Thousands Rally to Save Australia's Tallest Trees

HOBART, Tasmania, Australia, July 14, 2003 (ENS) - At least 3,000 people showed up the Styx Valley in southern Tasmania on Sunday in an effort to save the second tallest trees on the planet, just behind the California redwoods. They braved wet weather and muddy conditions to protect Australia's tallest hardwood trees, eucalyptus regnans, which are being logged for woodchips by the Commonwealth and state governments.

The Styx Valley is two hours drive west of Hobart and is adjacent to the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area.

Leading the protesters in a march to the edge of a clearcut in the Valley of Giants, Australian Greens Senator Bob Brown stood on a giant tree stump and called on Prime Minister John Howard to stop the logging.

"This is the biggest protest in the wild since several thousand people turned out on the Crotty Road near Queenstown in the Franklin [River] campaign in 1983," Brown said, referring to Tasmania's wild mountain river that he fought to save from a hydropower dam.

There was a police presence at the rally, but the police were not called into action as the only opposition was a few loggers holding signs on the roads into the valley.


The Styx Valley holds Australia's tallest trees. (Photo by Geoff Law courtesy The Wilderness Society)
Save the Styx organizing group, The Wilderness Society, says many of the trees in the valley are taller than a 25 story building, over 400 years old, and up to five meters (16 feet) wide at the base.

The Styx forest is home to many native species of wildlife, the Wilderness Society says, including the wedge-tailed eagle, the eastern pygmy possum, the yellow-tailed black cockatoo, owls, and rosellas.

Between 300 and 600 hectares (740 and 1,480 acres) of the Styx valley are logged each year. The ancient giant regnans of the Styx are often replaced with plantations of non-native species, the society says.

But Forestry Tasmania, a government body, rejects the claims made by the Wilderness Society about destruction of the Styx Valley.

Forestry Tasmania Managing Director Evan Rolley said July 4 that vast tracts of tall trees have been protected under the Regional Forest Agreement for the enjoyment of future generations.


Large eucalyptus regnans trees in the Styx Valley (Photo courtesy The Wilderness Society)
"The Wilderness Society is wrong to claim that the last tall trees in Australia are about to be felled in the Styx Valley," he said. "In the Styx Valley, two-thirds of the area is either in reserves or is not available for harvesting."

Rolley said that in addition to the Regional Forest Agreement safeguards, very tall and big trees are protected under Forestry Tasmania’s Giant Tree policy. "We are also planning for stands of tall trees of the future protected in Tall Tree Management Zones spread throughout the state," he said.

But the Wilderness Society warns that cable logging has begun in the heart of the Styx Valley of the Giants, near big trees known as the Christmas Tree and Chapel Tree.

Rolley rejected suggestions that forest operations must clash with tourism. "The Tahune AirWalk, located in the middle of a working forest producing A$30 million worth of annual timber products, is now one of Tasmania’s tourism icons, attracting 150,000 visitors annually," he said.

The Wilderness Society has launched the Tree Hug Project, a new way for Australians to show their desire to save the big trees of the Styx. They will wrap some of the trees in protective "hugs" knitted of red wool, and are asking people to embrace the forests by helping to knit hugs for the trees.

With the help of Tasmanian artists, The Wilderness Society will collect knitted sections and sew them into red bands long enough to wrap around the trunks of the giant Styx trees.

Regardless of the protesters' sincerity, the Derwent Valley Council intends to hit The Wilderness Society, as organizers of the Styx forest rally, with a A$200 fine, according to the "Mercury" newspaper. The council says organizers failed to consult it about establishing a campsite in the valley and did not provide adequate sanitary facilities.