28 February, 2006

ARTICLE: PNG forest-saving initiative launched

HeraldSun, 28 February 06

From correspondents in Port Moresby

THE Greenpeace flagship Rainbow Warrior II docks in Port Moresby today for the launch of a campaign promoting small-scale bush milling in Papua New Guinea instead of large-scale destructive logging.

The initiative was part of a campaign to preserve the Asia-Pacific's remaining ancient "Paradise" rainforests stretching from South-East Asia across Indonesia to PNG and the Solomon Islands, Greenpeace Australia Pacific's chief executive, Steve Shallhorn, said.

The project would help PNG forest landowners mark out tribal boundaries as a protection against foreign timber companies and their destructive logging practices, he said.

PNG's Kuni tribe on the Murray Lakes between the Fly and Strickland rivers in PNG's Western Province has invited Greenpeace to set up a "global forest rescue station" on their land.

Greenpeace volunteers and eco-forestry trainers will work alongside three Lake Murray tribes to establish their tribal rights over about 300,000 hectares by identifying, marking out and mapping their boundaries to deter illegal logging, Mr Shallhorn said in a statement.

In 2003, Greenpeace and other environmental groups helped Murray Lakes landowners halt illegal logging in the area by the Malaysian logging company Concord Pacific.

Kuni clan leader Sep Galeva, a leader in that campaign, said his people wanted to do small-scale logging in a way that was sustainable and environmentally friendly but brought in financial returns to villagers.

A portable timber mill will be used by the Kuni tribe to mill selectively logged trees for sale as "ecotimber" in a pilot program to encourage other tribes to do the same and avoid large-scale logging by big timber companies.

"We want to say no to loggers who come in and destroy everything," Mr Galeva said.

Mr Shallhorn said the Paradise Forests were being logged faster than any in the world.

Fewer than 1 per cent had any form of protection with more than a quarter of a million hectares of primary forest destroyed by logging companies each year in PNG alone, he said.

"Unless action like this is taken worldwide, vast numbers of species of plants and animals will become extinct, rainfall patterns will be disrupted and the global climate will change even faster than it is now.

"The Australian Government must ban the importation of illegal and destructively-logged timber and support the efforts by countries that produce timber to combat corruption and strengthen law enforcement institutions," Mr Shallhorn said.

After its Port Moresby visit, the Rainbow Warrior will sail on a "forest crime patrol" to draw attention to ongoing illegal logging across the region and promote sustainable forestry.

Original article

18 February, 2006

ARTICLE: A possum stares extinction in the face

Tracee Hutchison

The Age, February 18, 2006

There's a giant mountain ash tree in Victoria's Royston Range with a pink H spray-painted onto its massive trunk. It's taken more than 200 years for it to reach its 60-metre height and, inside, it is likely that a family of tiny possums is nestling in its hollows.

They are Leadbeater's possums, so small they would fit in the palm of your hand. The pink H on the tree means these little creatures were safe from the chainsaws that clear-felled around them this week - their house is a designated habitat tree.

After presuming the species extinct, scientists found the last surviving colonies of Leadbeater's possums living in Victoria's Central Highlands in the early 1960s. Just 2000 of them remain. They are a protected and endangered species and Victoria's state fauna emblem.

On Monday night these little possums would have looked out over what was left of their neighbourhood and wondered what had happened to the furniture. And their food source. The sap from the once-plentiful alpine ash and their much loved wattle are gone. So are the blackwoods.

In the distance, they might have seen one or two old-growth trees still standing - also marked with an H to save the other English-speaking possums in the forest. They'll be among a handful of forest-dwelling creatures to survive this week's logging in the stretch of state forest that runs between the Yarra Valley National Park and Mount Bullfight Conservation Reserve.

Studies of forest activity by eminent environmental scientists such as Dr David Lindenmayer from the Australian National University indicate most animals die when a forest is extensively disturbed in a clear-felling operation. There are no early warning signals. Adult animals have a strong affinity with their home range and are reluctant to move.

In the daylight, the H-trees protrude from the forest floor like an Absurdist's version of a Russell Drysdale painting. It is a macabre and disturbing sight. The H-trees are too far apart for the possums to skip between branches and there is a sense that the forest has screamed all night but only the survivors will remember the sound.

For them, there's a looming regeneration fire, which will burn through the logging debris on the forest floor. The heat intensity of an often chemically fuelled regeneration fire will make life inside one of these H-trees almost unbearable - that is assuming the fire also speaks English and is smart enough to burn around them. Surviving this fire will be a challenge for a creature with very little body weight.

The complex eco-systems of old-growth forests don't like regeneration fires very much either. They tend to suit eucalypts, which grow back - plantation-like - relatively quickly. This works well for future logging and suits the industry these forests service rather nicely. But Leadbeater's possums don't like young eucalypts very much. They don't form hollows so it's hard to make a house. They need old-growth trees to survive.

