Works in the Herald 1934
Can We Save the Mountain Ash

Our energetic cousins in the U.S.A. -- somewhat subdued in these latter days of economic stress -– threaten, nevertheless, to “lick creation” once again: this time in the matter of afforestation.

In that land of prodigious projects and stupendous schemes, the work proposed is, of course, on a gigantic scale hitherto undreamed of –- it involved no less than the planting of a mighty forest belt, one hundred miles wide, extending from the borders of Canada in the north down the entire length of the United states to Mexico.

At first glance, the scheme appears so vast as to be almost the impractical vision of a super-patriot.

Yet when one considers just what area of forest, say, a hundred men can plant and tend in a given time, then, remembering America’s vast army of unemployed, the thing becomes a simple sum in arithmetic, and, by multiplying the man-power, one may envision the completed job.

In the matter of afforestation and reafforestation Australia, too, has an urgent task before it that will greatly benefit posterity and the present need for employment.

A fair amount has been learned and something done so far by our forest authorities; but that amounts to a mere fraction of what must be achieved if the wealth of our present forests if to be preserved and if all the direct and indirect disasters attendant upon the destruction of forests are ever to be arrested.

While in no sense posing as a forestry expert, the writer, after a quarter of a century’s residence in a Victorian forest, has observed sufficiently and learned sufficient from experienced, practical forest workers and technical experts, to appreciate the problems that face our foresters if even our present forest areas are to be preserved.

There is no doubt that at present our timbered areas are gradually and inevitably disappearing. The difficulties ahead involve far more than the planting of another tree where one has been destroyed! To depend solely on the natural regrowth is, as authorities have already recognised, quite a forlorn hope.

To take only one phase of the matter –- but that a very important one – the regrowth of that valuable and much sought-after timber the mountain ash (Eucalyptus Sieberiana) presents serious difficulties that are not immediately apparent.

The area immediately surrounding this spot where I write at present was, some 30 years ago, one of the finest mountain ash belts in Victoria. Among the ash was also a fair sprinkling of messmate and spotted gum. Sawmillers and fires have long since taken toll of the trees; and, though messmate and spotted gum have made vigorous regrowth, the more valuable mountain ash has failed to make regrowth.

Even a fully grown ash tree, seared by forest fire, will die. It does not possess, like other Eucalypts, that wonderful gift of latent leaves which lie dormant for years to spring forth upon the blackened trunks, only after fire has passed, to give the tree a new lease of life and opportunity still to reproduce.

But the mountain ash has a yet more deadly enemy that either sawmiller or fire. The insidious bracken fern that is claiming more and more of our forest areas smothers and prevents the growth of young trees, and the area they should have reclothed becomes in time quite denuded of timber.

Even artificial reafforestation becomes a serious problem here, for no new ash can be grown in this area until the bracken has been eradicated. And those who have battled with bracken, even in a small clearing of a few acres, know to their sorrow what a problem that presents.

A group of hills that I may view as I write were once clad in a glorious growth of giant ash trees. Today, save for riotous bracken, six or seven feet high, they are bare, except for a few scattered, over-matured trees that will never reproduce their species unaided by man.

The elder bushmen assure me that when they came here 50 years ago a man might ride among these giant trees as in a park, unburdened by any tangled growth of bracken and weed. And they further declare that they have never known the mountain ash to make regrowth in an area that the bracken has claimed.

To get rid of the all-conquering bracken in the forest areas of the State seems a task almost impossible of accomplishment; but something must be done, and speedily done, if our ash forests are to be preserved.

And great though it be, the task before us, even I proportion to population, is not nearly so stupendous as that which America now proposes to set itself.

If America has the vision and the ability to accomplish her giant afforestation job, Australia, surely, should not be lacking in a sense of duty regarding reafforestation and the many other dependent problems that such a work involves.

Destruction by drought, flood erosion and the consequent loss of wealth are all wrapped up in it -– and the need for action grows yearly more urgent.

"C. J. Dennis"
Herald, 3 July 1934, p6

Copyright © Perry Middlemiss 2003-06