I write to object to council's decision to harvest over 250 pine trees comprising the stand that sits above, and north of, the Black Hill Aquatic Centre (aka the Black Hill pool).
I note that council's decision appears to have been arrived at without any kind of community consultation or, indeed, any kind of independent assessment of the health of the trees concerned.
Genuine community consultation should always take place on issues that directly impact the community.
Had such consultation taken place in respect of the Black Hill pool trees, council would be better informed of the positive benefits the trees provide to both the local community and the wildlife that inhabit them.
The majority of the trees within the stand appear to be strong, healthy and disease-free, despite council's apparent failure to properly manage the stand.
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Against this background, for council to decide to remove all the seemingly healthy trees is, at best, unsupportable.
The decision appears to have been made absent of any kind of detailed environmental scan or assessment by a suitably qualified and independent arborist.
Distressingly, council has displayed a long history of neglect of the Black Hill area, including the demolition of, and subsequent failure to replace, the Black Hill Lookout (despite promises to do so), and the attempted permanent closure of the Black Hill pool.
These trees provide an important wildlife habitation in the Black Hill area, and complement other established stands in and around the Black Hill Reserve. Kookaburras, Yellow-tailed Black Cockatoos, Sulphur-crested Cockatoos, Corellas, Rosellas, and Woodland ducks are all seen and heard in and around the vicinity of the Black Hill pool trees.
Cockatoos are regularly seen and heard feeding on the pine cones.
The stand represents a powerful heritage link to, and legacy of, local school children from early last century, who planted these trees to beautify the area for the benefit of all.
Aspects of that legacy continue to add worth and value to the stand today:
- Provides a source of happiness and and positive mental health benefits to the local residents through the abundance of wildlife these trees attract
- Provides a ready source of materials for use by local schools and craft groups or art and crafts
- Provides a picturesque backdrop for the Black Hill pool, Black Hill Primary School and local residences
- Offers shade and a windbreak to Black Hill pool during hot and/or windy days
- Prevents soil erosion, and locks soil into the ground, instead of it being blown into the Black Hill pool and the surrounding streets
- Prevents significant water pooling which attracts mosquitoes
- Provides a sound and privacy barrier to both pool users and surrounding residents during pool operation times
Council has since publicly responded to the outcry over this decision (Media release, September 1, 2020), and less overtly in direct response to the laudable petition started by Mr Brent Webb on change.org (in an update to the petition, also dated September 1).
In the update provided by Mr Webb, I note that council implies that the decision to harvest the trees was arrived at without any proper assessment of the health of the trees.
I further note that, in council's formal media release, council explains that its decision to harvest the trees is due to a "number of safety concerns", and that the trees "are coming to the end of their natural life span".
The community has no way to establish what safety concerns council may have, since no specifics have been provided.
However, issue is taken with council's use of the expression "natural life span" in this context.
Council references VicForests as the source of guidance on the harvesting of commercial pine plantations, and notes a 20 - 30 year harvest rotation cycle for most pine plantations.
This is entirely correct, and VicForests is very much an authority on the management and harvesting of such plantations.
And therein lies the problem.
The Black Hill pool pine stand is demonstrably not a commercial plantation. It is not and, as far as I am aware, never has been, commercially harvested.
As far as I have been able to ascertain, there was no intention by those who first conceived of planting these pines over a century ago that they would ever be harvested in any commercial sense.
For all intents and purposes, the stand is wild-grown, and has been allowed to grow relatively unmolested for many decades.
So the claim that these trees ought to be harvested "on a rotation of 20 - 30 years" is demonstrably false.
The claim that "60 years of age" somehow makes the trees decrepit and dangerous is not supported by any evidence.
Experts consider the normal lifespan of this type of pine to be in the 80-90 years range, making some of the trees in the stand only middle-aged.
Finally, council's response notes that, once the pine stand has been harvested, the site will be "revegetated with local native trees, shrubs and ground covers".
It goes on to assert that "replanting with local native species will benefit the biodiversity of the Black Hill area and return vegetation types that were there before the gold rush era".
It is errant nonsense to suggest that revegetation with local native species in this one, small, isolated, and now heavily urbanised spot will either provide any material benefit to the biodiversity of the area, or return vegetation types of a bygone era of untrammelled landscapes.
If council were even remotely serious about such an approach to land management and biodiversity, virtually every street in Black Hill would lose at least some of its non-native trees, and much of the length of Lydiard Street would be completely denuded.
Council supports its plan with the claim that "local native vegetation provides more habitat value for wildlife than non-native species such as pine trees".
The cockatoos beg to differ - actual evidence of wildlife habitation and usage of the site, and lived experience of the local community, tell a rather different story.
All in all, council's initial official response to the outcry over the fate of these trees has been inadequate.
It has not addressed issues around appropriate community consultation, the health and viability of the stand, and what sort of process it will now undertake to properly address the concerns raised by the local community.
Therefore, I would ask that consideration is given to the points raised here, and council engages with the local Black Hill community to address any safety concerns you may have, any issues there may be concerning the relative health of the trees in question, and work to develop a properly thought out plan for the long term management of the site.
Such management should be developed following an evidence-based assessment and robust environmental scan, which should be shared with the community before any further steps to demolish these trees are taken.
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