First Published in 1997

"We don't want to be at loggerheads with the loggerheads, but if it's war they want, then war it will be" - Roger Hardley, Apollo Bay Landcare Group spokesperson.

The meeting in the Otway State forest was the strangest coalition since Syria, Saudi Arabia and Israel joined George Bush for the Gulf War against Saddam Hussein. Fourteen people had been arrested attempting to prevent logging operations the previous Monday and more than 50 locals had turned up for a Saturday afternoon meeting in the forest - a sizeable number for a small Victorian country town.

The Framlingham Aboriginal Community has local jurisdiction for the Otways and is ciurrently in discussions with Victorian Premier Jeffrey Kennett on proposed "regional agreements".

Framlingham elder, Mr Geoff Clarke, a Commisioner on Native Title with the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission - said the area has been surveyed and there are "extensive Aboriginal sites in the forest".

Mr Clarke said there were not enough old growth forests and they needed to be maintained and managed better than they are.

"The Aboriginal principle is one of sustainability and what is driving the loggers is not sustainability, but commercial greed."

ATSIC was involved in discussions with Premier Kennett on "regional agreements" including management and environmental issues, he said.

"Then we'd be the ones to decide forest management. Regional agreements bring benefits to the peole living there rather than others coming in and taking all the profit out. It's the only way to get power back to the people," Mr Clarke said.

As if to emphasize that any place known as Wild Dog Creek Ridge should be preserved simply on its name alone, "ferals", conservative conservationists, Landcare group members, farmers, Apollo Bay townspeople and the Apollo Bay Chamber of Commerce were united in their opposition to proposals by Kimberly Clark - manufacturers of Kleenex tissues (no recycled content) - to log four kilometres of native trees, along with the rare tiger quolls, powerful owls and everything else in the near pristine habitat.

Speakers at the meeting said that tourism brought $90 million a year to the region and the logging operation - 60 percent for pulp and 40 percent for saw logs - would make about $2million for the overseas owners of Kimberly-Clark. To add insult to injury, the timber cutting crews are from East Gippsland and Tasmania, and there is no local labour, other than at the Colac sawmill.

While the gathering was divided on what alternatives were acceptable, the proposal to clearfell a strip along the ridge 27m wide by 4kms long was rejected unanimously. Some said logging would damage the contiguity of the temperate rainforest, others were concerned at what the desecrated ridge would do for tourists wishing to visit the Great Ocean Road, one of Victoria's leading tourism destinations.

A member of the Landcare Group had discovered that buried in the fine print the logging company had the right to cut five "loading bays" 10m deep into the forest per kilometre - one every 200 metres of the four kilometres.

The spokesperson for the Landcare Group, Mr Roger Hardley, said he had 1500 signatures on a petition sent to the Minister for Natural Resources and Environment, Ms Marie Tehan, opposing the logging operation and he had "never seen the community galvanize like this". Ms Tehan's office's response to the issue was: "No comment."

Mr Hardley said the Code of Forest Practice, drawn up by the Victorian State Government had been ignored by both the loggers and the policing authority. He said the Department was approving licences against its own proposals and that government departments - although "spooked" by the publicity - were not abiding by their own guidelines and were in breech of the Wild Dog Creek Landscape Study prepared by the Department in 1986.

"The loggers have contravened the Code of Forest Practice a number of times. It's the logging bible and they just ignore it. They are skating on thin ice," Mr Hardley said.

He said there were serious concerns from the community over tourism income being lost by the destruction, as well as the irreversible damage to the flora and fauna.

"All logging down here is clearfelling. There's no selective logging," Mr Hardley said. "We don't really have a problem with selective logging - we are reasonable people who are residents and farmers," he said.

The Wild Dog Creek Ridge has been classified "Zone A" which requires "all logging to be inevident within 12 months" which Mr Hardley says is simply impossible.

He said the Apollo Bay Landcare Group had grants amounting to $15,000 from State and Federal governments to repair a land slip caused by soil erosion in turn caused by logging operations. The project was the 1995 Keep Australia Beautiful Council's most effective Landcare Project in Victoria and "thousands of hours of local labour had gone into the repair and replanting work".

"It is directly opposite where they intend to clearfell the east face of the Wild Dog Creek Ridge, which is prime Zone A high sensitivity level 1, to turn it into Kleenex and Wondersoft dunny rolls. We would put it to consumers to choose carefully," Mr Hardley said.

He said the Landcare Group strongly supported the Geelong Environment Council's proposal to expand the Otways National Park to include the Wild Dog and the East and West Barham valleys.

