Victorian Government grapples with forestry dilemma

The simple fact that the native forest industry is fundamentally unsustainable has confronted governments around the nation. Victoria is faced with, on the one hand, the possible extinction of its faunal emblem Leadbeater’s Possum, and on the other, closing down the native forest industry with potential job losses.

The issue came to a head early this year when Australian Sustainable Hardwoods threatened to close its mill at Heyfield in Gippsland, Australia’s largest hardwood mill, if it did not get 130,000 cubic metres of logs annually for 20 years. Such an allocation was, unsurprisingly, impossible. The government is still trying to find a solution.

The lack of resource has been blamed on buffer zones that were set up to try to save Leadbeater’s possum. Deputy Prime Minister, Barnaby Joyce, proposed opening up protection zones for logging and said he would ask Environment Minister Josh Frydenberg to review the status of the possum which is listed as critically endangered. Mr Joyce said “While I understand the conservation of the Leadbeater’s possum is important, forestry is not a principle threat to the population.” The Australian National University’s Professor David Lindenmayer criticised Mr Joyce’s call, saying there were fewer Leadbeater’s possums left than giant pandas, and downgrading the classification of the species would be “absolute insanity”.

While this issue continues to be debated, a proposal for a Great Forest National Park in the Central Highlands north-east of Melbourne is gaining momentum.

Great Forest National Park
The proposal for a Great Forest National Park involves transferring 353,213 ha of State Forest to national park which combined with existing parks would produce a total reserve area of 536,755 ha. The proposal has attracted support from internationally acclaimed environmentalists, David Attenborough and Jane Goodall.

The proposed reserve would, of course, mean a reduction in timber production. Proponents of the reserve argue that it would produce a major boost for regional economies.

Professor David Lindenmayer, Fenner School of Environment and Society at ANU, is a leading proponent of the Great Forest National Park and has articulated the case for the reserve. An abbreviated extract is provide below.

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The Central Highlands of Victoria are home to the world’s tallest flowering plants, the Mountain Ash, and one of Australia’s most endangered mammals, the Leadbeater’s Possum. Both are threatened by ongoing clearfell logging and bushfires.

To ensure their survival, I would argue we need to create a new national park, not only to protect possums and forests, but carbon stocks, water supplies, and lower the risk of bushfires. Here’s the evidence.

Extinction and collapse
The Central Highlands region of Victoria is located around towns such as Healesville, Kinglake, Toolangi, Warburton, Marysville and Woods Point. The region includes the vast majority of remaining (and declining) Leadbeater’s Possums, Mountain Ash, the most carbon dense forests in the world; and supplies most of the drinking water for the city of Melbourne.

But the Mountain Ash forests are threatened by recurrent and widespread industrial clearfell logging and major bushfires (including the Black Saturday fires of 2009).

The result is that we now have 1,886 hectares of old growth forest, spread across 147 different patches. This is estimated to be 1.5-3%of the historical area of old growth forest.

The population of large old hollow-bearing trees has collapsed. These are a critical habitat for the animals that use them, including Leadbeater’s Possum. There is a high risk that the possums will become exinct in the next 20-40 years.

And as forests regrow from logging, they are at increased risk of re-burning at high severity.

Leadbeater’s Possum and Mountain Ash forests have persisted for tens of millions of years, surviving major wildfire events. But in just the last few decades the possum is at risk of extinction, and the forests are at risk of ecological collapse.

The threat of clear felling
The one factor that has demonstrably changed this ecosystem in the past century and created these risks has been intensive and widespread industrial clear felling. Clear felling has a number of significant detrimental effects in Mountain Ash forests.

Clear felling kills animals outright. Logged areas are unsuitable for animals that depend on hollow-bearing trees for over 150 years.

A bigger reserve
To preserve Leadbeater’s Possum, and in fact the entire Mountain Ash forest ecosystem, we need a bigger national park in the Central Highlands. There are already reserves and national parks in the area, but these need to be expanded and connected to deal with the threats facing Leadbeater’s Possum and Mountain Ash forests.

