28 January, 2007
LETTER: Note - trees use water
The Age, 28/1/07
It is disappointing that public discussion about the small annual timber harvest in the Thomson catchment continues to ignore the overriding impact of fire in determining how much "water guzzling" regrowth resides in our catchments.
The critical importance of keeping fire out of our catchments has been obvious during the recent bushfires. It is worth noting that the loggers were at the forefront of the firebreak construction that saved the Thomson catchment.
If maximising water yield was our only criterion we'd be better off with pastured or concreted catchments. If we prefer healthy forested catchments we must accept that trees use water.
LETTER: Eyes wide shut
The Age, 28/1/07
Your story talks about the loss of run-off into our water catchments. The alternative view is that logging increases rather than decreases runoff into our catchments. When rain falls, the drops gathers on leaves, trunks and soak into ground cover where it is consumed by natural processes or evaporated. If you were to clear the catchment and the ground is able to harden up through less ground cover, then the water has to run off.
Logging in water catchment areas is therefore going to aid our water system through less evaporation and absorption into the soil. Unfortunately that argument does not suit the greenies which is why they will shut their eyes.
LETTER: Fire in the forest
The Age, 28/1/07
The report by Peter Weekes on the impact of timber harvesting on the Thompson catchment (21/1) is a good illustration of the difficulties surrounding this issue. By far the greatest is to get accurate reporting of unbiased information. Mr Weekes reports projections of potential water yield based not on the real world but on the assumption that the catchment will not eventually be burnt in a wildfire.
The catchment was burnt out in 1939 and very nearly was again in the recent bushfires. We might be able to save it from future fires but, based on history and ecology, that is unlikely.
A fair comparison would be to model the expected water yields from the forest with and without timber harvesting assuming that it is burnt by a wildfire at least once each century.
It is not clear whether it is the hydrologists or a reporter that are determined to give the timber industry another few kicks but it is high time that the public was given a more compete picture.
LETTER: Parties on logging drip
The Age, 28/01/2007
Peter Weekes' story on the massive diversion of catchment water to forestry ("Dry city counts costs of logging," 21/1), missed a crucial part of the story, the flows of money between the logging industry and major political parties. Without this stage, it is hard to understand why our elected leaders would allow the loggers to divert vast amounts of increasingly precious water to an industry which is already drawing heavily on the public purse.
ARTICLE: The reality of catchments
The Age, 28/01/2007
MELBOURNE prides itself on its pristine water sources. Rain falls in our all-natural catchments and the water gurgles through native forests so beautiful you could imagine the girl with the sun in her hair stopping off to shoot a quick shampoo commercial.
The reality, as illustrated last week, is somewhat different. There are big burly blokes (and sheilas?) with chainsaws, mucky boots and heavy equipment in the catchments stripping out thousands of tonnes of timber for some sawlogs but mostly for woodchips.
The logging is done in the highest- rainfall area of the catchment, meaning that millions of litres of water are lost to you, the public, because young trees suck up more water than mature trees. As Doctors for Forests warn, logging in the catchments also has negative health implications.
But banning logging in the catchments could also have negative health impacts for state governments. Logging unions would fight anything that looks like a win for the pinko greenies, and government would need to avoid/offset any job losses, dodge a plunge in business confidence and soften any economic downturn that the economies of logging-dependent rural communities would face.
There is nothing simple about logging in the catchments and nothing elegant about the arguments around the matter.
For instance, reaction to our page-one story has ranged from "if you want water, cut down all the trees and concrete over the catchment" to "brave loggers save the Thomson catchment from raging bushfire".
So while city people need good clean water from pristine catchments, many country people need secure jobs that pay well. Are these two needs mutually exclusive? Should logging be moved to plantations — also controversial — where the timber is of consistently better quality?
Why is the whole topic shrouded in such secrecy? Why won't government and companies answer straight questions? What did the State Government mean when it announced on Thursday that it would be "moving some logging to maximise water harvesting"?
Which Victorian Greens politician hears the voice of Bob Brown as Obi-Wan Kenobi in his head?
Elsewhere there were bouquets and brickbats for Tom Hyland's opinion piece on Melbourne's transport woes. Brilliant say some, what a whinge say others.
