Restore Skyline Tier

In the late 1960s to early 1970s the Reece Government in Tasmania funded the landscape-scale conversion of native forest to radiata pine plantation in the Fingal Valley/Mathinna and Scamander (Skyline Tier) areas. This was done as much to create jobs for unemployed miners in the region as for any guaranteed commercial outcome. In the early 2000s clearfelling of mature pines on the visually prominent and steep eastern slopes of Skyline Tier triggered community interest and concern (even participants in the Sydney to Hobart yacht race commented on the visual impact!). By that time the 2000ha plantation at Skyline Tier was subject to a 70-year lease (a Bacon government initiative) to a USA superannuation company named GMO with another company, Rayonier, managing the plantation on its behalf (this has now changed to New Forests as the lessee, with Timberlands as the contracted land manager).
As the plantation was harvested, there was evidence of natural regeneration of a variety of native plant species. In addition, a few areas had been subject to arson post-harvesting and high density and diverse natural regeneration occurred in these burnt areas. On this basis the North East Bioregional Network (NEBN) contacted Rayonier and requested that it consider restoring native forest in harvested areas. At the time the intention was to aerially spray the regrowth of pines and native species and plant another ‘crop’ of pines over most of the harvested area. Over the next four years negotiations (sometimes cordial, sometimes intense) regarding the future of the plantation continued.

In 2006 NEBN employed Bushways consultants to produce a report outlining how the plantation could be restored to native forest and to catalogue existing conservation values and flora and fauna on the site. This, along with legal advice from the Environmental Defenders Office regarding aerial spraying and ongoing community concern, led to an agreement in mid-2007 that a 40ha site would be allocated to trial native forest regeneration. This was successfully completed by a volunteer crew organised by NEBN. Within the next few years this grew to over 300ha and a number of other additional sites were being managed back to native forest by (now) Timberlands. From 2007 until the end of 2013 NEBN managed the Restore Skyline Tier project as a volunteer effort and produced five comprehensive reports detailing the project’s progress and outcomes. Grants from Landcare Tasmania, NRM North and the Wilderness Society were invaluable during this period as was assistance from local volunteers, Australian Conservation Volunteers, Mersey NRM, International Student Volunteers, Forestry Tasmania, Greening Australia, Break O’Day Council, Timberlands and New Forests. Thankfully, since the beginning of 2014 the project has been supported by Environment Tasmania through funding from the Australian Government. This has allowed the establishment of a locally based professional ecological restoration crew.

The benefits of the project include:

  • improved landscape connectivity as coastal to hinterland corridors are reconnected
  • recovery of habitat for a number of threatened flora and fauna species and their habitat, including (fauna) the swift parrot, chaostola skipper butterfly, giant velvet worm and (flora) Hibbertia calycina, Hovea corrickiae and Desmodium gunnii
  • restoration of threatened vegetation communities Eucalyptus globulus (blue gum) and Eucalyptus ovata (black gum) forest
  • regeneration of coastal catchments, an extensive network of streams and wetlands
  • protection of scenic values
  • recovery of important refugia and multiple habitat niches
  • control of a serious environmental weed (radiata pine).

In addition to the significant environmental benefits, the proper funding of well-planned ecological restoration projects has considerable potential to create numerous jobs in rural and regional communities. The combination of employment and training in ecological restoration can play a major role in developing a more informed and caring culture of valuing nature in the community (something we urgently need to foster). Many of the people who have lost their jobs in the forestry industry in recent years have the skills to transition into ecological restoration (NEBN has hired a number of forest contractors who have delivered excellent results for our project) and this offers a way of addressing both employment and environmental concerns with good outcomes for both. Subject to enough funding, NEBN is now in a position to restore the entire 2000ha to native forest as both New Forests and Forestry Tasmania are reluctant managers of Skyline Tier.
A large amount of native forest has been converted to plantation in Tasmania over the past 40 years (in particular the last 20 years). A lot of these plantations will be harvested in the next five to 10 years. There is an urgent need to consider the future of these areas as soon as possible (in particular, first rotation sites where there is still likely to be plenty of viable native seedbank left in the soil to assist natural regeneration efforts). One of the key issues that needs to be addressed is the current unsatisfactory standards for native forest restoration of pine plantations, which only take into account the number of eucalypts per site. Apart from reflecting a very utilitarian rather that ecological bias, this means that an area can be primarily covered in feral pine regrowth and still be considered ‘restored’ as long as there are some eucalypts regrowing as well. The other obvious issue is funding the restoration work. One option is establishment of a Forest Restoration Fund to provide the necessary resources to manage restoration projects.

 Our view is that many of the plantations (radiata pine and Eucalyptus nitens) harvested recently or in the near future should be converted back to biodiverse native forest and, for the first time in Tasmania’s post-European history, we can start to increase the extent and improve the condition of native vegetation cover and habitat in the state. What a great opportunity! The cultural as well as ecological benefits would be enormous. Of course, there is scope to extend this to other degraded landscapes, such as legacy mine sites and dams (e.g. Lake Pedder). IT’S TIME! You can Google Restore Skyline Tier for more info including reports on the project.

Todd Dudley
North East Bioregional Network Inc.