The new national park is important as it removes the key process – industrial clear felling – that is threatening both the Leadbeater’s Possum and the Mountain Ash forest

Why do we need to expand our reserves in the area?

First, the current reserve system is too small to support a viable population of Leadbeater’s Possums, particularly if there are more fires in the next 50-100 years.

Second, a large ecological reserve provides a greater chance for natural fire regimes and growth of large old trees to be restored.

Third, as Mountain Ash forests store vast amounts of carbon, a new national park will be critical to maintaining carbon stocks. The park would therefore be critical to any policy to reduce carbon emissions. Our studies clearly indicate that clear felling significantly depletes carbon storage in Mountain Ash forests whereas allowing stands to grow through to mature or old growth significantly increases carbon storage (even in the event of a major wildfire).

Fourth, water yields from Mountain Ash catchments are maximised when forests are dominated by old growth stands.

Location, location
The new park needs to connect key areas of habitat for Leadbeater’s Possum, and also connect existing reserves. Connectivity like this promotes the dispersal of the possums through the forests, including those recovering after wildfire.

The national park must encompass areas of existing old growth forest and also areas where environmental modelling indicates old growth will develop in the future.

The park must also be big enough to be larger than major disturbance events such as wildfires. This will ensure there is sufficient habitat to support viable populations of Leadbeater’s Possums.

At the same time as creating the park, pulp and timber yield from the Mountain Ash forests must be reduced. Mountain Ash forests have already been over-cut, and to maintain a sustained yield from the forests at the same time as setting aside the Great Forest National Park will even further increase over-cutting. This is because it will concentrate industrial clearfelling on a reduced area of available forest.

Economic benefits
A new Great Forest National Park would be a major economic boost for Victoria. It would be particularly helpful for regional economies like those around Marysville still rebuilding after the 2009 wildfires.

Victorian governments have never seriously advertised the fact that, within 1.5 hours from the MCG, you can find the world’s tallest flowering plants and some of the most stunningly beautiful environments on the Australian continent.

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Keith Scott

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Vale Shirley Miller

ShirleyMillerOne of the very few people on whom ARCS has bestowed the honour of ARCAngel, Shirley Miller, died on 15 December 2016.

Shirley and her late husband Geoffrey donated their 210-hectare Springbrook property, Ankida, to ARCS in 2009.

Shirley and Geoffrey purchased the Springbrook property in 1971 but it was a few years later that they settled at Springbrook. They chose the name Ankida, derived from the Sumerian language — AN KI DA meaning Heaven Earth Meet. Shirley had an exceedingly deep love of nature and was committed to its protection and conservation. She gave a lot of thought to ensuring the long-term protection of Ankida and had the property declared a Nature Refuge under the Nature Conservation Act 1992.

Shirley was particularly concerned about the future ownership of Ankida and considered a number of options before entrusting it to ARCS, a decision for which we will be forever grateful.

Shirley was a gentle soul and lived her life guided by her self-determined principle, ‘do no harm’. Though gentle, Shirley could be very firm and she made it clear to Aila and myself that we must follow the ‘do no harm’ principle in our guardianship of Ankida.

Shirley and Geoffrey spent the last few years of their lives in an aged care facility at Mudgeeraba after they both had falls breaking their hips and being unable to continue living at Ankida. Geoffrey died in January 2016 and towards the end Shirley looked forward to joining him.

Rest in peace, Shirley.

Keith Scott

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A Great Koala National Park for NE NSW

The NSW National Parks Association is proposing a Great Koala National Park in North East NSW. In essence the proposal involves adding 175,000 ha of State Forest to existing protected areas meaning that logging would cease in those State Forests. The following article is extracted from their web site.

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We know from historical accounts that at the time of European settlement koalas were abundant on the east coast of Australia. Hunting, coupled with rapid habitat loss and fragmentation via land clearing and urban development, has resulted in dramatic falls in koala numbers. Almost every population on the east coast is in decline. In the Bega Valley in southern NSW, a population that used to support a pelt industry in the late 19th century has been reduced to under 100 due to land clearing, intensive logging and climate change. Now, people in NSW are lucky if they see a koala in the wild during their life!