This week many of these possums will have thought about moving to a place with more H-trees. They will have scouted for wattle and alpine ash sap.

But, as we see in other aspects of the Australian experience, newcomers aren't always welcome in unfamiliar territories - especially if you're a minority and have particular living requirements. It's a precarious predicament. About 80 per cent of the old-growth trees that came out of Royston this week will be chipped. By now the logs will have reached the Midway woodchip mill in Geelong and might be on their way to Japan. Others will have arrived at the Paperlinx mill in Maryvale where they'll end up as sheet paper with a lifespan of about a week. It's not much to show for 200 years of breathing life into the planet.

Royston Range is one of the last old-growth forests within a comfortable drive from Melbourne, just two hours due east along the Maroondah Highway. Walking though this forest, you can't help but be reminded of how blessed we are to have these precious, centuries-old ecosystems exist at all, let alone on the doorstep of a capital city.

Australia has the worst record for plant and mammal extinctions in the world in the past 200 years. We clear land faster here than in any other developed nation. Our planet is heating up and the best our governments can do is gag the scientists who would hold us to account and prop up the industries that contribute to the problem.

Unless the Victorian Government puts an end to old-growth logging in the state forests of eastern Victoria, the legacy of Premier Steve Bracks may well include the extinction of a tiny possum. For woodchips. For the paper on which history will record the state-sanctioned passing of our fauna emblem. It is madness.

Tracee Hutchison is a Melbourne writer and broadcaster.

Original article

10 February, 2006

EDITORIAL: Potoroos and parrots need better protection

The Age, February 10, 2006

'You're gunna get stung!" That greeting on the Environment Protection Authority website is aimed at anyone who discards rubbish carelessly. Under Victorian law, litterers face hefty fines (ranging from $210 to $6289), which the EPA says are to deter people from actions that "can cause injury to people and wildlife".

How then should the EPA deal with businesses and government agencies that put protected flora and fauna at serious risk? According to an EPA audit - commissioned by the State Government at the urging of environmentalists - there were at least four breaches of the Environment Protection Act in 2004 and 2005, three by VicForests near Cann River in East Gippsland, and a fourth in the Barmah State Forest, near Echuca, where the Department of Sustainability and Environment logged more than half of a 35-hectare protected nesting colony for the endangered superb parrot. The EPA found the breaches were due to poor management and inadequate staff training.

The long-footed potoroo, a small kangaroo unique to the forests of south-east Australia, lives in Gippsland. Possibly the only thing it has in common with the superb parrot, a bird with a striking green body, is its vulnerability. Both are at greater risk as a result of these breaches but the offenders have escaped with what amounts to a slap on the wrist after they promised to behave more responsibly in future.

The EPA was not asked to consider penalties and the auditors concluded that there is a legal question as to whether government officers are bound by codes of practice outlined in the Conservation, Forests and Lands Act 1987. If this is the case, an amendment is urgently needed. It is ludicrous that an individual could face a penalty of $4192 for depositing household rubbish in a litter bin, yet agencies that do far more environmental damage get off scott free.

Link to article

09 February, 2006

LETTER: Logging breaches are unacceptable

It is simply unacceptable that the Bracks’ government has taken no action when recent Environment Protection Agency audits found serious logging breaches where protected trees in National Parks were felled and endangered species where threatened (Age 9/2).

I was recently fined for traveling on the train with an unvalidated ticket, despite attempting to validate it and clearly communicating this to the Minister for Transport and the Premier. Why is zero tolerance and the full weight of the law exercised against so-called fare evaders on public transport, yet loggers who clearly break the law go unpunished?

It is apparent that the mismanagement of our forests extends past clear felling of our old growth forests for low value export woodchips to a lack of compliance with the law.

Acting Environment Minister Candy Broad should take immediate steps to ensure prosecutions rather than make excuses for Government inaction and a logging industry that is out of control and destroying our old growth forests.

08 February, 2006

ARTICLE: In a world of their own, unknown wildlife yet to learn they should fear us

Deborah Smith Science Editor and Mark Forbes in Jakarta
Sydney Morning Herald
February 8 2006

THE first bird that Australian scientist, Kris Helgen, spotted flitting around the expedition's remote jungle camp was an exotic new species. The flowers were the size of dinner plates. And the frogs were unrecognisable.

But it was the fearlessness and abundance of the kangaroos and long-beaked echidnas in the pristine, mist-shrouded Foja Mountains of western New Guinea that impressed the

young researcher most.

Hunted to near extinction elsewhere on the island, the kangaroos are usually skittish and shy with people on the rare occasions they are spotted.

The team of 25 American, Australian and Indonesian scientists flew by helicopter last December into the midst of the large tract of uninhabited tropical forest. They unearthed a "lost world" brimming with new wildlife.

It took years to obtain permits, then persuade the local Kwerba and Papasena tribes to agree to escort the expedition into the mountains in the west of the Indonesian province of Papua.

