Category Archives: Biodiversity

ARCS dismayed at COP24 outcomes

VirginiaYoungThe Australian Rainforest Conservation Society (ARCS) has expressed its dismay over the outcomes of the UN climate conference COP24. Speaking during her return from Katowice in Poland, Director of ARCS Climate and Forests Programme, Virginia Young, expressed shock and disappointment at  the retreat from ambition represented in the COP24 outcomes.

The UN-commissioned IPCC Special Report released in October warned that keeping the Earth’s temperature rise to 1.5C would need “unprecedented changes” in every aspect of society. COP24 has failed dismally to respond to that call.

The most shocking examples of this retreat are the limiting of the scope of Nationally Determined Contributions to just mitigation, in clear violation of the requirements found in Articles 7, 9, 10, and 11 of the Paris Agreement; the systematic purging of all references to human rights and ecosystem integrity in APA3 and APA5 texts; and a Paris Rulebook held hostage to the use of highly questionable Kyoto CDM carbon credits and weak accounting rules.

The decision fails absolutely to reflect the desire of the overwhelming majority of countries for comprehensive and balanced outcome reflecting all elements of the Paris Agreement.  They fail to address the mandate given in APA Article 3.  A comprehensive and balanced outcome should include cross-cutting principles on rights; a central place for equity, that acknowledges differing country capacity and responsibility, including with respect to the Global Stocktake; and a differentiated Transparency Framework.

It is also highly problematic that progress on developing market- and non-market-based responses to combatting climate change, as contained in Article 6, have been left hanging, for determination at another COP.  We are deeply concerned that Brazil is refusing to show ambition, and preventing the adoption of mechanisms in both 6.2 and 6.4 that would deal with problems of environmental integrity and double-counting.  Finally, while a grievance mechanism is established under article 6.4, the deletion of references to human rights under article 6.2 suggests that further environmental, social and governance safeguards still need to be addressed in any future work plan.

Civil society had hoped that in these respects pertaining to NDCs and Transparency, as well as in advancing ambition consistent with the findings of the IPCC Special Report on the 1.5 Degree goal, the development of a Paris Rulebook would strengthen, rather than weaken, the Paris Agreement.  Instead, we are dismayed by documents that are not only unbalanced with respect to outcomes, but that also downgrade the importance of Paris Agreement preambular elements, weaken the commitment to environmental integrity and the prevention of double-counting, and fail to safeguard ecosystem integrity, food security and respect for human rights, including the rights of indigenous peoples.

After three years of negotiations, it is unconscionable that Parties are considering the adoption of such a weak, unbalanced, and loophole-riddled outcome.  We all can, and must, do better.

Virginia Young 0417 223 280

 

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Future of Australian forests is vital to our own

Dr John Van Der Kallen

JohnVanDerKallenImage

Forests add value to our lives in so many ways

They clean our air and water, promote rain formation and protect soils from salinity and erosion.

They are a source of a rich variety of foods, especially for indigenous peoples, as well as bioactive compounds for modern medicines, including plants whose potential medicinal and nutritional value is yet to be determined.

They have multiple health benefits, with some studies showing that spending time in a forest lowers blood pressure, cortisol levels and feelings of stress.

Importantly, they provide indispensable carbon storage – vital in helping to combat climate change, the biggest global health threat this century.

With so many benefits, protecting our public forests is a no brainer.

However, for the past 20 years, Regional Forest Agreements that were introduced in Victoria, New South Wales, Tasmania and Western Australia to conserve Australia’s forests while permitting logging have failed to deliver.

Initially, RFAs were set up to be reviewed every five years, but the failure to implement this has seen the loss of forests and sustainable jobs for forestry workers.

The NSW government has also proposed new logging laws called Integrated Forestry Operations Approvals.

These would be a disaster as previously protected areas will be logged, animal habitats destroyed and even more impacts to biodiversity.

With the NSW government asking for feedback on these laws and RFAs in most states due to end shortly, we now have the opportunity to shift from destructive logging practices to conservation.

Individuals have the opportunity to enter submissions to government that demand both forests and biodiversity have improved preservation.

If more people make submissions and support forest protection, local members of parliament and government will be pressured to act.

Encouraging statewide campaigns can also help.