And Professor Sue Willis is criticised for saying that ill-informed criticism is driving the brightest away from teaching because it tarnishes the profession's reputation.Original article
25 January, 2007
ARTICLE: 'No plan' to export timber
The Age, 25/01/2007
The Victorian Government has denied it will export timber logs salvaged from the state's bushfires.
Rumours have been swirling in the Victorian timber industry that export sales of salvaged logs were being considered.
But a spokesman for Environment Minister John Thwaites said that in the first instance, timber salvaged would be offered to Victorian customers.
"If they are all not sold in Victoria, we can look at other options," he said.
VicForests' director of strategy and planning, Pat Groenhout, confirmed that VicForests' first focus would be to sell salvaged timber to meet existing commitments.
"If there is excess produced, we will also make first offers to domestic customers," he said. "If there is excess beyond that, we would look at all opportunities."
About 1.1 million hectares of native forest have been burnt in Victoria this summer — the same extent of forest that was burnt in 2002-03. Some fires are still burning, and the bushfire season is only half over.
Mr Groenhout said VicForests estimated that about 2 million cubic metres of standing sawlog had been burnt in this year's bushfires.
"We don't know how much of that is burnt beyond repair or burnt at all," he said. "That's the first assessment — they're rough figures because we're doing it on the run."
Mr Groenhout said the first step would be to check the condition of the fire area. This would determine how much timber was still alive and how much would continue to grow.
"That gives us two things — what we can focus on for the salvage program, and the area that will contribute to future sustainable yield," he said."There is clearly an impact on long-term sustainable yield, but we don't yet know what that will be."
Victorian Association of Forest Industries chief executive Trish Caswell said it was crucial for the Government to consider the Victorian industry's long-term needs, and not just immediate cash income.
22 January, 2007
ARTICLE: Canberra cuts down timber standard
Chief executive of the Forest Stewardship Council Australia.
January 22 2007
The failure of the Federal Government to respond swiftly and effectively to Australia's $400 million involvement in the international trade in illegal wood is symptomatic of a deeper malaise in Canberra over policies towards the forest industry.
The minister, Eric Abetz, recently released a "do almost nothing" response to an earlier report that identified the extent of Australia's involvement in the illegal wood trade — a trade that robs poor nations of income, causes deforestation and contributes to global warming.
The Australian industry needs leadership from Canberra on this issue. Apart from the impact in host countries, US research shows that the trade in illegal wood is depressing world prices for wood products by between 7 and 16 per cent.
Unfortunately, the Government has chosen to ignore the firm action being taken by European governments in Britain, Denmark and Belgium.
In these countries, Forest Stewardship Council certification is an important part of action being taken by governments through public procurement programs that ask for verification of legality and sustainability of timber supplies.
Canberra's problem with FSC certification was illustrated when Senator Abetz opened a forest growers' conference recently by criticising British Government ministers for "promoting the virtues of FSC" and for "suggesting Australia should adopt this standard".
The strength of his antipathy was highlighted on radio the next day when he attempted to disparage the FSC as a "Mexico-based" group, even though it has been based in Bonn with the strong support of the German Government for several years.
These churlish attacks appear to be driven by a desire of the Tasmanian senator to defend forest practices in his home state rather than an understanding of what is happening globally, and in the broader Australian industry.
The minister and his "me too" Opposition shadow, Tasmanian senator Kerry O'Brien, seem determined to establish Tasmanian practice as the benchmark for Australia rather than supporting the efforts of companies on the mainland to meet the global FSC standard.
In Victoria, the largest players in the forest products market, including Australian Paper, ITC, Hancock Victorian Plantations and Timbercorp, have adopted FSC certification. The industry association has also indicated its interest in the potential of FSC certification.
Western Australia has three tree plantations certified to FSC standards. In Queensland, the industry association recently joined FSC Australia. Nationally, more than half the privately owned tree plantations are FSC-certified.
One week after the minister's attacks on the FSC, about 70 people assembled near Melbourne to start developing an Australian FSC forest management standard. They included 20 corporate representatives, eight industry-association representatives and eight government representatives as well as the national environmental groups and people with industrial and community interests in forests.
In the same week, seminars in Melbourne and Sydney aimed at linking FSC-certified companies with architects and builders attracted more than 50 participants each.
Canberra needs to get over its mind-set that anything environmental groups support must be attacked and vilified.
