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Last Updated: Wednesday, 10 December, 2003, 12:12 GMT
Forestry officials admit killing biggest tree
Man stands by El Grande after the fire [picture courtesy of Wilderness Society]
El Grande was a national icon
Australian forestry officials have admitted to killing the nation's largest tree, by mistake.

The tree, a eucalyptus known as El Grande, was damaged earlier this year when a burning operation designed to regenerate surrounding woodland got out of control.

Conservationists pronounced the tree dead in May but Forestry Tasmania was waiting to see whether the eucalyptus would recover in the spring.

Forestry Tasmania general manager of operations, Kim Creak, admitted on Wednesday that their hopes were misplaced.

"A group of forest scientists has conducted an assessment of the condition of the tree. Unfortunately, it is deceased," he said.

Although there are taller trees on Tasmania, El Grande - which stood at 79 metres (260 feet) - is thought to be the largest tree in Australia in terms of volume.

Environmentalists in Tasmania, where the Greens' party attracts 20% of the vote, have accused the authorities of being unfit to protect one of the world's most diverse rainforests.

"It is significant that Forestry has confessed to killing the largest known living thing in Australia," said Geoff Law, a spokesman for the environment group Wilderness Society.

"They have confessed to killing it through their own incompetence," he said.

Mr Creak said the tree's death was a "learning experience" and that the department had written new guidelines for woodland clearance exercises.

The fate of El Grande has intensified scrutiny of the burning of Tasmania's forests to provide wood chip for export. Fires are started to clear the undergrowth.

Giant tree devastated by fire
02 Jun 03  |  Asia-Pacific
Tasmania's forests 'at growing risk'
08 Apr 02  |  Science/Nature

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