The National Parks Association’s “Forests For All” proposal has created an alliance of regional communities, doctors, environment, business and outdoor recreation groups who support the sustainable management of forests across the country.

Not only do campaigns like this help protect forests but they also increase public access to recreation, nature-based tourism, therapeutic opportunities and education therefore, ensuring regional communities thrive.

Meanwhile, maintaining healthy forests will be vital in our bid to reduce the impacts of climate change over the next century.

With so many benefits arising from our forests, protecting them is a win for all.

Dr John Van Der Kallen is a rheumatologist and member of Doctors for the Environment Australia. This article was published in The Examiner, 1 July 2018

 

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Burning biomass for energy threatens forests and the climate

Parties to the Paris Agreement on Climate Change will be meeting in December in Poland. At the meeting, parties must finalise the “rulebook” – the operating manual required when the agreement takes force in 2020.

A technical meeting was held in Bonn, Germany, during May 2018 to try to reach agreement on the “rulebook”.

Director of ARCS International Forests and Climate Program, Virginia Young attended the meeting. Virginia gave a presentation, along with Dr Mary Booth, Director, Partnership for Policy Integrity, and Peg Putt, CEO Markets for Change. Their theme was ecosystem integrity and biodiversity protection.

Bonn_presentations

Dr Mary Booth presented evidence showing that burning biomass, such as wood from native forests, produces more greenhouse gas emissions than coal or gas facilities.

Graph_emissions

On 13 June 2018, European Union policymakers agreed on a new Renewable Energy Directive with potentially disastrous consequences for forests, particularly in USA, as well as for climate. Ignoring advice from hundreds of scientists from around the world, they continued acceptance of burning wood for electricity generation as being “carbon neutral”.

The decision by the EU policymakers appears to have been influenced by lobbying by the UK where biomass is a significant source of energy generation.

DraxPowerplant

Most of the wood used for power generation in the UK comes from USA where forests are being destroyed as a consequence.

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ForestHarvestingUSA

The link below will take you to the full presentation.

PFPI side event talk

 

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We face two major threats to Life on Earth: The Biodiversity Crisis and the Climate Crisis

Parties to the Paris Agreement on Climate Change will be meeting in December in Poland. At the meeting, parties must finalise the “rulebook” – the operating manual required when the agreement takes force in 2020.

A technical meeting was held in Bonn, Germany, during May 2018 to try to reach agreement on the “rulebook”.

Director of ARCS International Forests and Climate Program, Virginia Young attended the meeting. Virginia gave a presentation, along with Dr Mary Booth, Director, Partnership for Policy Integrity, and Peg Putt, CEO Markets for Change. Their theme was ecosystem integrity and biodiversity protection.

Bonn_presentations

Virginia Young argued that the Biodiversity Crisis and the Climate Crisis, if unchecked, will result in ecosystem collapse, release large relatively stable long-lived carbon stocks into the atmosphere and create severe social and economic disruption.

Virginia emphasised the importance of maintaining primary forests and preventing clearing and the degradation caused by logging.

LoggingImage

Another  major cause of forest loss and degradation is the construction of new roads through intact forests.

RoadingImage

New roads not only directly cause clearing but also open up the forest to clearing for mining, agriculture, and other degradation.

DeforestationImage.jpeg

The link below will take you to the full presentation.

Virginia Young – Ecosystem Intergrity-compressed

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Accounting for Forests that is fit for purpose under the Paris Agreement

Parties to the Paris Agreement on Climate Change will be meeting in December in Poland. At the meeting, parties must finalise the “rulebook” – the operating manual required when the agreement takes force in 2020.

A technical meeting was held in Bonn, Germany, during May 2018 to try to reach agreement on the “rulebook”.

Director of ARCS International Forests and Climate Program, Virginia Young attended the meeting. Virginia gave a presentation, along with Dr Mary Booth, Director, Partnership for Policy Integrity, and Peg Putt, CEO Markets for Change. Their theme was ecosystem integrity and biodiversity protection.

Bonn_presentations

Peg Putt focused on the problems with accounting for emissions under Land Use, Land Use Change and Forestry (LULUCF) which was established under the Kyoto Protocol.

LULUCF is defined by the UN Climate Change Secretariat as  a “greenhouse gas inventory sector that covers emissions and removals of greenhouse gases resulting from direct human-induced land use such as settlements and commercial uses, land-use change and forestry activities.”

