25 April, 2007

LETTER: Cutting some of the tall plantation timber tales down to size

Anthony Amis, Friends of the Earth, Melbourne
Letter, Business Age, April 25 2007

Comments directed at me by Mark Poynter and Leon Bren (BusinessDay, 9/9) warrant a reply.

In regards to forestry, Friends of the Earth has a slightly different position to the Greens, in that we accept small-scale selective felling in certain regrowth forests, particularly in regions where plantations are in limited supply.

We also accept that any native timber cut should achieve the highest value-adding possible.

We agree with the Greens that there should be an immediate shutdown of logging in high conservation-value forests and that plantation management, particularly in older pine plantations, warrants urgent restoration back to native forest.

The Greens and Friends of the Earth also agree that the most powerful factor behind native forest logging in Victoria is a rampant woodchip/clear-fell ideology that does not respect the ecological balance.

For instance, one could argue that the main factor in the demise of Black Forest Timbers was the over-logging that occurred in the Wombat state forest during the 1990s.

This occurred after logging syndicates with close connections to Geelong export woodchipping facilities were given almost free rein.

Black Forest was not an innocent party in this debacle. As early as 1993, Black Forest owned almost 11 per cent of the shares in the export woodchipping mill at Geelong, meaning that not only was it profiting from over-cutting the Wombat, but they were also pocketing the profits of native forest woodchipping in areas such as the Otways and East Gippsland.

It could also be argued that the main beneficiaries of woodchipping the Wombat forest were individuals who were instrumental in establishing timber industry lobby groups, which lobbied governments to ease regulations on export woodchips. The Regional Forest Agreements were their triumph. Did the Institute of Foresters support this profiteering as a public resource was plundered by select individuals?

In terms of Leon Bren's letter, as I understand it, the Croppers Creek study is based on a plantation area of about 50 hectares.

This represents about 0.017 per cent of Victoria's present plantation base. While I don't dispute his findings at Cropper Creek, am I naive to believe that findings extrapolated from such a small area do not necessarily apply throughout all Victorian plantations?

It is also important to acknowledge that almost all plantation development in Victoria now occurs on cleared pasture, not native forest.

Many studies have shown significant decreases in stream flow following conversion of pasture to plantations (both blue gum and pine).

Of course plantations produce more product per volume than native forest, however most of the pine is already committed to supply long-term supply contracts. These contracts are not in competition from native forests so such a comparison by Mr Bren is unwarranted. My initial question still remains: Are these plantations truly sustainable?


24 April, 2007

LETTER: Negatives to hardwood plantations.

Owen Rye, Boolarra South
Letter, Business Age, 24/4/07

Following on from the comments of Anthony Amis (BusinessDay, 4/4) about plantations, there are also negatives to hardwood plantations.

In the area of Gippsland where I live, farms (mostly dairy) are being bought up and turned into hardwood plantations for paper-making.

This does virtually nothing to protect native forest, which has been almost totally destroyed here anyway. The plantations bring several problems in addition to those mentioned by Amis:
  • When enough discrete plantations exist they provide fire corridors where previously grazed land was relatively fire safe.
  • Gradually communities of people are replaced by trees, with erosion of all the social benefits that accompany living communities. Less people living in the area means less jobs, obviously.
  • The log trucks destroy roads not intended for those weights very quickly. Ratepayers have to pay for repairs and there are less people to pay the rates
  • Unlike pine plantations where according to popular rural belief, nothing else grows, hardwood plantations encourage the growth of blackberries, thistles, ragwort and other weeds. Farmers inspect and manage their land constantly, but large plantation companies tend to inspect their land very infrequently, so these weeds infest neighbouring properties. So do the foxes, rabbits and other pests that multiply.
  • Plantations carry the same problems that all clear felling brings — erosion, water quality issues, and an unpleasant ugliness of outlook.

With the growth in the numbers of "tree changers" I would certainly rather see communities of people who love the rural lifestyle and can earn a living from a variety of activities and support small towns, than have the problems that plantations bring.

Original article

THE AGE: Concrete the energy-efficient floor of the future

Ben Schneiders
April 24, 2007

MORE new homes will be built with concrete slab floors rather than timber ones, the building industry predicts.

Timber floors have been exempt from meeting five-star energy efficiency standards since the introduction of the regulations in Victoria in 2005.