Most of the remaining high quality koala habitat lies in state forests and on private land where ongoing clearing of native vegetation and intense, industrialised logging is leading to the removal of vital food and habitat trees. It’s hard to believe that 200 years after settlement, we have still not taken decisive action to protect our favourite animal.

We know that koalas like larger trees, older forests and low disturbance from fire and logging. So the solution to helping them is obvious! We need to stop logging and clearing in koala habitat. Why? Because protecting existing habitat is many times cheaper and more efficient than having to restore it later. If nothing is done to protect and reconnect koala habitat, population declines will continue unabated and extinction seems inevitable.

Large and well-managed protected areas remain the single most effective tool to protect biodiversity around the world, and Australia is no different. The Great Koala National Park, which is designed as the key component of a larger strategic koala reserve network for the north coast, is the best chance for koalas to have a secure future in NSW.

The new National Park will encompass 315,000 ha of public land in the Coffs Harbour region. This biodiversity hotspot includes two nationally recognised koala meta-populations, estimated to contain almost 20% (about 4,500) of NSW’s remaining wild koalas. The Great Koala National Park is comprised of 175,000 ha of state forests added to 140,000 ha of existing protected areas. Because it’s all public land, it’s a cost-effective reserve option.

Importantly, this koala population is one of the more stable in NSW. This is most likely due to Bongil Bongil National Park acting as a source area of animals which has, so far, offset losses of koalas from land clearing and logging. Because the population has not yet dramatically declined like many others in NSW, the Great Koala National Park has an outstanding chance of making a real difference to koalas. But we must act now while there’s still a chance!

Scientists tell us that as the climate changes koala feed trees and populations will move east as inland NSW becomes too hot. So protecting habitat on the eastern seaboard is a vital strategy to help koalas cope with climate change. The Great Koala National Park would both protect coastal forests on the east coast and restore a link between coastal forests and the escarpment to allow koalas to move in response to extreme weather events and climate change.

It’s not just koalas that will benefit from the Great Koala National Park! This spectacular landscape hosts lush World Heritage Gondwana Rainforests, some of the world’s most diverse towering eucalypt forests — which NPA has assessed as having World Heritage values — and an array of threatened species including the Hastings River Mouse, Spotted-tailed Quoll, Powerful Owl, Sooty Owl, Greater Glider and Yellow-bellied Glider. Like koalas, these species rely on large, well-connected forested landscapes to survive and are threatened by industrial logging and land clearing.

map_07_greatkoalanp

Keith Scott

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Vale Taffy Thomas

TaffyThomasOur long-standing member and devoted supporter, Dr Mansell (Taffy) Thomas, died on 20 December last year at age 89.

Taffy and his wife Fran were among our earliest members, having joined ARCS in1983. They have remained active and supportive members ever since.

Until quite recently, Taffy (with Fran) volunteered for our Springbrook Rescue project. For several years, Taffy came up to Springbrook four times a year when we were carrying out plant growth measurements and recording other data on our 16 growth plots. And while at Springbrook, Taffy applied one of his many skills in taking responsibility for cleaning and sharpening all our cutting tools.

I first met Taffy when he headed the Chemical Pathology laboratory at Royal Brisbane Hospital and I was conducting parties of medical biochemistry students. Taffy was highly regarded in his profession and was responsible for setting up the drug testing procedures for the Commonwealth Games held in Brisbane in 1982.

Taffy was a very keen cricket fan, a member of the Queensland Cricket Association and regularly attended matches at The Gabba.

Taffy, as his name indicates, was Welsh and despite decades in Australia he never lost his accent.

Taffy was a devoted supporter and a dear friend. We miss him greatly.