Peg identified a range of loopholes in LULUCF accounting. One loophole relates to biomass and biofuel accounting which is accounted as carbon neutral when burnt in the energy sector on the assumption that emissions would be accounted for in the land sector. However, these emissions are frequently not accounted for at all.

Peg argued that emissions from burning wood need to be accounted where they are burned.

PegPuttBioenergyAccounting

The link below will take you to the full presentation.

PegPuttBonn

 

 

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NSW government changes logging rules to get more wood

In the last issue of Rainforest News we discussed the proposed renewal of the three Regional Forest Agreements (RFAs) in New South Wales. The three regions are North East, Southern and Eden. The Agreements expire between 2019 and 2021 but the State and Federal Governments have been considering the renewals for some time.

The Commonwealth is keen to see the RFAs extended. The Assistant Minister for Agriculture and Water Resources, Senator Anne Ruston, told The Guardian “The Coalition government is fully committed to fulfilling its election commitment to establish a 20-year rolling life to all Regional Forest Agreements, which are the best mechanism for balancing the environmental, economic and social demands on our native forests.”

The ABC has obtained documents under Freedom of Information that show concerns have been raised within government about the legality of renewing the Agreements given that they are based on 20-year old science. Among the documents is a brief to the NSW Forestry Minister for a meeting of forestry ministers in Tasmania on 30 August 2017. It states:
“The Commonwealth is concerned that significantly altering existing RFAs may invite challenges to their validity, in the absence of new — and costly — Comprehensive Regional Assessments.
“Its preference is to extend the existing agreements. It is in both parties’ interests to avoid the need to revisit the costly CRA process”.

It appears that the NSW RFA renewals are still being negotiated with consideration of legal challenges.

In the background to these negotiations, the NSW Government has proposed a change to logging rules which are called Integrated Forestry Operations Approvals. The new IFOA is currently available for public comment.

The IFOA is so complex it is very difficult to provide a useful summary here. Excluding the Executive summary, there are 248 pages in the documents covering conditions and protocols.

However, there is absolutely no doubt that the proposed changes are designed to provide more timber from a dwindling resource. There can be no pretence whatsoever that they are intended to improve protection for flora and fauna. As a member of the Threatened Species Expert Panel stated “I find it extremely frustrating to try and contribute to a solution when the underlying driver of the wood supply agreements fundamentally restricts any chance of a balanced approach and I can see the environment being the inevitable loser in the equation.”

The new IFOA introduces a “multi-scale landscape approach” and describes four types of harvesting: intensive harvesting, selective harvesting, mixed intensity harvesting and alternative coupe logging.

Intensive harvesting is essentially clearfelling with some trees and clumps of trees retained. The intensive harvesting zone covers 140,000 ha in northeastern NSW between Grafton and Taree. Intensive harvesting is claimed to be required for regeneration of Blackbutt. The result will be conversion of the forest to effectively a Blackbutt plantation.

Intensive harvesting was already occurring in Blackbutt forests without formal approval. The Draft IFOA now legitimises the practice.

The IFOA incorporates a move away from targeted surveys for threatened species as they were too expensive. “Protecting” threatened species, including koalas, will now be based on various forms of mapping.

There are requirements for retention of some trees in clumps between 0.1 and 2 ha in area and wildlife habitat clumps which may be as small as 1.1 ha. The clumps are required to include habitat trees, feed trees, etc. Wildlife habitat clumps are also required to provide “habitat connectivity to help improve landscape connections between other retained patches of vegetation or as habitat islands within a large cutover area”. The Draft IFOA actually suggests that such isolated habitat islands, which can be little more than 1 ha in area, “improve connectivity”.

One member of the Expert Panel on Threatened Species commented on the role of clumps saying “there comes a point where the intensity of harvesting renders the entire forest no longer a forest in form or structure e.g. resembles and functions as retained clumps in farmland landscape. If the exclusion zones are sufficiently isolated they may not be functional units for many fauna. Unless the exclusion zones are close together or linked they may not actually deliver any real environmental outcomes.”

