In the middle of a forest two people stand hunched over the boot of their car staring at a laptop screen. For those that don't know what they are doing there, it presents a rather perplexing sight.
Surrounded by nature, their eyes are glued to the screen, exclaiming to one another as they try to make sense of what they are seeing.
Louise Morris and Mike Bretz have just collected footage from a camera trap in the Blue Tier forests of North-East Tasmania. They are watching the computer to see if they captured any interesting activity.
"Possum butt, possum butt and more possum butt," Morris explains flicking through the files. Then suddenly the pair begin to chuckle as they realise they've captured footage of an unknown marsupial trying to bite the camera.
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"Some of our camera's have scars," Morris says while examining the protective casing. This is just one of several camera's positioned throughout the Blue Tier and surrounds. They play an important role in a citizen science movement, run by Blue Derby Wild, aimed at preventing the logging of these areas.
Both Morris and Bretz are involved in the campaign. For almost a year groups of citizen scientists, supported by experts, have been surveying the forests of the Blue Tier in hopes of deterring logging in the area.
All information the group has collected is uploaded to the Altas of Living Australia and the Natural Values Atlas of Tasmania. Hopping back in the car, Bretz begins to talk about the significance of the forests.
A conservation and wildlife biologist, he explains how the area is unique due to the glacial refugia found there.
"[The forest] was isolated from other forested areas during the last glaciation period 18,000 years ago. This is one of only two significant areas of glacial refugia in Tasmania," Bretz said.
Glacial refugia forests were not frozen during the last great ice age which allowed them to survive and rehabilitate their surroundings.
Continuing the drive to the next location known as the Big Tree Walk, it's clear that Bretz cares deeply for the forests around him. He explains in detail the differences between eucalyptus breeds on one side of the road and the other, while marvelling at any and all kinds of life encountered.
Morris shares Bretz's love for the area. She is a career anti-forestry campaigner and touches the tress almost like they are her pets as she continues along the Big Tree Walk.
Entrenched in the heart of the Blue Tier, the walk takes you through scenery straight out of a fairy tale. About 15 minutes along the track stands the Blue Tier Giant. A tree found miraculously by an explorer who spent weeks wondering around the forests in search of big trees.
At the base of the Giant sits a visitor log filled with the names of all those who had made the trek. Tasmanian signatures made up most of the pages, but the more recent visitors boasted people from interstate and overseas.
After listening to the sounds of the forest the journey ventures to the way out. After passing some friendly faces on the trail, it's back to the car and off to a logging coupe elsewhere in the forest.
The pair share their vision for an ecotourism mecca in North East Tasmania. It involves the protection of the Blue Tier, which in part is listed as Future Potential Production Forest, rehabilitation of failed timber plantations and investment in connecting the forests along a tourism route.
In recent years the area has benefited from an explosion of tourists coming to visit the mountain bike trails at Derby. Similar trails on the East Coast have also attracted visitors.
Bretz, who worked with a shuttle company taking people up the Blue Derby trails for two years, said people were coming to the area for the mountain biking, but returning for the scenery.
"People want to experience remote areas like the North East Highlands and for those less adventurous they want forest drives with short walks through our unique forests," he said.
"In order to build on the current list of experiences, improved marketing and infrastructure is required. Many people have told me that visiting the north east forests was a life changing experience.
"If we can preserve and restore the north east landscape then with careful planning and allocation of resources we could create viable local economies and communities."
Tourism Northern Tasmania chief executive officer Chris Griffin said ecotourism was a growing sector across the North. He said there were trends towards people holidaying in locations which were more nature based and safe.
"I am anticipating we are going to see more visitors to explore and connect with nature and to do that in various ways," Griffin said.
"Whether that be passively through site seeing, [or] more engaged engaged ecotourism such as soft adventure, mountain biking, walking, fishing, photography, botany and things like that."