Keith Scott

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Australia’s land clearing rate is again among the highest in the world

Today, more than 400 scientists and four scientific organisations have issued yet another dire warning to Australian governments regarding the impact of land clearing. The major focus is on Queensland and New South Wales.

Yellow-footed antechinus

Yellow-footed Antechinus (Photo: Christine Hosking)

Thirteen years ago, scientists from across the world expressed their grave concern about ongoing high rates of forest and woodland destruction in Queensland. In 2004, the Queensland Government lead by Peter Beattie introduced laws to stop broad scale clearing in the state. As a result, the rate of clearing was greatly reduced. However, the Liberal National Party government, which came to power in 2012, greatly weakened controls on land clearing. As a result, clearing doubled with 300,000 hectares of land now cleared each year.

In March 2016, the Queensland Government (Labor) introduced legislation to reinstate land clearing controls. The legislation has passed through an extensive consultation process and is due to go to parliament in the near future.

The proposed changes to land-clearing laws, while strongly supported by today’s statement from eminent scientists, has sparked a campaign led by lobby group, AgForce. Chief executive Charles Burke claims the status quo is sustainable saying “We want to talk about the science, we want to make sure we stick to the facts and make sure it’s not caught up in, sometimes, the conservation rhetoric.”

In New South Wales, the government has proposed scrapping existing legislation including the Native Vegetation Act and the Threatened Species Conservation Act and replacing that legislation with new legislation that will to a significant extent put vegetation management in the hands of landholders. Niall Blair, Minister for Primary Industries, said: “Our farmers are our frontline environmental custodians and it makes sense to give them the flexibility to manage and protect the land…”. The new legislation depends heavily on offsets where areas of land are protected to supposedly compensate for the loss of currently protected vegetation.

Today’s declaration by eminent scientists notes that “between 1998 and 2005 an estimated 100 million native birds, reptiles and mammals were killed because of destruction of their habitat in NSW”  and “in Queensland, the estimate was 100 million native animals dying each year between 1997 and 1999.”

In 2014, the Federal Government launched the 20 Million Trees Programme to be completed by 2020. But the scientists’ statement points out that 20 million trees are cleared every year in Queensland alone.

Clearing_image_Laurance

Photo: William Laurance

The future of the proposed legislative changes in Queensland is difficult to predict. The Labor government does not have a majority in the parliament. The proposed changes are opposed by the two Katter Party members and the government will be dependent on the votes of independents Rob Pyne and Billy Gordon who will be heavily lobbied by AgForce and the LNP.

Today’s declaration by scientists can be found on the web site of Society for Conservation Biology Oceania.

For more information on the Queensland legislation amendments, go to Environmental Defenders Office.

You can help

In Queensland, email the following asking them to support the legislation changes:

Rob Pyne:  Cairns@parliament.qld.gov.au

Billy Gordon:  Cook@parliament.qld.gov.au

Peter Wellington:  speaker@parliament.qld.gov.au

In New South Wales, sign the petition at Stand Up for Nature.

 

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Vale Geoffrey Miller

GeoffreyMiller2ARCS Member and major donor, Dr Geoffrey Miller, died on 8 January 2016.

Geoffrey and his wife, Shirley, owned Ankida, the largest private property on Springbrook. In 2009, in an act of great generosity, the Millers donated the 210-hectare property to ARCS to ensure its protection in perpetuity.

Geoffrey was born in Sydney in 1926. He initially qualified as an electrical engineer, but after a trip to England exploring natural therapies, he began studies in medicine in Sydney and graduated in 1959. During his studies, he met and married Shirley Chatfield in 1957.

In 1969, Geoffrey and Shirley moved to Brisbane. They were looking around for land to purchase and from Beechmont they were able to see the Ankida property looking up along the Waterfall Creek valley to Horseshoe Falls and Springbrook Plateau above. Their decision was made and they purchased the property in 1971, naming it Ankida which in Sumerian means “where heaven and earth meet”.

Geoffrey established the Raphael Healing Centre at Ankida but also worked in cardiac rehabilitation at Tweed Heads Community Centre. He and Shirley later set up a practice called Health Options at Burleigh.