The FSC provides neutral ground for economic, social and environmental interests to agree on what responsible forest management means on the ground. The FSC certification system is a market-driven tool for responsible forest management.
Strong growth in the FSC system globally is being driven by consumer concern about the environment and forests, and recognition by leading companies that dealing with this concern is important for developing their business.
Vince Erasmus, chief executive of ITC, said after the minister's attack on the FSC: "The vast majority of our end customers for both woodchip and sawn timber products demand FSC-certified product."
Erasmus went on to urge the Government to support the initiative to develop a national FSC standard for Australia because "certification delivers significant commercial advantage to our industry".
Academic research shows that consumers believe independent certification is helpful in verifying the origin of forest products and put most trust in independent non-government organisations such as the FSC to certify the products.
That is why the FSC has more than 5000 companies participating in its chain-of-custody system around the world and the number of Australian companies participating in this system has tripled in the past year from 10 to 30.
In Britain the nine major retailers now account for more than £1 billion ($A2.5 billion) in annual turnover of FSC-certified products. Many of them not only carry the products but are members and participate in the FSC system.
In the past two years, the presence of certified products in Britain has spread from major retailers down to smaller retailers.
The FSC system has also been picked up in government procurement policies and is the first global system recognised as verification of legality and sustainability in British Government public procurement policies.
It has spread to local government. The Greater London Authority has a policy that says: "We will purchase sustainably produced timber and timber products (such as joinery, fittings, furniture and veneers), specifying that products carry the Forest Stewardship Council certificate."
It has spread to the banking sector, where HSBC has published guidelines that state: "It is HSBC's preference to deal with customers in (the forestry and forest products sector) that are either operating managed forests that are certified by the Forest Stewardship Council, or equivalent FSC-recognised standard, or trade in products that are FSC-certified or equivalent."
In the Netherlands, 13 per cent of the wood trade is FSC-certified and one in four Dutch people look for FSC certification when buying forest products.
The picture in Switzerland is just as strong and FSC certification is spreading through Germany, Sweden and Italy and into the newly emerging countries of middle Europe while gradually picking up in Spain, Portugal and even France.
Across the Atlantic in North America, FSC certification is the issue for the paper industry, with companies such as Citigroup citing it in its policies. The green building industry is a major driver of demand for FSC-certified solid wood.
Of course Japan is another important market, where the FSC system is taking off, and that is having a big impact on buying decisions.
The same growth is taking place in Australia, where the biggest issues are the availability of FSC-certified papers and sawn wood.
Instead of trying to undermine the FSC system in Australia, Canberra politicians should be supporting efforts by the local industry to win a stronger share of global export markets through FSC certification.
A change in attitude towards the FSC would also give them more policy options to tackle Australia's participation in the global illegal wood trade and the opportunity to adopt the best-practice approach of the British Government.
Instead, both federal parties are obsessed with the local politics of Tasmania. Their obsession deprives the industry of genuine national political leadership.
21 January, 2007
ARTICLE: City counts cost of logging
The Age, 21/01/2007
Melbourne is losing out on a million litres of drinking water every year from continued logging in the city's main catchment area. And it comes at a cost to the taxpayer of at least $147 million — the difference between the royalties paid by the logging industry to the State Government and the value of the lost water, according economic consultants commissioned by Melbourne Water.
As the city heads towards stringent stage 4 restrictions, a host of scientific studies indicate the Thomson Dam, which supplies about 60 per cent of Melbourne's water, is losing up to half the potential run-off in the highest rainfall area owing to effects of logging.
"It's a big effect, it's not tiny," said Associate Professor Brian Finlayson, director of the Centre for Environmental Applied Hydrology.
It is estimated that if logging was stopped, water yields in the catchment would increase by 20,000 megalitres within two decades.
Despite the existence of studies dating to the 1950s, in 2004 the Bracks Government decided to conduct more research into the reduced water yields caused by logging. It is scheduled to be completed in May 2008.
All the scientists spoken to by The Sunday Age questioned the need for further studies, saying the numerous existing reports, many of which were commissioned by the Kennett and Bracks governments and on which this article is based, were sufficient.
The Government is also planning to bring forward the 2010 deadline to reconnect the Tarago Reservoir to increase Melbourne's supply by 21,000 mega-litres. It was decommissioned by the Kennett government because of problems with water quality and requires a new treatment plant costing $70 million.
