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Giant Trees

Dr Rosalie Woodruff MP

Dr Rosalie Woodruff MP  -  Thursday, 24 November 2022

Tags: Forests

Dr WOODRUFF (Franklin) - Mr Speaker, I move -

That the House take note of the following matter: giant trees.

I start by acknowledging the Tasmanian Aboriginal people of lutruwita/Tasmania, the palawa pakana, who cared for our forests across this island for tens of thousands of years. They honoured and respected them and particularly understood the great importance of the spiritual value of the very old trees within them - the ancient trees, the giant trees.

I draw attention to some of the people in Tasmania today who are doing enormous and important work on behalf of us all to make sure that we understand the global significance of the treasures we have on our island that are significantly at threat from logging as well as other activities, but especially and most importantly from logging by Forestry Tasmania.

Those people are led by the doughty Steve Pearce and Dr Jen Sanger, who together make up the Tree Project. They are amateurs, albeit it be highly credentialled ones. Their mission is to inspire a generation of big tree hunters and to discover, document and protect and ultimately to respect, as we all ought to, our forests of lutruwita and the giant trees within them, because somebody has to do it. The reason that Dr Jan and Steve started the Tree Project was because no-one else was doing that work.

It started in Tasmania in the colonial era. It started by the Victorian-based big tree legend Brett Mifsud, who commenced looking for giant trees in Tasmania in the 1990s. We owe so much to Brett and his years of dedicated work and what we learnt from it, but that was backed up by the forest conservation campaigns of the Wilderness Society and so many other groups who together worked and built a public interest and understanding about the loss of our forests and about the tall trees that were in them, at Beach Creek near Wayatinah in the 1980s and a decade later in the Styx rally.

Because of that public attention, Forestry Tasmania was forced to come to terms with the reality of what it was removing, and it was required to undertake a survey in 2000 to measure the height of Tasmania's tallest trees. They measured a tree 92 metres tall - a metre taller than the existing Victorian-reported tree at the time. The 10 tallest Tasmanian trees exceeded 85 metres, and that apparently was the measure that inspired Forestry Tasmania to set 85 metres as their threshold for giant tree protection. A completely arbitrary level. It revised the giant tree protection to also include trees of large volume two years later, after it discovered the 404 cubic metre El Grande - that enormous and most beautiful of trees.

For tall trees, we understand a much different measure and this is the work that the Tree Project has done. It has looked at what other states and jurisdictions look at. The work in Victoria, for example, recognises trees that are over two-and-half metres wide as being a significant volume tree. They are protected in Victoria. Trees with a volume of 200 cubic metres or greater are considered to be giants. Big trees are very hard to find. They are different to tall trees. They are often difficult to spot in the canopy, because they have been beaten by the ravages of time. They have been attacked by lightning. Their limbs have been thrust off by huge hurricane-like winds that we can get, particularly in the south-west. They can be, and typically are, much older than other trees. They continue to move outwards as they age, and they store and draw down enormous amount of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

Tall trees, if we look at the standard that is being used in other states and other places that properly value their trees, are trees over 75 metres tall. The Tree Project uses the standard technique, which is a wonderful capacity to understand what tree heights there are in the landscape. It is called LiDAR, a scanning process with lasers. It creates spatial data and it is accurate to the centimetre. Really extraordinary. It shows the height of the trees as they come out of the lower canopy. The work of Tree Project has identified more than 200 registered giant trees in Tasmania, with 315 LiDAR hits of 85 metres, and some of those trees have yet to be ground-truthed and measured. That is the work they are undertaking right at the moment.

They are a critical habitat, these trees. Without them, we would not have the animals that live in our forests. We would not have the swift parrot. We would not have the masked owl and the grey goshawk. We would not have the spotted-tail quoll that lives underneath of them. All of these animals rely on those trees for flowering, for nesting, and for the role that they play in the ecosystem. So we have to do everything we can do to document and protect them.