The Millers had taken up residence at Ankida in 1975 and Geoffrey continued his medical practice there with a strong focus on natural therapies.

Geoffrey was a central figure in the Theosophical Society and the Millers transferred part of their property to the Society leading to the establishment of the Theosophical Education and Retreat Centre at Springbrook.

Both Geoffrey and Shirley suffered falls and broken hips at Springbrook and in March 2015 they moved into an aged care facility in Mudgeeraba.

A wonderful memorial service was held at the Theosophical Education and Retreat Centre and the Chapel was filled to overflowing. Geoffrey was greatly respected and dearly remembered by many, many people around the country. The service was attended by ARCS President, Aila Keto, ARCS Secretary, Denise Elias and ARCS Director, Keith Scott.

Ankida is of outstanding conservation significance and ARCS regards it as a great privilege to have been made its custodian. The Society has received a bequest from the estate of long-time ARCS member and supporter, the late Jani Haenke, and has invested the funds in the Jani Haenke Ankida Preservation Fund to provide for conservation and management of the property into the future.

horseshoe falls

Horseshoe Falls on Ankida, the property donated to ARCS by Geoffrey and Shirley Miller

Keith Scott

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Vale Syd Curtis

Syd Curtis imageFormer Vice-President of ARCS, H. Sydney (Syd) Curtis died at Killarney on 27 December 2015.

Syd served as ARCS Vice-President for 10 years before his health deteriorated and he felt he could no longer fulfill the role.

Born in 1928 to Herbert Curtis and Hilda Geissman Curtis, Syd grew up on Tamborine Mountain in South East Queensland. Syd gained his interest in and love of nature from his mother. Hilda Geissmann was a well known and highly respected naturalist and photographer. The noted biologist Francis Ratcliffe, author of the classic Flying Fox and Drifting Sand and a founder and first Honorary Secretary of the Australian Conservation Foundation, visited Hilda in 1928. Ratcliffe wrote “She knew the habits of every bird and beast that lived there, and where the rare ferns and orchids could be found”.

Syd trained as a forester and began his career in the Queensland Forestry Department. In 1963, he moved to the new national park section and formed a dedicated team to manage the park estate and to consider proposals for expansion. He was responsible for the new approach of selecting new national parks on the basis of representative samples of the Queensland landscape including the less scenic.

When the Queensland National Parks and Wildlife Service was formed in 1975, he was appointed Director of Management and Operations. In 1982, he became Assistant Director (Policy and Legislation) and continued in that role until retiring in 1988.

After retiring, Syd lectured in environmental law at University of Queensland’s Gatton campus.

Syd was passionate about lyrebirds and spent decades studying Albert’s Lyrebird populations in South East Queensland and recording their complex song. Lyrebirds are famous for their mimicry, not only of other birds but also of human-made sounds such as tyres on gravel and chain saws. Syd published his findings showing differences in vocalisations between populations. In a paper by Norman Robinson and Syd Curtis (The Emu 96(4) 1996), the authors conclude that the territorial song of lyrebirds is learned and the mimicry is culturally transmitted from adults and not learned anew from sounds the young hear. But new sounds can be added and others deleted.

Syd recording

Syd Curtis recording bird song in the rainforest.     Photo: Kimbal Curtis

Syd had a 25-year association with a lyrebird named ‘George’ in Lamington National Park. Over the years, George got to know Syd and continued to sing and perform his courtship display while Syd watched and recorded. Syd once got his son, Kimbal, to photograph George while he was in full display but when George saw a red flash as the camera took the picture, he stopped his display, raised his tail, stared straight at the camera, lashed his tail and stalked off, clearly displeased.

George Kimbal Curtis

Albert’s Lyrebird, “George”, in Lamington National Park          Photo: Kimbal Curtis

Syd was also an accomplished pianist and entertained our Management Committee on an occasion when we were visiting one of our rainforest restoration sites at Springbrook.

