Category Archives: Biodiversity

Vale Peter Hitchcock AM

PeterHitchcock_John Benson_croppedInternationally recognised conservationist, Peter Hitchcock AM, died on 20 May 2019.

In 1988, Peter Hitchcock was appointed Executive Director of the interim body that later became the Wet Tropics Management Authority (WTMA). Peter had a close association with ARCS through President Aila Keto who was a member of the interim body and later the WTMA Board.

World Heritage listing of the Wet Tropics of Queensland followed years of campaigning and negotiation and was strongly opposed by the Queensland Government led by Joh Bjelke-Petersen. Peter recorded being told by the then State Environment Minister that he had no chance of success and that no-one in North Queensland wanted the World Heritage Area. “It was like walking into an ants’ nest that had been stirred up.” But Peter started talking to local landholders and found the mood to be quite different.

Peter began his career as a forester in the NSW government in the 1960s. When he became more interested in conserving forests rather than logging them, he moved to the NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service where he rose to the position of Deputy Director (Policy and Wildlife). Over his years in the NPWS, Peter was responsible for the establishment of numerous national parks many of which are now part of the Gondwana Rainforests of Australia World Heritage Area. Peter worked closely with the Wran Government and would have had a significant influence on the 1982 decision by Neville Wran to protect rainforests in northeast NSW.

In 1987, Peter was seconded by the federal government led by Bob Hawke to serve on the Commonwealth Commission of Inquiry into the Lemonthyme and Southern Forests of Tasmania to inquire into the possible World Heritage values of the areas and how they could be protected. Peter produced a dissenting report recommending protection of the forests and World Heritage nomination. Most of Peter’s recommendations were accepted by the Commonwealth and in 1989 the areas were added to the Western Tasmanian Wilderness National Parks World Heritage Area created in 1982 to become the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area (TWWHA).

Peter was also instrumental in achieving additions to TWWHA in 2013.

In 2014, the Australian Government led by Tony Abbott put a proposal to the World Heritage Committee to de-list 74,000 hectares of the TWWHA in order to allow logging. The Committee took less than 10 minutes in making a decision to reject the proposal. ARCS was officially represented at the meeting by a delegation headed by Alec Marr, Director of ARCS International World Heritage Programme, and including Peter Hitchcock.

When Peter left WTMA, he established a consultancy practice in Cairns with a focus on natural heritage.

Peter’s contribution to World Heritage was recognised in a tribute by IUCN: “With decades of contributions, both internationally and in his native country of Australia, Peter Hitchcock served over many years as a senior advisor on World Heritage for IUCN. During this time, he undertook numerous missions throughout the globe to monitor the state of conservation of World Heritage sites and evaluate sites nominated for the World Heritage List. He continued to contribute to the reviews of potential new sites up to this very year.”

Peter received a range of awards including Member of the Order of Australia (AM) in 1990, the IBM Award for Environmental Excellence in 1993 and the IUCN Packard International Parks Merit Award in 1996.

Peter will be sorely missed around the world.

Doha_delegation

Australian delegation at the World Heritage Committee meeting in Doha, Qatar, June 2015.
Left to right: Peter Hitchcock, Lincoln Siliakus, Alec Marr, Jenny Weber.


Keith Scott

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The Climate Crisis

Governments must acknowledge that ‘Business as Usual’ is unacceptable

The IPCC Special Report

In October 2018, the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released a Special Report (SR15) on the impacts of global warming of 1.5°C. Human activities are estimated to have caused approximately 1.0°C of global warming above preindustrial levels. Global warming is likely to reach 1.5°C between 2030 and 2052 if it continues to increase at the current rate.

In 2016, more than 160 parties to the Paris Agreement reaffirmed “the goal of limiting global temperature increase to well below 2 degrees Celsius, while pursuing efforts to limit the increase to 1.5 degrees”. The IPCC report provides assessments of the difference in impacts likely to occur between 1.5°C and 2°C temperature rise. For example,

  • global sea level rise by 2100 would be 10 cm lower at 1.5°C compared with 2°C,
  • the likelihood of the Arctic Ocean free of sea ice in summer would be once a century at 1.5°C compared with at least once per decade at 2°C,
  • coral reefs would decline by 70–90 per cent at 1.5°C compared with greater than 90 per cent at 2°C,
  • of 105,000 species studied, 6 per cent of insects, 8 per cent of plants and 4 per cent of vertebrates are projected to lose over half of their climatically determined geographic range for global warming of 1.5°C, compared with 18 per cent of insects, 16 per cent of plants and 8 per cent of vertebrates for global warming of 2°C.

The graph below illustrates the impacts on a range of natural, managed and human systems.

IPCC_impacts

In order to limit global warming to 1.5°C, CO2 emissions will need to be reduced by 45 per cent from 2010 levels by 2030 and reach net zero by 2050. The IPCC report emphasises the need for essentially drastic change: “Limiting global warming to 1.5ºC would require rapid, far-reaching and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society” and “rapid and far-reaching transitions in land, energy, industry, buildings, transport and cities”. It has been increasingly recognised over recent years that natural systems such as forests will play an essential role in achieving a reduction in Greenhouse Gas Emissions.

