Otway Ranges Environment Network



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Between 1999 -2002 the “Water not Woodchips” campaign shut down all native forest logging in the Geelong/Otway domestic water supply catchments.


Practical results to date

The OREN/Otways "Water not Woodchips" campaign was critical in getting broad public 'political' opposition towards continued clearfell logging within the Otways domestic water supply catchments.

Achievements of the Otway "water not woodchips" campaign:

  • The State government suspended all logging within the Geelong-Otway domestic water supply catchments immediately after the 2002 State election.
    This is now five years ago.
    (See catchment list).

  • The ban on logging in the Geelong water catchment area will continue for the final Otways logging season 2007/2008. This ban was confirmed in a letter from the Department of Sustainability and Environment. (DSE 16 Oct 2007, page 4, PDF 1MB)

  • Most of the strategic Geelong and Warrnambool water supply catchment were added to the Great Otway National Park in 2005. (See catchment list).

  • Legislation is now in place to ban logging in the Forest Park component of the Warrnambool water supply catchments from July 2008 onwards.

Forest protests in 1997 stopped this forest within 200 meters of the West Barwon dam from being clearfell logged.
This forest is now protected within the Great Otways National Park. See more.

How was logging stopped in the Geelong/Otway water supply catchments?

  1. Background
  2. Regional Forest Agreement process excluded water users.
  3. Otway Forest Hydrology Reference Group.
  4. Government and forestry bureaucracy reaction to SKM Otway hydrology research.
  5. Community groups’ reaction to SKM Otway hydrology research.
  6. November 2002 State election
  7. Victorian Liberal Party 2002 electoral obliteration
  8. Cancelled West Regional Forest Agreement


1. Background

The Otway Ranges Environment Network (OREN) working in conjunction with the Geelong Community Forum(GCF) and supported by the Geelong Environment Council, raised community awareness regarding the impact of logging on water quality and quantity from the Otways.

The issues is relevant for the 300,000 people in South West Victoria who rely on Otway forested catchments for their domestic water supply. OREN and GCF put together reports on the impact of logging on water quality and quantity and networked the issue throughout the community.

Research shows that clearfell logging in water catchments is detrimental to water quality and quantity. Once a forest has been cut down, it takes 150-200 years for water yield to return to pre-logging levels as young regrowth forest consumes more water than old mature forests. In the Otways, logging roads and logging operations cause landslides & erosion which increases turbidity in the creeks and rivers thus effecting the quality of the water for drinking as well as aquatic stream life. See OREN water report to find out more.

South Western Victoria - water supply structure

Otway water structure

For more than 20 years there has considerable public concern regarding the impacts clearfell logging has on the quantity and quality of water from domestic water supplies catchments in the Otway Ranges. Past community concern pushed the State government into conducting numerous inquiries and research projects such as:

  • 1982 - Interdepartmental Task force Inquiry into “Pulpwood harvesting for Woodchips in the Otways”.

  • 1985 - Farrell Novotony water quality studies for the West Barwon, West Barham (not published) and  Porcupine Creek. (not completed)

  • 1988 - Silvicultural Systems Project hydrology research into impacts of logging on water yield (terminated in 1994, not completed)

  • 1988 - Ray Moran Otway water yield modelling, ”The effects of timber harvesting operations on Streamflows in the Otway Ranges”

  • 1992 - Otway Forest Management Plan (missing prescriptions to protect water yield from logging).

  • 1999 - ALP State Government elected with policies to conduct new hydrology research in the Otways.
west barwon

Forest clearfell logged for woodchips in the Geelong domestic water supply catchment (after the Regional Forest Agreement was signed in 2000).

2. Regional Forest Agreement process excluded water users.

In 1999, the West Regional Forest Agreement (RFA) did not acknowledge water as a primary economic output from Otway forested  catchments. Hence urban water users in Geelong were deliberately excluded from the West RFA consultation process despite their water catchments being directly affected by this 20 year agreement.

The map below shows Geelong City excluded from the West RFA study area despite the Midway export woodchip mill being within Geelong metro area.



The next map shows in detail how the West RFA boundary goes around metro Geelong to exclude its people from the formal consultation process.