The Government is also conducting a feasibility study into having a desalination plant online by 2015, which it conceded would cost more than $1 billion and require huge amounts of energy from carbon-emitting brown coal.
The Thomson, the largest of Melbourne's four water catchments, is the only one where logging is permitted. Logging in the 49,000-hectare catchment took place before the dam was built by the Bolte government to "drought proof" Melbourne.
Loggers are drawn by prized giant mountain ash, alpine ash and shining gum species. These trees are found in a third of the catchment area along the Mount Baw Baw escarpment, where most of the logging coupes are, and as the map shows, where about two-thirds of the rain in the region falls.
Physical research and theoretical modelling of the Thomson catchment shows that once an area has been logged there is an immediate increase in the water yield because there is little vegetation to draw up the rainfall. But once these water-guzzling species start to regrow, the amount of water they take from the soil doubles, cutting run-off by half, according to research by Australian hydrology expert Dr Fred Watson, an assistant professor of science and environmental policy at California State University.
"The place where you get the most wood is the same place you are going to get the most impact on water yield because they are using the most water to produce that wood," he said.
Water yields do not return to pre-logging levels for more than 150 years, Dr Watson said.
The time between the logging of coupes was also crucial to water yields. Favoured coupes in the Thomson are logged about every 60 years, by which time the water yield is still about 25 per cent lower than at pre-logging. "Rotating every 60 years is the worst thing you can do from a water yield impact," Dr Watson said.
A Department of Sustainability and Environment spokesman said the Government's new study would use an updated model for determining water yields, examine timber substitution and look at economic, social and environment issues involved in logging in the Thomson. "Using the latest modelling for hydrological studies (the Macaque model) will produce more accurate and far more useful results, as previous models had wide margins of error," the spokesman said.
However, Dr Watson, who developed the Macaque model, said when he applied it to the Thomson it didn't produce fundamentally different results from the previous "Kuczera curve" model. "Any improvements to the model you make will still give you a situation where over the first few decades after logging there will be a big decline in water yield and than over the next 100 or so years it will slowly recover," he said.Original article
06 January, 2007
ARTICLE: "Trouble at mill: resignations add air of pollution to pulp project
January 6, 2007
The architectural sketches for Australia's biggest forestry project show a clean-lined sprawl on a verdant Tasmanian river bank. Industry goes bush.
The sky is summer blue above the smokeless stack and production lines, which are mostly painted a drab green.
Gunns calls its $1.4 billion baby "the world's greenest pulp mill", and it has much more in mind than the paint job. Supporters, including both major political parties, say it is the industry's best chance yet to reduce Australia's timber imports.
But opponents of the project say this mill's green is just that: skin deep. They believe it is a liquidator of native forest life in Tasmania, and a polluter of Bass Strait.
As reliably as a swallow returning in spring, a big environmental issue is looming in Tasmania in the lead-up to the federal election. Gunns' pulp mill, already mooted to be completed in three years, is reaching critical hurdles in regulatory approval.
There are blunt criticisms from a Tasmanian Government department about potential dioxin pollution in Bass Strait, and Australian Medical Association concerns about the mill's effect on local air quality.
Now the assessment process itself is in question with the sudden resignation on Thursday of two of the four members of the panel set up by the regulator, the state Resource Planning and Development Commission.
There are many reasons why Greens senator Christine Milne is against the project — not least her long-held opposition to pulp mills. But she is unequivocal. "I think it is doomed," she said.
The mill would be built on Gunns land beside the Tamar River at Bell Bay, north of Launceston, next door to one of its three export woodchipping plants.
The largest private sector development in Tasmania would employ thousands in construction and almost 300 directly in operation.
About 80 per cent of its 3.2-million-tonne annual feedstock of timber would come from native forests and only 20 per cent from plantations. Woodchip exports, now running at about 4.4 million tonnes per year, could also continue.
Powered by wood waste and using an "elemental chlorine free" process, the mill would produce up to 800,000 tonnes of pulp for paper annually, and pump about 73 million litres of effluent into Bass Strait each day.
It would be the state's single largest private sector investment. It also represents a long-held ambition for Gunns executive chairman John Gay, and others including Gunns director Robin Gray, who was premier when the Wesley Vale project failed under attack from a campaign led by Christine Milne in 1989.