Apart from the orange-faced honeyeater - the first new species of bird found on the island in more than 60 years - the team discovered dozens of new species of butterfly, frog and plants.

The team's scientific leader, Stephen Richards, of the South Australian Museum, yesterday spoke of his wonder at seeing dozens of a spectacularly crested new species of smoky honeyeater after reaching a summit. Tall trees were draped from ground to canopy with thick moss, dripping water from curtains of mist. Animals abounded, many remarkably docile as they had never encountered human hunters.

"Because there is no human presence at all, this area is like it was before people came to Papua New Guinea. It really is a garden of Eden," Mr Richards said.

A specialist in frogs, he has found at least 20 new species during his month-long stay - including one less than 14 millimetres long.

The researchers also became the first Western scientists to see a live, male Berlepsch's six-wired bird of paradise. The exotic bird had been first described in the late 19th century through specimens collected by indigenous hunters from an unknown location on New Guinea. Several subsequent expeditions had failed to find it.

Six species of kangaroos, including two tree kangaroos, were found to live in the forest. Most importantly, they included the golden-mantled tree kangaroo, a new mammal for Indonesia, and one which had only previously been found on a single mountain in neighbouring Papua New Guinea.

The species was thought to be highly threatened. "But it seemed to be quite common here, so that was a very exciting find," Mr Helgen said.

Echidnas unperturbed by humans were found on three consecutive nights. "We simply picked them up and carried them back to camp."

The Kwerba and Papasena, the customary landowners of the forest, welcomed the team, from the non-profit organisation Conservation International, and served as guides and naturalists on the expedition into the vast jungle tract.

ARTICLE: Entrepreneur's $2m saves Tasmanian forest

The Sydney Morning Herald (article)

February 8, 2006

A $2 million pledge from entrepreneur Dick Smith has saved one of Australia's most significant historic sites.

Recherche Bay, near the southern-most tip of Tasmania, has been saved from the logger's axe after it was bought by conservation groups with Mr Smith's help.

Today's announcement of the purchase comes after three years of lobbying led by Greens leader Bob Brown.

Tasmanian Premier Paul Lennon, announcing the deal today, said the $2.21 million purchase would not have been possible without Mr Smith's financial support.

"If Dick Smith hadn't put his $2 million on the table we wouldn't be standing here, it's as simple as that," Mr Lennon said.

The land was originally earmarked by landowners Rob and David Vernon for logging by timber giant Gunns Limited, with a deal to harvest 30,000 tonnes of woodchip and 5000 tonnes of sawlogs from the 142-hectare site.

Recherche Bay, the coastline where French explorer Bruni d'Entrecasteaux anchored in 1792 and 1793, has been described by archaeologists as one of the nation's greatest cultural heritage sites.

The French expedition made friendly contact with local Aborigines, recording observations and more than 80 words.

It carried out the first scientific experiment on Australian soil, proving Earth's magnetic fields became stronger closer to the poles.

The bay also yielded the first recorded fossil in Australia.

Evidence of a garden and a 20-metre stone wall discovered in 2003 are the only identified relics of European exploration of Tasmania in the period prior to European settlement.

Eminent archaeologist John Mulvaney said after the discovery that logging Recherche Bay "would represent vandalism of significant Australian cultural heritage".

Mr Lennon's support cements a backflip for the government, which until last week had refused to intervene and had given permission for the construction last year of a logging road through the adjacent Southport Lagoon.

It will now have to rehabilitate that road.

The premier denied the move was planned to win Green votes, despite the looming state election.

"I'm here today to focus on the positives. We have saved this site and a lot of these decisions were made some time back. I don't look backward, I look forward," he said.

Tasmanian Land Conservancy (TLC), which will manage the land, estimates the entire project will cost $2.5 million.

Mr Smith's $2 million pledge comprises a $100,000 donation and a $1.9 million loan.

TLC executive officer Nathan Males said the $100,000 would be used as a deposit.

"If we don't raise enough (to repay the loan) by the end of the year, Dick Smith has made an assurance that the property won't have to be resold and he will help us to find the money," Mr Males said.

The state government has given $680,000, which includes $210,000 towards the purchase, $80,000 in stamp duty, $84,000 in TLC administration costs and $300,000 for rehabilitation works at Southport Lagoon.

Mr Lennon said he had written to the federal government asking it to match the state's contribution.

Senator Brown also requested the federal government match community contributions, which totalled $238,000 in pledges so far.

He said his own $5000 donation was waiting "as soon as the contracts are signed".

"I've been waiting for this day for a long, long time," he said.

"I am totally delighted with the outcome and commit myself now to the big job ahead - to raise money to pay back Dick Smith's generosity."

Mr Smith was unavailable for comment today, but has previously described Recherche Bay as "an extraordinary area".

The businessman, who last year bought a million-dollar property in southern Tasmania, spent Christmas on his boat at Recherche Bay.


Original article