18 November, 2015

Our distorted values

Kath Angus, Thornbury
The Age, letter, 18 Nov 2015

That the proposed Great Forest National Park is in question because VicForests has made long-term logging contracts tells us nothing about the industry's viability or even the need for its existence (The Age, 17/11). It simply tells us our value system is so distorted we would rather  release ever more carbon into the atmosphere and watch species go extinct than break a contract and pay a fee. Chopping down trees simply because we said we would is madness.

16 November, 2015

Great Forest National Park needed now

Peter Campbell
Letter to editor, The Age (not yet published), 16/11/15

VicForests signing expensive and dubious logging contracts (Age 16/11) just before the change of government in 2014 highlights the urgent need for the Great Forest National Park.

VicForests lacks the social licence for continued logging of our native forests and ongoing destruction of Leadbeaters possum and other threatened species forest habitat. Species extinction and ecosystem collapse are not acceptable.

The declining availability of wood resource from native forests, consumer avoidance of timber and paper produced from it, paltry revenue and debts owed equates to the upcoming cessation of native forest logging.

There are few jobs involved now that whole logs are exported to China.

The future lies in transitioning the logging industry to sustainable plantations and recycled fibre - this will be good for jobs and good for the environment.

Nine out of ten Victorians support the immediate creation of Great Forest National Park during the term of current government. We now just need the political will to do so.

15 November, 2015

Leadbeater's possum national park plans dealt a blow

Josh Gordon, State Political Editor
The Age, November 15, 2015

The Leadbeater's possum is believed to be perilously close to extinction. Photo: Justin McManus

A plan for a new national park to protect the endangered Leadbeater's possum has been dealt a blow with revelations VicForests locked in millions of dollars worth of new logging contracts.

State Labor ducked a proposal to create a Great Forest national park stretching from Kinglake to Mt Baw Baw and north-east up to Eildon in the recent state election, instead announcing a taskforce made up of environment groups, scientists, the union and the forestry industry.

The decision to set up the taskforce to strike a "consensus" followed pressure during the campaign from the Construction, Forestry, Mining and and Energy Union, which had threatened to campaign against Labor on concerns that ending logging in the area would threaten Gippsland jobs.

Environment Minister Lisa Neville earlier this year said she believed the park would be created this term, with a commitment to protect logging industry jobs. Conservations and scientists – including Sir David Attenborough – have long argued that the park is needed to protect the possum, which is believed to be perilously close to extinction.

But VicForests' latest annual report, tabled in Parliament last week, suggests ending logging before the 2018 election could be difficult. The report shows VicForests negotiated various contracts to harvest and haul 900,000 cubic  metres of wood a year for the next three or four years.

It said the agreements – which could cost more than $50 million a year assuming current harvest and haulage costs – had the potential to be extended, "providing the greatest level of security that contractors have had since 2009".

News of the new deals has left the state government struggling to explain how a national park might be created into the near future. A government spokeswoman said the annual report confirmed the finalisation of the timber allocation process that began in late 2012, under the previous government.
But in a potentially controversial decision, Labor confirmed it would not financially back any new long-term timber deals until the taskforce has delivered its findings.

"The Labor government has determined that we will not indemnify any new long-term timber sales agreements until the deliberations of the industry taskforce are completed and the government has received its recommendations," the spokeswoman said.

"The taskforce involves government, industry and science working together to reach common ground on the issues facing the industry, such as job protection, economic activity and protection of our unique native flora, fauna and threatened species such as the Leadbeater's possum."

The annual report also showed VicForests returned a $4.7 million   profit last financial year, the third in a row, with a dividend of $1.5 million expected to be paid to the state. VicForests chief executive Robert Green said the industry contributed hundreds of millions of dollars to the economy a year.

"Our revenue from timber sales is up on last year and VicForests alone has injected more than $85 million into regional economies through contracts with local businesses and wages," Mr Green said.
The report also confirmed VicForests started exporting low-grade logs, with approximately 3600 cubic tonnes sent overseas, most likely to China.

