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Goulburn Broken Catchment Management Strategy

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Regional Catchment Strategy 2013-2019

5 Southern Forests

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The Southern Forests SES of the south and south-east of the Goulburn Broken Catchment includes seasonally snow-covered alps, moist montane and sclerophyll forests. The Southern Forests occur on public land which is managed as State Forest, alpine resorts and national or state parks by Parks Victoria, DSE the Alpine Resorts Co-coordinating Council and Alpine Resort Management Boards. These are the largest intact native vegetation areas in the catchment.

Over the past 100 years, the Southern Forests SES has been significantly shaped by natural events such as the 1939 and 2009 fires, gold rushes and the post-war timber and tourism boom. More recently, the concentration of timber mills has slowly been reducing and tourism needs have changed and increased.

Values, products, goods and services of this system

The forest landscapes are highly valued for their ecological extent and diversity, cultural significance and economic importance generated through recreation and tourism, and plantation and native forest timber harvesting. The ecosystem services provided by the Southern Forests include high quality and reliable water which then provide environmental, economic and social values across and beyond the Catchment.

The resilience of the Southern Forests is about this system’s ability to stay in a state that provides these values in the face of change. This state underpins the future aspiration for the Southern Forest is: a protected ecosystem that balances ecological, economic and recreational needs.

Biodiversity

Travelling along a gradient from the valleys to the mountains, old growth damp and wet forests, interspersed with rainforests, give way to mixed species forest of Peppermints and Box trees. High on the slopes, Snow Gum Woodlands dominate a herb-rich ground layer. Above the snowline, unique fens and bogs are alive with frogs and water nymphs.

The large forests of this SES still contain unique vegetation communities such as Alpine Sphagnum Bogs, fens and habitat such as boulder fields, although all of these are affected by people. However, generally the current state of biodiversity in this SES is considered good. Major threats to this state are recreational activities (e.g. four-wheel driving on steep and erodible sites), cattle grazing and pest plant, disease and animal invasion (e.g. fox predation and the Chytrid Fungus).

Terrestrial habitat: The unique vegetation, fauna communities and species of this SES include the Alpine Frog, groundwater dependent ecosystems, peat bogs and wetlands. EVC groups include Sub-alpine and Montane grasslands, shrublands or woodlands, with Rare EVCs including Alpine Rocky Outcrops and Sub Alpine Dry Shrubland.

Threatened species and communities: Focus species are Mountain Pygmy Possum and frogs such as Dendy’s Toadlet, Spotted Tree Frog (critically endangered, endangered nationally) Growling Grass Frog, Brown Toadlet (endangered in Victoria) and Alpine Tree Frog (critically endangered, Vulnerable nationally). Cool Temperate Rainforest EVC is endangered.

Land

Land in the Southern Forests is used for forest reserve, recreation, tourism and production forestry (native forests and plantation). These land-uses require supporting infrastructure, including roads and telecommunications. Soils are fragile on often steep slopes. The current condition state of land and soils in this SES is considered good because of the extent of native forests, however, the 2006 and 2009 bushfires have impacted on soil health, in particular erosion.

Erosion is a major threat to these fragile soils. All invasive and introduced plants and animals are a major threat to this area, as they reduce its natural values, for all ecosystems. In particular, Holly and Blackberry spread easily in damp forests. Pigs, cattle and deer cause erosion and major disturbance to damp and wet forests. Foxes and feral cats kill native species that keep the forest system healthy, such as Bandicoots that spread fungus, vital to maintaining soil structure. 

Water

The Southern Forests contribute to healthy river ecosystems, providing constant yields of filtered high quality water. Waterways in this SES are considered to be in a good to excellent state.

There are several significant native fish species in this area and barriers to fish movements are a threat. Increasing numbers of tracks for timber extraction and recreational activities intensifies erosion, resulting in reduced water quality. This results in increased sedimentation of waterways, destruction of fish habitat and changes to stream conditions, such as temperature and turbidity.  Priority waterways assets are:

Goulburn River: a Heritage River that is an ecologically healthy reach. It supports many threatened species including the Barred Galaxias,
Spotted Tree Frog and Alpine Bent.

