helens History Room (1995) discussed criteria under the Australian Heritage Commission for the Blue Tier. Attachment 22 states: ..."I must point out... that I have been referring to the Blue Tier area as a whole. If each mine or mining relic was taken separately they would have little significance under this or any other criterion. It is the cultural landscape with its scattered relics that provide much of the significance... The Blue Tier is one of the only areas in Tasmania that has the capacity to illustrate so many aspects of way of life on the smaller mining fields. The state of preservation of many of the relics and mines as well as the proximity of so much mining centred in a relatively small area is a rarity in the Tasmanian situation and makes this area highly significant"...

Greg Jackman, Archaeologist and author of "An Archaeological survey of the Blue Tier tin-field" states: "I believe that the majority of the Blue Tier is an area where those other values [culture and tourism] appreciably outweigh the potential forestry returns. It is an incredibly special place where the relics of some of Tasmania's formative industrial experiences can be appreciated within a setting of naturally regenerated rainforest. The juxtaposition and interweaving of cultural and natural histories is quite evocative and, I believe unsurpassed in Tasmania for impact and poignancy. It is a place where we can readily see and hopefully learn from the dynamic landscape the lessons of our environmental misunderstandings, rather than be simply consigned to repeating them." (Attachment 21).

Dr. Richard Schahinger, consultant Botanist states in his report (Attachment 18), "Kirkpatrick and Fowler (1996)...delineate the Blue Tier glacial refugia...noting that the 'area below 440m, the last glacial treeline, seems likely to be the source of the rainforest reinvasion of the North East Highlands, and may also be the source for reinvasion of Eucalyptus regnans". Kirkpatrick and Fowler's recommendation for the reservation of the Blue Tier glacial refugia was not adopted by the RFA. Note also the following statements in the 5-yearly review of the RFA (RPDC, 2002): "Submissions expressed concern that the Mt. Victoria-Blue Tier area had not been adequately reserved, despite containing multiple National Estate values, and suggested that the process for assessing National Estate in the area was flawed. It was also suggested that the RFA process was flawed in the consideration of glacial refugia on the Blue Tier" (reported in Attachment 18).

Schahinger goes on to say: "Given the recognized significance of the glacial refugia on the eastern slopes of Blue Tier, it is considered that any rainforest occurring within the refugium should be afforded similar protection. ...A similar argument also applies to areas of mixed forest dominated by Eucalyptus regnans within the Blue Tier glacial refugia. The maintenance of genetic integrity for the 'refugial' E. regnans on the eastern slopes of Blue Tier requires the retention of native forest". (Attachment 18).

Dr. David Leaman, Geohydrologist, in his report "Effect of land use change on water supply: Blue Tier region, Northeast Tasmania", states, "Conversion of native forest to "other" forest leads to substantial loss of catchment yield for decades. Where the "other" forests contain a significant portion of plantation or forest under rotation, the yield continues to decline in perpetuity due to cumulative effects. The role of groundwater storage and its interactions with surface water in controlling both yield and quality is critical in these exchanges. This aspect of catchment hydrology is ignored by all current legislation and codes of practice with the inevitable result that many Tasmanians, and the countryside, are losing their share of the water available... At Blue Tier, protection of the George River and supply to St Helens requires that the catchments of Groom and Ransom Rivers be left in the present, or natural, state. Any other action, given present research information and risk indicators, would be short-sighted and lack any sense of Duty of Care or responsibility to communities involved"... (Attachment 19).

Associate Professor Brian Finlayson, in his report "Proposed logging operations on the Blue Tier", (Attachment 17) states: ..."topographic and soil conditions are of critical importance in the management of logging operations both from the point of view of operator safety and environmental damage. The vegetation cover plays a critical role in the catchment water balance... The combination of very steep slopes, high rainfall and granite soils on the Blue Tier should give cause for extreme concern to anyone contemplating logging operations... There are no experimental data which shows what the hydrological effects will be of converting the range of existing forests (and associated vegetation) in northeast Tasmania to single species plantations over such a wide area".


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