Native forests, especially primary (undisturbed) forests, need to be left alone to allow them to continue absorbing CO2. Trees remove CO2 from the atmosphere, accumulate carbon and store it for up to hundreds of years. In the light of the likely impacts of climate change, logging and clearing native forests is simply irresponsible.

ARCS is a partner in the Griffith University project, Information, Policy and Onground Action for Primary Forest Protection. The project is led by Professor Brendan Mackey who is Co-ordinating Lead Author for a chapter in the next IPCC report.

Planting trees, such as the Federal Government’s “20 Million Trees Program”, while helpful in the long-term, will not have an impact within the required timeframe. We have just 11 years to halve net CO2 emissions. It is essential that existing carbon stores in our native forests be protected and allowed to increase. It will not be possible to meet the 1.5°C target without the protection of existing primary forests. And that protection must start now.

 Sustainable Development Goals

In 2015, 129 countries signed a UN agreement on Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) with 17 goals being defined. The SDG Index, which ranks countries on each goal and overall on all goals, is published annually.

In the 2018 SDG Index, Australia’s overall performance was ranked at 37 out of 156 countries ranked. On the goal of Climate Action, Australia ranks last when exports (coal and gas) are included.

 Australia’s response to IPCC

Clearly, we are facing an extremely serious situation. Unfortunately — distressingly — the Australian Government, along with many other governments, notably USA, has not acknowledged the unavoidable disaster that will result from ‘Business as Usual’. In fact, government ministers have essentially rejected the scientific findings in the IPCC report.

When in October 2018 then Federal Environment Minister, Melissa Price, was questioned about the IPCC report, she questioned the conclusions reached by the 91 scientists involved. In response to the IPCC finding that coal needs to be phased out by 2050, Minister Price said “To say that it’s got to be phased out by 2050 is drawing a very long bow” and “That would be irresponsible of us to be able to commit to that.” She expressed confidence in technology being developed to allow ‘clean coal’. In July 2017, Queensland Labor Government committed to achieving net zero emissions by 2050. Federal Resources Minister, Matt Canavan, responded saying “Instead of trying to save the planet in 2050 the QLD labor should just concentrate on saving jobs today!”.

And Matt Canavan is leading the push for a new coal-burning power station in North Queensland.

Australia and Coal

Australia is the world’s largest exporter of coal. That coal is burnt somewhere in the world, contributing to climate change. But our commitment to the Paris Agreement does not include our contribution through our coal exports.

It is commonly argued that Australia produces only 1.3 per cent of global emissions and reducing our emissions will not make much difference. But Australia produces around 7 per cent of the world’s coal, all of which is burnt somewhere in the world. Australia is actually a significant contributor to global warming through our exports of coal and LNG. And Australian governments including the Queensland Government are hell-bent on increasing our exports of both coal and LNG.

In the lead up to the Conference of the Parties (COP21) in Paris in 2015, Anote Tong, President of the Pacific Island nation of Kiribati, wrote to world leaders seeking support for a global moratorium on new coal mines.

Just prior to the Paris meeting, President Tong was in Australia to promote the moratorium. In response, the then FederalResources Minister, Josh Frydenberg, said “Well we’re opening new mines where there’s the necessary investment because there’s global demand for it.”

Apart from the recently approved Adani Carmichael coal mine, there are several new coal mines being considered in the Galilee Basin and the Queensland Government is supportive.

Australia’s Paris Agreement commitments

Federal Government Ministers repeatedly claim that Australia will meet the 2030 target of 26–28% reduction in emissions. But the data produced by the Federal Department of Environment and Energy (released late on 7 June) show we are not at all on target. The graph provided by the Department is reproduced below.

Emissions_projections_2018

When confronted with that fact, the Minister for Energy and Emissions Reduction, Angus Taylor, asserted that the government had developed a plan since the Department provided its forecast. In an interview on ABC RN Breakfast, Angus Taylor claimed that since December the Coalition had laid out a plan “to the last tonne” which would have Australia meeting its target. He specified a saving of 328 million tonnes but the Department’s data show a requirement for 695–762 million tonnes.

Whatever the situation is, our target is not only grossly inadequate but fails to address the much greater contribution of coal exports.

Burning wood from native forests is a double disaster

Burning wood from native forests to generate electricity is a threat to both biodiversity and climate.

Forests in southeast USA are being destroyed to produce pellets exported to Europe as fuel. And there is mounting pressure from the Australian timber industry to follow suit.

The European Union counts burning wood for electricity generation as carbon-neutral and fuel wood as a renewable source. These are myths which are being perpetuated around the world. The fact is that burning wood causes immediate release of carbon to the atmosphere but replacing that carbon through growth of trees will take decades. We don’t have decades.

Further, burning wood to produce electricity releases 50 per cent more CO2 than burning coal.

 What can we expect from our political leaders?

