19 May, 2015

Goongerah Environment Centre threatened with trespassing prosecution after revealing Errinundra Plateau rainforest clearing

ABC News (Australian Broadcasting Corporation), 19 May 2015 

Members of an environment group who revealed evidence of rainforest clearing in East Gippsland, in south-east Victoria, have been threatened with prosecution.

After being tipped off by the Goongerah Environment Centre (GECO), the Department of Environment found VicForests had needlessly destroyed rainforest canopy on the Errinundra Plateau.

The state forestry compliance officer has now threatened to prosecute members of GECO for trespassing in the disputed logging coupes.

Ed Hill from GECO said he was shocked by the threats.

"Quite frankly we're disgusted that the Government would threaten to prosecute community members for getting out there and basically doing the work that the Government is meant to be doing and holding VicForests accountable to state laws that protect unique environmental values, like rainforest," he said.

Mr Hill said he had asked for Environment Minister Lisa Neville to intervene.

"She had a scathing assessment of the rainforest logging and on VicForests and their conduct in that operation, so we're really surprised that the Government wants to take further steps to prosecute community members for the work they're meant to be doing," he said.

The Environment Minister has referred the ABC's enquiry to another Government department.

18 May, 2015

A statement on the renewable energy sellout

Andrew Wilkie - Independent Member for Denison 
Media Release, 18 May 2015

The deal announced today to lower the Renewable Energy Target from 41,000 gigawatt hours to 33,000 gigawatt hours, to fully exempt trade-exposed industries from the target, and presumably to include the burning of forest waste, is a shocking betrayal by the Liberal, National and Labor parties.

The deal is the work of politicians who either don’t believe in climate change, or do and don’t care about it all that much. Nor do they care much about Australia's most precious forests seeing as this deal increases the likelihood of the trees now being chipped for firewood.

The deal is also the work of politicians who seem to be incapable of grasping the urgent need for Australia to adjust for the future global economy where reliance on clean energy will be good for business, and where countries developing and exporting the relevant technologies will profit handsomely from doing so.

Good politicians, women and men with vision and backbone, would see the merit in the Australian Youth Climate Coalition's Safe Climate Roadmap which sees Australia eventually achieving 100 per cent renewable energy dependency, and in propositions from others who make the case for at least 90 per cent renewable energy dependency by 2030.

15 May, 2015

Forest waste in the RET is ‘burning votes’

Graham Lloyd
The Australian, May 15, 2015 

Plans to allow burning native forest waste to qualify for renewable energy subsidies under a revamped Renewable Energy Target are proving unpopular with voters in two marginal Coalition seats.

Snap polling conducted by REACHtel for the Wilderness Society on budget night found less than a third of voters supported burning forest waste for power.

The poll in Eden Monaro and Corangamite found voters largely supported a higher Renewable Energy Target than the 33GWh proposed by the federal government but many said they would be less likely to buy electricity from a company that produced it from burning forest waste.

The issue of forest waste for power has been a long-running controversy fuelled by fears that burning forests could become a low-value replacement for woodchipping which has suffered a collapse in world markets.

Under existing legislation, forest waste has a broad definition and can make up more than 80 per cent of the forest harvest.

“This 11th hour inclusion of so-called wood waste in the RET scheme has nothing to do with promoting a transition to renewable energy and everything to do with propping up a native forest logging industry whose economic model is broken,” Wilderness Society national campaign director Lyndon Schneiders said.

“The industry is looking for a replacement for the collapsed native forest woodchip industry and is once again putting its hand out for a new subsidy through the Renewable Energy Scheme,” he said.

Mr Schneiders said polling showed voters in key Liberal marginals did not support the plan.

In Corangamite, only 24.2 per cent of those surveyed said they supported the federal government plan with 50.1 per cent opposed and 25.7 per cent undecided. Among Liberal voters, support for the forest waste plan was 41.2 per cent with 23.4 per cent opposed and 35.4 per cent undecided.

More than 45 per cent of Corangamite voters, including 21.1 per cent of Liberal voters, said they would be less likely to vote for a party that allowed the burning of native forest wood waste as part of the RET.

In Eden Monaro only 29.6 per cent of voters supported the federal government’s plans with 44.6 per cent opposed and 25.8 per cent undecided.

Among Liberal voters support for the forest waste plan was 52.4 per cent with 17.4 per cent ­opposed.

Forty-three per cent of Eden Monaro voters, including 16.7 per cent of Liberal voters, said they would be less likely to vote for a party that allowed for the burning of native forest wood waste as part of the RET.

