30 June, 2014

Leadbeater's possum death fuels survival fears

Bridie Smith, Science Editor
The Age, June 26, 2014

A Leadbeater possum at Healesville Sanctuary.
A Leadbeater possum at Healesville Sanctuary. Photo: Justin McManus

Conservation scientists have expressed concern about the genetic health of the last population of lowland Leadbeater's possums, after a fatally diseased possum arrived at Healesville Sanctuary from the wild and died.

It's the third consecutive year that a wild animal, selected because of its apparent health and value to the captive breeding program, has died.

Listed internationally as endangered, the Leadbeater’s possum is Victoria’s faunal emblem.

There are just 40 of the lowland Leadbeater’s left, living in a small patch of forest near the hamlet of Yellingbo, near Healesville.

Melbourne University conservation geneticist Andrew Weeks analysed tissue samples from the lowland possums. The most recent results reveal a 10 per cent slide in genetic diversity over the past decade.

‘’We’ve recorded a loss and that’s quite a concern,’’ he said.

The typical level of genetic diversity in a Leadbeater's possum population is 65 per cent. The diversity level in the Yellingbo population is now 45 per cent.

Dr Weeks said as populations shrank in size, the rate of inbreeding increased and genetic abnormalities could start to show. This included shorter lifespans, fewer offspring, a greater predisposition to disease and a weakened ability to fight disease.

He said while there were 40 individuals living in the Yellingbo Nature Conservation Reserve, 50 kilometres east of Melbourne, it was unlikely that all were breeding. Therefore, the animals contributing to the gene pool was smaller than the population numbers suggested.

The female possum that was brought to Healesville Sanctuary as part of a captive breeding program in May died earlier this month. A post-mortem revealed she had cancer in her reproductive tract, inflammation of the liver and kidney disease.

General manager of life science at Healesville Sanctuary Rupert Baker said the adult male that died in 2013 also had cancer, while the adult female that died in 2012 had a rare blood parasite that vets believe has never before been seen in an Australian marsupial. The deaths have prompted concerns that the population’s gene pool is too shallow to allow for healthy, resilient genetic diversity.

Healesville Sanctuary’s threatened species biologist Dan Harley said the deaths highlighted the precarious position of the wild population - and raised the difficult question as to whether authorities should start to consider bringing the wild population into captivity.

‘’We knew the wild population wasn’t going well numerically but what this says is that it’s probably not going well in terms of its genetic health,’’ Dr Harley said.

When confronted with a similar scenario with the mountain pygmy possum, scientists opted to cross-breed the Mount Buller population with the genetically distinct Mount Hotham population. The hybrid animals were then released into the wild to boost the gene pool at each location.

However it is a last resort for scientists who, where possible, try to preserve distinct groups in the wild.

"We should really only intervene when things are dire," Dr Harley said.

Indonesia overtakes Brazil in clearing tropical forests resulting in habitat loss and animal extinction, scientists claim

ABC News, 30 June 2014 
Satellite images have found that Indonesia has surpassed Brazil in clearing tropical forests, and losses are accelerating, scientists say.
That's despite a 2011 moratorium meant to protect wildlife and combat climate change.
Between 2000 and 2010, Indonesia's loss of virgin forests totalled 60,000 square kilometres, an area almost the size of Ireland, partly to make way for palm oil plantations and other farms, researchers say.
In 2012 alone, deforestation in Indonesia was estimated at 8,400 square kilometres, compared with 4,600 square kilometres in Brazil.
In 2012 alone, deforestation in Indonesia was estimated at 8,400 square kilometres, compared with 4,600 square kilometres in Brazil.
According to the study, deforestation in the Amazon basin in Brazil has traditionally accounted for the biggest losses, which the country has managed to reduce in recent years.
And it says the loss of primary forest areas is damaging global biodiversity.
"Indonesia's forests contain high floral and faunal biodiversity, including 10 percent of the world's plants, 12 percent of the world's mammals, 16 percent of the world's reptile-amphibians and 17 percent of the world's bird species," the study said, published in the journal Nature Climate Change.
"Extensive clearing of Indonesian primary forest cover directly results in habitat loss and associated plant and animal extinctions."
The research, lead by Belinda Margono of the University of Maryland, looked at long term satellite images.
Ms Margono says monitoring of clearing in Indonesia needs to be increased.
"We need to increase the law enforcement, the control in the area itself," Ms Margono said.
The study found lowland and wetland areas in Sumatra and Kalimantan were the worst affected.

