European settlement in the area began in 1828 with cattle stations in the Murramarang-Bawley Point area. Some of these areas are still used for cattle grazing. The main impetus for settlement and subsequent development of the region was, however, the timber industry. The area is an example of a landscape which has undergone continuous modification through timber getting since the 1850’s. Commercial sawmilling began around 1852 with the construction of a sawmill near Cockwhy Creek and a subsequent mill at Batemans Bay in 1870. Substantial mills also operated at Kioloa (1882) and Bawley Point (1891) and by the 1920’s sawmills also operated at Pebbly Beach, East Lynne, Benandarah and Flat Rock. (Australian Heritage Commission, 1983).

The first sawmill in the Durras area was operated by the McMillans during the approximate period of 1905 to 1930. The boiler and timber remnants of this mill still stand at Wasp Head. From 1905 onwards sleeper cutters worked in the area. Sawlogs were snigged to wharves around Durras Lake by bullocks, where they were loaded by steam winch on to a paddle wheel punt and transported across the Lake to South Durras. There they were unloaded on to horse-drawn trolleys and transported to the McMillan’s mill at the southern end of Beagle Bay (Forestry Commission of NSW, 1988). The tramlines became obsolete with the introduction of the motor lorry. Most small mills were allocated a particular area of forest to work. When all the suitable timber was removed within approximately an 8 km radius, the mills and workers packed up and moved on (Australian Heritage Commission, 1983).

Small villages would develop and disappear in response to the mill’s movement. Much of the historic technology associated with the production of sawn-timber is still present and forms a significant source of information detailing the historic processes and subsequent development of the industry and the lifestyle of the people who worked in the forests. Historic relics of the loading process, in the form of stone and cement jetty supports and parts of the timber and metal loading punts, are still visible at Kioloa Beach, Bawley Point and Durras Lake. Rail timbers and spikes are visible at Pebbly Beach, Depot Beach, East Lynne, Cullendulla Creek and a number of other points along the old tram system (Australian Heritage Commission, 1983).

Grazing was carried out in the area from the 1920’s. Much of the vegetation on Durras Mountain’s rich, volcanic soils was cleared for a dairy and other agriculture. Remnant species such as Bangalow Palm (Archontophoenix cunninghamiana), Black Pencil Cedar (Polyscias murrayi) and Giant Maidenhair (Adiantum formosum) indicate that Durras Mountain supported extensive rainforest. The foundations of three houses and associated out-houses, tanks, stone fences and gardens can still be seen on the top of the mountain (NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service, 1998).

A coastal strip of 975 hectares, including four offshore islands, was gazetted as Murramarang National Park in May 1973. Small areas were added soon after, and two blocks of about 300 hectares each at North Head and Acheron Ledge were added in 1977 and 1979. These were purchased under the Coastal Lands Protection Scheme (Wright, 1996). In 1996 after an 8 year campaign, the Friends of Durras and the NSW Government purchased a further 370 hectares of private land on the south-east corner of Durras Lake. This was added to Murramarang National Park bringing it to its present size of approximately 1,970 hectares.

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Since European settlement, almost 70% of all Australia’s native vegetation has been removed or significantly modified, including the loss of about 40% of total forest area and 75% of rainforest. As much land was cleared over the last 50 years as over the previous 150 years. Native vegetation throughout Australia is being cleared at a rate of more than 600 000 hectares per year - about half the rate of clearing in the Brazilian Amazon in 1990-91.

Agriculture, urban development and forestry have been, and remain responsible for continuing this large scale habitat modification and the accompanying loss of biodiversity (Department of Environment, Sport and Territories, 1996).

The Forestry Commission of NSW (undated) admits that "the clearing of forests (in the past) generally proceeded without consideration of longer-term consequences, and it was not until early this century that cutting began to be controlled. The State’s first forest managers relied heavily on European forestry experience and practices. These were not particularly relevant to Australia, where tree species, soil types, climate and terrain are all different. (A number of factors) all inevitably contributed to over-exploitation." It goes on to claim that "Now times have changed. Through research, the accumulation of a wealth of experience in forest management, and advances in inventory techniques, we have the knowledge and skills needed to manage our forests so that they will continue to produce timber and provide us with the other benefits we seek from them."

Few would disagree that early forest management practices proceeded without consideration of the long-term consequences. The massive loss of national forest cover and biodiversity is testimony to that. Many forest ecologists would however, disagree that current forestry practices will continue "to provide us with the other benefits we seek from (our forests)."

In the Benandarah area from the mid 1800’s to around the 1950’s, the sawmiller’s specifications for sawlog removal was that logs had to be greater than 6 feet girth (1.8 metres) and 59 cms diameter with a volume of at least 1 000 to 1 500 super feet or 3 to 4.5 cubic metres. Logs also had to be very sound. As a consequence, though logging was widespread, it was very selective (Forestry Commission of NSW, 1988). Murramarang National Park was extensively logged prior to its declaration as a park in 1973. It was the very selective nature of logging in the early days which left standing, many of the old, high quality, habitat trees - trees not sound enough to meet sawmiller’s specifications.

