With the meteoric rise of mountain biking in Tasmania’s northeast, the ears of riders across the country pricked up when the words ‘native logging’ and ‘Derby’ found their way into the same sentence. We have lost count of how many readers have reached out to us expressing concern about what’s happening around Blue Derby and to ensure it was on our radar.
This all started in January of this year, when the state-run forestry company, Sustainable Timbers Tasmania (formerly known as Forestry Tasmania) sent out a stakeholder notification detailing its intention to construct a road into and log two coups tenured as Permanent Timber Production Zones that are right next to the trail network. The attached map showed the overlay for roading and logging coming uncomfortably close to the trails. Coup CC105A runs along the hillside between Big Mumma and Trouty, running near Krushkas, while coup CC119A runs along the other side of Krushkas and Dam Busters.
This is not the first time native logging operations have come near the Blue Derby network; in 2016, logging in Mutual Valley saw a coupe near Atlas clear-felled. This can happen because many of the trails fall in production forests and land managed by STT. Long before the trails had ever been conceived, the land was tenured as a Permanent Timber Production Zone.
- Rejuvenation: Restoring Krushkas With The Derby Trail Crew
- Beechworth to Yack and back | The Indigo Epic gets the go-ahead
- The updated case of the Warburton trail network
Dorset Council General Manager Tim Watson tells Flow they have always known that these coupes would be logged at some stage and that STT has made assurances that a 50m buffer will be left between the trails and any logging activity.
When these logging plans were announced, many locals and business operators working in the ecotourism space were expectedly worried. But, for some, the promise from STT and the council that there would be no trail closures, at least a 50-meter buffer between the logging operations, and the singletrack was enough to extinguish their worries.
Still, some are anxious about the broader ramifications, both environmentally and economically.
“All one would need to do is have a walk amongst the lush green forest that many flora and fauna call home, and I can guarantee it would change their mind. This isn’t a young forest. This is old growth, established, deeply rooted, beautiful and lush forest. It really is a sight to see,” Julia Seymour, the owner of Pinned Property Management in Derby, told Flow.
“It saddens me that the council cannot see that this is damaging not only the forests but the potentially bright future of this area. So many people come here to ride their bikes, yes, but the allure of the surrounding forest is a close second. We have people from all walks of life, campers, hikers, riders, fossickers, grey nomads and everything in between. It really isn’t a sustainable practice, and what is to be left for the next generation if it continues?
All in all, it angers me that all of the factual information presented thus far has fallen on deaf ears. Unfortunately, many seem only too happy to turn a blind eye and act as though it is not happening.”
Tara Howell, Director of Blue Derby Pod Rides, offered a similar sentiment.
“Having developed in the network, Steve and I are very aware of these two coups, and they have been concerning because of how close they border to some really beautiful trails,” she said. “We don’t support native forests being clear-felled, and I think it’s so disappointing that the government in Tasmania and around Australia still advocate for it. It’s so backward. I think it potentially will have an effect on the ecotourism industry and the brand of Blue Derby and Tasmania.”
Howell makes an important point here; this is not Blue Derby logging or the Dorset Council logging, and the framework that governs forestry and where it can take place comes from above. However, the politics surrounding native logging is an issue that goes well beyond mountain biking, and the story of the forestry operations around Derby is complex. And while there will not be heavy equipment pushing into your favourite berm on Dam Busters, there are less tangible consequences that may affect the reputation of the trail network — both in the harvesting of the trees and the words written on this page.
The Blue Derby Trail network falls across multiple land tenures, but the area in question falls under a land tenure called a Permanent Timber Production Zone.
“We’re the responsible land managers for that (PTPZ) zone, and we manage that area for a whole range of values,” says Dion McKenzie, Engagement and Land Management Manager from Sustainable Timbers Tasmania. “One of the things that we are doing is that we have two areas adjacent to those trails which we would like to do some harvesting next summer, which are adjacent to the network. They don’t overlap the trail but run basically beside one of the trails known as Krushkas.”