Native fauna at risk

Indonesia's 2011 moratorium on forest clearing was imposed partly to slow deforestation that is ruining the habitats of orangutans, Sumatran tigers and other wildlife.
Norway has also promised $USD1 billion to Jakarta if forest losses are slowed.
It has already paid almost $50 million to Indonesia to help set up new institutions to reduce deforestation and says the study's findings strengthen reasons for the program.
Norwegian environment ministry spokeswoman, Gunhild Oland Santos-Nedrelid, says the partnership constitutes a strong financial incentive.
Norway will only start to handover large amounts of money to Indonesia if monitoring proves a slowdown in deforestation.

23 June, 2014

Tasmanian forest world heritage decision 'will be accepted'

Oliver Millman
The Guardian, 23 June 2016

A United Nations decision on whether to allow the stripping of world heritage protection from swathes of Tasmanian forest will be adhered to, the Australian government has indicated.

Unesco’s World Heritage Committee has gathered in Doha, Qatar to determine its position on, among many other matters, whether to allow the removal of 74,000ha of forest from Tasmania’s world heritage area.

It’s expected that the committee will hand down its decision late on Monday night, Australian time. A draft ruling, following a recommendation by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, states that the boundary change, as requested by the Australian government, should not be permitted.

The Coalition formally requested the world heritage area to be shrunk earlier this year, citing economic benefits from opening up more forestry to logging. The government has argued that 74,000ha of the 170,000ha nominated by the previous Labor administration for world heritage protection is degraded by previous logging and development and should be excised from the area.

But ministers have indicated they will abide by the World Heritage Committee decision, should it confirm it has accepted expert opinion that the current boundary should remain.

A spokesman for Liberal senator Richard Colbeck, who has published a series of photographs showing degraded areas within the 74,000ha, told Guardian Australia the government would respect the Doha ruling.

“The decision will be accepted, whichever way it goes,” said the spokesman for Colbeck, who is the parliamentary secretary to the agriculture minister. “It’s all hypothetical until we hear, but we will move forward with whatever they decide.”

Greg Hunt, the federal environment minister, was less definitive on the issue, telling the ABC that it was “a matter for the Tasmanian government”.

A spokeswoman for the Tasmanian government told Guardian Australia that it would also respect the outcome of the World Heritage Committee meeting.

“We continue to support the federal government in its decision to seek the delisting of 74,000 ha of world heritage area,” she said. “We will accept the umpire’s decision when it is made.”

In its recommendation to the World Heritage Committee, the IUCN stated that the Coalition’s request was “clearly inappropriate” and would "impact negatively on the outstanding universal value of the property" and "reduce integrity of key natural attributes".

The IUCN stated that, contrary to the government’s claim that the area was heavily degraded, 85% of the 74,000ha was natural forest, with 45% old-growth forest. Just 4% could be described as heavily disturbed by logging, roads and other infrastructure, the IUCN report found.

The Greens have called on the government to abandon its map-redrawing exercise, which would trim the protected area which covers much of southwestern Tasmania. Christine Milne, the Greens’ leader, has called the proposal a “demeaning act of environmental vandalism”.

Unesco has confirmed that the proposed boundary change is highly unusual as it comes just a year after the area was assessed to be of world heritage quality.

The world heritage listing was agreed following an agreement between conservationists, loggers and the government, in order to end decades of argument over the use of native forests for timber. The Coalition wants to scrap this agreement, arguing that it was hastily conceived by vested interests and unfairly locked out local communities and the logging industry.

“To assert that pine plantations, roads, high tension wires, eucalypt plantations is worthy world heritage preservation simply does not pass the common sense test,” Liberal senator Eric Abetz told Seven’s Sunrise show on Saturday.

29 May, 2014

VicForests should be chopped

Peter Campbell
The Age, Letter (not published yet), 29 May 2014

The Victorian Government should cease subsidising VicForests, its loss-making logging business . Most of the logged forest logged ends up as low value woodchips, the market for which has just collapsed with the Japanese-owned South East Fibre Exports woodchip mill no longer accepting Victorian woodchips (The Age, 29/5/14).