Houses with a concrete slab need less energy to heat and cool than those with a timber floor, which makes it harder for wood floor houses to reach the five-star standard. But the exemption will be phased out next week.

Building Commissioner Tony Arnel said the industry, which has lobbied against the changes, had had enough time to prepare.

A spokesman for Planning Minister Justin Madden said the timber concession would end on April 30. Energy savings would cut the costs to home owners in the long term, he said.

Environmentalists have welcomed the end of the timber exemption but the building industry says it will add to costs, hurt the industry and reduce consumer choice.

Caroline Lawrey, the HIA's executive director for Victoria, said about 20 per cent of new homes used timber floors, a reduction from the 25 per cent when five-star was introduced. The HIA wants the concession extended for at least 12 months until new software that calculates energy use is introduced.

Some builders estimated that 15 to 20 per cent of their designs would be affected, Ms Lawrey said.

Mr Arnel rejected the claims and expected no reduction in the use of timber floors. He said timber could be used on top of concrete slabs and five-star regulations allowed builders to reach the standard with measures such as double glazing and solar hot water systems.

Gippsland builder Bruce Langford-Jones said 100 of the 120 houses a year his company built used timber floors, the most suitable choice for a hilly area. He expected to be forced to use concrete slabs, which he said could add $10,000 to costs.

The five-star regulations do not measure the energy used to create building materials. Research suggests concrete may be less energy-efficient over the life of a home than timber because of the amount of energy used to create it, an argument endorsed by the HIA."

Original article

SMH: Garrett at loggerheads with foresters

Marian Wilkinson
April 24, 2007

A bruising showdown between Labor's environment spokesman, Peter Garrett, and the head of the forestry union, Michael O'Connor, over logging in Tasmania is threatening to overshadow the uranium debate as the most fraught dispute at this weekend's Labor Party conference.

Yesterday Mr Garrett made it clear he would fight plans by Mr O'Connor, who heads the forestry division of the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union, and the logging industry to water down the party's draft forestry policy. The union boss wants to remove a crucial clause giving a future Labor Government the option of protecting more of the state's old-growth forests.

Mr Garrett said the policy was a clear balance between job security and conservation and should not be weakened.

Mr O'Connor's plans have angered his opponents inside and outside the party. They have released scores of documents and tape recordings revealing the union's heavy-handed tactics and ties to the logging industry.

Mr O'Connor's opponents are still smarting over his actions in the final days of the 2004 election when the union swung its support behind John Howard after the then Labor leader, Mark Latham, supported a pro-conservation policy in Tasmania.

Images of Tasmania's forestry workers cheering Mr Howard sent shock waves through Labor and helped the Liberals pick up two seats in the state. The current draft policy was subsequently born out of painful compromise.

After Mr O'Connor reopened the debate over the new draft policy two weeks ago, the Herald was given material showing his union had produced a ferocious television ad against Labor in the final days of the 2004 campaign. Party figures confirmed the damaging ad, designed to run in NSW, Victoria and Tasmania, forced Labor's national secretary, Tim Gartrell, to take legal action to block its release.

Then last year Mr O'Connor threatened the NSW Labor Party secretary, Mark Arbib, with legal action to shut down the entire state party conference on the eve of Morris Iemma's first appearance as the new leader. Leaked letters from Mr O'Connor's lawyers show the dispute was over the number of his union delegates and warned Mr Arbib "proceedings will, among other things, seek an interlocutory injunction restraining the holding of the conference in the absence of the delegates concerned".

Mr O'Connor would not comment on the legal disputes with the party secretaries or on tape recordings of his union colleagues discussing financial help from the timber industry lobby group, the National Association of Forest Industries.

In the taped interviews with a University of NSW law student last year, the union's former national secretary Trevor Smith and its Tasmanian secretary, Scott McLean, conceded the union accepted a "very little" financial contribution from the forestry lobby in a legal case with green activists.

The case, which is still before the courts, stemmed from a confrontation in which forestry workers encircled a conservationists' campsite in Victoria for five days.

The tapes are problematic for the union, which has long fought claims by its ALP and green critics that it is too close to the industry. More embarrassing for the union is that the law student who interviewed the officials for his thesis was a prominent green activist, Neal Funnell, who masterminded a spectacular anti-logging stunt for the maiden voyage of the Spirit of Tasmania in 2004.