Quite a few times in our interview with McKenzie, he stressed that at no point do they intend to cross the trail, and there will be no closures related to logging activity.
“One of the commitments we’ve made is that we are not going to do any harvesting within 50-meters of any trail, though it may end up being bigger than that once we finalise the harvesting design.”
So to reiterate, the trees on the Kruskas and Atlas are not a part of these coups, and STT has committed to leaving at least a 50m buffer.
It is also worth noting that, when World Trail was in the design and build process, they were aware of these specific coups and purposely routed the trail around them to avoid issues when their numbers did come up for harvest.
When we spoke to McKenzie, STT was in the process of constructing access roads into those two areas and then finalising the harvesting plans. When asked how the coups would be harvested, Mckenzie said the final decision is yet to be made, but the current front-runner was a process known as ‘aggregated retention.’ Since this interview took place, STT has confirmed to Flow that one coupe will be harvested using seed tree retention and the other aggregated retention.
Once harvested, STT will do a high-intensity regeneration burn to eliminate the remaining biomass and resew with Eucalyptus seeds gathered from the surrounding area.
Mckenzie also notes that the roading infrastructure for logging doesn’t magically disappear once the operation is complete and can continue to be used in the future.
“The coupe context is also incorporated into the detailed operational planning and scheduling. This can include longer-term use of roads to enhance access for mountain bike trails, apiary sites, forest management and fire protection,” he says.
We should point out that Blue Derby probably never would have happened without help and support from STT, and Mckenzie, who is a mountain biker himself, stressed that the company “recognises and itself values mountain biking.”
Permanent Timber Production Zone and Future Potential Production Forest
On the edge of the STT overlays for the planned coupes, you may notice the red cross-hatched section marked as FPPF (Crown), which stands for Future Potential Production Forest. Using the Land tenure maps provided by the Tasmanian Government, if we zoom out, it’s clear to see that trails like Atlas, Black Dragon, Shear Pin, Axehead, Relics Dam Busters and Krushkas all fall within this zone, and the western end is classified as a Permanent Timber Production Zone.
Even though the land may be classed as a PTPZ, it will not necessarily be logged. However, when World Trail designed the trail alignments for Kingswall and Roxanne, the topography pushed small sections into the outer edge of forestry coups.
“It was always the intent that we wouldn’t do that,” says Watson. “But to get the alignments that we needed, we knew that we would need to move the trails into forestry coups. STT was kind enough to accommodate us in that respect.”
“What this means is the mountain bike network, or if you like the footprint (of Blue Derby), will be protected into perpetuity,” Watson says.
Watson tells Flow that just like the coups near Krushkas and Atlas, the council always knew that at some point they would be logged, and when it was their time, discussions would take place to ensure the activities did not disrupt the trails. However, since those trails were constructed, Blue Derby has become an international icon.
“They (STT) have approached us with a concept which would see those coups, where the trails do go into, that they would remove those logging coups from the working forest, and encapsulate them into some reserve or management plan, which would mean those coups would never be logged,” he says.
“They (STT) have been supportive from day one, and this is their initiative to put a protective circle around Derby,” Watson continues.
“What this means is the mountain bike network, or if you like the footprint (of Blue Derby), will be protected into perpetuity,” he says.
According to the Blue Derby Website, this agreement would incorporate the adjoining forestry land into the network. These coups would effectively become the buffer between the trails and any forestry operations.
Watson tells Flow the wheels are in motion, and STT is currently working with the Parks and Wildlife Service and the council to figure out whether this would be in the form of a reserve, some management plan or a memorandum of understanding.
“I would imagine this will be finalised in the next six to 12-months, but my understanding is that STT is keen to make this happen,” Watson says.
However, this would not apply to the FPPF land because it is managed by the Tasmanian Department of Primary Industries, Parks, Water and Environment.