Apart from the destruction of the Wild Dog Creek Ridge and its visual impact on tourism and local enjoyment of the Apollo Bay hinterland, Mr Hardley says plans to log to within 50 metres of sensitive rainforest areas contradicts "the best scientific view that 350-500 metres is the nearest you can go without causing damage".

Without protection, trees become susceptible to damage and then fungal attacks, threatening the forest and its biodiversity. According to Mr Hardley, he had to use the Freedom of Information Act to obtain a Victorian Government study showing the extent of myrtle wilt which affects the myrtle beech trees in the Otways. He said it was a fight to obtain documents from the Department that he says proves the case against the logging operations.

Mr Hardley piled government documents on his table quoting from them liberally and accusing the Department of not abiding by its own published reports and recommendations.

"It's like playing Collingwood at home, four quarters against the wind and they're moving the goalposts," Mr Hardley said. "I mean they oppose their own documents."

"We don't want to be at loggerheads with the loggerheads. We'll talk, but if it's war that they want, then war it will be."

Documents show that the total log for the area is 100,000 tonnes of which 60,000 is for woodchips with Kimberly-Clark purchasing 44,000 tonnes of "residual logs".

"The economics underlying this is a massive taxpayer subsidy to the timber industry, 60 percent of which is for dunny rolls in a time of economic rationalism -it's ludicrous," Mr Hardley said.

When The Republican inspected the area a fortnight ago, the winds ripped through the clearfelled areas, where large numbers of logs had been burnt and left to rot. Nearby, in the dense forest, everything was still. The impact of a curtain of trees is palpable.

A tree-farmer with 20 years experience in the area, including work as a timber cutter, Mr Ken Forrester, estimated the waste of good quality logs was hundreds, even thousands of dollars. The holder of a "Master Tree Growers" certificate from the University of Melbourne, he dismissed claims that woodchipping merely cleaned up the forest floor and removed waste and debris. He said the timber crews know exactly what they are after and ignore the rest. When they replant, it is only with trees that they want to harvest.

The president of the Friends of Otway National Park, Ms Judi Forrester, who has international visitors to her Otway Herb Nursery above the Wild Dog, says the logging threatens the entire ecology of the area.

"The Wild Dog, West Barham and East Barham are amongst the best mountain streams in Victoria and should be incorporated into the National Park to provide a really effective wildlife corridor between the existing national park and the flora and fauna reserves to the north of Turton's Track," Ms Forrester said.

She said the West Barham still contains the largest area of pre-invasion Mountain Ash forest in the Otways, with trees growing up to six metres in diameter and 100 metres high.

"It's important to have the free movement of a full range of animals and birds to maintain species variety through interbreeding. Just as important as the wildlife corridor, is the preservation of the rainforest in the valleys which are the eastern most rainforest in the Otways.

"Because they are long ribbons of rainforest they are very vulnerable," Ms Forrester said.

Ken Forrester says it takes nearly 100 years for trees to regrow to create the high canopy and the ecosystem requires trees of varying ages to provide the array of habitats.

"The integrity of the forest starts at the top of the hill and if they break the integrity by clearing the top, the movement of soil, humus and detritus will have a detrimental effect on the gully populations," Mr Forrester said. "The waves of sediment changes the soil composition radically, damaging the existing life forms and having a cumulative effect and increasing water turbidity in the streams," Mr Forrester said.

The environmental manager at Kimberley Clark Australia, Dr Harley Wright, says his company is merely buying material from the loggers and has no part in the operations. He says any criticism of the operations should be taken up with either the logging companies or the Victorian government.

"We're not the ones logging it. The logging operations are authorised by the [State] government," Dr Wright said

He said that less than two percent of the forested area was being harvested and it was a "fully sustainable operation".

"Clearfelling might upset some people, but forests grow back," Dr Wright said.

He said Kimberly-Clark had been taking material from the Otways since 1992 and the area had been logged for more than 100 years. Opponents point out that it is only in recent times that clearfelling operations have been conducted. Dr Wright agreed his company might be the single largest purchaser by volume of material, but disputed whether it was by value of timber. He said Kimberly-Clark was only taking the bottom grade timber residual logs, forestry waste and saw mill waste

Dr Wright said that Kimberly-Clark was working towards self sufficiency in plantation pine and eucalypt and expected to no longer take timber from the Otways by 2000. He said Kimberly-Clark was aware of the growing boycott of its products in the Otways, "but not sure why they are targetting us".

"We don't want to be associated with a badly-run operation. We don't like the objections, but we believe the [State] government is operating it satisfactorily at this stage," Dr Wright said.

See the follow-up story: Poisoned Water
(plus the previous story: War in the Woods)

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