Syd was devoted to the protection of national parks and staunchly defended the “cardinal principle” of national park management as enshrined in State legislation. His grandfather, Sydney Curtis, had been partly responsible for the declaration in 1908 of the first national park in Queensland, Witches Falls National Park at Mt Tamborine.

We knew Syd as a kind, thoughtful, nurturing and  generous man who cared passionately for his family, friends and Nature. Such was his spirit of giving that he sacrificed studying his beloved lyrebirds for many years to help ARCS achieve the historic South-East Queensland Forests Agreement which lead to a huge increase in national parks in this bioregion. Syd, together with Ingrid Neilson, Gayle Johnson and David Hangar trekked over many distant forests collecting and pressing plant specimens to help document their biological value to conservation. He advised on legal matters, overall strategies, and the all important historical context for tangible examples of past mistakes and successes in the long history of national parks. And when the pressures of campaigning took their toll, Syd and Anne took care of us in many ways.

A private funeral was held on 8 January 2016 and attended by ARCS President Aila Keto and Director Keith Scott.

Syd is survived by his wife Anne, son Kimbal and daughter Patrice.

Syd was a dear friend and a devoted supporter of ARCS. He will always remain warmly in our memories.

Keith Scott

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Stopping logging native forests could save millions in carbon credits

As indicated in the blog article “Native forests for burning”, burning native forest “residues” as a source of renewable energy is expected to help the declining native forest timber industry, especially in Tasmania and Victoria. It has been revived by the Abbott Government based, at least in part, on the notion that burning wood waste for electricity generation will reduce the need to burn coal.

But recent research suggests that far greater reductions in greenhouse gas emissions could be achieved by stopping native forest logging altogether.

For decades, ARCS has been arguing that native forest logging should be phased out and hardwood production moved to plantations. Our position has been based on biodiversity conservation but it now appears there are additional benefits including major economic benefits. The following text is an extract from a paper by Professor David Lindenmayer, ANU, and Professor Brendan Mackey, Griffith University.


Analysis done using the Australian government’s public native forest model suggests that stopping all harvesting in the public native forest estate would generate in the order of 38 million tonnes of potential credits (that is, the equivalent of 38 million tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions avoided) each year in the short to medium term.

While this is the technical capacity, the Kyoto Protocol’s rules cap credits from forest management at 3.5% of base-year emissions, or around 15 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent per year. So if Australia ratifies the second commitment period of the Protocol, which runs from 2013 to 2020, the cap would limit forest management credits to 120 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent over the commitment period.

The Australian government’s latest emissions projections estimate that, in order to meet its 5% emissions-reduction target in 2020, Australia has to reduce its emissions by 236 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent over the second commitment period. This means stopping harvesting in public native forests could provide 51% of the abatement task to 2020.

Native forest logging results in significant greenhouse gas emissions because typically less than 5% of the biomass carbon of logged forests ends up as long-term timber products like furniture. The majority of the biomass carbon is made into short-lived products such as paper, which simply delays emissions for around three years.

Meanwhile, up to 60% of the remaining biomass in Victorian Mountain Ash forests is logging slash – tree heads, lateral branches, understorey trees, bark and other unwanted forest residues. Most of the carbon stored in this slash is emitted to the atmosphere, either in high-intensity stand-regeneration fires or through accelerated decomposition.

Research shows that the logging of several thousand hectares of Victoria’s Mountain Ash forest each year produces emissions equivalent to about one-third of the annual greenhouse emissions of Yallourn Power Station.

Carbon book-keeping
Since the start of 2013, Australia has been required to account for carbon emissions from forest management in the national greenhouse gas accounts. This includes emissions (and carbon sequestration) due to the management of public native forests (usually known as “state forests”), plantations established before 1990, and private forests that have been harvested since 1990.

The accounting is based on a “baseline-and-credit” system. The Australian government was required to make a projection of net emissions (emissions minus sequestration) from its forest management lands over the period 2013 to 2020. If Australia’s actual net emissions from forest management are below this reference level, it receives credits that it can use to offset emissions from other sectors. If its net emissions are above the reference level, it receives debits.