The federal government reached a compromise target with Labor late last week for the renewable energy target of 33GWh.

However, negotiations have since broken down due to the federal government’s inclusion of forest waste and the retention of two-yearly reviews of the renewable energy target.

Supporters of bio energy claim debate about forest waste has stalled a promising industry for renewable energy.

Victorian farmer and World Bio Energy Association vice-president Andrew Lang said allowing forest waste to qualify for renewable energy “will not result in the outcome so hysterically forecast of ‘forest furnaces’ for the simple reasons of economics and logistics.”

He said to chip and transport the necessary large amounts of forest residues would be too ­expensive.

10 May, 2015

Irreparable loss

Linda Zibell, Mount Helen 
The Age, Letter, 10 May 2015

I grew up near the Australian Paper Mills. My family listened to its drone, smelt it, even earned by it. I also love a tiny pocket of temperate rainforest close by, Tarra Valley/Bulga Park, where lyrebirds call ("National park moves a step closer to reality", 3/5). The loss of a great Mountain Ash tree cannot be weighed against giving a human the job of cutting it down. We are all going down if we frame it like this.
Using the word "environmentalist" reduces and stereotypes people who support a healthy ecosystem in this Great Forest Park. As the federal government's "Australia, State of the Environment Report" 2006 states: "The environment is everybody's business."
The question is what will a Great Forest National Park mean? The possum is close to its heart but untold benefits for people are built into this genuinely sustainable proposal. It is designed for the future – to generate jobs, restore habitat, bring great healthy outdoor recreation to Melbourne's doorstep and create a tourist destination to rival Phillip Island. All this, in Australia's most environmentally depleted state.

27 April, 2015

Minister to outline the future of Forestry Tasmania this week amid renewed calls for its scrapping

Stephen Smiley
ABC, 27 April 2015

The future of publicly-owned forestry company Forestry Tasmania will be mapped out during an address in State Parliament by Resources Minister Paul Harriss on Wednesday.

PHOTO: The State Opposition says Forestry Tasmania has been hanging in limbo waiting to hear if it had a future. (ABC News: Tony King)

Mr Harriss said the Government intended to keep its election promise on the company.

"The Government took to the election a commitment to put Forestry Tasmania onto a sustainable footing

Cabinet signed off on the Government's response to a report on the viability of Forestry Tasmania on Monday.

Mr Harriss said the Government intended to keep its election promise on the company.

"The Government took to the election a commitment to put Forestry Tasmania onto a sustainable footing into the future, and we intend to deliver," he said.

Mr Harriss said he and Treasurer Peter Gutwein received the departmental report a couple of weeks ago and have been "constructively" working through its recommendations.

The Minister said the Government engaged consultancy company Deloitte to help the review Forestry Tasmania's economic and operational models.

They made a blue when they committed to withdrawing funding from Forestry Tasmania.
Tasmanian Opposition Leader Bryan Green
The Tasmanian Greens renewed its calls for the State Government to scrap the company.

Greens leader Kim Booth said he was worried the Government's review would be superficial.

"What we've achieved here is a financial disaster," he said.

"The Government's internal review into Forestry Tasmania will be completely inadequate in terms of getting to the bottom of what's happened since 1994 to 2014, when they've shrunk the value from $2.27 billion, down to $160 million."

Opposition leader Bryan Green said workers had been in limbo for months because the Government had refused to rule out winding up the business.

"That chair of the board has had to write to Forestry Tasmania workers reassuring them the Government is, he believes, hopefully working in their best interests," he said.

"They made a blue when they committed to withdrawing funding from Forestry Tasmania."

Mr Harriss said it had not yet been decided if the report would be made public.

Complicated science and direct action - trees are made of carbon

Source: Mark David on Twitter: "Complicated science #auspol

22 April, 2015

Government moves to save Victoria’s iconic Leadbeater’s possum

The Hon. Greg Hunt MP, Minister for the Environment
MEDIA RELEASE, 22 April 2015

After carefully considering advice from the independent Threatened Species Scientific Committee
and submissions from experts, interested organisations and the wider community, I have decided to
list the Leadbeater’s possum as a ‘critically endangered’ species.

The Threatened Species Scientific Committee’s recommendation was clear and unequivocal regarding the need to transfer the species from endangered to critically endangered.

This means Victoria’s faunal emblem will now receive the highest level of protection under national environment law.

