Strezlecki Forest Agreement

Key sections of the Strezlecki Forests in South Gippsland are about to be handed back into public ownership.  

What does this mean and why should I care?

These beautiful, diverse, old growth forests were privatised by a Liberal Government twenty-five years ago.  They are only just being handed back to the public after being logged.  Their deep valleys contain significant stands of rainforest.

These forests are highly biodiverse, equivalent to tall, wet forests found in the Central Highlands and proposed Great Forest National Park but with a unique mix of warm and cool-temperate species found only in the Strezleckis.

The ‘Cores and Links’ Agreement

The ‘Cores and Links’ agreement was negotiated by the Bracks-Brumby Labor Government with Hancocks Victoria Plantations and signed in 2008.

Under the agreement, forests designated for timber harvesting in the Strezleckis could be handed back into public ownership after being logged (“once-off logging”) and re-forested.

Background to the development of the Agreement

In 1998 the Kennett Government privatised state forest used for pine production (Victorian Plantation Corporation). In the Strezlecki Ranges this included seven thousand hectares of native forest incorrectly classed as plantation.  This along with approx. 20,000 hectares of high biodiversity native forest  was included in the sale to Hancocks Victoria Plantations (HVP).

This action which left only four very small, disconnected and inadequate areas of the Strezlecki Bioregion protected in the public reserve system.  These were:Morwell National Park, Tarra Bulga National Park, Gunyah Gunyah Reserve and Mt Worth National Park.

The Cores and Links Agreement was based on a Biosis report (2001) commissioned by the Strezlecki Working Group.  The Working Group was a body involving all three local government councils, as well as community organisations.  The Biosis report identified five areas in the logging areas of the Strezleckis of high conservation value forests (Cores) and corridors (Links) of high biodiversity forest to link these Cores.

The area covered by the Cores and Links Agreement is around 9000 Ha.  Once in public ownership it will comprise 2% of the original forest which covered the Strezlecki Ranges prior to European settlement.  It includes rainforest sites of significance (Grey Gum) and the Gunyah Gunyah and College Creek Sites of National Significance for Cool Temperate Rainforest (350 Ha).  The distance between the two Cores along the Grand Ridge Rd is 30 km from:

  • Merrimans Creek, adjacent to Tarra Bulga NP (1522 Ha), is the northern-most Core;
  • South-west to the Gunyah Gunyah Core, an area now reserved as a Section 50 Forest Park (approx. 650 Ha).

The forested areas covered by the agreement include parts of the headwaters of the Morwell River, Franklin River, Agnes River, Jack and Albert Rivers, as well as Middle Creek and the upper Merriman’s Creek.

Forest in the Strezlecki Ranges is unusual in containing areas of both warm and cool temperate rainforest.  The proposed reserve system will however only protect cool temperate rainforest, as a high-biodiversity, threatened Ecological Vegetation Class (EVC).

The area covered by the agreement will also protect habitat for nationally threatened species (Spotted Tail Quoll, Powerful Owl, Strezlecki Koala, Southern Brown Bandicoot, Eastern Bent-wing Bat and Warty Bell-Frog and Australian Grayling).  The Gunyah Gunyah forest also includes old-growth Mountain Ash stands (renowned as ‘big trees’ because their base girth dwarfs people standing beside them.)  These trees are rare in Victoria in this age bracket after more than a century of clearing and timber-getting.

The 2017 Hand-back areas

The area covered by the first hand-back includes three areas adjacent to Gunyah Gunyah Forest Reserve, an area in the Ryton Link, and College Creek.  This includes areas already technically handed back by HPV as well as those designated to be handed back in 2017.  (See attached DELWP map).

Gunyah Core:

– Includes the northern slopes of one branch of the head-waters of Turtons Creek (south of Aspenslip Rd), and another small branch to the east of Boolara-Foster Rd.

– The upper Franklin River immediately downstream of the rainforest site of significance (to the east of Boolarra-Foster Rd and extending southwards to Devil’s Pinch Rd).

– The headwaters of the Agnes River south of the rainforest site of significance (to Devil’s Pinch Rd), and a small area of the Agnes headwaters adjacent to the existing Forest Reserve, within the rainforest site of significance.

Four endangered species of national significance occur in the Gunyah Gunyah Core (Spot-Tailed Quoll, Powerful Owl, Slender Tree-Fern, Strezlecki Burrowing Crayfish) and two species of state significance (River Hook-Sedge, Slender Forked Tree-fern).

What’s missing: Half of the rainforest site of significance in the upper Agnes is outside the handback area, and the ridges above this rainforest are being logged in this current logging season.

  1. Trust for Nature purchased a parcel of private land in the Upper Morwell River catchment, on the Grand Ridge Rd, opposite the Gunyah Gunyah Reserve (Franklin River headwaters).

Ryton Link:

– Includes the northern slopes of the Dingo Creek headwaters from the Grand Ridge Rd south of Mabel Track and extending east to the area known as ‘Christie’s’.

This link protects cool temperate rainforest communities along the Dingo Creek tributaries.

What’s missing: The upper Dingo Creek catchment below McCleans Rd is all private land, and outside the agreement.  There is another piece of private land at the southern end of this link area which bisects the area being handed back.

Also, the rainforest site of significance known as ‘Grey Gum’ (in the Morwell River catchment, on the other side of the Grand Ridge Rd immediately north of the Ryton Link) is not in the current handback, despite being significant.  A tiny coupe of planted Shining Gum within this block, at the junction of Radburns Track and Grand Ridge Rd prevents it being protected until 2028, when the timber is due to be harvested.

College Creek Core:

– Includes all of the College Creek Headwaters on the west and west slopes below Whitelaws-Budgeree-Grand Ridge Roads, excluding a parcel of private land on the north side of the Grand Ridge Road.

This Core is a site of National Significance for Cool-Temperate Rainforest.  Four species of national significance occur College Creek Core (Strezlecki Koala, Powerful Owl, Slender Tree-Fern, Strezlecki Burrowing Crayfish) and five species of state significance (Broad-toothed Rat, Skirted Tree Fern, Oval Fork-fern, River Hook-Sedge, Slender Forked Tree-fern).  A locally significant species, Ironwood, is also found in College Creek.

What’s missing: The adjacent catchment, to the north of College Creek, is Middle Creek.  Middle Creek is a key ‘Link’ to Tarra Bulga National Park, of which only the middle catchment is proposed to be eventually protected under the Cores and Links Agreement.  It is not proposed to hand back for some years.

Community Organisations involved:

– Yarram Yarram & District Landcare Network

– Friends of Gippsland Bush

– Latrobe Valley Field Naturalists

– Save Our Strezleckis

– Friends of Tarra Bulga National Park

– Friends of Gunyah Gunyah Reserve

– Friends of Morwell River Falls.

Other activities to protect biodiversity in the Strezleckis: The JARR Initiative (Landcare)

The Jack and Albert River Restoration, funded by The Norman Wettenhall Foundation, is an initiative of three landcare groups in the Yarram area.  The hand-back of the upper Jack and Albert Rivers will assist with the work being done with the JARR Landcare initiative.  The JARR initiative aims to restore these rivers from their headwaters to the sea, and help protect the ecologically sensitive marine environment of Corner Inlet and the Nooramunga Marine and Coastal Park (both RAMSAR sites).

** The original text of this article was co-authored with Susan Davies, former Member for Bass in the Victorian Legislative Assembly.

References

BIOSes Research, Report for the Strezlecki Ranges Working Group – Strezlecki Ranges Biodiversity Study, November 2001