Since then, federal pulp mill guidelines have tightly restricted any pollution potential. Gunns has also spent $11 million to put together a 7500-page integrated impact statement for the Resource Planning and Development Commission on the social, economic and environmental effects of the mill.
The Howard Government gave Gunns $5 million to ease the assessment task, and the Tasmanian Government has spent millions on a project cheer squad called the Pulp Mill Task Force. The two governments agreed after the last election that the Regional Forest Agreement was the linchpin for the state's timber industry But the battle over the mill's environmental effects on Tasmania's native forests is not over.
Gunns has given commitments that no old-growth logs will be used, and there will be no "intensification" of its use of native forests because more plantation timber will gradually be used. The Wilderness Society expects woodchip exports to continue, and is arguing for greater analysis by the commission of the mill's effect on the forests.
Just before Christmas the commission refused this request, and Wilderness Society campaigner Paul Oosting said the organisation was looking at further action. "Whether we make a Supreme Court challenge or continuing talking about it with the RPDC is yet to be seen," he said.
The courts have just set up another hurdle for the mill with Greens leader Bob Brown's landmark victory in the Wielangta case. The Federal Court found the state agency Forestry Tasmania, which supervises logging on public land, failed to take account of its effect on three endangered species in the Wielangta forest.
Premier Paul Lennon was alarmed by the decision, which he said directly threatened the whole industry's stability. He sought the urgent help of Prime Minister John Howard. "If we can't restore certainty that the the RFA promised, then they'll be unable to conclude commercial arrangements for a pulp mill either," Mr Lennon said.
The state is contemplating an appeal, but Mr Lennon said that could take years. Instead, the two governments may have to try to legislate to close the gap that the court found in their protection of endangered species.
The prospect of a lengthy legal battle was the reason that Melbourne forestry scientist Warwick Raverty gave for quitting his sensitive post on the panel assessing the mill for the commission.
A principal research scientist with the CSIRO subsidiary, Ensis, Dr Raverty's role came under scrutiny last year from the Greens. The party claimed CSIRO publications showed there was a "reasonable apprehension" he had prejudged some key environmental issues involving the mill.
"I am speaking personally, but I refute in the strongest terms that either I, the CSIRO, or Ensis is biased in any way, for or against the proposal," Dr Raverty said. "However, I have been advised that had I chosen to fight in the courts, it could well have taken two years and could have gone to the High Court. Therefore in the interests of the project being heard I have decided to resign."
At the same time the panel's chairman, commission executive commissioner Julian Green, announced unexpectedly that he was also resigning. Their departure opens up half of the places on the pulp mill assessment panel at a critical time.
The Lennon Government has the task of appointing a new executive commissioner and the state's Greens leader, Peg Putt, warned they must be seen to be independent. "This Government has a list as long as your arm of mates in top jobs," Ms Putt said. "We saw that most recently with the appointment of the head of the Pulp Mill Task Force, Bob Gordon, as the new chief executive of Forestry Tasmania. If they put a mate in for the pulp mill assessment, any shreds of credibility will be completely gone.""
03 January, 2007
The Age, 3/1/07
The opinion essay by Catherine Murphy was propaganda for the forestry industry masquerading as a concern for national parks.
Much of the recent bushfires in Victoria started or spread outside the parks in land that was not "locked away", as the current cliche (parroted by Murphy) has it. We all know that forests must be managed to reduce the impact of fires, but logging has no particular benefit in this regard and destroys the value of national parks as natural habitats, especially by removing trees that should be left to grow old and provide essential homes for wildlife. And the very problem of invading weeds and other pests that Murphy identifies as a consequence of fires is also caused by logging.
Our parks need active management, but logging should remain locked out.
LETTER: Managing our forests
The Age, 3/1/07
Catherine (Opinion, 2/1) suggests that when national parks are created, passive forest management becomes the "norm" and, hence, this ultimately leads to their destruction by bushfire. But this overlooks the fact that many Australian forests occur in fire-prone areas, that they have been burnt repeatedly over the past few centuries, and that their regeneration is intimately linked to occasional bushfire.
Landscapes are not permanently bare and blackened, and nor do the fast-growing shrubs persist in the long term. Succession, a natural process of vegetation development after fire, occurs with sufficient time between fires, leading once again to the tall forests that characterise much of south-eastern Australia.