What can we expect from our political leaders? Based on current indications, very little! Implementation of the Paris Agreement, through development of the Rule Book, has not gone well. The outcomes of the Conference of the Parties in Poland in November were disappointing. We may well have to depend on voluntary market decisions based on investment outlook.

The planet is in dire straits.

Keith Scott

 

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The Biodiversity Crisis

1 Million species threatened with extinction

Last month the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) released a landmark new report IPBES Global Assessment Report on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services. The report begins with these headlines:

  • Nature’s dangerous decline ‘Unprecedented’
  • Species extinction rates ‘Accelerating’
  • ‘Transformative changes’ needed to restore and protect nature
  • Opposition from vested interests can be overcome by public good
  • 1,000,000 species threatened with extinction

Following several years of preliminary meetings, IPBES was ‘established’ in 2012. The IPBES report was produced in response to an invitation from the Conference of the Parties, Convention on Biological Diversity to prepare a global assessment on biodiversity and ecosystem services, “focusing on status and trends, the impact of biodiversity and ecosystem services on human well-being, and the effectiveness of responses, including the Strategic Plan and its Aichi Biodiversity Targets”. The 20 targets can be found at https://www.cbd.int/sp/targets.

The report finds that nature is deteriorating worldwide and biodiversity is declining faster than at any other time in human history.

It would be of no surprise to most people that nature across the globe has been significantly altered by human activities. Seventy- five per cent of the land surface is significantly altered, 66 per cent of the ocean area is experiencing increasing cumulative impacts, and over 85 per cent of the area of wetlands has been lost. Across much of the highly biodiverse tropics, 32 million hectares of primary or recovering forest were lost between 2010 and 2015.

The authors find that human actions threaten more species with global extinction now than ever before. They estimate that around 25 per cent of animal and plant species are threatened, indicating that around one million species already face extinction, many within decades, unless action is taken to reduce impacts. The authors conclude that without such action there will be a further acceleration in the global rate of species extinction, which is already at least tens to hundreds of times higher than it has averaged over the past 10 million years.

The report provides statistics to support their conclusion. More than 40 per cent of amphibian species, almost a third of reef-forming corals, sharks and shark relatives and over a third of marine mammals are currently threatened. The proportion of insect species threatened with extinction is a key uncertainty, but available evidence supports a tentative estimate of 10 per cent. Those proportions suggest that, of an estimated 8 million animal and plant species (75% of which are insects), around 1 million are threatened with extinction. A similar picture also emerges from an entirely separate line of evidence. Habitat loss and deterioration, largely caused by human actions, have reduced global terrestrial habitat integrity by 30 per cent relative to an unimpacted baseline; combining that with the longstanding relationship between habitat area and species numbers suggests that around 9 per cent of the world’s estimated 5.9 million terrestrial species – more than 500,000 species – have insufficient habitat for long-term survival, are committed to extinction, many within decades, unless their habitats are restored.

Ecosystem structure

A critical conclusion from the IPBES report is that goals for conserving and sustainably using nature and achieving sustainability cannot be met by current trajectories, and goals for 2030 and beyond may only be achieved through transformative changes across economic, social, political and technological factors.

Climate change is, and will continue to be, a significant contributor to biodiversity loss. As noted in the article on The Climate Crisis on page 2 of this newsletter, nature conservation and climate change are intrinsically linked. Mitigating climate change will help nature while nature-based measures are essential for mitigation of climate change. The IPBES report concludes that “nature-based solutions with safeguards are estimated to provide 37 per cent of climate change mitigation until 2030 needed to meet 2°C goals with likely co-benefits for biodiversity” and “land-use actions are indispensable, in addition to strong actions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuel use and other industrial and agricultural activities.”

However, the report includes a caution that “large-scale deployment of intensive bioenergy plantations, including monocultures, replacing natural forests and subsistence farmlands, will likely have negative impacts on biodiversity and can threaten food and water security as well as local livelihoods, including by intensifying social conflict”. The report emphasises the importance of strong legislation for the protection of threatened species. In this context, the Australian Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act (EPBC Act) is given as an example of “weaker laws” and “less rigorously implemented and enforced”, and therefore less likely to achieve recovery goals.

Australia’s own extinction crisis

Since European settlement, 28 mammals have been declared extinct in Australia, more than in any other country. In recent years, three mammal species — Christmas Island Forest Skink, Christmas Island Pipistrelle and Bramble Cay Melomys, a Great Barrier Reef endemic. The melomys is the first mammal extinction caused by climate change. Sea level rise destroyed the melomys and its habitat.

The EPBC Act is failing. University of Queensland researchers have concluded that up to 7.47 million hectares of threatened species habitat – an area larger than the state of Tasmania or 3.7 million Melbourne Cricket Grounds – has been destroyed since the operation of the EPBC Act (from 2000-2017).

The Senate Environment and Communications References Committee is currently undertaking an inquiry into Australia’s faunal extinction crisis. The scope of the inquiry includes the adequacy of environment laws.

Keith Scott

 

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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.

ForestCutForBiomass.jpg

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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Filed under Biodiversity, Forests