Variable retention harvesting in Victoria’s Mountain Ash (Eucalyptus regnans) forests (southeastern Australia)

David Lindenmayer*, David Blair, Lachlan McBurney

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

    13 Citations (Scopus)


    Variable retention harvesting is a silvicultural system that focuses on retaining key elements of stand structure at the time of logging and is increasingly being used worldwide. We describe the design and establishment of a variable retention harvesting experiment established in the Mountain Ash (Eucalyptus regnans) forests of the Central Highlands of Victoria, south-eastern Australia. The experiment was instigated in 2003, and the work to date has shown that it has environmental benefits for certain groups of small mammals, birds, and vascular plants. The experiment has been integrated with an ongoing long-term monitoring program as well as other experiments such as those in post-fire salvage-logged areas. Collectively, the results of various studies suggest that the potential value of variable retention harvesting extends beyond green-tree logging to post-fire salvage logging environments. We outline some of the challenges in, and new perspectives derived from, implementing and maintaining our experiment. This included difficulties protecting islands from high-intensity post-harvest regeneration burns and threat of declining funding undermining ongoing project viability. A critically important perspective concerns the ecological and economic context in which variable retention harvesting is implemented. In the particular case of Mountain Ash forests, assessments using formal IUCN criteria classify the ecosystem as being Critically Endangered under the Red Listed Ecosystem approach. As a result, Mountain Ash forests are at a high risk of ecosystem collapse. Further logging will increase that risk, making the basis for continued harvesting questionable. In addition, economic analyses suggest that the value of natural assets, like water production, far outweigh the value of the wood products harvested from the Mountain Ash ecosystem, again leading to questions about the viability of ongoing harvesting. We therefore conclude that whilst variable retention harvesting has the potential to contribute to biodiversity conservation in Mountain Ash forests, broader ecological and economic contextual issues (such as the values of competing resources like water yields and the heavily degraded state of the forest) may erode the case for its broader application.

    Original languageEnglish
    Article number2
    JournalEcological Processes
    Issue number1
    Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2019


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