Saving the Old Growth

IMG_0500IMG_0517IMG_0506Feb 7

I had planned on climbing Mt. Tim Shea today but after chatting with Derek and Anthea last night I have altered my plans. I’m heading 21K further up the Gordon River Road to the Florentine Valley to see the site of a 6 year battle between preservationists and logging companies as well as local loggers. I had written previously about the conflict in the nearby Styx River Valley where I visited the big trees yesterday. That conflict erupted in 2003 when a logging sale threatened the newly famous Christmas Tree in the Styx location. This 80+ meter giant was decorated in 1999 with over 3000 fairy lights and a large fluorescent star placed on its top by local people to draw attention to the endangerment of the big trees in the area. An application was made to the Guinness Book of World Records to recognize this tree as the tallest Xmas tree in the world. It was turned down because it didn’t meet the criteria of being a northern spruce. At that time this tree and many others in the area were due to be cut down. That started the protests, sit-ins, etc. at the Styx site. Anthea and Derek’s daughter was involved in another preservation battle begun in 2006 when another very large timber sale was let in a large tract of old growth timber in the nearby Florentine Valley.

In 2006 the Forestry Department in Tassie let a sale out to a timber company that included 15 – 50 acre parcels in the heart of the old growth forest of the Florentine Valley. Preservationists and many local citizens had been trying for years to have the Florentine and Styx old growth forests protected. The timber company started moving equipment to the area and began operations. First locals came to protest, then many more from all over Tassie, then came more folks from mainland Australia, and then with the participation of the Wilderness Society and finally Greenpeace, people from all over the world were coming to march, sit-down in front of logging equipment, sitting in the trees themselves, and in general trying to halt the cutting of these big trees. The presence of the Wilderness Society brought satellite internet and mobile phone service to the site. They also built platforms in the trees which they called Global Rescue Stations. Camp Floz was born and the media informed the whole world. Some people lived on these platforms for two and three years. A Tasmanian woman named Miranda Gibson spent 451 days straight on one of the platforms. Ropes and pulleys were used to get supplies and wastes down. Miranda completed her doctorate thesis while on this platform. She later moved over to the Styx River Valley site when that conflict was heating up. She was forced out of her tree there in 2011 when someone started the tree on fire. It was a crazy time.

Only 10 percent of the old growth forest that was in Tassie when Europeans arrived in 1800 is still standing today. I learned a little more since my previous blog about this topic. The tallest redwood is 115m tall and over 1000 years old. Most of the tallest Eucalyptus trees left in Tassie are around 600 years old and several of the largest here where I have been walking are just slightly under 100 meters high. The largest Eucalyptus ever measured was found in Victoria on mainland Australia in 1872. It had fallen and was found to be 130m on the ground. Upright it was estimated to have been around 150m high.

A compromise was reached in 2013 after the whole region was declared a World Heritage Area. The loggers would be able to still cut replanted sites in the new WHA but the old growth areas would be protected from logging. There is a lot of logging going on here now as I’ve seen riding my bike through the Styx and Florentine River roads.

My 21K ride to the former Camp Floz was mostly uphill but really beautiful. I had great views of all of the peaks along the way and the roadway was heavily forested. This is a rainforest and the vegetation below the forest canopy is lush and varied. I hear many birds as I move along and am especially intrigued by the Gallahs which move in flocks and settle in the upper canopy as I pedal past. They are large noisy birds which are mostly white but have light orange and green around their necks and heads plus a white crown that they extend like a cockatoos. The site entrance is now called Timb’s Track and it is obvious from the trail that it has not been widely used. The side trails include little treks to some of the largest trees. The second trail goes to the main site of the protests and tree platforms and is called Lungs of the Earth. The trail there would be really difficult to follow if it were not for the occasional orange ribbons. Timb’s Track continues all the way to a cabin named after its owner, John Churchill. It’s about a 3 hour walk. More on that later.

As I walked through the Lungs of the Earth, I tried to imagine the big platforms 60m up in the forest canopy above me. A string of ribbons between two giant trees signifies the former presence of one such site. Overall, though, there is almost nothing left here that would give you a clue about its significance as a world wide effort to protect this area. I guess the only real important things left are these magnificent trees.

I intended to follow the Track all the way to Churchill’s Cabin but after a side trail to a lookout, the route became confused in fallen timber and dense undergrowth. This track has very seldom been used. Even though is was established only a few short years ago, nature is already taking it over again.
So with a look at the little pamphlet Anthea had given me, I headed back the 21K’s I had ridden this morning and now biked an additional 14K down the Florentine River Road to try to find a trail into the cabin from that side.

In 1936 the last Tasmanian Tiger known to man died in a Hobart zoo. It had been trapped here in the Florentine Valley by a man named Churchill and held at his cabin in the forest until transport to the zoo. I just wanted to see that little cabin and get a feel for the type of forest around it where the Tiger lived. Although there have been a number of sightings over the years, like the Yeti, none have been verified. In 1986 the Tasmanian Tiger was officially declared extinct. It had been hunted, trapped and poisoned till there were no more.

After a ride in the heat of the day to a gate on a side road I walked further up the road until I found a trail headed in the pamphlet- described direction and twenty minutes later I found the little cabin. Very small, it was a typical trapper’s shack. Nothing too special about it except its place in natural history.

I had had a long day of pedaling, had run out of water because of the heat and just had to stop at the tiny little corner store just before my cabin for a cold bottle of raspberry flavored soda. It was another very good day.

4 thoughts on “Saving the Old Growth

  1. I really like that term, Lungs of the Earth.
    Such a beautiful area with a rich history. You must really enjoyed digging down to find out what’s happening. Fortunately we have advocates that help save precious natural environments. Probably not enough advocates!
    Thanks for sharing.

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