27 October, 2015

Environment group to go to police over 'recklessly provocative' behaviour by logging supporters

ABC News (Australian Broadcasting Corporation), 27 Oct 2015

PHOTO: The giant log, estimated to be hundreds of years old, was cut down in contravention with forest regulations. (Facebook)
An environment group called Knitting Nannas of Toolangi is taking a complaint of intimidation to police after a logging truck drove past one of their gatherings at an "unacceptably high speed" last week, north of Melbourne.

When members of the group posted photos of the truck on Facebook, it sparked a torrent of abuse from pro-logging advocates, including a photo of giant tree on the back of a logging truck.

The log, believed to be four or five metres in circumference and hundreds of years old, had "hug this" painted on it, a reference to the term "tree huggers" which is often used to describe environmental campaigners.

The photo sparked outrage amongst environmental campaigners.

A spokeswoman for the group, who have campaigned against the logging of environmentally sensitive logging coupes in the area, said the photo showed a "lack of respect" for anyone who opposed logging.

The spokeswoman asked not to be named because of fear of reprisals.

She said the group was formed to stop intimidation from pro-logging groups.

"We're now being subjected to the same treatment," she said.

Loggers 'giving the finger'

Members of the Knitting Nannas said they were taking their complaint to police in hope the intimidation would stop.

Jill Redwood from another group, Environment East Gippsland, said it was the loggers "giving the finger" to environmental groups.

"It was recklessly provocative and shows total contempt for community values and the concerns about our forests," she said.

"It was put up the same day I and two other groups were meeting with department [Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning] to start process of working out giant tree prescriptions [to protect them]," she said.

Loggers are not supposed to cut down any tree over nine metres in circumference.

Nathan Trushell, of VicForests, the state-owned business responsible for logging, said it does not "condone this type of behaviour."

"We are following up with the contractor concerned to address the issue," he said in a statement.

"Our contractors are very responsible in the way the conduct themselves but this was a clear error in judgement from the individual involved.

"We apologise to anyone who was offended by the photo."

23 October, 2015

New colonies of Leadbeater's possum discovered in logging forests

Tom Arup, Environment Editor
Sydney Morning Herald, October 23, 2015

The politically sensitive and critically endangered Leadbeater's possum, which is also happens to be Victoria's animal emblem, is again proving a challenge with the discovery of dozens of new colonies in forests on Melbourne's northern doorstep that are open to logging.

In recent months government and community surveys have found 71 new colonies of Leadbeater's possum in the central highland forests.

That has prompted dozens of new 200-metre logging exclusion zones to be established across the patches of forest in the state's central highlands where the possum populations are being discovered.

A Leadbeater's possum at Healesville sanctuary. New wild colonies of the species have been found in state and national parks. Photo: Joe Armao

The new colony finds are documented in a progress report on state government efforts to protect the possum, which were first launched by the Napthine government (in conjunction with the timber industry and Zoos Victoria) after community and scientific concern for the creature's fate reached fever pitch.

The plan's goal is to find 200 new Leadbeater's colonies in state forest within two years. In April the Andrews government announced it was going to speed up the surveying program.

By September, 71 new colonies had been discovered. And a further 45 new colonies were also found in national parks, which already exclude timber harvesting.

Environment Minister Lisa Neville said the discovery of 116 colonies across state and national parks was "encouraging" and it was pleasing to see progress made "though a collaborative effort across government and with the community".

But Sarah Rees, from the green group MyEnvironment, said new discoveries were well short of the target and "deeply concerning".

"They have looked everywhere, like our teams," she said.

"We are now seeing most of the remnant possums in logging zones and this is what scientists and survey teams have been saying for years."

A spokesman for the state-owned timber company, VicForests. said it was "incredibly positive" to see more than 100 new detections of a critically endangered species and survey work was continuing with areas being protected to ensure harvesting did not impact on possum colonies.

The report says 188 protection zones have now been put in place to protect the newly found colonies, along with another 283 that were already known.

But scientists from the Australian National University have previously criticised the 200-metre protection areas as too small to be effective, arguing they need to be one kilometre to ensure the animal's safety.

