Photos capture grandeur and heartbreak of Tasmania’s giant trees

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Jennifer Sanger, University of Tasmania

Environmental scientists see flora, fauna and phenomena the rest of us rarely do. In this new series, we’ve invited them to share their unique photos from the field.


Tasmania’s native forests are home to some of the tallest, most beautiful trees in the world. They provide a habitat for many species, from black cockatoos and masked owls to the critically endangered swift parrot.

But these old, giant trees are being logged at alarming rates, despite their enormous ecological and heritage value (and untapped tourism potential). Many were also destroyed in Tasmania’s early 2019 fires.

Former Greens leader Bob Brown recently launched a legal challenge to Tasmania’s native forest logging. And this year, Forestry Watch, a small group of citizen scientists, found five giant trees measuring more than five metres in diameter inside logging coupes. “Coupes” are areas of forest chopped down in one logging operation.

These trees are too important to be destroyed in the name of the forestry industry. This is why my husband Steve Pearce and I climb, explore and photograph these trees: to raise awareness and foster appreciation for the forests and their magnificent giants.

Climbing trees is not just for the young, but for the young at heart. Kevin is in his early 70s and helps us with measuring giant trees. Steve Pearce/The Tree Projects, Author provided

What makes these trees so special?
Eucalyptus regnans, known more commonly as mountain ash or swamp gum, can grow to 100m tall and live for more than 500 years. For a long time, this species held the record as the tallest flowering tree. But last year, a 100.8m tall yellow meranti (Shorea faguetiana) in Borneo, claimed the title – surpassing our tallest eucalypt, named Centurion, by a mere 30cm.

Centurion still holds the record as the tallest tree in the southern hemisphere. But five species of eucalypt also grow above 85m tall, with many ranking among some of the tallest trees in the world.

It’s not only their height that make these trees special, they’re also the most carbon dense forests in the world, with a single hectare storing more than 1867 tonnes of carbon.

Our giant trees and old growth forests provide a myriad of ecological services such as water supply, climate abatement and habitat for threatened species. A 2017 study from the Central Highlands forests in Victoria has shown they’re worth $310 million for water supply, $260 million for tourism and $49 million for carbon storage.

This significantly dwarfs the $12 million comparison for native forest timber production in the region.

Chopped wood in a logging coupe. Chopping down old growth trees doesn’t make economic sense. Steve Pearce/The Tree Projects, Author provided

Tasmania’s Big Tree Register
Logging organisation Sustainable Timber Tasmania’s giant tree policy recognises the national and international significance of giant trees. To qualify for protection, trees must be at least 85m tall or at least an estimated 280 cubic metres in stem volume.

While it’s a good place to start, this policy fails to consider the next generation of big, or truly exceptional trees that don’t quite reach these lofty heights.

That’s why we’ve created Tasmania’s Big Tree Register, an open-source public record of the location and measurements of more than 200 trees to help adventurers and tree admirers locate and experience these giants for themselves. And, we hope, to protect them.

Last month, three giant trees measuring more than 5m in diameter were added to the register. But these newly discovered trees are located in coupe TN034G, which is scheduled to be logged this year.

Logging is a very poor economic use for our forests. Native forest logging in Tasmania has struggled to make a profit due to declining demand for non-Forest Stewardship Council certified timber, which Sustainable Timber Tasmania recently failed. In fact, Sustainable Timber Tasmania sustained an eye watering cash loss of $454 million over 20 years from 1997 to 2017.

The following photos can help show why these trees, as one of the great wonders of the world, should be embraced as an important part of our environmental heritage, not turned to woodchips.

A portrait of an entire tree captured. Its canopy breaches the clouds. Steve Pearce/The Tree Projects, Author provided

It’s not often you get to see the entirety of a tree in a single photo. This tree (above) is named Gandalf’s Staff and is a Eucalyptus regnans, measuring 84m tall.

While mountain ash is the tallest species, others in Tasmania’s forests are also breathtakingly huge, such as the Tasmanian blue gum (Eucalyptus globulus) at 92 m, Manna gum (Eucalyptus viminalis) at 91m, alpine ash (Eucalyptus delegatensis) at 88m and the messmate stringybark (Eucalyptus obliqua) at 86m.

A woman appears tiny standing against an enormous felled tree. Steve Pearce/The Tree Projects, Author provided

This giant tree (pictured above) was a messmate stringybark that was felled in a coupe, but was left behind for unknown reasons. Its diameter is 4.4m. Other giant trees like this were cut down in this coupe, many of which provided excellent nesting habitat for the critically endangered swift parrot.