OREN and GCF turned this lack of consultation around by lobbying water users and their local government representatives in Geelong and Warrnambool to include themselves as water stakeholders. To do this:

  • the GCF organised several public meetings in Geelong under the banner 'Our Water Our Forests Our Future'. (Note the State government stole the 'Our Water Our Future' part for its own purposes at a later date). This GCF web page has the dates and speeches that were made.

  • the Commonwealth and State governments were embarrassed into consulting with Geelong water users and hosted a major water forum in Geelong on the 1st December 1999. (See Proceeding of a Water Forum PDF 200kb)

  • in response to growing community concern, environment minister Garbutt set up a West Victorian Independent Panel to review all RFA public submissions. The West Victorian Independent Panel recorded the fact there was significant public opposition to logging in the Otways water supply catchments before the West RFA was signed.
    (See report extracts regarding logging vs water supply issues).

Geelong resident trying to water garden with woodchips rather than water from the Otways. Source GCF publication.

The 20 year West RFA was signed on the 31 March 2000 by the Federal and State governments. It was signed with the full knowledge that there was a lack of scientific understanding regarding the impacts of clearfell logging on the Geelong and Warrnambool water supply.

However a clause 61 was added to the West RFA which provided a requirement to have hydrology research completed for the Otways. However while this scientific research occurred, logging would be allowed to proceed in the Otway water supply catchments.

The inclusion of clause 61 in the West RFA was a victory for the community campaign to date. The logging industry had consistently argued that existing rules were good enough and dismissed the need for further Otway hydrology scientific research . (See Industry comments regarding logging vs water supply issues).

No other previous RFA signed in Victoria had the requirements of Clause 61 included.

Clause 61: West Regional Forest Agreement


61. Parties agree that the provision of adequate flows of high quality surface water and maintenance of groundwater processes is a fundamental goal of forest management and note that a range of measures (see Attachment 9) have been implemented through the Victorian Forest Management System to address the issues associated with water supply, water quality and groundwater processes in forests. As part of the Forest Management System, Victoria proposes to conduct hydrological research on the impacts of timber harvesting on water quality and yield. Victoria will develop a project brief for this research which will include the Otway Ranges, in consultation with industry and community stakeholders, by 30 June 2000. Download whole West RFA (pdf).

When the RFA was signed, Minister Garbutt made misleading assurances that the RFA process would provide domestic water supply catchments with additional protection from logging practices.

In a press release dated 31 March 2000, the Minister stated:

"Ms. Garbutt said additional restrictions had been placed on timber harvesting in the Otways in preparation for a hydrology study into the effects of logging on water yields and quality in catchments."


Former Environment Minister Garbutt

However logging prescriptions nominated in the March 2000 Regional Forest Agreement to protect water yield were exactly the same as the existing prescriptions in the 1992 Otway Forest Management Plan.

It was exposed in the Age (13 May 2000) that these claims made by Minister Garbutt were false.

3. Otway Forest Hydrology Reference Group.

Following the signing of the West RFA in March 2000, the State government followed through with its election commitment to conduct further hydrology research and meet the requirements of West RFA clause 61.

 In June 2000, the Minister appointed the Otway Forest Hydrology Reference Group (OFHRG). OFHRG was made up of community stakeholder groups that included:

    • local Government (five councils)
    • conservation groups (three)
    • water authorities (three)
    • native hardwood industry representatives (five)
    • plantations industry; and
    • DNRE
  • The overall aim of the hydrology study was to investigate the impact logging has on water yield and quality. Terms of Reference for the hydrology research required a two stage approach. Stage One was a desktop study to look at existing data with an aim to establish trends and find information gaps. Stage Two was a longer term research project designed to fill in information gaps determined by Stage One. (Stage Two was never started).


The Otway hydrology research was completed in just four months (1st December 2000). The SKM report was publicly released in January 2001, only seven months after the project started and less than a year after the West RFA signed.


4. Government and forestry bureaucracy reaction to SKM Otway hydrology research.

The Victorian government, with advice from the forest management bureaucracy, made a  political decision to dismiss the significance of the water loss as result from logging.  The Government then allowed the forestry bureaucracy to begin a simple and superficial public relations campaign with misleading statistics and claims designed to create a public perception that the water loss issues exposed by the SKM research were not important or could never occur due to claims the catchments would burn too regularly.

