Regenerating sections of the Strzelecki Ranges have again been cleared in a move environmental groups fear could set back the area's recovery by decades.
As part of a 2008 deal to return 8000 hectares of high conservation bushland known as the 'cores and links' back to public ownership, Hancock Victoria Plantations was granted permission by the State Government to conduct a one-off harvests of 1500ha.
According to Friends of the Earth and Friends of the Gippsland Bush, areas in the Strzeleckis totalling 10 hectares, cleared about four years ago as part of the one-off harvest, were recovering well with a mix of re-planted trees and natural regeneration.
But HVP has returned to clear the areas once again, because the sites did not meet strict revegetation guidelines set by the Department of Environment and Primary Industries as part of the buyback deal.
"The department says it wants 300 eucalypts per hectare which is a totally unrealistic expectation that cannot ever be met," Friends of the Gippsland Bush member Susie Zent said.
Ms Zent said she feared the 750ha of land yet to be harvested under the 'one-off' arrangement could also be cleared multiple times as a result of DEPI's "fanciful standards", significantly delaying the area's final handover and conservation.
"If the number of eucalypts per hectare are not met, then those areas will not be signed off on and added to the reserve system," she said.
The botanist who conducted research into the conservation value of the cores and links more than a decade ago, Stephen Mueck said the number of trees required by DEPI was appropriate for a timber plantation, but not for an area that would now be preserved.
He said the re-clearing of the sites could significantly damage their ability to produce a strong understorey.
"The more frequently you disturb a site, the more you have an impact on what species can return," Mr Mueck said.
A DEPI statement said the area requiring re-clearing was only 3ha.
It said the department required between 150 to 250 stems per hectare for adequate revegetation, depending on the forest type.
"This forest is dominated by mountain ash trees that do not generally regenerate naturally and it has been necessary for HVP to plant the trees," the statement read.
"At some locations the mountain ash trees have not survived and clearing and replanting is required to ensure a forest is re-established.
"HVP has successfully regenerated forest across the overwhelming majority of the harvested area," the statement read.
The 8000ha that make up the 'cores and links' are recognised as critical buffers which help conserve the 'core' cool and temperate rainforests and maintain 'links' between the Gunyah Gunyah Rainforest and Tarra Bulga National Park.
As part of the buyback deal, the government agreed to permanently protect 20,000ha of sensitive native forest in the Strzeleckis, including the cores and links, along with an extra 15,000ha.