Leadbeater’s possums have very specific habitat requirements in order for them to survive and flourish. Sadly, almost half of the possum’s ideal habitat – the old-growth mountain ash forest in the Central Highlands of Victoria – was burnt in the 2009 bushfires.

The challenges facing this iconic species are significant. It has undergone very severe population declines in recent decades with numbers having decreased by more than 80 per cent since the mid 1980s.

That is why we will be working closely with the Victorian Government to find a solution which will help save the possum for future generations.

First and foremost, I have already asked my Department to work with Victorian Government officials and commence a review and update of the Leadbeater’s possum draft Recovery Plan. This Plan must be finalised and acted upon.

The Australian Government is already taking significant action to protect threatened species. In 2014, we initiated a new national approach to saving our threatened species with the appointment of Australia’s first Threatened Species Commissioner. Since then, we have invested more than $76 million for practical science-based actions, to turn around species declines.

As an example, the Australian Government is supporting Zoos Victoria to grow habitat for lowland Leadbeater’s possum and helmeted honeyeater populations. Through funding under the 20 Million Tree Programme, the Government will help Zoos Victoria to plant 112,000 trees at Coranderrk

Bushland Reserve which will provide breeding populations of these species with suitable habitat to help their recovery.

In addition, the Australian Government’s National Environment Science Programme Threatened Species Recovery Hub will be investing $30 million over the next six years in practical science and field work to test and explore options to tackle the threats to our native animals and plants.


16 April, 2015

Victorian state emblem Leadbeater's possum pushed closer to extinction

Tom Arup
The Age, 16/4/15

Victoria's state animal emblem, the Leadbeater's possum, is set to be formally recognised as being on the brink of extinction, leading to the Andrews government fast-tracking a program to identify more colonies of the species.

On the way out: A Leadbeater's possum. Photo: Ken Irwin
But the state government has again stopped short of backing a new national park to protect the Leadbeater's habitat, which conservationists and many scientists say is crucial to ensuring the species' survival.

Environment Minister Lisa Neville on Thursday announced measures to find more Leadbeater's through surveys, including infrared aerial mapping of habitat and remote camera surveys in planned logging areas.

It is understood federal Environment Minister Greg Hunt will declare next week that the Leadbeater's formal national threatened species status has deteriorated from "endangered" to "critically endangered", considered the last step before extinction in the wild.

There is no accurate estimate of how many Leadbeater's possums still live in the wild, though government modelling has previously put the range between 4000 and 10,000 with large caveats.

Concern for the species' survival soared after the 2009 Black Saturday bushfires destroyed 45 per cent of its primary habitat in the state's central highland forests, north-east of Melbourne. Conservationists say continued logging of the species' habitat has further increased the pressure.

Hope grew among some environmentalists this week that the impending federal decision on the Leadbeater's conservation status might see the state government give some form of public support for a new national park.

Numerous conservationists and scientists – including Sir David Attenborough and Dr Jane Goodall – have supported a campaign to set up the "Great Forest National Park" in the region, which would encompass much of the highlands forest.

But the area is also one of the state's primary native forest logging areas.

During last year's state election campaign Labor had been expected to support a new national park in some way, but reportedly dumped the policy at the behest the CFMEU, which represents forestry workers.

Instead the Andrews government promised to establish a taskforce of industry, unions and green groups to reach common ground on issues facing forestry, including jobs, economic activity and environmental protection. Ms Neville said the relevant groups were now working on how the taskforce will operate.

"We will consider any reasonable proposals reached by consensus through the industry taskforce regarding the establishment of any new national parks," Ms Neville said.

The new survey program includes fast-tracking targeted searches to identify new Leadbeater's colonies, remote camera surveys by the state-owned timber company VicForests in forest to be cut down, and aerial surveys to identify possum habitat. The state government will also purchase and loan equipment for community surveys.

The surveys follow recommendations by a previous advisory panel, which was led by industry and Zoos Victoria and established by the Napthine government. The Andrews government says it is implementing the panel's recommendations, which did not include a new park and were criticised as being ineffective for the species' survival by environmentalists.

Australian National University ecologist, Professor David Lindenmayer, said: "This is not even Band-Aid stuff. We are dealing with a critically endangered animal in a critically endangered ecosystem. It needs real measures."

Campaigner from MyEnvironment Sarah Rees said the latest survey measures were dangerously close to status quo, "which is what is leading this animal to extinction."

"What we need is an improved reserve design, being the Great Forest National Park, to stop extinction, not a bunch of cameras, a search for habitat that does not exist and an expectation that the community will do the work of paid government personnel," she said.