Rather than conveniently pointing the finger at the environmentalist as the cause of the problem, perhaps an injection of some science is necessary here. I have yet to see the alternative forest vision (to current national park management) actually portrayed. How extensive and frequent should prescribed fire be to reduce the risk of landscape-scale fire, and what impacts will these prescribed fire frequencies have on biodiversity, as opposed to infrequent but large-scale bushfire? Is this acceptable in a national park?
There is an important discussion to be had among land managers, many of whom have competing goals for the land under their care. My fear is that we will be in the same predicament in a few years when the next (predictable) bushfire occurs on public land.
02 January, 2007
ARTICLE: Locking up forests increases risk of fires
Chief executive officer, National Association of Forest Industries
The Age, 1/2/2007
The past months have been a catastrophe for the Victorian environment. Almost 900,000 hectares, particularly in national parks, have been devastated by bushfires, with hundreds of thousands of birds and animals killed or injured amid enormous losses of vegetation.
At a time when the issue of climate change has never been more important, these fires have released millions of tonnes of carbon into the atmosphere. Given the environmental catastrophe, it is incongruous that we have heard little from the environmental movement. Australian conservationists are the first to applaud the locking up of more forests into reserves, but refuse to acknowledge the often negative environmental consequences.
Tasmania's Wielangta Forest is an example. It was the focus of a court case by Greens leader Bob Brown against sustainable forestry operations. He wanted to see the area placed into a reserve, ending forest management practices that have been occurring over decades.
While the forest's future was pursued through the courts, a moratorium on harvesting was in place, which effectively locked up the forest and resulted in reduced access and increased fire risk during the current fire season. Large areas of the Wielangta Forest were destroyed in recent fires.
Environmentalists continue to decry the need for active park management through controlled burning, yet are silent on the massive loss of biodiversity resulting from fires. Once productive forests are locked up, the passive management approach adopted by national parks bodies becomes the norm.
One of the major contributors to the destruction of forest areas by fire is the loss of access for fire crews. Previously developed roads in commercial forests are not maintained, with the result that they become overgrown and impassable. Some park managers have placed padlocked gates across roads.
Passive management of national parks is a recipe for environmental disaster. The destruction caused by the 2003 bushfires in NSW, Victoria and the ACT is still evident. More than 3 million hectares of forest were destroyed and the damage to biodiversity was enormous.
It is estimated that 130 million tonnes of carbon was emitted into the atmosphere in the few weeks that those fires blazed, equal to one-quarter of Australia's annual greenhouse emissions.
The Kosciuszko, Alpine and Namadgi national parks were devastated in the 2003 fires. Thousands of hectares of alpine ash forests were reduced to blackened remnants. There has been almost no regeneration in much of the area.
Unlike commercial forestry operations, which must regenerate all species harvested, there has been no active program by national parks bodies to reseed the forests, and no management or environmental requirements for them to do so.
As we witness one of the worst periods of drought on record, of equal concern is the effect that the 2003 fires and the latest fires will have on water supply. As forests regenerate, their need for water is enormous. CSIRO studies have shown that the Melbourne water catchment has only recently recovered from the effect of bushfires in 1939. The effect of the 2003 fires is likely to be of the same order, with studies predicting a reduction of up to a fifth in water flowing into the Murray-Darling Basin because of regeneration. It has been estimated that the regrowth will absorb 430 billion litres of water a year for the next 50 years. This will have a significant impact on the availability of water for communities, irrigators and environmental flows.
State governments and environmentalists applaud themselves in continuing to convert sustainable and productive forests into national parks. But limited resources are made available to ensure proper forest management, with the result that there are worse environmental outcomes.
We have many wonderful national parks of which we can be justifiably proud, but proper forest management practices are essential. The damage caused by catastrophic wildfires permanently changes landscapes, creating bare and blackened scenes, and open once well-managed forests to scrubby undergrowth. Noxious weeds and pests are able to flourish and the original environmental values that national parks are designed to keep for future generations are lost. Feral animals, weeds and pests are also unwanted problems for neighbours of national parks such as farms and townships.
We need to question the locking up of well-managed forests into poorly managed national reserves, including national parks. Otherwise the environment and Australian communities neighbouring these areas will continue to be the major losers.
Catherine Murphy is chief executive officer of the National Association of Forest Industries.