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Paving of popular South West road outages residents as old-growth trees are flagged for removal

Craig DuncanManjimup-Bridgetown Times
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The initial paving of the road will occur within a small area not considered national park, ending at Warren National Park.
Camera IconThe initial paving of the road will occur within a small area not considered national park, ending at Warren National Park. Credit: Craig Duncan

The decision to pave a popular tourist road to improve safety in the South West has left residents furious at the potential loss of iconic old-growth trees.

The intersection of Old Vasse Road and Hawke Road is a contentious site of development as the Shire of Manjimup plans to chop several towering karri trees to pave a portion of the popular tourist drive.

The shire began looking at upgrading the road in 2007 but halted its plans until receiving funding from Main Roads in 2018.

Now, the shire has planned to pave a section of the road and flagged 24 trees for potential removal.

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Resident Julian Sharp said he has been opposed to the road upgrades since the beginning and claimed the majority of residents are opposed to the clearing.

He believes clearing the trees is “pointless”.

“This doesn’t need to happen,” Mr Sharp said.

“These are iconic trees along a beautiful road and you can imagine, with these big trees gone, it’s going to look awful.”

The shire said because Old Vasse Road is a gravel road it cannot be speed-zoned, and by sealing the road it would become safer for all vehicles with an appropriate speed limit.

The towering karri trees are iconic staples of Pemberton’s popular tourist drives.
Camera IconThe towering karri trees are iconic staples of Pemberton’s popular tourist drives. Credit: Craig Duncan

However, the shire has stated there have been no crashes recorded or reported on the road between 2015 and 2020.

Mr Sharp and other residents said they had never witnessed any type of vehicle crash in the area.

The shire has received a permit from the Department of Water and Environmental Regulation for the trees’ removal.

Resident Andy Russel questioned the decision to pave one section of the road at a time, stating people should be looking at the bigger picture.

“They are clearing in little chunks,” he said.

“Five trees this time, twelve trees the next time, that way the department looks at it and thinks it’s only a small amount.

“The big picture is 14 kilometres of clearing.”

The section being paved falls on privately owned land, with the paving ending abruptly at the borders of national parks.

Resident Rose Ferrell said paving this area would give the shire more leverage when applying to clear trees within the national park area.

Residents Julian Sharp, Andy Russel and Rose Ferrell oppose the removal of the iconic trees.
Camera IconResidents Julian Sharp, Andy Russel and Rose Ferrell oppose the removal of the iconic trees. Credit: Craig Duncan

“It will up the ante on needing to join the rest of the road,” she said.

“There’s no logic. We’ll have bitumen here and people need to get through, so they’ll need to do the whole lot.”

Produce stall owner Kevin Fitzpatrick said the decision to remove the trees will force him to close his produce stall, Ralph’s Organics, which has been a staple of the tourist drive for more than 26 years.

Mr Fitzpatrick said one of the trees planned for removal sits directly in front of his stall, which will remove the shade that protects his rustic stall.

“I’ll have to stare at a barren stump every time I go down to my stall,” he said.

“If I was a tourist I wouldn’t want to stop without that tree there.”

The shire said there was no date yet for the removal, but as a condition of its clearing permit, a 1.1-ha site of untouched woodland will be provided for ongoing conservation efforts.

A survey report from the shire also stated none of the trees flagged for removal had any evidence of being habitat trees for native wildlife.

This is part of the shire’s Old Vasse Road upgrade project which is expected to take 10 years and cost more than $7 million.

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