However, VicForests continues to log our remaining wonderful native forests, including Toolangi State Forest that wasn't burnt during the Black Saturday bushfires. Professor David Lindenmeyer has repeatedly warned that Leadbeaters possum, Victoria's faunal emblem, is destined for extinction if VicForests continues to log our Central Highlands forests.

Instead, the Victorian Government should support the community-led proposal to create the Great Forest National Park to protect our scarce remaining native forests, rather than continue to destroy them.

It makes much more sense to create long-terms jobs in managing and protecting our forests and associated tourism. These forests harbour the tallest flowering trees in the world. In addition, the forests provide valuable water.

There is more than enough plantation timber resource available than can immediately provide a substitute timber resource.

We are just lacking the political will and courage to stop the logging and create the urgently needed new national park that will benefit all Victorians.

Axe VicForests or chop off the public money

Josh Gordon
The Age, May 29, 2014 

The age of entitlement is alive and well in Victoria. At least when it comes to the logging of native forests, a proposition that has become so financially fraught the government is considering getting into the business of firewood collection and chipboard production just to prop it up.

A couple of weeks ago South East Fibre Exports – the Japanese-owned company that owns a large woodchip mill at Eden – decided to dump a contract taking waste timber from VicForests’ East Gippsland logging operations.

It was seen as a body blow for the industry. As it is, harvesting sawlogs from native forests is barely viable, with international markets increasingly demanding cheaper and higher-quality plantation timber, and wood also increasingly sourced from low-cost countries, such as Vietnam. Australia's high dollar hasn't helped.

Even before the decision by South East Fibre Exports, the local sawlog industry was in strife. A December 2013 report by Victoria’s auditor-general found that last financial year at least 250,000 cubic metres of residual wood – 16 per cent of the total harvest – was left on the forest floor and burnt because no one wanted to buy it.

"It is not sold primarily because there is currently no market for it," the auditor said.
What a waste. There may no longer be a market for Victoria's "residual" native timber, but selling this unwanted byproduct is still seen as vital to make sawlogging viable.

Under the current arrangement with South East Fibre Exports – which will end next year – VicForests supplies about 200,000 cubic metres of wood to the Eden mill, equivalent to about one-sixth of the total 1.2 million cubic metres produced by VicForests in 2012-13.

The situation is so dire that VicForests is now considering the possibility of selling the residual wood from its forestry operations as firewood, producing chipboard, or using old-growth waste wood for power generation.

"There is the opportunity for local bio-energy production, but also simple markets, particularly given the increase in energy costs, [like] domestic firewood for home use," VicForests corporate affair's director Nathan Trushell told Gippsland ABC radio.

You can only wonder how a private sector firewood business might feel about the prospect of a heavily subsidised state-owned behemoth encroaching on its businesses.

Indeed, as far as socialist-style, publicly owned businesses go, VicForests is in a league of its own.
Not only has VicForests been gifted a hugely valuable public asset free of charge, it has been given monopoly rights to chop this asset down, all the while being spared massive direct and indirect costs associated with logging operations.

It is enough to make Fidel Castro blush.

These indirect costs include the $20 million annual cost of maintaining forestry roads, the opportunity cost of the water lost from our catchments, plus intangible costs such as lost biodiversity and reduced public amenity.

What does the public get in return for this bold experiment in socialism? According to an assessment of VicForests’ finances by the Australian Conservation Foundation, since 2005, VicForests has accrued operating cash flow losses of $11.9 million on its core forestry activities. Over the same period, it has notched up investment losses worth $10.2 million.

That’s a combined loss of $22.1 million from forestry activities – equivalent to about $1.50 for every square metre of timber harvested so far. As the report notes, VicForests' financial position has to a significant extent been propped up by reliance on cheap debt from the Treasury Corporation of Victoria.

In the nine annual reports since it was established, VicForests has announced just three dividend payments to taxpayers: $3 million in 2006 and $2 million in 2007 and a further $250,000 payment this financial year after a positive profit in 2012-13.

The big argument in favour of protecting the local industry is employment. As the auditor pointed out late last year, the timber industry employs more than 21,000 people, while VicForests claims native forest timber harvesting in eastern Victoria has generated about $1 billion in direct economic benefits since 2004.

Agriculture Minister Peter Walsh insists the market is "fundamentally sound" for high-quality sawlogs, claiming the challenge is to find alternative options for the residual and low-grade timber.

