Victoria’s tall forests

Victoria’s tall forests

The forests of eastern Victoria are a window into Australia’s evolutionary past. They have a long past—make sure they have a living future.

In the east of Victoria you can walk through forest from the coast to snowy mountains, through rainforest environments unlike anywhere else on the continent with an incredible diversity of fungi, plant and animal life to match.

Image: Jaccob Mackay.

There are some parts of Australia that are largely intact, escaping much of the dramatic change wrought by European colonisation. One of these precious places can be found in the tall old forests of Victoria’s east, where landscape processes have continued for millennia and Traditional Owners have long and ongoing connections with continuing custodianship of the land and waters.

Here, an unbroken corridor of thriving vegetation stretches from coast to alps, unlike anywhere else on the Australian mainland. Even after decades of clearfell-logging and successive bushfires you can walk from the coast up through the temperate rainforests of East Gippsland and be met by colossal mountain ash in the Central Highlands.

Ideal conditions

It’s the east of Victoria’s unique position, jutting out between two oceans, that has graced it with such diverse and spectacular forests. The combination of southern cool and eastern warm temperate climates create ideal habitat for rare plants like subalpine beard heath, monkey mint bush and violet westringia. The mighty ash forests begin here too, providing habitat to unique animals like the critically endangered Leadbeater’s possum.

“Knowing just a little about how this mix of rainfall and temperature has shaped the rare rainforests, Gondwanic-era mountain forests, and the species living in them makes this region all the more precious.”—Amelia Young, National Campaigns Director.
Galerina hypnorum, East Gippsland. Image: Stephen Axford.

Warm temperate rainforests thrive in the wet gullies of East Gippsland’s lowlands, fed by moisture coming in off the Southern Ocean. At higher altitudes, sassafras and black olive berry trees form cool temperate rainforest canopies over small streams fringed with elegant ferns and colourful fungi. The variety of forest types, makes the region a window into Australia’s evolutionary past, with plants evolved from ancient species that were growing on the supercontinent of Gondwana hundreds of millions of years ago.

Incredible variety

It's an ark of biodiversity where scientists are still unravelling secrets new to Western knowledge. Only in 2020, the greater glider (Petauroides volans), a nocturnal marsupial that glides through the forest from tree to tree, was found to be not one, but three unique species. If you’re in these forests after dusk, use a torch to catch a glider’s big eyes looking back at you (if you’re lucky).

Up on the plateaus, both warm and cool temperate rainforests exist in close proximity. These places, like the Goolengook valley, are a global rarity because of this and home to rare animals like the long-footed potoroo and sooty owl. Mountain mists swirl through the branches of giant Errinundra shining gums (Eucalyptus denticulata) that have stood sentinel here for 600 years or more.

While in the Central Highlands, the magnificent stands of mountain ash (Eucalyptus regnans) blanket the mountains, the tallest flowering—and the tallest hardwood—trees on Earth.

In issue 1 of Wilderness Journal, in her own words read about National Campaigns Director Amelia Young's strong connection with East Gippsland forests and the journey she took through the region in the aftermath of the catastrophic 2019/2020 bushfires.

Remarkable biodiversity

The greater glider was recently found to be three distinct species. Image: Auscape International Pty Ltd / Alamy Stock Photo.

The sheer variety of forest types in east Victoria and their grand old age—descended from the forests of the Gondwanan supercontinent—have given rise to extraordinary biodiversity. There are a lot of habitat niches and there’s been a lot of time for species plants and animals to evolve to fill them.

Plants like southern sassafras, soft tree-fern, and mountain pepper trees, and myriad primitive mosses and ferns have thrived here for millennia. The East Gippsland galaxias fish is only found in streams in Kuark forest, while these forests are critical habitat for unique Australian species like the endangered long-footed potoroo, greater and yellow-bellied gliders, and spotted quolls. Rare birds like boobooks and powerful owls call from the trees, while striking yellow-tufted honeyeaters and pink robins dart about the understorey.

Revealing just how old Victoria’s tall forests are, the Leadbeater’s possum, thought extinct until its rediscovery in 1961, emerged as a species in these forests some 20 million years ago.

Now its habitat, and that of all the other unique forest species, is under threat from clearfell logging and the worsening effects of climate change. We stand to lose the Leadbeater’s all over again if we don’t protect this remarkable and ancient place.

A world under threat

Victoria’s forests are home to hundreds of rare and threatened species—iconic creatures like the Greater Glider. But they also support humans. These forests clean our air. They work as giant air conditioners for our cities. They provide Melbourne with safe, clean drinking water, contributing $310 million a year to GDP. As tourist destinations, they add $260 million a year to GDP.

Logging Victoria's native forests

That makes them a valuable asset. One the native forest logging industry puts directly at risk.

An end to native forest logging announced by the Andrews government to take place from 2030 from logging, needs to come forward. The Regional Forest Agreements need reform, the exemption for native forest logging activities under the EPBC Act 1999 should be removed. This is one of the recommendations we make in our Creating jobs, protecting forests? report.

Ferns spring back to life in East Gippsland. Image: Ben Baker.

Climate change and megafires

The 2019-2020 megafires decimated Victoria's forests. The fires were so intense that they burnt through rainforests that have never burnt before. Unlike other Australian forest types, temperate rainforest species haven't evolved to cope with fires like this. It was an unprecedented event; the intensity and scale of the fires has been unequivocally linked to climate change, which is making everything hotter and dryer.

The only way to mitigate the effects of climate change, and reduce the chances of disastrous fires like these in the future, is to tackle the root causes. The Wilderness Society is working in key areas all over Australia to stop deforestation and the logging of native forests that are vital carbon sinks. With your support we are also successfully preventing the senseless extraction of more fossil fuels from spectacular wilderness areas like the Great Australian Bight, Munga-Thirri/Simpson Desert and on the doorstep of Wollemi National Park in the Blue Mountains - an important contribution to the bigger emission reductions picture.

The planet can't tolerate anymore warming. We must stop new fossil fuels.

Following the 2019-2020 fires we supported the release of a major report, After the Fires: protecting our forest refuges highlighting critical areas of habitat, refuges for the wildlife that made it through the fires, that need to be spared from logging if endangered species are to stand a chance.

You're making a difference!

With your support we are working hard to safeguard Victoria's forests and the wonderful species that live in them. We’re establishing the Emerald Link, a community-led initiative based on nature-tourism opportunities and a positive vision for the forest and communities of East Gippsland, championing the formation of the Great Forest National Park, and helping people and businesses make an informed and ethical choice about the paper and packaging products they purchase.

Ethical packaging

Cardboard packaging is everywhere. From online shopping to pizza deliveries, many of the products we buy are packaged and transported in cardboard. It’s easy to assume that this cardboard is recycled and has minimal environmental impact. But is this really the case? Make sure your business is using ethical packaging with the help of our guide.