The Cherry Tree Road was formally recognized as an area of Aesthetic value by the CRA Cultural Heritage Working Group during the Comprehensive Regional Assessment (CRA) in the late 1990’s.
While many people assume that Cultural Heritage is primarily about Indigenous values, our Cultural Heritage also includes non-Indigenous values such as historic, scientific, social and aesthetic values which also can qualify for protection under the State Heritage Act.
The Cherry Tree Road was formally recognized as an area of unique aesthetic values. This was based primarily on the unusual contrast of distinct vegetation types in close proximity along its length. The road itself follows the narrow ridge that separates the Richmond and Clarence Catchments through Mallanganee National Park and Cherry Tree State Forest. The geology is very mixed, comprising Tertiary volcanics at the north end extending into Walloon Coal measures towards the south. These are a mixed group of sediments including shale, variously enriched with coal as well as clay stone and sandstone. As a result of changes in geology and aspect the vegetation communities exhibit a stark contrast over short distances including the transition from Subtropical and Dry Rainforests through Moist and Dry Sclerophylly communities.
The ridgeline understory comprises important native grasses such as Themeda (kangaroo grass) Native Sorghum, Scented top, Barbed wire grass and Poa tussocks as well as native herbs which all provide important habitat and food to macropods such as the Threatened Black Striped Wallaby, and the Nationally Endangered Rufus bettong. The smaller mammals and reptiles which inhabit this grassy understory provide a critical food source for raptors and owls, common in the Cherry Tree. The diverse, grassy/herbaceous ground layer is often overlooked, but contributes significantly to forest diversity, particularly in the drier exposed sites.
The midstory Forest Oaks provide food for the glossy black cockatoo and the flowering Grass Trees (Xanthorea) provide an abundant source of nectar for insects, birds and micro bats..
The contrast between dry forests, including ancient Grass trees on parts of the ridgeline, juxtaposed with adjacent Moist Sclerophyll and Rainforest communities, over topped by mature eucalypts are the fundamental components of the aesthetic listing of the Cherry Tree Road.
The response of Forest Corpse to acknowledging and protecting this formally listed value is that a fifty-metre buffer be provided on each side of the road, as is indicated on the harvest plans. This sounds great; however, their prescriptions allow for log dumps to be established within this buffer, but additionally up to fifty percent of the eucalypt canopy can be removed!
This is a prescription which offers no more protection than that of the surrounding harvest area.
We need only to look at the legacy of the 2016 logging operation along Cherry Tree Road to understand the threat to the aesthetic and ecological values and overall forest health that Forest Corpse is engaged.
The link between logging and the development of Bell Miner Associated Dieback(BMAD) is now well understood.
Bell Miner Associated Dieback (BMAD) was listed as a Key Threatening Process by the NSW Scientific Committee in 2008. They indicated that the sites most likely to be impacted were where canopy removal was between 35% -65% which contain a dense understory often of Lantana and where there were susceptible eucalypt species and Bell Miner colonies in proximity.
A more recent, independent, systematic literature review confirmed that canopy disturbance (ie logging) a primary causal factor in the development of the key threatening process which is BMAD. Silver, MJ and Carnegie AJ (2017)
The Bell Miners had arrived in Northern Cherry Tree a few years prior to the 2016 logging, unsurprisingly as part of their recent expansion along and beyond the Richmond Range.
However, Bell Miners increased significantly in numbers co incidentally following the 2016 logging in the northern Cherry Tree compartments. Loggers removed hundred-year-old trees from within the ‘aesthetic roadside buffer’ and left a resultant sea of lantana in their path. The diverse grassy understory has largely now been lost along with the abundant small mammals it supported. There has been no attempt to mitigate the impacts of the 2016 logging operation. This has left the forest at high risk of developing full blown Bell Miner Associated Dieback.(BMAD)
Forests further north in the Border ranges have been flogged to near ecosystem collapse as a result of logging disturbance, the proliferation of lantana and subsequent development of BMAD .
If there was sufficient post logging rehabilitation initiated the problem may not be so dire. However, if Forest Corpse were required to undertake effective post logging rehabilitation in these sites it would require many years of follow up (which I’m sure most land carers well understand) and this would render the whole operation even more economically unviable than is presently the case.
So, we have a situation where Forest Corpse have rendered many of the forests in the Border Ranges ‘beyond commercial management’, due to lantana proliferation and BMAD, yet they still claim to practice Ecologically Sustainable Forest Management. They now intend to continue in their reckless path of destruction along the Richmond Range through Cherry Tree State Forest.
Their operations in Cherry Tree in 2016 have all but destroyed the aesthetic values of that part of Cherry Tree Road through disturbance, lantana proliferation and initiation of BMAD. There has been no attempt to mitigate the disturbance through weed control or any restoration activity.
If Forest Corpse are allowed to proceed with their plans their legacy will be an eight-kilometre path of unmitigated destruction along the once aesthetically valued Cherry Tree Road.
(Jim Morrison was a member of the NSW CRA Cultural Heritage Working Group and was Chairman of the Bell Miner Associated Dieback Working Group for fifteen years.)