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East Gippsland
Bioregions: East Gippsland Uplands, East Gippsland Lowlands

Map: East Gippsland

The Bioregional Landscape
The Natural Capital of the Landscape
Land Management Themes
Biodiversity Condition
Management Responses
Tables and Charts for East Gippsland

The Bioregional Landscape
Photo: Wet forest inhabitantsEast Gippsland contains coastal plains, river valleys, foothills, tablelands and mountains up to 1400 metres elevation in the far east of Victoria. It stretches from near Stratford in the west to Cape Howe in the east, and from Lakes Entrance and the coast in the south to Swifts Creek and the ‘straight line’ part of the Victorian border in the north. East Gippsland is part of the South East Corner IBRA region which extends into New South Wales and within Victoria is considered to contain two bioregions — East Gippsland Uplands and East Gippsland Lowlands. The area is characterised by extensive, essentially continuous areas of forest and other native vegetation, with small isolated ‘islands’ of settlement in the river valleys, coastal plains and tablelands. The rainfall in most of the area is from 800 to over 1200 mm, however some areas, such as around Swifts Creek and Deddick, lie in rain-shadows with average rainfall of less than 700 mm. Several major and many minor streams drain the area, notably the Mitchell, Nicholson, Tambo, Buchan, Snowy, Brodribb, Bemm, Cann, Thurra, Wingan and Genoa rivers. The continuity of native vegetation over a very extensive area makes East Gippsland one of the great reservoirs of biodiversity in Australia; there are no other regions on mainland Australia where native vegetation is continuous from alpine environments to the coast. The area is also biogeographically important at the continental scale as the area of overlap between southern cool temperate and eastern warm temperate zones; thus it has many species of plants and animals which are absent from, or rare in, the rest of Victoria.

East Gippsland was home to five Aboriginal language groups prior to European settlement. The Krauatunungalung and Brabralung occupied the south-western coast and hinterland; the Ngarigu used the upper Snowy River valley and tablelands; the Maap occupied the eastern forested part of the region; and the Thawa were found north and east of Mallacoota Inlet. The Aboriginal population before 1800 was probably a few thousand, with the highest densities of people along the coast and rivers where resources were most abundant and easily obtained.

European occupation, mainly by graziers, commenced in the late 1830s and proceeded from the north onto the tablelands and down the major rivers, and along the coast from the west and north. Settlement was slow until the late nineteenth century, when the discovery of small deposits of gold, land selection and the coming of the railway accelerated development. The timber industry was relatively minor until the 1950s whereafter it became a major activity and the mainstay of many of the towns in the area.

East Gippsland is still sparsely settled, with less than 20 000 people mostly living in the towns on or near the coast and in smaller villages in the valleys. The major centre is Orbost with other towns including Bruthen, Swifts Creek, Nowa Nowa, Buchan, Bendoc, Cann River and Mallacoota. The single largest land use is conservation. There are several large national parks including Mitchell River, Snowy River, Croajingolong, Errinundra, Coopracambra and part of the Alpine National Park. Timber harvesting is a major industry. In the settled areas, sheep and cattle grazing are important whilst vegetable growing and dairy farming are concentrated in the alluvial valleys and higher rainfall districts. Tourism is a growing industry, along with the infrastructure to support it. Both bioregions lie almost entirely in the East Gippsland Shire, with a small part of the Uplands in the far west in Wellington Shire. Similarly East Gippsland Catchment Management Authority (CMA) covers almost the entire area, with the same small part of the Uplands in the west covered by West Gippsland CMA.