Phasing out native forestry
The Kyoto cap on forestry credits means that any plan to stop harvesting would be best done in a staged manner, with logging areas progressively being shut down. This would also minimise the transitional issues for workers, while still maximising the claimable carbon credits for Australia. If done well, stopping harvesting in native forests could move workers into more profitable and sustainable plantation-based industries, while providing an ongoing and low-cost source of carbon abatement that can be used to meet current and future emissions targets.

The Australian government could do this using its Emissions Reduction Fund. It could effectively pay states like Victoria, New South Wales and Tasmania for the substantial carbon abatement derived from not logging their native forests. The states in turn could use the money to transition workers out of the native forest sector.

An added benefit of this strategy is that it would remove the major competitive disadvantage faced by the plantation sector, which has to compete against a heavily subsidised and major loss-making native forest logging sector. The impact on wood production would be limited given that plantations are already the source of more than 80% by volume of all wood products.

Don’t burn it
The current policy is almost exactly opposite of what is needed, with wood from native forests (including sawlogs from Victorian forests) set to be burned to generate electricity as part of the Renewable Energy Target (RET). Indeed, the federal forestry minister Richard Colbeck recently admitted that the native forest sector is not viable without burning forests for energy.

However, when it receives renewable energy credits, burning native forest biomass cannot reduce emissions from electricity generation by coal-fired power stations. The way the RET works means that when biomass is burned it merely displaces forms of renewable electricity generation (like solar and wind), rather than coal as the forest industry consistently maintains.

This means that including native forest biomass in the RET will not reduce emissions from electricity generated by coal-fired power stations. But it could very well significantly increase emissions from forest management, thereby making it harder for Australia to reach its emissions target.
Of course, there would be significant other benefits of not logging native forests, including securing the water supply of cities like Melbourne, and better conserving critically endangered species like Leadbeater’s Possum.

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Native forests for burning

The Abbott Government recently succeeded in having burning of so-called ‘wood waste’ from native forests included as a source of renewable energy for electricity generation.

Hazelwood

Australia’s dirtiest coal-burning power station, Hazelwood, in Victoria’s Latrobe Valley, is considering switching from coal to native forest ‘waste’ from East Gippsland.

In 2001, the Howard Government set a mandatory Renewable Energy Target requiring electricity suppliers to source an additional two per cent, or 9500 GWh, of their electricity from renewable sources by 2010. In 2009, the Rudd Government increased the target to 45,000 GWh by 2020. The target has two components, 41,000 GWh from large-scale sources such as wind and large-scale solar and 4000 GWh from small-scale sources such as roof-top solar.

The target had to be reviewed every two years by the Climate Change Authority. But last year Prime Minister Tony Abbott set up a separate review headed by businessman and climate sceptic Dick Warburton. Not surprisingly, the recommendations of the Warburton review were not well supported.

What followed were protracted negotiations between the government and the Labor opposition to try to reach agreement on a revised target. The parties eventually agreed on a reduction from 41,000 GWh to 33,000 GWh by 2020.

A controversial issue has been the question of whether wood waste from native forests should be counted as renewable energy. The Howard Government included native forest wood waste in the RET. But in 2011 a parliamentary Multi-Party Climate Change Committee agreed to remove it.

In March 2012, when the House of Representatives had passed the clean energy future legislation, Independent MP Rob Oakeshott introduced a motion to include native forest wood waste. The vote on his motion was tied and the Speaker, Peter Slipper, used his casting vote to defeat the motion.

Late December 2012, the Climate Change Authority recommended including burning native forest residues in the RET. They naively accepted the argument that if residues from harvesting operations are going to be burnt or left to rot, it would be better to burn them for electricity generation.

In June this year, the House of Representatives passed the Renewable Energy (Electricity) Amendment Bill 2015 to change the RET from 41,000 GWh to 33,000 GWh. The Bill also included an amendment allowing burning of biomass from native forest.