Mr Griffin said Tasmania was well place to capitalise on the movement towards ecotourism.
"I think it is the different experiences you can have around the state and in such a condensed geographical space is something we can present as a really compelling preposition to market," he said.
"To say that you can be mountain biking in the Blue Tier, walking Narawntapu [and] fishing in the Central Highland lakes all within one holiday experience where in other places in the country you might have to drive quite long distances to all those things."
The Next Economy chief executive officer Dr Amanda Cahill agreed that Tasmania had a competitive advantage when it came to natural tourism values.
The Next Economy is an organisation which works with communities across Australia to transition their economies to become more resilient. The organisation works to help communities create economies for the long term which look after both the people and the planet.
Dr Cahill said over the past 18 months more people have been willing to have a conversation about creating sustainable economies.
She said one opportunity for growth was the ecotourism market with consumers increasingly seeking out those experiences.
One example is Cairns, a tourism destination in far North Queensland, where the mayor recently announced plans for the city to become the green tourism capital of Australia. Dr Cahill said if consumers could trust the experience was eco-friendly then they would pay top dollar.
"If people have that option, and they can trust the branding, that it is low carbon or net-zero even, that the tourism dollar is going into protecting the environment and they can see that there are waste initiatives in place they will pay top dollar for that," she said.
"It is a competitive advantage if you have the systems in place, if you market it right, if people can trust that it's real and not just green wash.
"Now with the economic impacts of lock down, regions need to work out what their competitive advantage is. Tasmania definitely has an advantage over other parts of Australia in being able to capitalise on that."
If Bretz and Morris's vision for the North East were to come to fruition, it could only happen with an end of logging in the area.
At the moment logging coupes are scattered throughout the Blue Tier and even near Derby's famed mountain bike tracks. Some coupes are within 30 metres of the Krushka's trail.
Logging, and in particular native forest logging, in Tasmania is a highly politicised issue. There are those who don't want to see any logging occur and those who would like to see the industry continue in a sustainable way.
The debate is so heated that the legality of native forest logging in Tasmania is being challenged in the Federal Court by the Bob Brown Foundation. If the case is successful it would see an end to native forest logging in Tasmania and could lead to challenges of the practice in other states.
Both the tourism and forestry sectors are big business in Tasmania.
Tourism Research Australia figures from the 2018-19 financial year showed the industry directly employed 22,300 people in Tasmania. A further 20,900 people were indirectly employed through the sector.
Tourism Tasmanian chief executive officer John Fitzgerald said the government and the tourism industry had a shared vision of Tasmania as a world leader in sustainable tourism.
Meanwhile, data from a University of Canberra study into the socio-economic impacts of forestry in Tasmania, released by Forest and Wood Products Australia in May 2018, found the industry directly employed 3076 people with a further 2651 jobs created by the industries activities.
There is no doubt that an end to native forest logging would cost some of those jobs. According to the Tasmanian Forests and Forest Products Network only about 9 per cent of Tasmanian forests are plantation. About 50 per cent are in reserves and the rest are made up of unreserved public or private native forests.
Ending native forest logging could also create jobs. More forest managers would be needed, people would be employed to restore already logged areas and tourism jobs would be created.
For Morris and Bretz the trade off is an easy decision to back. They believe the environmental and economic benefits of the forests should be protected.
"There are so many opportunities to value add on existing assets and infrastructure in the north east to introduce people to the natural beauty of our forests," Bretz said.
"One easy example is a North East Forest Drive that takes in the Tamar Highway from St Helens to Derby. Along this highway people are able to access the Blue Tier Giant Tree walk, Myrtle forest walks, Halls Falls, St Columba Falls, Weldborough forest walks, and of course the Blue Derby and St Helens MTB trail networks.
"You can [also] stop at the Pyengana cheese factory, the Weldborough Pub for local beers or discover one of the new eateries popping up in the region." Only time will tell if the industries, communities and political powers that be share their vision.
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