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The Natural Capital of the Landscape
There are about 15 Broad Vegetation Types in the East Gippsland bioregions. The most prominent of these are forested, with each of Lowland, Dry Foothill and Moist Foothill Forest Complexes covering hundreds of thousands of hectares. Other well represented BVTs and ecosystems are Coastal Scrub Complexes, Heathy Woodland Complexes, Riparian Forest Complexes and Rainforests, Rainshadow Woodland Complexes and wetlands. The great diversity of ecosystems means that the region is rich in both plants and animals. There are about 480 species of vertebrates, 1002 species of vascular plants and an unknown but very substantial invertebrate fauna and non-vascular flora. Whilst there are no endemic vertebrates, several species, including the Eastern Bristlebird, Diamond Python and Stuttering Frog are not found elsewhere in Victoria. The East Gippsland bioregions also support a significant proportion of the State’s populations of many other animals, including the Long-footed Potoroo, Spot-tailed Quoll, Brush-tailed Rock-wallaby, Ground Parrot, Glossy Black-Cockatoo, Masked Owl, Giant Burrowing Frog and Eastern She-oak Skink. The extent of old forest makes the bioregions especially important for old forest dependent species such as arboreal mammals and owls. The relatively undisturbed rivers and estuaries support rich populations of native fish and invertebrates; the far eastern streams are particularly notable for the absence of introduced trout.

The flora includes numerous species endemic to the area and many others that are rare elsewhere in the State.

Most of Victoria’s Warm Temperate Rainforest and Dry Rainforest is found in East Gippsland, along with a high proportion of its Coastal Heathlands. Silurian Limestone Pomaderris Shrubland is found no-where else in the State. There are notable outliers in the area, such as Rainshadow Woodland dominated by White Cypress Pine and White Box. Endemic plants include Betka Bottlebrush, Smooth Tea-tree, Forresters Bottlebrush, Mountain Correa, Marble Daisy-Bush and Leafy Phebalium.

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Land Management Themes
The East Gippsland Uplands and Lowlands bioregions are predominantly public land covered by native vegetation. A high proportion of this is in conservation reserves of one form or another and all is managed as native vegetation. This is a major advantage for biodiversity conservation as most ecosystem processes continue to operate more or less naturally across the landscape and the great majority of species and vegetation types are secure and require no active management. This land base also provides an excellent foundation for implementing effective conservation management at the landscape scale.

The extensive forests of the region have supported a major timber industry for several decades. The perceived impacts of timber harvesting are the principal resource use conflict in the region, and have generated considerable public controversy. About 34 per cent of the public land in the bioregions is available for timber harvesting, and about 6000 hectares of forest are harvested each year, predominantly by the clearfelling technique. This effectively converts old forest to regrowth, with resultant reduction in habitat quality for some species, especially those requiring tree hollows.

About half of the private land in the area is cleared. Settlement and agricultural development by Europeans has been largely confined to the coastal plains, alluvial valleys and some parts of the tablelands. This pattern of settlement has resulted in the depletion of vegetation types that were restricted to those landforms, including Lowland Alluvial Rainforests and Grassy Woodlands.

Fire has been influential in shaping the vegetation of the region. Aboriginal fire regimes are difficult to infer, but it is likely that the scale and pattern of fire has changed significantly in the last 150 years, with consequences for the flora and fauna. It is likely that fires, at least in the lowlands and drier areas, are now generally less frequent than before settlement, but individual fires are probably more extensive and intense. The exact biotic consequences of this change are unclear, but are probably very significant.

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Biodiversity Condition
PhotoCompared to the rest of Victoria, much of the native vegetation and most of the streams of East Gippsland are in good condition and thus most of the biodiversity is reasonably secure. However there are still many threatened species, and several of the Ecological Vegetation Classes are either very rare or have declined substantially since European settlement. The most threatened vegetation types are those associated with the alluvial valleys and grassy woodlands, where development for agriculture has reduced them to small fragments which are often vulnerable to weed invasion, grazing and clearing. Most threatened species in the bioregions have become so because they are vulnerable to introduced predators, changes in the fire regime, sensitive to intensive logging or confined to specialised or very restricted habitat types.

The major biodiversity impacts of timber harvesting relate to the change from a forest dominated by old trees with a diverse structure and species mix to an even aged stand with simplified structure and few old trees.