In the early 1960’s forest management and practices became more intensive and manipulative. Logging operations in the area were followed by "silviculture treatment, intensive culling and ringbarking, in order to obtain large regeneration openings, free advance growth and improve conditions for the regrowth" (Forestry Commission of NSW, 1988). The Australian Heritage Commission (1989) laments the changes in forest management over the past thirty years or so. "It is during this period that intensive harvesting of forests has become widely practiced. Before this, most harvesting relied on selective logging (as was the case in the Benandarah area). This caused some damage - but it at least left most of the forest standing and tended to allow natural regeneration to occur, and diversity to be maintained."

There are many terms used to describe the new types of forest management depending on the intensity of harvesting. Clearfelling is one harvesting practice which involves removing almost the entire forest. Others are "pulpwood harvesting", "full sunlight regeneration" or "integrated harvesting."

"Integrated harvesting" is the practice currently employed in the Benandarah, Kioloa and Brooman State Forests. This is defined as the process of logging eucalypt forest for pulpwood, sawn timber, mining timber, poles etc., and the suite of activities (eg. roading, prescribed fire, silviculture) associated with the process (Norton and May, 1993/5).

Trees like "the big tree" in Benandarah State Forest were spared the axe during the era of selective logging. With a girth of 8.4 metres and diameter of 260 cms it far exceeded the sawmiller specified 1.8 metre girth, 59 cm diameter. But it was hollow, unsound and therefore unsuitable as a sawlog. The massive, Spotted Gum well over two hundred years old is now a local tourist icon and a magnificent habitat tree for hollow dependant birds and arboreal marsupials.

State Forests’ 1996 Benandarah 133 Harvesting Plan seals the fate of "the big tree" and many other "mature and overmature trees scattered at various densities throughout the regrowth" of the whole of the "Greater" Murramarang National Park. These magnificent old-growth specimens, "the large unmerchantable trees, are culled to encourage regeneration and the release of young healthy trees." They are turned into woodchips.

Although ecological research on native forests ecosystems in Australia is relatively young compared to Europe and North America, there is now a substantial body of scientific information indicating that integrated forestry harvesting does result in significant detrimental impacts on eucalypt forest biodiversity. Indeed, major concerns have been expressed by CSIRO forest ecologists (Tyndale-Biscoe and Calaby 1975, McIlroy 1978) about the impacts of harvesting on forest-dependent fauna since the 1970’s.

The confident claims of State Forests that an "accumulation of a wealth of experience in forest management, and advances in inventory techniques, have (given them) the knowledge and skills needed to manage our forests so that they will continue to produce timber and provide us with the other benefits we seek from them" is disputed by CSIRO forest ecologists, The Australian Heritage Commission and many other scientists. They believe that knowledge of Australia’s forests, diverse forest ecosystems and their dynamics is poor. Norton and May (1993/5) suggest the disparity in confidence levels between State Forests and the scientific community, lies in the limited appreciation by non-scientists of the real value of scientific information. Scientific information is normally quantified and testable. There is a considerable body of quantifiable and testable scientific information indicating that integrated harvesting can result in significant detrimental impacts on forest biodiversity. Biodiversity is one of the "benefits we seek" from our forests and expect forest managers to maintain and safeguard. Rather than ignore scientific information or attempt to discredit it through political and media processes, Norton and May (1995) believe it would seem more logical to use it for informed public debate and decision making. We must cease to regard biodiversity as something to be traded off against short term economic gains.

Foresters such as Dr Florence (1996) from the Australian National University’s Department of Forestry even cast doubt on the ability of forest mangers to manage some of our forests for timber production. In most Spotted Gum forests, regrowth normally develops from lignotuberous growth. In high quality (wet sclerophyll) Spotted Gum forests on lower slope sites, such as found in much of the "Greater" Murramarang National Park, lignotuberous regrowth development is not highly successful. A survey 10-15 years after heavy logging showed that only 42% of the study area carried a vigorous stocking of Spotted Gum regrowth; 16% of the area had no Spotted Gum regrowth at all, and on the remaining 42%, any Spotted Gum stems were relatively weak and usually dominated by more vigorous Acacias. Florence speculates that selective logging in the mid 1800’s to mid 1900’s would have left most of the overstory canopy and restricted the development of the shrub stratum. Light burning would have helped to maintain the forest in open condition. Lignotuber regrowth was able to develop and survived due to the absence of the more persistent Acacia and other shrub species. More recent heavy logging opened the canopy and where Spotted Gum seedlings did become established, they lacked the early vigour of Acacia and other shrub species which typically regenerate in waves on disturbed wet schlerophyll forest sites.

