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Monday, July 29, 2013

To Walk among Giants - National Tree Day celebrated in Victorian Central Highlands

How did you celebrate National Tree Day - 28 July? I finally found the time to drive up from Melbourne to the mountain ash forests of the Central Highlands at Sylvia Creek Road near Toolangi, to walk among giants.

The occasion was the opening of a new short track - The Kalatha Giant Tree Walk. There are still some mature Mountain Ash standing as silent sentinels. The Kalatha tree is estimated to be about 400 years old. Somehow it was missed in previous logging of the area, although a smaller tree near the start of the track provides evidence for early logging in the area.

It was quite a crowd that gathered at Tanglefoot Car Park picnic spot on Sylvia Creek Road. Many people brought hampers but there was also plenty of hot soup, juice and tea supplied by local people. My Environment, and Friends of Leadbeater's Possum were there, as well as CFA and DSE and councillors from Yarra Ranges and Murrindindi Councils.

Friends of Leadbeater's Possum had 'George' on display. George is a stuffed male Leadbeater's possum found intact on the side of a logging road about two years ago. It is assumed that George's home was a victim of logging, and as his home was being carted away he fell off the logging truck. Now he is truly stuffed. And his species isn't doing much better.

Local elder Uncle Roy Patterson performed a Welcome to Country and smoking ceremony at the picnic grounds. Then a cavalcade of cars wound down to where the start of the walk to await the Minister's arrival. Kid's played on the steps and the embankment dodging under the green ribbon, but it survived unbroken ready for the Minister's formal snip.

There was a brief welcome to country by Uncle Roy, and acknowledgements to all the various individual people and organisation involved in bringing this walk to fruition.

Mark Butler took over this appointment from his predecessor, Tony Burke. In a brief speech he said:

"Burke has written to the Threatened species scientific committee to fast track a consideration of an assessment to see the possum uplisted from Endangered to Critically endangered." to applause from the crowd.

"We are continnuing to work with Cindy's Government about an updated recovery plan for the possum as well. There is a good deal of work, much of it stems from the strong advocacy and strong ongoing pressure from community groups in this beautiful part of Victoria, for us to focus more on these critically endangered species."

Mark Butler did the honours along with State Liberal MP for Seymour, Cindy McLeish, of cutting the ribbon. Then all and sundry wandered up and around the walking track, stopping to have a look at the Kalatha Giant. To look skywards at the high canopy. And to marvel at the cathedral like girth at the bottom.

These are glorious trees. True giants, the tallest flowering plants on earth. And the animals that make their home in their hollows and branches are pretty unique as well. Victoria's fauna emblem, Leadbeater's Possum, lives in hollows in mature trees. But continued logging of remnant native forest and bushfire has severely reduced it's range and numbers.

In May distinguished forest ecologists Professors David Lindenmayer and Hugh Possingham accused the Victorian Government of knowingly driving Leadbeater's Possum to extinction through Government sanctioned logging.

Indeed, Professor David Lindenmayer who has spent a lifetime studying these forests warns that continued logging is likely to cause landscape traps, in which the whole ecosystem becomes permanently changed.

While people on the ground fight to preserve species, the Federal Government in it's revamping of the carbon price has axed the $1 billion biodiversity fund. This places Australian funding of biodiversity programs on par with countries like the Congo and Iraq.

The 'logging wars' over these forests continue, and with each coupe logged, extinction moves a little closer Leadbeater's possums. Local activists continue to protest and attempt to stop logging in the area. But for George it is all too late.

View my photos as a set on Flickr

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