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Rachel Carbonell reported this story on Tuesday, August 20, 2013 08:03:00

TONY EASTLEY: Certainly CSG is on electors minds. As we travelled from the Liverpool Plains to Nimbin there were plenty of anti-CSG signs on the entrances to properties on the roads as we drove the seven hours north-east towards the coast and the Queensland border.

CSG, climate change and carbon pricing have dominated federal debate, shadowing other environmental issues.

In Victoria, environmentalists say the last of the unprotected old growth forest in east Gippsland is under threat from logging, as are many of the threatened species that rely on it.

And there are similar concerns about the ash forests in the Yarra Ranges on the other side of the state, which is the catchment area for much of Melbourne’s drinking water and the habitat for the endangered leadbeater’s possum, Victoria’s faunal emblem.

AM’s Rachel Carbonell reports.

RACHEL CARBONELL: It’s seven o’clock on a Monday evening in the Memorial Hall in Healesville north east of Melbourne – a township on the edge of the ash forests of the Central Highlands.

(Sound of meeting)

RACHEL CARBONELL: People are here to listen to Australian National University ecologist, David Lindenmayer. He’s studied these forests for 30 years and says that a combination of logging and fire has left them in dire need of protection and rehabilitation.

DAVID LINDENMAYER: Following the 2009 fires we see 1,871 hectares of mountain ash forest which is unlogged and unburnt. That’s 1.16 per cent of the forest estate which is old growth.

Why does this matter? Old forest has the most carbon stored, old forest produces the most water, old forest produces the largest number of big old trees where you get leadbeater’s possum and other species of possums and gliders.

We need to cease clear felling by the end of this year. That does not…

(Sound of applause)

RACHEL CARBONELL: The next day he took AM to visit a nearby logging coop.

DAVID LINDENMAYER: Ok so what we’re looking at in front of us is a regrowth forest following the 1939 fires. What we see in front of us are 70 metre tall trees. So that contrasts with what’s behind us where we have a young logged forest, clear felled, virtually all of the important biodiversity is lost from this logged forest and it won’t be here for another 150 to 200 years.

RACHEL CARBONELL: While management of these forests is up to the Victorian Government, Professor Lindenmayer says the Commonwealth is responsible for the laws meant to protect threatened species as well as the Regional Forest Agreements with the states, which he says have failed to protect the biodiversity of the ash forests.

Across the other side of the state, environmentalists are telling a similar story about a different forest.

Jill Redwood is the coordinator of Environment East Gippsland.

JILL REDWOOD: South-east New South Wales have pretty well totally demolished all of the old growth but East Gippsland still has a few small patches of the old growth, which is absolutely critical for a lot of our threatened species like the large forest owls, the spot-tailed quoll, the long-footed potoroo. We’ve got so many species that just absolutely rely on these old growth forests and yet they’re being cut down every day.

RACHEL CARBONELL: Environment East Gippsland is among the conservation groups calling for the Federal Government to weigh into the issue, because, they say, the Regional Forest Agreements haven’t worked.

The Victorian Government declined to be interviewed but said its forests are among the best managed and most protected in the world.

VicForests is the state owned corporation responsible for managing the commercial harvest and sale of timber from state forests.

Director of corporate affairs, Nathan Trushell, says his organisation is responding to concerns about logging the Ash forests.

NATHAN TRUSHELL: On average we reserve about 30 per cent of our planned area to be retained for a whole variety of values, including the leadbeater’s possum, but of course other biodiversity and important values throughout the forest.

RACHEL CARBONELL: He says timber harvesting in East Gippsland has also dropped dramatically.

NATHAN TRUSHELL: By more than 70 per cent over the last few years, and we are having to make the necessary adjustments to ensure that we’ve got a sustainable harvest level. That’s causing a significant amount of hardship for the industry and something that shouldn’t go unrecognised.

TONY EASTLEY: The director of corporate affairs for VicForests, Nathan Trushell, ending Rachel Carbonell’s report.