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Protecting our Native Forests for Climate and Public Health

Forests can help us mitigate climate impacts - yet Victoria's native forests are being logged and burned, writes Alana Mountain writes for Chain Reaction #142.

I am sitting in a dear friend's home in Warburton on Wurundjeri country, looking out to the forested ranges. And whilst in my immediate view, there is the illusion that this forest expands beyond the ridgelines as magnificently as what is before myself, I know there is a different story occurring on the other side of these grand mountains….

Less than 10kms from this town there is clearfell logging occurring at an alarming rate.

Forests are consistently stripped bare, leaving nothing but turned soil and scars in the landscape. These forests - the most carbon dense in the world - are essential to our communities. They are essential for supporting the life that dwells within them, the unique and threatened wildlife and are especially significant for water security and mitigating the risks posed to us by a rapidly changing climate. 

We currently live in a period of history where we are constantly witnessing the steady decline of our ecological heritage. And, as a result, Mother Nature is unbalanced and manifesting itself in drastic crises. We see that islands are drowning because of rising sea levels, the ocean is acidifying, rivers are drying up, crops aren’t growing in once fertile regions and the countries spanning the equator are becoming drier and inhospitable. 

I’ve spent the better part of the last decade of my life curiously defending forests, absorbing consensus-based science of dedicated researchers such as David Lindenmayer, and watching on with heartbreak, filled with fear as mine and the future of generations-to-come are placed at risk because of environmental vandalism. 

Looking locally, I know that the logging occurring so close is dangerous and increases the risks of bushfires.

Logging, AKA deforestation, is drying out the landscape and increasing the flammability of the forest. We know that bushfire regimes have changed drastically and bushfire seasons are lasting longer - spanning larger areas than we have ever witnessed before. We only have to look to the summer of 2019-2020, where we experienced the worst bushfires in living memory.

It was revealed last year via the After The Logging Report, co-published by 19 Victorian forest protection groups and researched by Margaret Blakers, that our precious forests are not being regenerated as expected by VicForests - the government owned logging agency pillaging the last remaining carbon sinks of our state. 

Not only are we losing precious biodiversity, but the promise of ‘growing back’ our forests is not being fulfilled. This is a major issue for future carbon sequestration. What is left behind typically resembles that of a moonscape or a Mad Max film, not a bio-rich, diverse forest ecosystem!

Australian Mountain Ash forests exceed all other forests in their capacity for sequestering carbon by a mile. The average carbon stock sits around 1100 tonnes per hectare. So, when forests are logged and burnt in a post regeneration burn, this carbon is released and lost to the atmosphere. 

Further pollution is caused via the burning process as a result of the intensity of the burn. Each year, alike other areas across the Central Highlands and Gippsland, Warburton is blanketed in a dense smoke.

Those unfortunate enough to already have, and perhaps even develop respiratory issues, are severely compromised.

How can we continue to allow this industry to contribute to and accelerate the climate crisis as well as increase the risks of respiratory complications for communities? It is criminal and outright ecocide. You would think given the experience of the last two years battling COVID -  a pandemic that has cost us millions in medical service expenses that we would prioritise respiratory health.

We know that undisturbed and unfragmented forests are our best chance of mitigating the impacts of a drying landscape.

Our forests retain huge volumes of water, regulate climate and produce moisture contributing to large weather systems. They also obviously provide us with oxygen and a variety of other social benefits such as tourism and bare deep cultural significance to our First Nations people. 

It isn’t difficult to arrive at the logical conclusion that logging and protecting the myriad of ecological and social values of our native forests are incompatible. 

They cannot co-exist.

We must immediately prioritise the ecosystem services they provide, as well as the safety of our communities, by ending native forest logging once and for all. 


Alana Mountain, FoE Forests Campainger

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