When the Bill went to the Senate, Labor moved an amendment to remove the native forest clause. The amendment was supported by the Greens and Senator Glenn Lazarus but failed because all the other cross-bench senators voted with the government.

Tony Abbott had done a deal with the cross-bench senators to get their support. The deal involves measures aimed at reducing the use of wind energy in favour of large-scale solar. Whereas this move was led by Senator David Leyonhjelm, it clearly had the support of Tony Abbott who believes wind turbines are “visually awful” and noisy.
The Government has agreed to appoint a national wind farm commissioner to “handle complaints from concerned residents about the operations of wind turbine facilities”. They will also appoint a scientific committee to investigate the health impacts of wind turbines despite numerous reviews by medical authorities that have found no evidence for health impacts.

A leader in the push for burning native forest “residues” was Tasmanian Senator Richard Colbeck, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Agriculture. The Tasmanian timber industry has been in trouble since the decline in wood chip exports. When the wood chip industry was starting up, supporters argued that no trees would be cut for chipping if they could be used for sawlogs. In other words, wood chips were just a by-product of the sawlog industry. Clearly, that was farcical and the fear is that the same will happen with electricity generation from native forests.

forestwaste

There is the potential to address the problem at the state level. You can help by telling the Queensland Government not to approve electricity generation from native forest ‘waste’. Email the following Ministers:
Hon Dr Steven Miles MP, Minister for Environment & Heritage Protection, environment@ministerial.qld.gov.au
Hon Leanne Donaldson MP, Minister for Agriculture & Fisheries, agriculture@ministerial.qld.gov.au

For more on this issue, have a look at “Burning Question” on ABC Background Briefing. Click here for the story.

Keith Scott

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September 10, 2015 · 4:44 pm

World Heritage Committee rejects Australia’s proposal for delisting parts of the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area

The Australian Government put a proposal to the World Heritage Committee to de-list 74,000 hectares of the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area.

In its 38th Session held in Doha, Qatar, the World Heritage Committee unanimously rejected the proposal. The Committee took less than  10 minutes to reach a decision.

Delegates from three countries, Portugal, Germany and Colombia, spoke against the proposal.

The delegate from Portugal spoke at length saying “accepting this delisting would set an unacceptable precedent” and  “The justifications presented to the reduction are to say the least feeble.”

ARCS was officially represented at the meeting by a delegation headed by Alec Marr, Director of our International World Heritage Programme, and Peter Hitchcock, an expert on World Heritage matters, Lincoln Siliakus, an international legal expert with World Heritage experience, and Jenny Webber who has expert knowledge of the Tasmanian WHA.

Australian environment delegation at the World Heritage Committee meeting in Doha, Qatar, June 15 - 25. Director of ARCS International World Heritage Committee is third from the left.

The ARCS delegation at the World Heritage Committee meeting in Doha, Qatar, June 15 – 25. Left to right: Peter Hitchcock, Lincoln Siliakus, Alec Marr (Director of ARCS International World Heritage Programme) and Jenny Webber.

The delegation was supported by a detailed submission to the World Heritage Committee, “Why the Australian proposal for de-listing parts of the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area should be rejected”, prepared by World Heritage experts and endorsed by expert scientists including Peter Hitchcock AM, Adjunct Associate Professor Peter Valentine, William Laurance, Distinguished Research Professor and Australian Laureate Fellow, James Kirkpatrick, Distinguished Professor of Geography and Environment Studies, Dr Aila Keto AO, ARCS President and Sean Cadman, environmental consultant.  The report showed the Australian submission was misleading in claiming that the area proposed for de-listing was degraded. In fact, less than 10 per cent had been logged, the remainder being in excellent condition. A major point made by the Government was that the area contained plantations of pine and eucalypt. The area of pine plantation is 80 square metres and the eucalypt plantation area is just 8 hectares or 0.01 per cent of the proposed excision.

It is clear that the real reason for the proposed de-listing was to allow logging.

 

 

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