“I think mountain bikers can have a high degree of confidence there would be an extensive process before it (the FPPF) would be considered to be converted to forestry land,” Watson says. “I would be very confident we don’t have any concerns about Atlas or Dam Busters being logged in the future.”
The FPPF land was part of ‘The Forest Agreement’ in 2012, which converted 100,000ha of land to reserves and classified a further 400,000ha as ‘Future Reserve Land.’ After the state election in 2014, legislation was passed that renamed these as ‘Future Potential Production Forests.’
This legislation allowed the forest to be converted to PTPZ (Permanent Timber Production Zone) from April 2020. But for that to happen, it would need to be approved by ministers and both houses of the Tas Parliament.
“I think mountain bikers can have a high degree of confidence there would be an extensive process before it (the FPPF) would be considered to be converted to forestry land,” he says. “I would be very confident we don’t have any concerns about Atlas or Dam Busters being logged in the future.”
Beyond the buffer
While a 50m buffer of dense forest will likely mean if you ride Krushkas, you will probably be totally oblivious to the extensive logging operations that have taken place on the other side. But this buffer does feel a bit like blinders.
And just because something is happening 50m away, and it’s not in the direct line of sight, doesn’t mean that it’s not happening, nor does it mean that you will be free of its long term effects.
STT has confirmed that the coups in question will not be clear-felled, but instead, they will use aggregated retention and seed tree retention, which are pitched as more sustainable alternatives.
“Because the research around clear-felling was showing such a huge impact, the forestry industry in Tasmania started looking at alternatives,” explains Dr Nick Fitzgerald, an Ecologist specialising in old-growth forests and terrestrial biodiversity. “All of these selection methods, like aggregated retention, are basically variations where they will clear-fell the majority but leave little islands behind.”
“For aggregated retention, they might log 80 or 90-per cent of the coup and leave little patches, so you have got a little habitat that might support some of the mosses and ferns that take a really long time to come back. They are also leaving some of these larger trees that have some of the hollows that owls and eagles need for nesting,” he continues.
According to the Technical Bulletin 5 Native Forest Silviculture used by STT, in a seed tree retention coup, “All trees are harvested other than seven to twelve well-spaced trees per hectare. Seed trees should be of good form and quality with healthy, balanced crowns and adequate seed crops. The proportion of species present on the site before harvesting should be reflected in the retained trees. Any advance growth should be retained undisturbed. A higher retention rate should be used in grassy forests and sites prone to windthrow, e.g. granite soils on ridges in north-east Tasmania.”
“What tends to happen is that a lot of the trees that are retained on the site tend to get badly damaged and that dramatically undermines their life standing up,” says Dr David Lindenmayer AO, Professor of Ecology and Conservation Biology at the Australian National University.
Regardless of the harvest method, you will hear a lot about the ‘edge effect.’ Looking at the 50m buffer or the islands of forest left behind after the harvest, there is a new edge composed of trees, understory ferns, mosses and other plants that were previously in the deep dark middle of the forest, now out in the open being exposed to wind and sunlight.
“This is an area that has attracted quite a lot of research around the world, and there certainly is an edge effect, and it has been shown in many places around the world, and there have been specific research in Tasmania,” explains Fitzgerald. “Usually, you’re getting more sunlight coming in, and if you take out the tree canopy on the one side, you’re getting more wind exposure, and it’s getting dryer. This does have an effect, especially on those plants that require a fully moist environment. But the effect is limited within a few metres of that forest edge.”
While the edge effect due to the change in environment is primarily kept within a few metres of the edge, the high-intensity regeneration burns pose a more significant risk after the logging is complete.
“What tends to happen is that a lot of the trees that are retained on the site tend to get badly damaged and that dramatically undermines their life standing up,” says Dr David Lindenmayer AO, Professor of Ecology and Conservation Biology at the Australian National University. “It’s quite a problem, and we have tracked that in Victoria, in quite similar kinds of forest to what you would be dealing with around Derby.”