Mr Smith denied speaking to Mr Funnell despite his voice being on the tapes. Mr McLean did not comment on the tapes.

Kate Carnell, the former executive director of the forest industries association, said it had contributed to the union's legal case but she believed it was less than $10,000. "It wasn't a lot. It was more a sign that we were one; that we were working together on this," she said. Mr O'Connor's efforts to weaken Labor's draft forest policy at the conference have been strongly supported by the association.

This week senior Labor figures were trying to find a compromise to avert a showdown at the conference. The negotiations have been complicated by Mr O'Connor's allies lobbying for him to get a seat on the ALP's governing body, the national executive.

Original article

23 April, 2007

THE AGE: Farmers urged to help save native animals and plants

Rachel Kleinman
April 23, 2007

FARMERS must help restore Victoria's bushland if endangered animals and plants are to survive, according to environment groups.

Hundreds of native species were under siege from habitat loss, climate change, invasive weeds and feral animals, the Victoria Naturally alliance said.

"Already a third of our native animals are either extinct or threatened and our indigenous plants are faring even worse," Victorian National Parks Association director Charlie Sherwin said.

The State Government will launch a consultation paper today on the growing threat to land and marine ecosystems.

The paper says the decline of biodiversity will affect ecosystems' abilities to provide food and clean water for Victoria.

Victoria Naturally has called on the Government to provide more money to help private landholders and farmers to restore bushland. But some projects should be fast-tracked and funded now, rather than waiting for the consultation, it said.

The Government must increase efforts to control weeds and feral animals in national parks.

Victoria's Alpine National Park needed urgent attention as one of Australia's natural areas most threatened by climate change, the group said.

Seventy per cent of Victoria's land had been cleared since European settlement, more than in any other state.

North-west Victoria had the highest number of threatened species in any one region of Australia. Species most under threat included the mountain pygmy possum, orange-bellied parrot, helmeted honeyeater and broad-shelled tortoise.

"A lot of people would be surprised by the dire straits our wildlife and indigenous plants are in," Victoria Naturally project director Carrie Deutsch said.

The growing phenomenon of people retiring to coastal and country areas and Melbourne's increasing population meant urban environments were encroaching on rural areas.

This is increasing pressure on ecosystems, the Government paper says.

While farmers were struggling with the crippling drought, they must also help ease the burden on the environment.

"Farmers can reduce environmental impacts through a more efficient use of resources and improved farming practices," the paper says.

Environment Minister John Thwaites said a new policy would aim to protect biodiversity over the next 50 years. It would also plan for climate change, drought and megafires.

"(It) is about achieving the right balance between land, coastal and marine uses and sustainable management of natural resources," he said.

The discussion paper will be launched by Mr Thwaites and former Australian of the Year Sir Gustav Nossal.

The Government wants public submissions by June 22.


21 April, 2007

MEDIA RELEASE: Green power or green wash? Bracks’ bare earth policy

Saturday 21st April 2007

For comment: Jill Redwood 03 5154 0145

The Bracks government is planning to increase carbon emissions by allowing the burning of Victoria’s native forests to produce electricity, despite forests being seen as critical carbon stores and water producers.

“This week the ALP tabled a new set of Victorian Renewable Energy Target rules that could see native forests burnt for power generation”, said Jill Redwood, Coordinator of Environment East Gippsland. “All Victorian’s should be outraged about this sudden change of policy. Mr Bracks is now planning to cremate our native wildlife and incinerate the lungs of the land to generate electricity. They’ll need a good spin doctor to sell this one to the public.”

“Throwing forests into burners to power turbines shows the government has gone totally insane In 2002, ALP policy prohibited the burning of native forests for power generation, but now their proposed rules open the door for native forests to be burnt. The government’s definition of ‘waste’ has allowed over 75% of all wood taken from a clearfelled forest to be woodchipped. We have to wonder if power stations will also get our forests for 11c a tonne as ‘waste’.”

“This is a treacherous new direction that would increase drought and weather extremes in the state”, said Jill Redwood. “Does Mr Bracks not understand the simple concept of climate shift?”

“The forests of eastern Victoria need immediate protection as wildlife refuges, clean water catchments and carbon stores. These are public forests and must not be stealthily sold off to electricity companies under the guise of ‘renewable energy’.