- Victoria’s Secret
Central Victoria’s spectacular Yarra Valley is a popular tourism destination for Melbournites and those further afield. Amoungst its main attractions are many of Australia’s premier wineries, numerous high quality restaurants and the mighty Mountain Ash forests that dominate the landscape. The Yarra Valley was also one of the worst hit regions in Victoria’s 2009 Black Saturday fires.
- My work experience
Having never visited this area before I was excited to begin my four day work experience with Laurence Berry, a Phd student at the ANU’s Fenner School of Environment and Society. In particular I was keen to experience the famous Mountain Ash- the tallest flowering plant in the world- close up. My task was to assist Laurence as we undertook fieldwork on the post-fire ecology of the Mountain Brushtail Possum as part of a broader study on the role of fire in land management. I was warned that this work experience would involve some serious hard yakka and it didn’t disappoint! The four days began with 6 a.m. starts and late afternoon finishes. Most of our time was spent tracking and laying traps for radio-collared possums that Laurence had caught previously. Unfortunately this entailed a lot of bush bashing through some thick fire regrowth on steep terrain, often with multiple possums and traps in tow. Other tasks were to measure and microchip the captured possums and survey the vegetation at trap sites.
Got one! A Mountain Brushtail Possum in a cage trap.
- Biodiversity issues
Over my four days in the Yarra Valley I gained a brief insight into some of the biodiversity issues in the region. Logging these forests has traditionally been the economic backbone of the region and to this day employs a large number of locals in forestry and related industries. Nowadays tourism is increasingly important as the timber industry regularly incurs substantial losses and is largely sustained by taxpayer subsidies. Leading experts on this forest such as the ANU’s David Lindenmayer have noted that past and current forest management in this region is ecologically unsustainable. For instance, critical habitat elements such as hollow-bearing trees are being depleted much faster than they can be naturally produced by the forest. This puts species such as Victoria’s faunal emblem- the Leadbeaters Possum– under grave threat of extinction.
The Leadbeaters Possum- the Mountain Brushtail’s critically endangered (and critically cute) cousin. Picture: David Caird. Source: News Limited.
- Friends with benefits
As a trainee forester I am interested in the many timber and non-timber benefits that forests provide for society. Mountain Ash timber is light brown in colour, with a consistent straight grain, it is durable and easy to work with. It has a wide variety of uses including construction, wood chips, plywood and high-grade furniture. But wait there’s more! Not only do these forests produce wonderful timber but they also store more carbon per square metre than any other forest in the world! They also purify Melbourne’s water supply, support amazing biodiversity and provide fun recreational pursuits like mountain biking and bush walking. On a deeper level the forests are places of relaxation and spiritual fulfillment, big Mountain Ash trees inspire awe and wonderment and attract visitors from afar.
Working hard or hardly working? Taking time out to pose with a couple of big Mountain Ash.
By Patrick de Jong
Edwards, D. (2010). Planetary Spirituality. Compass. 44, 16.
Keith, H., Mackey, B.G. & Lindenmayer, D.B. (2009). Re-evaluation of forest biomass carbon stocks and lessons from the world’s most carbon-dense forests. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. 106, 11635-11640.
Lindenmayer, D.B. & Possingham, H.P. (1996). Ranking Conservation and Timber Management Options for Leadbeater’s Possum in Southeastern Australia Using Population Viability Analysis. Conservation Biology, 10, 235-251.