Tree retention clumps and wildlife habitat clumps are required to cover 10 to 13% of the harvestable area. So at least 87% of the forest is clearfelled. What happens to the fauna in those areas. Clearly, they will not be able to crowd into the clumps. The most likely result is that they will die.

The public consultation period ends on 29 June. Comments and submissions can be made via the EPA web site at https://engage.environment.nsw.gov.au/forests.

Keith Scott

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NSW Regional Forest Agreements up for renewal

The New South Wales government has called for public submissions relating to Regional Forest Agreements (RFAs) in the state. There are two processes, the 10 and 15-year reviews of RFA performance and the extension of the three RFAs when their 20-year terms expire between 2019 and 2021.

Regional Forest Agreements, instituted between 1997 and 2001, are agreements between states and the Commonwealth intended to provide certainty to the timber industry as well as agreed social and environmental outcomes. The states involved are NSW, Victoria, South Australia and Western Australia. The original agreement between the Commonwealth and the states was that there would be 20-year rolling extensions.

One of the many contentious aspects of RFAs is that forestry operations carried out under an RFA are exempt from the provisions of the Federal government’s principal environmental legislation, the Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999.

A major purpose of RFAs was to provide certainty to industry by defining areas available for logging and meeting conservation objectives by, nominally, establishing a Comprehensive, Adequate and Representative (CAR) reserve system. The notion was that having met conservation demands with the CAR reserve system and provided guaranteed wood supply to industry, everyone would be happy. That, of course, did not happen and should never have been expected to happen.

Underpinning logging was an agreed system of Ecologically Sustainable Forest Management (ESFM). In reality, ESFM was little more than a description of a system — a plan on paper — and has done nothing to prevent serious decline in a range of forest-dependent species such as the koala, greater glider, yellow-bellied glider, Leadbeater’s possum. Of particular concern is the loss of tree hollows on which many species depend.

In essence, the concept of RFAs was politically motivated, ignorant, scientifically untenable and naively expected to end the long history of forest protests. It was simply not rational to assume that over 20 years no new information would come to light requiring new reserves to be created to protect wildlife. And it was not intelligent to assume that forestry agencies’ estimates of wood supply would be correct. History has shown that they are rarely, if ever, correct.

There is also substantial evidence that native forest logging results in significant greenhouse gas emissions and that stopping harvesting in native forests could greatly assist Australia meet its emissions reduction target.

The reality is that wood volumes contracted to NSW sawmills can not be supplied. In 2014, the NSW government spent $8.55 million buying back the allocation of high-quality sawlogs to Boral in the North Coast region. Announcing the buy-back, the then Minister for Primary Industries, Katrina Hodgkinson, said “Our North Coast forests are certified sustainable but projections show that without this buyback we would have needed to dramatically reduce the volume of timber supplied to industry after 2023 to ensure the forests continue to be healthy and productive.” The buy-back involves 50,000 cubic metres annually for nine years.

Ms Hodgkinson said “This buy-back from the biggest player in our native forest timber industry, Boral, secures the long-term viability of the industry as a whole by bringing the supply of timber from the region’s forests back to a sustainable level.”

It is interesting to note that the South East Queensland Forests Agreement, which transferred 450,000 hectares of state forest to national park and was intended to end native forest logging in the area by 2024, was achieved by buying out Boral which operated the largest hardwood sawmill in the area. (The LNP withdrew the government from the SEQFA during its term.)

As the wood supply from state forests becomes more and more difficult, there have been calls from industry and politicians to not only release national parks for logging but to allow logging within national parks. Industry representatives in NSW have claimed that logging in national parks will be good for vulnerable species. At the national level, former Senator Richard Colbeck is leading the campaign for “nil tenure” whereby all public land is managed with the same objectives.

The NSW National Parks Association is leading the campaign against native forest logging in that state. Their web site provides guidelines for making a submission to the Environmental Protection Agency which is conducting the reviews of the RFAs. The URL is https://npansw.org/publications/reports-and-submissions.

Make a submission
If the RFAs are renewed, all of the problems will continue for another 20 years. Wildlife populations will continue to decline, timber supply will decline and there will be increasing pressure to convert national parks to wood production.

Submissions on RFA renewals close on 12 March.
Details for making submissions are on the NPA web site.

Keith Scott

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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.

***

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.

a3_ch_reserve_prop_min_inliers_draft5

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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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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