The government's progress report also says that logging has been delayed in areas where there is a 65 per cent chance of the species living there, meaning harvesting of 14,800 hectares of forest has been deferred for two years to allow more surveys to take place.

The report also monitored whether Leadbeater's possums were nesting in artificial hollows that have been created, which replicate their natural habitat in old trees, finding about 25 per cent were being used.

It is still unclear how many possums the newly discovered colonies contain.  And there is significant debate about how many Leadbeater's possums still live in the wild overall, with different estimates ranging below 2000 to as high as 11,000.

But the decline of the species due to bushfires and logging pressures prompted federal Environment Minister Greg Hunt to this year boost its threatened species status to critically endangered, which is one step before extinction.

21 August, 2015

Victorian Government considers buying timber industry out of Leadbeater's possum habitat

ABC News (Australian Broadcasting Corporation), 21 August 2015

PHOTO: The Leadbeater's possum is one of the most critically endangered animals in Australia and faces rapid habitat loss from logging. (AAP: Healesville Sanctuary)

In a highly sensitive move, the Victorian Government is considering a plan that could buy the logging industry out of a forest to save the state's faunal emblem, the Leadbeater's possum.

The Leadbeater's possum is one of the most critically endangered animals in Australia and its habitat in the tall mountain ash forests of the state's central highlands is in decline due to logging and fires.

A long awaited industry taskforce has now been set up to consider whether logging and the Leadbeater's Possum can both continue in these forests.

Professor David Lindenmayer from the Australian National University (ANU) said the timber industry must stop logging the central highlands mountain ash forest if the possum is to have a chance of surviving.

"Lots of places are being logged that shouldn't, the big old trees aren't being protected, this leaves animals like Leadbeater's very little chance of surviving the next 20 to 30 years," he said.

Dave Blair, a senior research officer with ANU, said recommendations handed down by the Leadbeater's Possum advisory group last year are not adequately protecting the possum.

"The science we have been working on for decades now was largely sidelined with a lot of the recommendations either being extremely watered down versions of it or proposing things that we know already aren't going to work," he said.

Scientists from the ANU and conservationists are pushing for a Great Forest National Park, which would provide a much larger ecological reserve for the possum.

The state owned logging corporation, VicForests, said that would mean the end of the timber industry in the central highlands.

VicForests general manager of planning Nathan Trushell, said: "It's not a surprise to anyone, if the Great Forest National Park was implemented in its current form that would result in the end of most of the Victorian hardwood timber industry."

Buying logging industry out risks upsetting key union supporter

The Victorian Government is under intense pressure to do more to save the possum.

In the last month, Federal Environment Minister Greg Hunt has twice called on it to take action.

"We listed the Leadbeater's Possum as critically endangered and it's up to them now to be absolutely clear what their plans are because I understand that logging has recently commenced in new areas and I think it's time for the Labor Government in Victoria to be upfront about their plans," he said.

Mr Hunt has also invited the Victorian Government to apply for funding that could pave the way for it to buy the timber industry out of the central highlands mountain ash forest.

PHOTO: Rusty logging coupe in Toolangi state forest which was logged in 2014. (ABC)
If the submission was approved it would allow the State Government to bid for millions of dollars a year from the Emissions Reduction Fund to not log in Leadbeater's Possum forests.

It is a highly sensitive issue for the State Government because of its potential to upset one of its key union supporters, the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU), which represents timber workers.

Mr Trushell said even if millions of dollars of Emissions Reduction Fund money was available, it would not be easy or simple to move the timber industry out of the central highlands.

"Look, I think these are the types of issues that would be worked through the industry taskforce," he said.

"We're talking about a substantial industry. The reality is the solutions aren't easy. The alternatives aren't easy.

"Ultimately if you were to close down the timber industry in eastern Victoria, you would need to substitute from somewhere else."

Mr Trushell said it would also have a significant impact on some regional communities.

"It's an important industry regionally. It contributes to significant socio-economic benefits. You need to look at the whole picture."

The Victorian Government declined to be interviewed.

But in a statement a spokesperson said the terms of reference for the taskforce are currently being formalised.