Nine people sit across the trunk of an enormous tree. The citizen science group Forestry Watch helps search for and measure giant trees in Tasmania. Steve Pearce/The Tree Projects, Author provided

Old-growth forests dominated by giant trees are excellent at storing large amounts of carbon. Large trees continue to grow over their lifetime and absorb more carbon than younger trees.

A man wraps a measuring tape around a huge tree trunk, covered in moss. Steve Pearce/The Tree Projects, Author provided

The tree in the photo above is called Obolus, from Greek mythology, with a diameter of 5.1m. Names are generally given to trees by the person who first records them, and usually reflect the characteristics of the tree or tie in with certain themes.

For example, several trees in a valley are all named after Lord of the Rings characters, such as Gandalf’s Staff (pictured above), Fangorn and Morannon.

The tops of the giant tree canopies are higher than the clouds. Steve Pearce/The Tree Projects, Author provided

Giant trees are typically associated with Californian redwoods or the giant sequoias in the US, where tall tree tourism is huge industry. The estimated revenue in 2012 from just four coastal redwood reserves is $58 million per year, providing more than 500 jobs to local communities.

Few Australians are aware of our own impressive trees. We could easily boost tourism to regional communities in Tasmania if the money was invested into tall tree infrastructure.The Conversation

Jennifer Sanger, Research Associate, University of Tasmania

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons licence. Read the original article.

Do you believe we should be logging our native forests? Would you travel to explore Tasmania’s forests?

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Written by The Conversation

12 Comments

Total Comments: 12
  1. 0
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    It is interesting with Bob Brown. He is the father of protecting the Tasmanian wilderness. Each time recently I have seen him at his home being interviewed, it shows his lovely timber house in a forest setting, and inside he has a large fireplace with a raging WOOD fire, Interesting considering his position on timber.

    • 0
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      Your comment just shows your ignorance of a good man who fights to protect such beautiful places that everyone wants to visit.
      Wood is a sustainable resource, and you do not know that his house is an old house or that it was made from sustainable timber, or that his firewood is the same. Show me the proof otherwise.

    • 0
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      Plantation timber is not old growth . By leaving these old trees for tourism and growing plantation timber to lock in carbon and produce homes, furniture and wood for fires we both preserve and utilise.

  2. 0
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    “Do you believe we should be logging our native forests? Would you travel to explore Tasmania’s forests?”

    The short answer is yes. A qualification is that logging should be like the area in which I grew up, a well known logging area where sawmills had been family owned for many generations. These family run sawmills took some trees out of a quota tenure and left other trees for future logging. In this way parts of a forest are harvested with a good proportion left for habitat for native fauna. A point sometimes overlooked is that timber is a renewable source and can be successfully managed. Timber is required for home building and furniture and to import timber as opposed to harvesting our own is selfish because it means that another country may not have controls to eliminate clear felling.

  3. 0
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    Tassie’s old growth forests must be preserved for all the reasons outlined in this article.

  4. 0
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    Don’t log native forests. Yes, timber is a good renewable building material, but it should be obtained from plantation forests, and these are best established on areas of already cleared land. There are often eminently suitable degraded areas available. Old trees in native forests are essential parts of the ecosystem: for example it is often 100 years before trees develop the hollows needed as nests by birds and mammals. I look forward to revisiting Tasmania: the one thing that would deter me is the spectre of increasing destruction of its natural beauty.

  5. 0
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    A no brainer, I think. Of course we shouldn’t be logging old growth forests. We have plenty of plantations for this purpose. Leave our natural forests alone!

  6. 0
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    Cut and pulped and sent over seas and it could be stopped tomorrow how stupid are our so called leaders, what about the next generation and how gutless are we to let it happen,

  7. 0
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    ALL logging of these majestic old trees should be STOPPED ASAP! Trees produce lots of oxygen, prevent soil erosion & degradation, provided valuable habitats for wild life! How bloody stupid it is to continues their destruction!

  8. 0
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    Yes it takes many years for these giants to grow and are home to many animals, birds, insects and reptiles, some are endangered, facing extinction or on the danger list.
    Sustainable timber is available why cut down old growth?

  9. 0
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    As a nation, we need to learn to respect the aged, and old growth forests are the same. What gives any generation the right to destroy something that has taken hundreds of years to grow. I can absolutely see the opportunity for tourism around these beautiful forests. Like everything there is a balance and timber is an important resource – we just need to be smart about how we provide the resource for sustainable production – government must take a lead, but also the community. But we need balanced and sensible views on conservation, not extreme views which will never influence the majority. Always come forward with a solution. I can’t help but think that the respect for the old forests has disappeared with the demise of family businesses and the involvement of “big business” which only cares about profit. Once felled these trees cannot be replaced so there is no time like the present.


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