Rubicon River: a priority river with near “Ecologically Healthy” status, supports Barred galaxies in tributary streams – Keppel Hut Creek, Pheasant Creek, Perkins Creek, Taggerty River, Torbreck River and Stanleys Creek.

Big River: a Heritage River containing ecologically healthy and representative reaches that supports the threatened Spotted Tree Frog.

Howqua River: A Heritage River that has high economic values in the form of tourism and recreation.

The current condition of wetlands in this SES is considered to be good. The major threats to wetlands are pest plant and animal invasion and soil erosion. Priority wetland assets are:

Alpine bogs (National significance): areas that protect the nationally endangered Alpine Sphagnum Bogs and associated fens ecological community.

Central Highlands Peatlands (DIWA listed): Five separate sphagnum moss dominated bogs located along rivers and gullies in the Central Highlands.

People

People enjoy the Southern Forests throughout the year, pursuing a range of recreational activities, including skiing in winter, bush walking, driving, cycling and camping. Recreation and tourism contribute economic wealth to the SES. Some small communities are permanent, but seasonal communities commonly service the recreation and tourism industries or forest harvesting activities and maintenance of infrastructure that supports both. Hence, people are often not well connected with each other or the surrounding environment.

Threats include bushfires and policies that affect tourism and forestry activities. The current state of communities in or around the Southern Forests could be considered variable, although this assessment is largely unsupported. Communities are still suffering the devastating effects of bushfires. Forest harvesting has been declining. Anecdotally, recreational use of the forests is increasing.

Developing resilience of the Southern Forests SES

Table 12 details what is needed to develop resilience in the Southern Forests SES, building on needs best addressed at the whole-of-Catchment scale, which were listed in Chapter two.

Table 12.  Adapting to drivers of change in the Southern Forests SES*

Context

Management measure

Possible specific action (examples)

Although the natural environment is relatively intact in the Southern Forests SES, several native vegetation thresholds are being approached, with threats from current land uses compounding the legacy of major natural events and historic land uses. Retaining diversity of native vegetation is critical to these forests' long-term viability. Native vegetation ecosystem services (and thresholds to be managed) include the provision of

  • terrestrial biodiversity habitat for several species (quality and diversity)
  • clean water for consumption, aquatic biodiversity and recreation (cover to prevent erosion)
  • natural amenity (patterns of native vegetation in the landscape).

Strategic priority: Create opportunities from land development

Plan land-use to minimise loss of biodiversity

The Mitchell Shire Environment Committee provides:

  • advice and makes recommendations concerning management of the natural environment
  • a mechanism for community representatives, Councillors and staff to discuss, develop and contribute to environmental issues
  • a source of expertise to support development and review of plans and strategies

Manage public land to minimise loss of biodiversity

The Holly removal project in the case study demonstrates a management project at the public-private interface

Increased frequency of unplanned bushfires and drought, resulting from extreme climate variability, and planned fires are significant additional threats to aquatic biodiversity habitat and water quality (through increased soil erosion) and to terrestrial biodiversity habitat (through loss of structural diversity).

Strategic priority: Adapt to climate variability risks

Factor risks of climate variability and identify adaptation strategies in Goulburn Broken CMA plans

Identify areas of drought and fire refugia and manage for protection

Develop public land fire management plans that consider loss of biodiversity

A range of agencies to be included in discussions by DSE and Parks Victoria to have input into land management decisions

Extreme climate variability has resulted in extreme drought and fires over the last decade, impacting on this SES long after the event.

Strategic priority: Respond to and recover from climatic events

Plan and implement flood, fire and drought response and recovery

Identify risks to drought refuge areas and develop mitigation plans

 * Notes on the table:
The table (and descriptions on the previous page) will be part of background information for consultative planning and implementation over the next few years, which will include decisions on how to keep the SES from breaching undesirable thresholds.
Significant uncertainties in setting desirable SES thresholds and measuring progress elevate the need for close collaboration between SES stakeholders when setting priorities.  Some key threshold parameters to be considered when making decisions are listed in the table (Appendix five includes a more complete list across all SESs, with some quantitative targets.)