But at what cost? There are very real questions that need to be tackled about whether we can continue to push public resources into an industry that would surely struggle to survive on its own – particularly in an age where the public is told the age of handouts is over.

If the objective is to protect jobs, surely there are more sensible ways to do this. If the government is determined to protect Victoria’s timber industry, investing in economically viable plantation forestry might be a good start.

Already there are rumblings within Coalition ranks about the future viability of VicForests, with the issue seen as a potential pressure point between the the Liberal and National parties.

Given the predicament facing VicForests, it is not hard to see why. The debate is no longer one of ideology, it is one of basic economics.

15 May, 2014

Government stands firm on bid to reduce Tasmanian forest World Heritage listing

Felicity Ogilvie
ABC News 15 May 2014 

The Federal Government is ignoring a Senate inquiry's advice on a World Heritage-listed forest in Tasmania after the inquiry condemned plans to delist the forest.

PHOTO: The World Heritage committee will hand down its draft decision on the Tasmanian forest this week. (Rob Blakers: Supplied)
The extension of Tasmania's World Heritage area is the centrepiece of the so-called forest peace deal.

But the Coalition opposes the deal and say they want the World Heritage committee to reduce the Tasmanian extension by 74,000 hectares.

Greens leader Christine Milne is on the Senate Committee that has told the Government to stop trying to delist the forest.

"If a country like Australia decides that, as a result of a political whim, it can destroy its World Heritage area to facilitate logging, that will send a very clear message to other countries that they can adjust their boundaries for uranium mines or any other kind of mining, logging, tourism, development or whatever they like," she said.

"It would be a real blow to World Heritage globally."

Tasmanian Liberal Senator Richard Colbeck says the Government will push on with its request.

The area contains some plantations and areas that have been previously logged.

Senator Colbeck says it should never have been World Heritage.

"I think the Tasmanian community said at the federal election last September, and again at the state election in March, that they want to have a forest industry, they want to sensibly use our resources in Tasmania, but they also ... value and want to maintain the wilderness World Heritage values of the outstanding area that is the original estate," he said.

"So I think there's an opportunity to have win-win-win all round."

The World Heritage committee will hand down its draft decision this week.

Spokesman for the Tasmanian Special Timbers Alliance Andrew Denman is hoping the area's World Heritage status will be revoked.

Mr Denman builds boats out of specialty wood and he says the forest agreement and subsequent World Heritage listing is putting pressure on timber supplies.

"The TFA (Tasmanian Forest Agreement) has had a terrible impact on especially the timber sector," he said.

"We've seen a massive reduction in supply of timber, in some cases over 90 per cent for some species.

"We've also seen a doubling and sometimes a tripling of the resource price as well, all because of a political agreement to restrict access to a sustainable resource.

"So if the World Heritage committee decides not to approve the Federal Government's request to remove 74,000 hectares, obviously that 15,600 hectares of specialty timber area that could possibly be accessed will not be available and that will have an impact on industry."

Vica Bayley from the Wilderness Society is one of the environmentalists who negotiated the forest agreement and he wants to keep the World Heritage extension intact.

"The industry has restructured and, similarly, the specialty timber sector needs to readjust and accept that fact," he said.

"There are plenty of specialty timber operators and specialty timber workers that are saying, keep this World Heritage list, keep the Tasmanian Forest Agreement, and let's work with what we have."

Environmentalists have already been back into the forests protesting against the World Heritage delisting.

Mr Bayley says delisting of the World Heritage forest will spark more protests.

"If these World Heritage listed forests are indeed delisted and they are indeed logged, clearly people will continue to stand up for their protection," he said.

"Not only here in Tasmania, but across Australia and around the world. And, that's not only people that care about the forests; that's people that care about markets and where they get their wood from."

Environmentalists will travel to Doha next month to lobby the World Heritage committee when it makes its final decision on Tasmania's forests.

13 May, 2014

Chip mill to end Gippsland timber contract

Blake Foden 
Bombala Times, May 13, 2014

The owner of the Eden woodchip mill has announced it will not be renewing its contract to purchase timber from state forests in East Gippsland, when the current agreement expires at the end of 2014.

South East Fibre Exports general manager Peter Mitchell says international market pressures are the major reason behind the decision, and that company shareholders are yet to give SEFE any final direction on its next move.

Mr Mitchell said that while the announcement is a “serious development”, it does not signal an imminent closure for the chip mill.