Planned rotation lengths of the regrowth mean that these areas will not attain old growth form before again being harvested. The result within harvesting zones is a loss of forest with old growth features upon which a significant part of the biota depends, particularly species that utilise tree hollows, such as possums and gliders, and species which depend in turn on those species, such as large forest owls. There are also less well understood impacts, including change in the species composition of the regrowth, effects on soil biota and impacts on stream flow. The former Land Conservation Council and Forest Management Area planning processes have established a series of reserves and management zones for conservation which have restricted the area potentially available for timber harvesting in the region. Measures to ameliorate the smaller scale coupe level biodiversity impacts of timber harvesting management are being examined. Further clearing of native vegetation on private land has been restricted by Native Vegetation Retention Regulations, but a small amount of clearing of mainly disturbed native vegetation continues, and there is considerable pressure to allow more, especially for plantations. Many of the retained patches of native vegetation on farmland or roadsides are under pressure from weeds, grazing by stock and incremental clearing. As these are sometimes significant remnants of severely depleted vegetation types, conservation management of these areas remains a concern.

Inappropriate fire regimes are likely to be a significant threatening process in the region. Many species, mainly in fire-prone ecosystems, rely on a particular fire regime to maintain habitat quality or facilitate regeneration. Fire which is too frequent, too infrequent or at the wrong time will cause them to decline or disappear. This is well demonstrated in heathland where species such as the Ground Parrot require fire every 10 to 15 years to optimise habitat quality. Eastern Bristlebird and Smoky Mouse may be declining because the pattern of fire in their limited habitat is not appropriate. In contrast, rainforest is very fire sensitive and large intense fires of the type now characteristic of severe fire seasons in East Gippsland can deplete its extent. Ecologically based fire planning is required to begin addressing these problems.

Introduced predators, especially foxes and possibly feral cats, are a major threat to a suite of small and medium size mammals, notably the Long-footed Potoroo and the Brush-tailed Rock-wallaby. They have also been implicated in the local extinction of the Eastern Quoll and Tasmanian Bettong. Foxes and cats are widespread and the inaccessibility of large parts of the region makes systematic large-scale control programs difficult. Introduced trout may also constitute a significant threat to native freshwater fish, invertebrates and frogs.

Other less important or localised processes with potentially negative impacts on biodiversity values include sedimentation of streams, mining and quarrying, grazing by cattle and rabbits and weed competition.

The wetlands of the region generally remain in good condition, with most on public land, but there has been some drainage of shallow marshland on private land on the Snowy, Mitchell, Tambo, Cann and Genoa river flats. Estuaries and lower reaches of the major rivers are hotspots for species richness in the region and the intact nature of several such as the Wallagaraugh, Thurra, Wingan, Cann and Bemm rivers and Lake Tyers are especially important assets.

Decline of remnant native vegetation on cleared private land continues and is a threat particularly to remnant grassy woodlands, such as Limestone Grassy Woodland. Effective conservation of these communities will require the cooperation of landholders, combined with local government controls. Assessment of roadside vegetation has been completed for the south-western part of the East Gippsland Lowlands and is being extended to other areas. Perhaps because of the extensive native vegetation in the bioregion, the demand for programs such as Land for Wildlife and conservation covenants has been fairly low; however these remain important tools for encouraging voluntary conservation of strategically important values.

Of the 149 known threatened species and undetermined number of threatened ecological communities in this suite of bioregions there are:

  • 67 listed vertebrates and plants, of which 21 have Action Statements;
  • three listed invertebrates, of which one has an Action Statement;
  • seven listed communities, of which none has an Action Statement.

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Management Responses
East Gippsland is a major reservoir of biodiversity in Australia; the management of flora and fauna in the area focuses on maintaining this value. It also has the virtue of being largely continuous native vegetation, mostly on public land, and thus amenable to landscape scale management of ecological and threatening processes, such as introduced predators and fire. There is therefore a strong focus on strategic planning to achieve landscape scale outcomes favourable to biodiversity conservation.

