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Citizen Science and Community Connection

Updated: Feb 20, 2020

Citizen Science and Bioblitz events are not unheard of in Tasmania, but until the Australia Day long weekend it had never been done in north east Tasmania.  A Bioblitz is an intense period of biological surveying in an attempt to record all the living species within a designated area. Groups of scientists, naturalists and nature enthusiasts conduct an intensive field study over a continuous time period.

Over a 48 hour period more than seventy people with and without scientific training descended on the Gondwanic remnant forests of the Blue Tier in north east Tasmania to conduct the first Bioblitz in the region. Every person involved volunteered their time, skills, equipment and resources to help build a better understanding of this often overlooked gem of Tasmania’s native forest landscape.

The Blue Tier contains glacial refugia forests. An area that remained ice free in the last ice age acting as the cradle that re-populated the forests once the glaciers retreated. These unique Gondwanic remnant forests are part of the 345,000 ha of native forests across Tasmania listed as Future Potential Production Forests (FPPF) that as of April 2020, will once again be made available for logging.

While exploring the green cool rainforests shrouded in mist, the thought of these places being logged and purposely burnt was an unsettling reality. This was In stark opposition to the joy experienced when finding species endemic to the Blue Tier such as the Simson’s Stag Beetle.  So many participants commented on the madness of continuing to log native forests when we know they are critical carbon stores and biodiversity arks, particularly while much of Australia still burns, and with it our unique flora and fauna.

The number of studies examining the role of intact native forests in slowing fires is growing. Notably the work of Lindenmeyer, Taylor and McCarthy in how intact wet Eucalyptus regnan (mountain ash or swamp gum) native forests slow fire.  Compared to where previous logging has taken place, woody debris left by the logging adds to the available fuel. One study found that logging of native E. regnan forests left behind up to 30% of the forest biomass and this material can remain in logged areas for 50 years.

The report found that in mature native forests and ‘In older stands, fuel loads remain high, but the risk of crown fire drops because the crown is higher above the ground and the density of the fuel is dispersed. The trees themselves become dispersed and a more moist understorey, including rainforest plants, becomes prominent. These conditions make it more difficult for fire to burn severely.’

Citizen Science events and the growing numbercommunity of community based groups working together to understand and protect our natural world are changing the face of forest protection. In the past month the Wildlife of the Central Highlands (WOTCH) community group of citizen scientists launched a Supreme Court case against VicForests to stop the state-owned agency from logging areas of unburnt habitat for threatened species in the face of the states catastrophic bushfires.

WOTCH alleges that logging operations in coupes where the threatened Greater Glider, Sooty Owl, Powerful Owl and Smoky Mouse have been sighted, or where their habitat exists, is unlawful until the State and Federal Governments have concluded their bushfire biodiversity responses, and until VicForests has responded to the impact of the fires on threatened species which they are obliged to consider in their planning and operations. The court agreed with WOTCH and has issued an injunction.

The role of everyday people in protecting our wild places and the life in them has never been more important. Whether they be scientists,  people who know the bush like the back of their hand or nature lovers. We all have a role to play and that role blends science, on-ground knowledge and connecting people back to our wild places. The Blue Tier will see more citizen science events open to everyone  passionate about Tasmania’s wild places. Maybe our new Premier for climate action will join us and protect Tasmania's native forests – what could be more Tasmanian than that?

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