These high-intensity burns are designed to vaporise all the debris left behind after the logging operation has finished up, prime the soil for resewing, and trigger any remaining ground stored seeds to germinate that have not been removed or turned up. The trouble is even under extremely experienced supervision, high-intensity forest fires are challenging to control.
“They do often burn the retained vegetation within the coup, and in Victoria, the experience is they do occasionally escape and burn into the adjacent area (the buffer). I don’t have the data on how frequently it happens, but it’s happened on quite a number of occasions that I’ve seen anecdotally,” says Lindenmayer.
According to Lindenmayer, after the trees have been harvested, you can have more than 450-tonnes of biomass per hectare that’s left behind.
“Roughly half of that is volatilised in the regeneration burn, and the remaining half undergoes rapid decomposition in the forest, releasing methane and other greenhouse gasses,” he says.
Once this process is complete, STT will go through and resew the forest. Mckenzie tells Flow that the resewing happens two ways depending on the harvest system used.
“In most partial harvest systems, seedlings come from seed dropped by retained trees where there is sufficient access to disturbed soil to allow for the germination. In clear-fell and aggregated retention harvesting, seed is collected and stored, and then aerially applied following regeneration burning,” Mckenzie says. “The seed is sourced from the harvested area or the surrounding forest and therefore represents the eucalyptus species present on the site. Only eucalypt seed is sown, and understorey species regenerate from either ground stored seed, coppicing or recruitment from surrounding forests. Eucalypts create conditions for other species to grow as part of the understorey.”
When Flow spoke to Mckenzie, he noted that the Forest Practice Plans for these coups had not been developed yet, so he could not say with certainty what species would be resewed but speculated it would likely be Eucalyptus obliqua which is common in the area. The 2016 harvest adjacent to Krushkas saw both Eucalyptus obliqua and Eucalyptus regnans sowed.
The Black Summer bushfire crisis
Beyond the climate implications and emissions from this harvesting operation, the 50m buffer will likely be sufficient to insulate the trails. There is every possibility that during and after the harvest is complete, riding down Krushkas, you will be none the wiser, and the resewed trees will grow back up and fill in what was lost.
The thing that could affect the scenery on Krushkas, however, is a bushfire.
“The empirical work shows that when the forest is logged and then regenerated, it becomes more prone to high severity fire for about 40-years after logging. This work has been done in the wet forests of Victoria, the wet forests in Tasmania, the wet forests in Western North America, and the wet forest in Patagonia, and has shown a strong relationship between forest flammability and stand age,” Lindenmayer says.
Lindenmayer has studied this topic extensively and published peer-reviewed literature on how logging affects various forest types, including wet eucalypt forests like those around Derby. According to his and other ecologist’s work, logging in dry forests can reduce the risk of high severity fire, while the opposite is true in moist forests, including tropical rain forests.
According to Lindenmayer, the combination of the loss of understory vegetation, the change in microclimate due to increased wind and the density of young trees creates a trifecta of conditions for a bushfire to thrive.
According to a meta-study conducted by the Bush Fire Recovery Project (of which Lindenmayer is a collaborator), a joint project between Griffith University and ANU, which reviewed 51-peer review papers and found that trees between seven and 36-years old are more likely to experience high severity fire, and young trees were seven times more likely to experience canopy scorching, and crown fire than older growth stands.
Of course, bush fire risk does not necessarily mean that this area of the forest will burn, but given we are only a little more than a year on from the Black Summer bush fires, which charred an estimated total of 18.6-million hectares of forest, 35,000 of which on the Apple Isle, it’s also not something that can be ignored.
What happens to the trees?
Whether it be floorboards, roof trusses, Ikea furniture, cardboard boxes that bikes are shipped in, or coffee cups, wood and paper products are everywhere. We hear a lot from the forestry industry about when trees are cut down; the carbon remains stored because it goes into the frame of a house, furniture, or other products that have an extended life.
