How dare they? The swift parrot slowly loses critical habitat as Tasmania clears native forest

Rob Blakers has been a landscape and nature photographer in Tasmania for more than four decades. He specializes in taking the time to capture images in the depths of the state’s wilderness that others won’t or can’t.

Last summer he spent time in the Eastern Tiers Forest Reserve, about a two-hour drive northeast of Hobart, climbing trees to snap photos of the critically endangered swift parrot. In one shot, he snapped a photo of nine birds in a tree. He estimates that about 30% or so of the estimated remaining wild population nested and fed in the area.

It was extraordinary, Blakers said on Tuesday. I’ve only spent a few years looking for fast parrots, but this was way above anything else I’ve ever seen just to have the consistency to be all in this place. They are very active birds and there is nothing else I have seen like this.

On Tuesday, Blakers returned to the same patch of forest planning to be arrested.

The Tasmanian government’s logging agency, Sustainable Timber Tasmania, had begun logging trees in the area as part of its program to clear native forests. The photographer was one of a group of 10 protesters connected to the Bob Brown Foundation who entered the logging coupe at about 8:30am and waited for the police to be called.

Wilderness photographer Rob Blakers next to felled trees in Tasmania's Eastern Tiers.
Wilderness photographer Rob Blakers next to felled trees in Tasmania’s Eastern Tiers. Photograph: Rob Blakers/Bob Brown Foundation

Other protesters left the area at the request of the police. Blakers refused and was charged with trespassing. He later said he felt surprised, then furious when he heard the area being taped. He said he felt he had to act.

My reaction was: How dare they? How can they so blatantly ignore all the science, all the advice they’ve received, and go in and destroy this forest? he said.

There were no swift parrots in the area at the time of logging, the species spends winters in Victoria and New South Wales and summers nesting in forests scattered across Tasmania depending on where its main food sources, gums, flower blue and black. But scientists say the species can’t afford to lose any more of its summer habitat in Tasmania if it is to survive.

A guide released by CSIRO in 2021 estimated that the speedy parrot population had plummeted to around 750, down from 2,000 a decade earlier. Peer-reviewed studies found that it could become extinct in 10 years if no action is taken to improve its protection, and that forestry posed the greatest threat to its survival.

Trees felled by the Tasmanian government agency, Sustainable Timber Tasmania.
Trees felled by the Tasmanian government agency, Sustainable Timber Tasmania. Photograph: Rob Blakers/Bob Brown Foundation

It is the first time Blakers, 65, has been arrested since December 1982, when he joined the protest against the planned Gordon-under-Franklin Dam in Tasmania’s west coast wilderness.

He said the timber agency broke its own rules by cutting down an area that included more than eight trees with a trunk at least 70cm in diameter per hectare. He said the trees were felled 35 meters from the nesting tree which he captured in a photo. According to the agencies’ rules, there should be a buffer of at least 50 million.

The southeast portion of the coupe, which was filled with swift parrots during the summer, has been substantially cleared, he said. Virtually all of the large trees here have been felled. The few remaining older trees are isolated and exposed to the wind.

Sustainable Timber Tasmanias Director General of Conservation and Land Management Suzette Weeding said logging in the area was being undertaken in accordance with a plan of certified forest practices.

He said it includes provisions to conserve identified patches of Brookers gum, which has been identified as rapid foraging habitat for parrots.

The Certified Forest Practices plan states that areas around confirmed/known swift parrot nesting trees have been excluded from the harvest area, Weeding said. These operational arrangements will allow for continued protection of swift parrot habitat in the area.

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