Otway Ranges Environment Network



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Sabine Falls

Sabine Falls is located in the headwaters of Smythe Creek near Mt Sabine, roughly north of Apollo Bay. See map of how to get there.

Sabine Falls is the tallest waterfall complex in the Otways, consisting of three waterfalls, plunging down a 130 metre escarpment at the head of Smythe Creek.

When the 2000/2001 logging schedule (Wood Utilisation Plan) was released, two areas totalling 0.77 square kilometres were planned to be clearfell logged on the west border of Sabine Falls.

See map of Sabine Falls area -

and map of Sabine logging history.



Upper Sabine Falls
John Piesse


Destruction of scenic quality threatens Tourism Values
Sabine Falls walking track threatened
The Sabine Falls Campaign
Otway Regional Forest Reference Group discussion on Sabine Falls
Habitat Fragmentation
Old Growth Forest
Where to from here for Sabine Falls?

Destruction of scenic quality threatens Tourism Values

Sabine Falls has been a popular tourist destination for years. Plans to clearfell log the area sparked a great deal of local community opposition and media interest.

Sabine Falls has high aesthetic values that are recognized in the Otway Forest Management Plan (Link). The forest west of the falls is located within a zone that should provide the highest degree of protection to scenic quality. (Zone A VQO) . Changes to the landscape should be inevident.

Proposed logging will have a dramatic effect on the scenic quality of the area for a very long time and destroy the current and future tourism potential of the area.

Sabine Falls walking track threatened

The Sabine Falls walking track is an easy one-hour round trip walk that is less than half an hour drive from Apollo Bay. The walk is promoted on tourist maps and the book "Walks in the Otways". The Sabine Falls walk is listed in the Otway Forest Management Plan (OFMP) as a place of recreation to be maintained by the department (See Table 27: Page 92, OFMP).

In the early 1990s the Sabine Fall walking track was open and provided scenic views of mountain forest. Now the walking track is closed. The government claimed it was too expensive to maintain the Sabine Falls walking track. However a section of the walk to an old sawmill site is still open.

The Government also planned to close the picnic areas at Sabine Falls in 2001. This was also met with a great deal of community opposition, which resulted in the government backing down.

It appears the closure of tourism infrastructure around Sabine Falls is part of plan by Forestry Victoria to erase the memory of the area being a tourist destination from the public mind. This is being done so clearfell logging of mountain ash adjacent to the falls can take place.

Despite pressure to log the area, the Trans Otway Walking Track Association proposes to build a new walking track to the falls and through the middle of the area proposed to be clearfell logged.

The Sabine Falls Campaign

Conservation groups involved in mediation discussions with the government during 2000, lobbied to have Sabine Falls protected but failed in discussions. When it was clear Forestry Victoria intended to log the area, a series of public awareness picnics were held at Sabine Falls in the latter part of 2000.

The following sequence of event occurred.

  • The Sunday Age news paper picked up the story and ran a feature article about proposals to log Sabine Falls. See Age 19/11/00?
  • Issue of logging at Sabine Falls was raised in State Parliament by Hon. P.A Katsambanis 29/11/00
  • Many letters to the Editor in the Age.
  • Surf Coast Shire passed a motion condemning logging at Sabine Falls 13/12/00
  • Article in the Age 19/12/00.
  • Union movement drawn into the debate with Trades Hall Secretary. Leigh Hubbard was drawn into debate with a claim in the Age that Trades Hall will not support logging at Sabine Falls. However Leigh Hubbard supported logging of Sabine Falls and issued a press release. 20/12/00
  • In early January 2001, Forestry Victoria destroyed walking tracks constructed by activists to access remote waterfalls and forest. Generated a lot of media.
  • Lot of regional press and radio.
  • Environment Minister Garbutt announced a deferral of logging at Sabine Falls and referred the issues to the Otway Regional Forest Reference Group. See Garbutt's press release 25 Jan 2001 and article in The Age 29 Jan 2001.
  • Public gathering at Sabine Falls on the 11 March attracted over 800 people opposed to logging. See photos
  • In July 2001, it was leaked to the public that Minister Garbutt intended to destroy the Sabine Falls walking tracks and picnic facilities. All references to Sabine Falls as a tourist destination were to be removed from maps.
  • Minister did back-flip and announced that there are no plans to close the Sabine Falls picnic facilities. See press release 13 July 2001.
  • The then Shadow Environment Minister Victor Perton stated that Sabine Falls would not be removed from maps if his party is elected. See press release 16 July 2001

Otway Regional Forest Reference Group discussion on Sabine Falls

The Otway Regional Forest Reference Group (ORFRG) was set up by the State Environment Minster to provide a forum to discuss issues such as Sabine Falls. See Garbutt's press release 25 Jan 2001.

During these meetings, the Department put forward briefing papers that stated their position on logging in the Sabine Falls area. Forestry Victoria argued that a lack of public comment regarding Sabine Falls during the RFA process meant that logging could go ahead. However conservation groups on the Reference group reminded the department that the public had not forgotten Sabine Falls. Issues were raised such as scenic quality, Old Growth Forest and Habitat Fragmentation.

Forestry Victoria never raised the issue of Visual Quality Objectives in the Otway Forest Management Plan for the Sabine Falls area.(Link) The department's own briefing papers to the ORFRG acknowledge this omission. (See second briefing paper)

See first briefing paper to ORFRG from Department.

See second briefing paper to ORFRG from Department.

On 17 April 2002, the Minister disbanded the Otway Regional Forest Reference Group. See media release. There is no longer a forum to discuss issues regarding logging at Sabine Falls. No final decision was ever made.

Logging is scheduled to go ahead in the 2003/04 logging season.

Habitat Fragmentation

The location of private land, and plantations on old farmland means that logging at Sabine falls will result in habitat fragmentation. See maps.

The issue of Habitat Fragmentation listed as a threatening process under the Flora and Fauna Guarantee Act was raised in the reference group.

In response Forestry Victoria decided to remove Sabine Saddle Coupe and modify the Sabine Falls coupe to include a larger wildlife corridor for Tiger Quolls.

Conservation representatives stressed that until an Action Statement for Habitat Fragmentation was completed, no logging should proceed.

Old Growth Forest

Forestry Victoria tried to argue that the whole area around Sabine Falls has been logged before and there is nothing but regrowth forests. However Forestry Victorias own maps show past selective logging left a large number of veteran trees and patches of old growth around the Sabine Falls.

See Otways old growth for more info.

Old Growth Forest West of Sabine Falls to be logged. John Piesse.

Where to from here for Sabine Falls?

The campaign to protect Sabine Falls involves public education, research and lobbying the State Government to follow through with processes and further research that the government has committed to completing.

However the native forest woodchip industry is lobbying the State Government to ignore due process and research, so logging can restart in the area.

The State Government processes to protect values have been slow and remain uncompleted. These include:

  • Issues relating to logging in Zone A, Visual Quality Objective not addressed.
  • No Action Statement for Habitat Fragmentation.
  • Revised Action Statement for Tiger Quolls has not been competed.
  • National Estate values not properly assessed.
  • No Action Statement for Loss of Hollow Bearing Trees.
  • No Action Statement for the Slender Tree Fern

There has been some reprieve for Sabine Falls but the area is still far from protected. Logging is scheduled to go ahead in the 2003/04 logging season.

The Sabine Falls area should be included into an extension of the Angahook-Lorne State Park.

  See more information about Habitat Fragmentation.

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