So of out that, 2-per cent goes to make long term wood products like window frames, veneer, fine cabinets and furniture,” explains Lindenmayer.
But, remember that 450-tonne of biomass per hectare that’s left behind following a harvest?
“(Only) forty per cent of the biomass of a forest gets taken out of the forests for wood products, so 60-per cent is left behind (in the logging coup). Of that 40-per cent, 29-per cent goes into the paper and woodchip stream, and roughly 20-per cent of that gets converted into paper, so 9-per cent is waste,” explains Lindenmayer.
“The remaining 11-per cent goes into solid wood products, seven per cent of that becomes waste in the process of sawing up the timber — that’s offcuts and sawdust. That leaves you with four per cent that goes to make timber products, four per cent,” says Lindenmayer. “In a Victorian context, two per cent of that four per cent goes into making shipping pallets for carting beer and other things, which have a life span in the carbon cycle of about three to six months before they go into the landfill. So of out that, 2-per cent goes to make long term wood products like window frames, veneer, fine cabinets and furniture.”
Again, as Lindenmayer mentioned, these stats are in a Victorian context (you can read more about it here). The only comparison we could dig up in a Tasmanian context comes from The Australia Institute, a political think tank. Because of that, we are hesitant to quote the exact figures, but they are pretty similar to the numbers above, which are backed by peer review evidence.
What about jobs and the local economy?
Derby is an overwhelming success story. Since the trails were opened in 2015, it’s gone from a town with a single shop run by the council to such a success that just about every small town that puts in trails is vying to be the next Derby.
In 2017, Mayor Greg Howell told the ABC the trails were attracting 30,000 visitors a year, who would stay four or five nights in Derby and then another five somewhere else on the island, which adds up to an estimated $30-million-a-year return on a $3.1-million investment.
It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to work out that Blue Derby has become even more popular. Still, from publicly available documents, it’s difficult to tie down exactly how many tourism dollars are flowing in from riders visiting Blue Derby. However, according to Tourism Tasmania’s Tasmanian Visitor Survey data, Derby welcomed 79,800 interstate and international visitors 12 months before March 2020. Furthermore, this same survey says over the past 5-years, Derby has experienced a 14% average annual growth in visitation.
Data from this survey shows MTB tourists stay in Tassie an average of 12.5 nights and spend on average $2,540 per person during their stay, higher than the average visitor to Tasmania, who spends $1,920 per visitor. According to reporting in The Australian, the council conducted a rough survey to calculate all the jobs in Derby proper created due to the mountain bike trails and came up with 120.
“The native forestry sector does not contribute widespread economic returns.”
Delving into Sustainable Timbers annual reports, they are making profits, but it’s not all that black and white. STT reported earnings of $4-million this year, down from $39-million last year — likely due largely to Covid. Two million of that profit comes from market gains on the value of timber plantations, whereas in 2019, STT made a cash loss but still earned a net profit thanks to the $43-million in the market growth of timber. According to the STT 2019/2020 annual report, it employs 153 people, with 148 of those positions being full-time equivalent — this does not take into account many of the contractors and subcontractors driving trucks and running machinery in the field.
This comparison of two entities in wildly different industries doesn’t really make a ton of sense until we look at it through the lens of what each industry does for the local economy.
In 2016 PwC conducted an in-depth report on Native Forestry, delving into the economic contribution of this sector to both regional and urban areas across Victoria and found “the native forestry sector does not contribute widespread economic returns.”
The report details the level of capital investment required to support a single full-time job in various sectors and found a single full-time job in Native Forestry required 22-times more outlay than jobs in the tourism sector like accommodation and food services.
Of course, this is not an apples to apples comparison as Vic Forests is not the same entity as STT. What is closer to apples to apples, call it a red delicious to pink lady comparison, the Victorian Central Highlands, encompassing Warburton and the Otways. Both were sawmilling areas and are now MTB destinations.