Post-harvesting rehabilitation of Compartment 133 was to occur through the "natural seeding and regeneration of canopy, understory and ground cover plants" (State Forests, 1996). Florence casts doubt on the success of natural seeding for eucalypt species. "When an overmature, mixed eucalypt-rainforest community is felled and the debris burned, massive Acacia regrowth may develop very rapidly from soil-stored seed." As is the case with lignotuberous regrowth of Spotted Gum, the more vigorous Acacia regrowth often overwhelms eucalypt seedlings and results in poor re-stocking. Unlike the hard-coated Acacia seed, eucalypt seed will only remain viable for a short time in the soil, probably no more than 6-12 months.

In forests which have been selectively cut-over from time to time and silviculturally treated to remove large, ‘useless’ trees, the full growth potential of Spotted Gum has been found to be lacking and expressed in only a few trees per hectare. Florence believes this would be the pattern common to many eucalypt forests with such a history of management.

Florence believes that modern silviculture practice has been concerned largely with the harvesting of existing growing stock in order to meet shorter term supply objectives. As such it has not taken active account of the ecological and structural diversity which characterises many eucalypt forests. Consequently the effect on the forest condition has been variable, particularly in terms of the adequacy of regeneration and productivity of the growing stock. Moreover, Florence warns, this could lead in time to an imbalance in the distribution of size classes within the growing stock.

Squirrel Glider

Squirrel Glider

Lesley Wallington – FoD

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Documented literature on wildfire in the "Greater" Murramarang National Park is scarce. A large wildfire occurred in the East Lynne area, west of the park in 1952. Much of Boyne State Forest was burnt out. The northern Murramarang National Park was also burnt when the fire moved east as far as the sea near Pebbly Beach. In the South Durras area wildfires have occurred in 1945-46 (Benandarah Creek), 1963-64 (South Emily Miller Beach), 1964-65 (West Bartley’s Arm), 1968-69 (Point Upright), 1971 and 1980 (south-east Durras Lake). In the October 1971 wildfire, much of the area surrounding South Durras was burnt, including the southern Murramarang National Park and the north-east portion of Benandarah State Forest (Craven, 1985). The most recent wildfire was in northern Kioloa State Forest in 1997-98.

The Bush Fires Act obligates both State Forests and the NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service to actively manage forest fuel levels to ensure they are kept at strategically low enough levels to allow for effective control of wildfire.

Fire is also used by State Forests as a management tool. Prescribed burning is undertaken to:

  • "provide an environment conducive to the regeneration of commercial canopy species;
  • reduce forest fuels generated by harvesting to a level that will not support a fire of high intensity which has the potential to damage the retained forest stands; and
  • reduce the fine fuels on the ground and provide a favorable seed bed for subsequent natural regeneration to occur (State Forests of NSW, 1996)."

Low intensity prescribed burns are also conducted to burn heaps of harvesting slash and debris.

Because of the extensive moist forests of Murramarang and its coastal location, the park has not been subjected to frequent fire. In fact the frequency of wildfire in the entire "Greater" Murramarang National Park is low with most of the area last burnt by wildfire over 25 years ago. Most wildfires have originated in State Forest to the west of Murramarang National Park and spread under the influence of north westerly winds.

Rainforest is vulnerable to fire. Where fires do burn into rainforest there is an opportunity for eucalypts to become established, to gain dominance over rainforest species, and to form a mixed sclerophyll-rainforest community. The relatively small surviving pockets of rainforest within the sclerophyll forest of the "Greater" Murramarang National Park are associated with niches where wildfires have rarely penetrated.

The NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service believe that broad area hazard reduction, the fire management strategy of State Forests, has no application in the "Greater" Murramarang National Park because of the extensive areas of moist forest and fire sensitive rainforest pockets. They also point out that the coastal heath and scrub communities have developed in a littoral environment and do not need fire to regenerate. These and the fire sensitive moist/rainforest communities should be burnt as little as possible to maintain their high floristic and habitat values and to avoid potential vegetation damage from exposure to salt laden winds and storms (NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service, 1998). The Forestry Commission of NSW (1988) Working Plan for the Durras Lake Flora Reserve states that "all reasonable efforts shall be made to keep the Reserve free from fire." As is the case with beekeeping (p.78), State Forests appears to have distinct and often conflicting management strategies for conservation forests and those they consider production forests.

Much of our native flora and fauna has evolved with fire and relies upon particular fire regimes for continued survival. With settlement, however, the timing, frequency and intensity of these fires has changed. Although fire is a necessary part of many ecosystems, it can also be damaging. Inappropriate fire regimes - for example, fires of high or low intensity that are too frequent or insufficiently frequent - can lead to loss of native species, communities and ecosystems. Burning can promote the invasion of native vegetation by weeds, sometimes leading to increased fire hazard within a short time, and prescribed fires can escape and become wildfires (Commonwealth Government of Australia, 1996).