07 August, 2015

Logging in national parks good for vulnerable species, Timber NSW says

ABC News (Australian Broadcasting Corporation)
7 August 2015

Vulnerable native species would benefit if New South Wales' national parks were opened up to controlled logging, according to the state's timber industry.

PHOTO: Controlled logging would protect vulnerable species in NSW, experts say. (Rose Grant)

Timber NSW says controlled logging should be allowed in the state's national parks and Crown lands as well as in state forests.

That view is supported by Senator Richard Colbeck, Parliamentary Secretary to Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce.

In an opinion piece published today on ABC Environment, general manager of Timber NSW Maree McCaskill and industry consultant Nick Cameron argue that the current legislative arrangements for land management in NSW are failing vulnerable species.

They argue that a unified approach to "tenure" — the legal term for land management — would have better results for vulnerable species, communities and the timber industry.

"The tenure system offers no broad landscape management and accountability. Frequently, forestry departments focus on the profits of timber production, park managers focus on the records of individual species and managers of Crown lands focus on administration," they wrote.

"Native forests are not static museums that can be locked up forever. Like your own garden or backyard they need careful management to keep them healthy.

"Through preventative measures like ecological thinning and fire mitigation, the timber industry can play an important role in active, adaptive management to tackle common threats across all tenure types."

In a recent interview for Radio National's Background Briefing, Senator Colbeck made calls for a similar "broad landscape" approach to forest management.

"If you look at, for example, native species decline in this country, the rate of native species decline inside of national parks is hardly different at all to what it is across the rest of the landscape," he said.

"In my mind, what that says to me is you need to manage the entire landscape to ensure that those values that you're looking to achieve are maintained. You can do that with sustainable forest management principles."

He said such an approach to forest management was being adopted globally.

"If you go to a lot of the landscape and forestry management conferences around the world right now, it's about broad landscape management," Mr Colbeck said.

"It's about managing the broad landscape for values. It's about managing the broad landscape for native species and doing what you can across that entire landscape, not just bits and pieces of it because if you do it that way I think that we're only going to continue to go backwards," he said.

Ms McCaskill said forestry science professionals appeared to have been forgotten over the last 20 years of national park expansion, saying they had skills and knowledge that should be used.

"The timber industry can provide harvesting and thinning services as it does now, under the controls applied and required by the EPA legislation, to reduce fire risk and improve forest health," she said.

The proposal for a more consistent approach to forests comes on the back of allegations made last month to Background Briefing that high-grade timber is running out in NSW.

In a statutory declaration, a north coast NSW landholder, Peter Roberts, attested that at a community meeting, a Forest Corporation NSW representative told him privately: "The hardwood forests along the coast have been flogged to death, there's no decent sawlogs left, the timber's all gone".

Current practices 'murder' and 'criminal'

Forestry workers who spoke to Background Briefing agreed, describing current forest practices as "murder" and "criminal".

Nick Roberts, chief executive of Forest Corporation NSW, agreed that many areas previously available to loggers had been turned into national parks, however he disputed the suggestion the forests were "flogged".

"No, that's not my assessment," he said, pointing to the example of lush forest at Bruxner Park that had previously been harvested.

Logging national parks is not going to restore key habitat features: time will.
NSW National Parks Association science officer Dr Oisin Sweeney
Environmental groups have slammed the suggestion that national parks be opened to timber companies.

"To suggest we can manage our way to high biodiversity through activities like logging is extraordinarily arrogant and misguided," NSW National Parks Association science officer Dr Oisin Sweeney said.

"Protecting large, intact landscapes, controlling invasives and letting nature do the rest is our best approach."

He disagreed with Senator Colbeck that other countries were moving to a more tenure-neutral approach to forest management.

"Much of the world, including Europe, is moving [away from that] approach as 'rewilding' becomes a more and more popular approach to restoring natural values," he said.

"The decline in biodiversity is a legacy of past mismanagement: we have fragmented all natural habitats, removed millions of trees from west of the divide as land was cleared for agriculture and timber, and logged all our old-growth forests.

"Of course species have declined. Logging national parks is not going to restore key habitat features: time will."