“International market pressures have made it difficult for us to compete by selling VicForests’ resource on the basis of price and quality,” Mr Mitchell said.

“Obviously Vietnam is exporting a lot of wood chips now and has taken over from Australia as the world’s largest exporter.

“But I can reassure people that as far as Eden goes, we won’t be closing tomorrow.

“This is a serious development, but it isn’t an imminent ‘shut-up shop’ and there have been no decisions made in terms of the people who are working here.”

In the wake of the announcement, Chipstop campaigner Harriet Swift has challenged SEFE and parent company Nippon Paper to “come clean about their future plans”.

She said the Eden woodchip mill “should close now” and cease logging operations for the good of forests and wildlife.

“Closing the chipmill now would avoid so much suffering, save valuable carbon sinks and allow the forests and the community to start the healing process after 40 years of woodchipping,” Ms Swift said.

“Almost half of SEFE’s hardwood inputs come from Victoria and it looks highly improbable that the mill could survive without the Victorian logs and sawmill chips.”

The Australian Forests and Climate Alliance (AFCA) also welcomed SEFE’s announcement, labelling it a “body blow” to the logging industry.

AFCA spokesperson Jill Redwood says it is time to follow the lead of whaling and “retire the industry to history”, and warned the logging industry against turning its focus to biomass burning.

“This is a key turning point in the history of south-east Australia’s forests,” Ms Redwood said.

“Forests as now seen as essential climate moderators and Governments should take this opportunity to re-value them as carbon stores, water production areas and as essential habitat for so much of our rare wildlife.

“The burning of forests has recently been approved by the NSW government as renewable energy, and if the forests of south-east Australia are to now be clearfelled and incinerated for electricity, it would be an act of environmental wrecking that is unequalled.”

But VicForests CEO Robert Green says there are no plans to cease logging operations, saying SEFE’s announcement has ended ongoing uncertainty and now allows the state-owned business to move towards identifying new opportunities.

Mr Green said there is still strong demand for timber produced in East Gippsland, and he is confident that the industry will continue in the region, with or without export woodchips.

“SEFE’s decision to cease taking timber from Victoria will affect the market for residual timber produced from our harvesting operations,” he said.

“SEFE has been an important part of the Victorian timber industry for decades and we understand this is a commercial decision which has been made due to a range of external factors.

“Importantly, there will continue to be a timber industry in East Gippsland, and the region will continue to benefit from the contribution made by the industry.

“There are businesses that are ready to invest in the region, and we will be working closely with industry, Government and local communities over the coming months to ensure we adjust to this change.”

But Victorian Greens leader Greg Barber disagrees, saying SEFE’s exit from East Gippsland is “the beginning of the end” for native forest logging.

Mr Barber says VicForests are “in denial”, and urged the Government to immediately put a plan in place to end native forest logging.

"VicForests is a loss-making public owned company and now it is absolutely finished,” Mr Barber said.

“They can't sugarcoat it; no one wants to buy their product and they can't make any money off it.

“Their media release shows they are in complete denial about it.

"The native forest loggers have been comprehensively beaten in the marketplace by plantation tree growers.

“Instead of throwing more taxpayer subsidies at it, the government should accept the inevitable and come up with a plan for an orderly, fair and rapid exit from native forest logging.

“It's what the vast majority of the public wants."

Loss of contract a blow for East Gippsland logging industry

Tom Arup
The Age,  May 13, 2014

The future of native forests logging in East Gippsland is under a cloud after the main woodchip customer in the region announced it would not renew its contract with Victoria's state-owned timber company.

South East Fibre Exports, which owns a large woodchip mill at Eden in south-east NSW, has told VicForests it will not accept East Gippsland residual timber - the waste from native forest logging not turned into sawlogs - after this year.

VicForests chief executive Robert Green said the company faced a challenge to run a forestry industry in the state's east that continued to support jobs if it no longer exported woodchips.
The decision puts further pressure on VicForests which is seen by some as having underperformed financially since its inception in 2003. Last year VicForests registered an $802,000 profit; the year before it registered a $96,000 loss. The lacklustre performance has prompted questions about whether the loss of native forests through logging is justified for little profit.

VicForests spokesman David Walsh said it supplied about 200,000 cubic metres of wood to the Eden mill in 2012-13 - about a sixth of the total 1.2 million cubic metres of wood produced by VicForests for the year.
But Mr Green said there would continue to be a native logging industry in East Gippsland - one of the two major logging areas in the state.

