Category Archives: Biodiversity

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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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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Is this newly described antechinus at Springbrook in trouble?

Black-tailed Antechinus, Antechinus arktos. Photo: Gary Cranitch (Queensland Museum)

Black-tailed Antechinus, Antechinus arktos.
Photo: Gary Cranitch (Queensland Museum)

An antechinus found in the McPherson and Border Ranges area has been described as a new species. But its future may be dim. The Dusky Antechinus population recorded in this area was previously described as a subspecies, Antechinus swainsonii mimetes. Other subspecies of Antechinus swainsonii occur in Tasmania and along the eastern coast of the mainland.

Researchers at Queensland University of Technology have shown that the population in this area is sufficiently different from other subspecies to be regarded as a species in its own right. They have named it Antechinus arktos with the common name of Black-tailed Antechinus.

The specific epithet, arktos, is Greek for bear, chosen because of the long guard hairs over the body and the tendency to rear on its hind legs sniffing the air when disturbed. This differs from the acrobatic leaping exhibited by other species when disturbed.

The Black-tailed Antechinus differs from the Dusky Antechinus in having orange-brown fur on the face and a black tail. It occurs only in high rainfall rainforests where rainfall is augmented by fog drip (cloud forests). Its range is considered to be from Springbrook in the north east to eastern Lamington Plateau to the west and Tweed Range in Border Ranges National Park to the south.

Based on DNA analyses, the researchers have concluded that the Black-tailed Antechinus, which is confined to high altitude, high rainfall rainforest, became isolated from other populations of the Dusky Antechinus and evolved to become genetically different.

Of concern is the failure in recent surveys to find the species in areas such as O’Reillys and Binna Burra in Lamington National Park where it has previously been recorded. Dr Andrew Baker, the research team leader at QUT, has applied for the species to be listed as endangered and believes its apparent decline may be due to climate change.

Australia has the worst record for mammal extinctions with 27 species extinct since European settlement. No antechinus has been recorded as having become extinct.

Dr Baker and his PhD student, Emma Gray, are studying the ecology of the Black-tailed Antechinus at Springbrook with support from ARCS.

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Tony Abbott says no more national parks

from ABC News 5 March 2014

Prime Minister Tony Abbott has declared that too many of Australia’s forests are “locked up” and vowed to set up a new advisory council to support the timber industry.

Logging at Brown Mountain, East Gippsland Photo: Environment East Gippsland

Logging at Brown Mountain, East Gippsland. Photo: Environment East Gippsland


Speaking at a timber industry dinner in Canberra last night, Mr Abbott also recommitted to repealing part of Tasmania’s Wilderness World Heritage Area made under the forest peace deal.
His comments have prompted anger from the Greens, who have labelled him the “dig it up, cut it down Prime Minister”.
Under the Tasmanian peace deal, 170,000 hectares of forest was added to the World Heritage area.
The Government has formally asked the World Heritage Committee to delist 74,000 hectares – a position Mr Abbott reaffirmed last night.
“We don’t support, as a Government and as a Coalition, further lock-ups of our forests. We just don’t support it,” Mr Abbott said.
“We have quite enough national parks. We have quite enough locked up forests already. In fact, in an important respect, we have too much locked up forest.
“Why should we lock up as some sort of World Heritage sanctuary country that has been logged, degraded or planted for timber?
“Getting that 74,000 hectares out of World Heritage Listing, it’s still going to leave half of Tasmania protected forever, but that will be an important sign to you, to Tasmanians, to the world, that we support the timber industry.”
Mr Abbott told the dinner that Tasmania’s forest workers have a friend in Canberra.
“When I look out tonight at an audience of people who work with timber, who work in forests, I don’t see people who are environmental vandals; I see people who are the ultimate conservationists,” he said.
“And I want to salute you as people who love the natural world, as people who love what Mother Nature gives us, and who want to husband it for the long-term best interests of humanity.”
But Tasmania’s Deputy Premier, Bryan Green, says Mr Abbott’s approach to the issue is a step backwards for the timber industry, and a return to the logging war between activists and timber workers.
He told ABC Local Radio the best way forward is through the treaty struck by environmentalists and the industry – the Tasmanian Forestry Agreement (TFA).
“We’ve taken massive steps forward in this industry as a result of the TFA, we’re backing the TFA, we don’t want to return to the trenches,” he said.
“We want to continue to diversify the economy, we want to grow the forest industry based on the TFA as it’s established.
“I don’t want to return to the forestry debate that we had.”

Greens condemn ‘massive assault on the environment’

Greens leader Christine Milne says the Prime Minister’s words send a clear message to the world “that Australia does not value its world heritage areas or its national parks”.
“People are going to be pretty upset that Tony Abbott is mounting this massive assault on the environment,” she said.
Any move to repeal the World Heritage classification on Tasmanian forests would ultimately prove destructive to the state’s logging industry, she added.
“Tony Abbott has got it so wrong. The logging industry was on its knees in Tasmania because around the world nobody wants to buy timber products that come from old growth forest,” she said.
“There’s now a high level of recognition that we need to be protecting the last of our primary forests around the world.”
Senator Milne said the recent peace deal with Tasmania’s conservation movement had given loggers “some chance of a future in the plantations”, but that Mr Abbott had threatened to “send Tasmania back to decades of conflict”.
“What he’ll actually do is destroy the forest industry, not to mention Tasmania’s clean, green and clever brand which is our main asset and that comes from our World Heritage area,” she said.
Mr Abbott also used his address to criticise the Tasmanian Greens for everything from the state’s ailing economy to its poor educational outcomes.
“We all know Tasmania has the lowest wages in Australia, it has the lowest GDP per head, it’s got the lowest life expectancy, it’s got the lowest educational retainment in the country and it’s got the highest unemployment, and funnily enough for the last eight years it has had a government in large measure dominated by the Greens,” he said.
While appointments to the new Forestry Advisory Council are still being finalised, Institute of Foresters national director Rob De Fegely has been named as co-chair.

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