Mountain biking gives this Tasmanian town a sustainable future. Logging does not

At the end of the 19th century, it was the mining of tin that animated the economic life of Derby, about 100 km from Launceston in north-eastern Tasmania. But the mine has closed for a long time. From a peak of over 3,000, in the 2016 census, Derby’s population was 178, with an unemployment rate of 20%.

The location of Derby in northeast Tasmania.

What kept Derby from becoming another mining ghost town was finding a more sustainable mountain resource: mountain biking.

This transition could be seen as a model for the world, a story of hope for mining communities seeking to move from unsustainable resource extraction to something more about maintaining balance with nature.

But there is something that opposes this view. As in many parts of Tasmania and elsewhere, the forests through which the trails of the Blue Derby Trail have been constructed are still threatened by logging.

Origins of the Derby adventure

In 2015, with funding from the federal government, two local councils (Dorset Council and Break O’Day Council) opened the first 20 km section of the Blue Derby Trail Network, a system of mountain biking trails that spans now for 125 km in temperate old-growth rainforest, meeting a range of skill levels and driving styles.

There are easy trails such as “Crusty Rusty” a “mostly hilly” trail with two crossings of the local Cascade River. There are extremely difficult trails, such as “23 Stitches”, 800 meters of “fast, downhill jumping track, littered with jumps of land, rollers and tables”.

The 23 points, classified as “extremely difficult”

The attractions of the Blue Derby Trail Network were quickly recognized by interstate and international mountain biking enthusiasts. In 2017, Dorset Council Mayor Greg Howard boasted that the trails attracted 30,000 visitors per year, with the initial investment of $ 3.1 million bringing in $ 30 million per year.

Turmoil in the midst of renewal

Logging of Tasmania’s public forests is overseen by the state-owned company known as Sustainable Timber Tasmania (formerly Forestry Tasmania). It manages 816,000 hectares of public forest classified as “Land of the Permanent Wood Production Zone”. This area represents about 12% of the total land area of ​​Tasmania and 24% of its forests.

Each year, Sustainable Timber Tasmania must extract 137,000 cubic meters of logs from these forests. He maintains a “three-year plan” for the parts of Tasmania that he is going to save. He updated this document in July 2021.

This plan includes logging two cuts (CC105A and C119A) covering 85 hectares that line the Blue Derby trail system by the end of the year. A third cut, covering 40 hectares, is planned for a clear cut in 2022.

Part of the Blue Derby trail system.
Part of the Blue Derby trail system.
Blue Derby Pods ride, CC BY

Local opinions on this journaling are mixed. Dorset Council Mayor Greg Howard said it would make no difference for mountain bike trails. Environmentalists and others are more defiant. The local conservation group Blue Derby Wild has organized protests involving cyclists, hikers and activists.



Read more: Trails being tested: what human uses are acceptable for protected areas?


This battle between logging and outdoor recreation in Derby illustrates the conflict between extraction and conservation that affects communities in Tasmania, Australia and the world.

The value of mountain biking tourism

This week, more than 180 Tasmanian tourism companies signed an open letter calling on the state government to end logging in native forests. The letter says:

Brand Tasmania promises an island at the end of the world where ancient forests and wild rivers wait to reconnect people to their wild side, through nature-based tourism experiences not found anywhere else on earth.

Mountain biking has become an increasingly valuable part of this tourist mix since the late 1990s, when communities in iconic destinations such as Moab, Utah and Whistler, B.C. began building trails for mountain biking. Mountain bike.

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Mountain biker in Canyonlands National Park near Moab, Utah.
Shutterstock

Although the size and value of the industry internationally is difficult to assess, ATV tourists are generally wealthy. They travel an average of 12 nights per year, spending US $ 130-230 each day of their visit. A study published in March 2021 (commissioned by the AusCycling group and funded by the Federal Government’s Building Better Region Fund) estimates that the Australian mountain biking market is worth around A $ 600 million per year, supporting more than 6,000 jobs.

How does ATV tourism compare to the value of logging? Again, although there are no studies that directly quantify this, comparisons between logging and ecotourism more generally point to the latter. A study on the economic contribution of ecotourism compared to logging in the Wet Tropics region of Queensland, for example, found that ecotourism was worth up to ten times more than logging.

In Tasmania, the tourism industry directly employs around 21,000 people, compared to around 2,500 in logging (at the time of the 2016 census).

Clear choice

Derby was a pioneer in mountain biking tourism. Communities looking to emulate his success include Harcourt in Victoria, York in Western Australia. and Mogo in New South Wales – which is also fighting logging plans threatening mountain bike trails.



Read more: Don’t Walk So Close To Me: How Human Presence Can Disrupt Wildlife Up To 800 Meters


Mountain bikers primarily seek destinations based on the quality of the trail networks, the appeal of the terrain, and the appeal of the natural landscape. But the support of the local community and politicians is just as important.

In Derby, the choice between logging and sustainable tourism must be clear. The mining did not last. Journaling either. Long-term protections are needed now.


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