"The announcement offers the certainty necessary for us to get on with the job of looking to the future and identifying new opportunities for the industry," he said.

The loss of the contract could also put pressure of the region's sawlog industry, given the sale of waste timber for woodchips contributes to making the industry viable. Mr Green said VicForests would continue to meet its commitments to sell higher-value sawlogs.

Victorian Greens leader Greg Barber said: "Japanese woodchip companies [that own the Eden mill] have more environmental consciousness than the Liberal Party. Plantation wood is greener, makes better paper and there's millions of tonnes of it available.

"VicForests is a loss-making public-owned company and now it is absolutely finished. They can't sugarcoat it. No one wants to buy their product and they can't make any money off it."

The decision to end the VicForests contract at Eden had been expected for some time among forestry circles given the struggling financial performance of South East Fibre Exports in recent years.

Agriculture Minister Peter Walsh said the government, along with industry and parts of the East Gippsland community, had last year begun drawing up a plan to explore other markets for logs used for woodchips.
"The Victorian Coalition government recognises that forestry makes a valuable contribution to regional jobs and small communities and we will continue working with local communities to support viable, sustainable and responsibly managed local industries," he said.

Speaking on ABC Radio in Gippsland, South East Fibre Exports general manager Peter Mitchell said the decision was a result of lower international demand, increased production in countries such as Vietnam, and more wood flowing from failed managed investment scheme plantations.

Calls to stop East Gippsland logging as VicForests loses one of its biggest customer

Annika smethurst
Herald sun, may 13, 2014

THE future of Victoria’s taxpayer-owned logging company is in serious doubt after one of its biggest customers announced it would no longer buy timber from the state’s forests in East Gippsland.

South East Fibre Exports, a wholly owned subsidiary of Japanese paper giant Nippon Paper, said it would not enter a new agreement with VicForests when its present contract expired.

The contract was believed to be worth about $12 million annually with SEFE taking about half of its supply from VicForests.

Industry sources say the ­decision could spell an end for native forest clearing in East Gippsland and put further pressure on the state-owned logging company, which has continued to receive government subsidies despite failing to pay a dividend for more than five years.

Farmers continue to put pressure on the State Government to stop logging in the Yarra Valley catchments due to reduced water supplies.

VicForests’ chief Robert Green said despite SEFE’s decision affecting the market for residual timber produced from harvesting operations, the industry in East Gippsland would continue.

“The challenge in front of us now is to build a different ­future for the timber industry in East Gippsland, which continues to provide jobs and economic benefits to the region but may not include export woodchips,” he said.

Victorian Greens leader Greg Barber said the State Government should stop logging native forests instead of subsidising it.

“VicForests is a loss-making public-owned company and now it is absolutely finished,” Mr Barber said.

“No one wants to buy their product and they can’t make any money off it.”

Environment East Gippsland co-ordinator Jill Redwood said woodchipping had been an economic drain.

“The Government should now manage our public forests for public good not for private profit,” Ms Redwood said.

20 March, 2014

Don't give up on Australia's endangered species

David Lindenmayer
The Guardian, 20 March 2014

Endangered: the leadbeater's possum. Photograph: Healesville Sanctuary

Recently, there has been a lot of discussion in the scientific community about whether we should allow some species to go extinct. The argument put forward is that the number of endangered species is so great, it isn’t worth the resources to attempt to save them all. But in a wealthy country like Australia – which has some of the best ecologists, conservation biologists and conservation scientists in the world – it is critical that we do far better in managing the nation’s natural resources. A loss of biodiversity is an indicator of poor environmental management. Suggesting that we should let yet more species go extinct on this continent is too defeatist and does not inform the public about what is needed to solve the country’s biodiversity issues.

The approach to allowing species extinction has been around for some time. It’s called “ecological triage”, whereby limited resources for conservation funding are targeted at the subset of species for which management success is most likely. The approach stems from the same process used in medicine to set priorities for allocating efforts to treat patients. The ecological triage approach is thought by some to be essential because it is believed that many resources are directed to species on the brink of extinction that are doomed in the long run, and too few are targeted at declining flora and fauna that are still recoverable.