The forest management planning process in the East Gippsland Forest Management Area (FMA) has resulted in nearly 55 per cent of public land in the East Gippsland FMA being reserved in one form or another, with another 11 per cent not available for harvesting. Conservation guidelines have been implemented for all threatened and sensitive species in State forest, large representative areas of each EVC have been conserved as has most remaining old-growth forest and all heathland and rainforest. A system of linear reserves has been developed to connect the reserve system in State forest with the extensive system of statutory parks and reserves. A similar process, with similar anticipated outcomes, is to be applied to the balance of the bioregions. Attention to ameliorating the impacts of timber harvesting will continue, with a focus on harvesting and silvicultural practices at the coupe scale.

There is a clear need to develop fire management strategies which have an ecological basis, both to manage individual species and communities that are sensitive to fire regime, and to develop landscape-scale fire regimes with a sound ecological basis. This has commenced with initial attention to heathlands.

Control of introduced predators is and will continue to be a high priority. The impact of predators on some species is well established, but their impact on a suite of other species is less clear and is a priority for current research so that effective control programs can be developed and implemented. Cooperation with landholders is especially important in predator control and existing programs will be enhanced to maximise benefits to stock and native fauna.

Emphasis on conservation on private land is increasing; especially targeting those species and communities not well represented on public land and to reinforce the conservation ethic amongst landholders. There are extensive areas of native vegetation on private land and this makes a significant contribution to regional biodiversity. The emphasis will be on working with land owners and managers to identify and protect the remnant native vegetation and threatened species, communities and critical habitats. A high priority is the protection of remnant grasslands, woodlands and shallow freshwater wetlands on private land and using PAMAs and roadside vegetation protection mechanisms for protection of significant habitats on other public land. There is increasing interest from the local community in conservation initiatives such as the Little Tern program, the rock-wallaby reintroduction project, rare flora monitoring and roadside vegetation mapping.

The role of local government is being enhanced by inclusion of a biodiversity protection component in Shire Planning Schemes and close cooperation with shires in roadside vegetation mapping and management. Emphasis will be given to protecting and enhancing riparian corridors, in co-operation with Catchment Management Authorities (CMA). Management plans will be prepared and implemented for all significant conservation reserves, including Ramsar wetlands. FFG Act processes and native vegetation retention regulations will also be used to protect threatened species and communities. There is strong interest from the shires and the CMA in working with the department to prepare a comprehensive regional biodiversity strategy which will build upon the existing public land planning processes to establish a framework for landscape scale biodiversity conservation across all tenures within the region.

Together with the state-wide key directions outlined earlier, land and water managers and planners in each bioregion should consider the following priorities.

East Gippsland Uplands

  • Continue to implement and monitor the effectiveness of the East Gippsland Regional Forest Agreement and Forest Management Plan.
  • Prepare and implement management plans for Errinundra, Snowy River, Coopracambra and Alpine national parks.
  • Develop and implement ecological fire management regimes, for the management of individual species and communities with particular sensitivity to fire regime (e.g. rainforests).
  • Develop and implement strategic weed and introduced predator management approaches, with special emphasis on preventing the spread of weeds into ‘pristine’ habitats and protecting threatened species such as the Brush-tailed Rock-wallaby.

East Gippsland Lowlands

  • Continue to implement and monitor the effectiveness of the East Gippsland Regional Forest Agreement and Forest Management Plan.
  • Prepare and implement management plans for national parks and State parks such as Croajingolong National Park.
  • Develop and implement ecological fire management regimes, for the management of individual species and communities with particular sensitivity to fire regime (e.g. Smoky Mouse, Eastern Bristlebird, Ground Parrot, rainforests).
  • Develop and implement strategic weed and introduced predator management approaches, with special emphasis on preventing the spread of weeds into ‘pristine’ habitats and protecting threatened species such as the Long-footed Potoroo.
  • Encourage private landholders to protect remnant vegetation on their land using a range of incentives and programs such as Land for Wildlife, targeting strategic areas such as the lower Snowy and Brodribb valleys district, depleted Broad Vegetation Types such as Grassland Complexes and Grassy Woodland Complexes, Shallow Freshwater Wetlands and Lowland Alluvial Rainforests.

 

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