“We did an economic and environmental accounting for the Central Highlands Region (in Victoria), and what we discovered is the value of tourism to GDP is roughly 20-times the value of the woodchip and paper pulp native timber industry, and it employs approximately ten-times the number of people,” says Lindenmayer.
“If you look at the (job) multiplier effect alone, a job in the sawmilling industry, you add another 1.7 jobs. If I take a job in the paper pulp industry, I multiply that by 1.1 jobs. If I take a job in the tourism sector, it multiplies by seven,” says Lindenmayer. So the relative (job) multipliers to the service industry are roughly seven to one.”
What does this all mean for Blue Derby?
Many of the Derby locals that Flow spoke to reporting this story were uncomfortable with what was happening and were worried that people would misconstrue that the logging in coups CC105A, CC119A was actually inside the network. It would hurt not only Blue Derby’s image but also their business.
To reiterate, STT is not logging within the network and has assured us that a minimum of a 50m buffer will be left between any of their operations and the trail network. So that means no trail closures. So you won’t be riding through a clear-fell on Krushkas, and the logging operations will be seed tree retention and aggregated retention, not a true clear-fell. In fact, as we speak, STT is actively working to prevent logging near Blue Derby in the future.
This doesn’t take away from the fact; native logging is a supremely unpopular industry. A study leaked to the ABC in 2018 titled, “Community Perceptions of Australia’s Forest, Wood and Paper Industries: Implications for Social License to Operate”, which was commissioned by Forest Wood and Products Australia, found that 65-per cent of rural-based respondents thought that native forest logging was unacceptable. But, according to the ABC reporting, this study had not been peer-reviewed at the time. A few years on, we could not find the full text anywhere — though apparently it was circulated within the federal Department of Agriculture.
Native logging practices are also one reason why STT has twice been unable to obtain Forest Stewardship Council (FCS) certification. At the same time, there is also evidence this stamp of approval might not be as prestigious as once thought.
If you’ve made it this far, you will have probably worked out that this is a very complex issue, one which over 4,000-words in, we haven’t even scratched the surface. So, what can you do?
Louise Morris from environmental advocacy and citizen science group Blue Derby Wild says the best thing you can do is talk about it.
“Whether you’ve come to Derby to ride our trails or come to the northeast, not only to ride the trails but also to experience the whole place, talk to the businesses you are frequenting about it; whether it be the shuttle companies or the accommodation, or pubs and restaurants. Talk about what keeps you coming back and the value of the forests beyond the mountain bike trails. The advocacy of customers is priceless,” she says.
“Tasmanians kind of take it for granted; we are so used to being surrounded by such beauty and diversity, we don’t appreciate the way that people who come from other parts of the world do. I think sometimes we need to be reminded of this,” Morris says.
Derby’s roots are in mining and resource extraction and boom and bust. If you go into the Derby Townhall, School House Museum, or Two Doors Down Cafe, there are pictures of what the hills around town looked like back when precious metals were being pulled out of the ground and trees were being cut down willy nilly by the operations of the time. When comparing those photos to what the hills look like now, you wouldn’t believe you’re looking at the same place.
Some will argue that the forests have already been degraded and look how strong they have come back. But this is not a fair comparison; we are comparing handsaws to bulldozers. About a century on, some really mature trees nearly have the hollows needed to support endangered owl, eagle and parrot species. And it begs the question of what that is worth?
At the same time, some may say we are blowing things out of proportion, and if your concern is just for the trails, the harvesting of a coupe that has been on the books since before the trail network was built, chances are you will still be unfazed. Based on what we know about the new protective cocoon around the trail network, the harvest on coups CC105A, CC119A will probably be the last anywhere near Derby — or for at least as long as this writer lives.
But for those whose purview goes beyond just the trails, you probably share some of the same concerns as the businesses and conservation groups that call Derby home.