As a counter to these ideas of ecological triage, some conservation biologists believe that parallels between emergency medicine and conservation biology are inappropriate. For example, they consider that it makes extinction acceptable and allow decision-makers to get away with allocating insufficient resources to address environmental problems. More than a decade ago, scientists Cameron and Soderquist argued in Nature that nations such as Australia should reject the concept of ecological triage because it is has the knowledge, time and ability to save threatened and endangered species.

My own opinion is that rather than arguing about which species to save and which ones to let go extinct, five key things need to be done.

1. We need to make some general calculations about how much money is needed to adequately conserve Australia’s biodiversity.

2. We must develop the funding framework to support effective conservation and land management efforts. Piecemeal, short-term and underfunded attempts characterise the environmental management arena in Australia – usually with limited success. Large-scale and long-term initiatives like an environmental levy (like the Medicare levy) or a GST on food with the funds directed in land management are possible options. Levies can work and if managed appropriately (and transparently) can raise sufficient funds to solve major problems and spread the burden across all of society to generate a public good outcome.

3. We must identify the management actions and expenditure of resources that will provide the maximum benefit.

4. We need to do the proper management interventions to tackle the processes threatening biodiversity in particular ecosystems – be it limiting industrial clearfelling in the wet forests of Victoria to conserving populations of the endangered leadbeater’s possum, continuing strategic fox-baiting to reduce feral predators and maintaining populations of animals like the eastern bristlebird, or protecting woodland remnants and re-vegetating patches of woodland on farmland to help recover temperate woodland birds.

5. We must do the monitoring so that we can tell what management is working (and then keep it going), and what is not, so that it can be changed. This last step is critical as it essential to show investors – the Australian public – what was the environmental return on the investment.

Debates about letting species go extinct are important to stimulate discussion among the public, policymakers and politicians about the long-term trajectory of conservation. This nation must properly identify the expenditure of resources, management actions and monitoring that will conserve its natural heritage.

17 March, 2014

PM Tony Abbott hopes for 'renaissance of forestry' following Liberal election victory in Tasmania

ABC News (Australian Broadcasting Corporation), 17 March 2014

Prime Minister Tony Abbott has reaffirmed his commitment to seek to remove 74,000 hectares of Tasmanian forest from the World Heritage List as part of a "renaissance of forestry" in the state.

The newly-elected Liberal Government in Tasmania, led by Premier-elect Will Hodgman, has promised to rip up the state's Forestry Agreement as well as re-open listed forests to logging.

Under the Tasmanian peace deal, 170,000 hectares of forest was added to the World Heritage area.

Mr Abbott says the Federal Government is committed to growing the forestry industry in the state.

"We want to see a renaissance of forestry in Tasmania," he said.

"Will Hodgman wants to see a renaissance of forestry in Tasmania and we'll work very constructively with the new state government to try to make that happen."

The Prime Minister declared earlier this month that too many of Australia's forests are "locked up".

He has vowed to set up a new advisory council to support the timber industry.

"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," Mr Abbott told a timber industry dinner in Canberra earlier this month.

The Federal Government argues part of the land locked up in Tasmania's World Heritage area has already been partially logged or degraded and it should be opened up to the forestry industry.

Liberals post best-ever Tas results

Tasmania's Liberals posted their best-ever election result on Saturday night, claiming at least 14 of the 25 seats on offer on the back of a 12 per cent swing.

It ends Mr Hodgman's reign as the country's longest-serving opposition leader.

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten believes state Labor's power-sharing deal with the Greens cost the party at the ballot box.

After 16 years in power Labor suffered its worst result in six decades, winning 27 per cent of the vote and just six seats.

Premier Lara Giddings dumped the Greens from Cabinet shortly before announcing the election date.

Mr Shorten says the years in partnership were not good for the Labor brand.

"In Tasmania the Labor government had been in for 16 years that's a very long time and there's no doubt that Labor having an agreement [with the Greens] was marked down by Tasmanian voters," he said.

Meanwhile, the state's electoral commission has revealed 163 postal votes were destroyed after they were irreparably damaged by a letter-opening machine.

More than 2,300 ballot papers for the Hobart-based seat of Denison were damaged during preparation for the count on Saturday evening.

The Tasmanian Electoral Commission (TEC) said 2,175 ballot papers were repaired but 163 were damaged so badly they had to be counted as informal.

The incident has been blamed on the machine not being used properly and poor quality control.

State Electoral Commissioner Julian Type said it was not likely to impact the result.