The effects of fire regimes on wildlife is generally largely unknown. There is, however, ample evidence that shortly after burning or logging some species are more abundant than before, while for other species the reverse occurs. With time these effects may disappear but some effects such as those on animal species that require tree hollows (Appendix 7) will persist for 200 or more years (Pyke and O’Connor, 1991). Fire has been noted as an agent of both hollow formation and destruction. Intense or repeated burning may create a shortage of natural hollows but has also been observed to facilitate the process of hollow formation. Fire has also been observed to increase the number of dead, hollow-bearing stags in a stand and hasten the collapse of such stems. Dead trees or stags are particularly vulnerable to incineration by fire (Gibbons and Lindenmayer, 1997).

Thanks to a long history of forestry fire management practices, we are generally well versed in the requirements of most of the important forest overstory species; however, the case for the lesser plants - the understory - is not so well understood. Frequent repeated fires are likely to significantly alter the species diversity and structure of plant communities and may eliminate plant species from local areas. Bark on trees will take an estimated 15-25 years to recover to pre-burn conditions, and it has been found that almost no burnt trees have enough bark to support a second fire within three years. Species that rely on seeding to regenerate (obligate re-seeders) can be forced into local extinction by a second fire prior to seed set (Lord, 1996). The strategy of creating an ash bed to favour seed regeneration reflects a short-term improved availability of nutrients.

Balanced against this effect is the possibility of a long-term depletion of nutrients by leaching, run-off, and possibly most significantly, through volatilisation. It has been estimated that these losses may be in the order of 60% of the nitrogen and sulphur and 50% of the phosphorus in the fuel. The impact of repeated low intensity burns on the nutrient status of the forest soils has still to be assessed. Regardless of its intensity any fire will lead to some increase in the exposure of the surface soil to agents of erosion. Nutrients are mobilised and can be lost in runoff. Significant soil properties can also be altered, including dispersion characteristics which could lead to an increase in erosion hazard (Hall, 1996).

Studies by Hall (1996) in the Gembrook State Forest in Victoria indicated that the erosion hazard from frequent prescribed burning was substantially increased (at least ten fold), that significant nutrient movement occurred and that some important physical properties of soil were affected. The soil of a forest is one of its principal components and it may be that the short term protection afforded by fuel reduction burning could cause long term loss of productivity.

There is little information on the effects of fire frequency on forest invertebrates. Studies do indicate that frequent fire does eliminate habitat specialists that require conditions which only develop later in vegetation succession. Frequent low intensity fire resulted in a change in ant community composition and structure. There was a loss of habitat and dietary specialists, an increase in the number of generalists and a dramatic increase in the abundance of disturbance indicator specialists. The studies suggest that, although species richness may be maintained at a local scale, the widespread use of low intensity, prescribed burning practice will result in the loss of invertebrate biodiversity on a regional basis (York, 1994).

Rather than the frequent, ‘broad acre,’ low intensity, prescribed burns which form the basis of State Forests’ fire management strategy, the NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service engage in other strategies of limited burning combined with slashing and hand-tool work adjacent to villages and recreation facilities to maintain a low fuel buffer. Their fire management strategy is calculated to offer protection to particularly sensitive areas such as wet sites and swamp communities, nesting sites of Sea Eagles, prime Yellow-bellied Glider habitat and the Casuarina littoralis stands which are important food source for the threatened Glossy Black Cockatoo (NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service, 1996).

There is still much to be learned about the optimum fire regime needed to maintain dynamic forest communities. There remains a paucity of data on the responses of particular taxa, species and ecosystems. There is especially few data on the effects of repeated burning on flora and fauna, and a major impediment to our understanding of fire effects is time. There is an urgent need to assess effects of present State Forest fire management practices on flora and fauna and to incorporate ecological burning practices into fire management plans (Wilson, 1996).

At this stage, a cautious approach involving variable regimes should be adopted in the use of prescribed fire, until its impacts and its role in vegetation management are better understood (Commonwealth Government of Australia, 1996). High frequency, low intensity fires can effectively simplify the forest ecosystem. The risk State Forests is taking is that simple systems are less stable. When they manipulate a forest ecosystem they should be confident of the long term consequences, but with the current level of understanding they can do little better than guess about possible implications (Hall, 1996). It would appear that State Forests current prescribed burning fire regime is far too simplistic and has not taken account of new research. In the short term it does significantly add to siltation and turbidity of waterways and Durras Lake and limits the life of old habitat trees. In the long term their strategy may detrimentally influence soil and forest structure, biodiversity and indeed wood resource.

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