Monthly Archives: June 2017

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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