See Minister Garbutt public statement (19 Jan 2001).

NRE propaganda flyer was also published titled “Water and the Otways Forests, a hydrology study, 2001.”


5. Community groups’ reaction to SKM Otway hydrology research.

OREN and GCF disputed the government interpretation and began publicly promoting;

  • the water to be gained if logging stopped and that the water had a greater economic value compared with the woodchips and sawlogs from clearfell logged native forest in the Geelong catchments,

  • the fact that the frequency of severe fires in wet forests is naturally low (once every 300 years) and that high rainfall forests have an excellent chance of maturing and providing high water yields for a long time.

See the Age (11 December 2000).

A petition in mid 1999 calling for the immediate cessation of clearfell logging in Otway water catchments obtained more than 6,000 signatures in two days within the Geelong region. This petition was presented to State Parliament by local Geelong MP, Peter Loney.

The public response to this awareness campaign was very positive. In 2001 a Saulwick poll was conducted in the Federal Electorate of Corangamite. Over 69% of the voters polled were opposed to clearfell logging in the Otways. Download pdf poll results.

The OREN and GCF views were also strongly supported at a local government level. The City of Greater Geelong, Surf Coast Shire, Warrnambool City Council, Moyne Shire heard both sides of the argument; with presentations from OREN and the State Government forestry bureaucracy. These councils then passed resolutions wanting logging to be moved out of the Otway forested domestic water supply catchments.



6. November 2002 State election

In the 12 month lead up to the 2002 state election, OREN funded a "water not woodchips" media campaign within the Geelong region. This included:

  • radio advertisements on K-Rock and Bay FM. (Listen now. 480kb MP3)

  • local newspaper advertising.

OREN election advertisement, Geelong Advertiser, 2/11/2002.

The Bracks government accepted public concern over logging in the Otways and announced policies during the November 2002 State election campaign to end all logging in the Otways by 2008. The government won an overwhelming mandate to end logging in the Otways through the democratic election processes.

Even long time critics of the conservation movement such as Daryl Mclure (Opinion, 25 November 2002, Geelong Advertiser) concede that, “maybe logging old growth forests, especially in water catchments areas does have to stop.”

As a result of the new policies, the State government immediately suspended all logging within the Geelong-Otway water supply catchments (now five years ago). Most of the strategic Geelong and Warrnambool water supply catchment were added to the Great Otway National Park in 2005.

7. Victorian Liberal Party 2002 electoral obliteration

During the 2002 state election campaign, the Victorian Liberal Party supported continued logging in the Otways under the rules determined by the Regional Forest Agreement. This included continued logging the Geelong water supply catchments.

The Liberal Party’s Geelong team was decimated.  It failed to win in every local seat; including the loss of two Lower House seats and one upper house seat it previously held.

See Case Study: Liberals lost Victorian State seats of Bellarine and South Barwon due to support for Otways logging under the Regional Forest Agreement.


Victorian Liberals recognise Otway people power mandate in 2005.

In 2005, when legislation was passed to create the Great Otway National Park and ban logging in the Otways after 2008, the Victorian State Liberal opposition supported the legislation and acknowledged the Bracks government Otway mandate in State Parliament.

From Hansard: Hon. Philip Davis, Upper House Liberal Member for Gippsland.
National Parks (Otways and other amendments) Bill, 14/9/2005.

"Members of Parliament contest elections based around a policy debate. When a government wins a clear mandate for its policy positions there is an obligation under our democratic process to respect that mandate. I have to say that on this issue I respect the mandate the Bracks government won because it was so emphatic in terms of a policy position and it was one of the central planks in the return of the Bracks government."

Read more about what the Victorian Liberals said.

philip davis
Hon. Phillip Davis, Upper House Liberal Member for Gippsland.


8. Cancelled West Regional Forest Agreement

To protect the Otways water supply catchments from clearfell logging and create the Great Otway National Park, the West Regional Forest Agreement was cancelled by the Bracks Government.


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