10 August, 2007

THE AGE: Gunns pulp mill back on track for approval

Marian Wilkinson
August 10, 2007

Construction of the nation's biggest pulp mill could start within weeks after Tasmanian environmentalists lost a crucial case against Environment Minister Malcolm Turnbull in the Federal Court yesterday.

"We are disappointed," said Geoff Law from the Wilderness Society, one of the parties that took the case against the federal minister.

"But now all eyes are going to be on Malcolm Turnbull," Mr Law said. "He has to make the decision on an extremely destructive pulp mill being built in a marginal seat in Tasmania where the majority of people don't want it."

Mr Turnbull is expected to give federal approval soon to the $1.4 billion mill being built by the forestry company Gunns. The mill's opponents are expected to wait to see whether he puts conditions on his approval before appealing.

The mill, which will be the largest chlorine dioxide bleaching mill in Australia, has been strenuously opposed by local wine growers, fishermen and farmers in Tasmania, as well as the ABC's gardening broadcaster Peter Cundall.

The mill will be built on the banks of the Tamar River and has been supported by both the Federal Opposition and the Federal Government.

It is also strongly supported by the Tasmanian Labor Government, which plans to pass legislation at the end of the month giving the mill the final go-ahead. Both the Tasmanian Government and Gunns say the pulp mill will meet the highest environmental standards in the world.

But Gunns withdrew from the state's independent assessment process in March this year, citing undue delays to the project.

It threatened to drop its plans for the billion-dollar project until Tasmanian Premier Paul Lennon agreed to fast-track the approval process.

Under the federal Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act, Mr Turnbull is required to examine the effects the mill might have on marine species and migratory birds.

Scallop fishermen and the Wilderness Society have raised concerns about the estimated 64,000 tonnes of effluent that will flow daily into Bass Strait.

When the state's independent assessment review was scrapped, Mr Turnbull's department began its own review, telling Gunns that it would be completed by this month.

The Wilderness Society and a group of local businesses, calling themselves Investors for the Future of Tasmania, took the action in the Federal Court claiming that Mr Turnbull had not conducted an adequate review process.

Mr Lennon and Gunns say a new environment assessment has been done and outstanding concerns can be dealt with.


07 August, 2007

ARTICLE: Save the forests: they are crucial to reducing carbon dioxide

Brendan Mackey
The Age, August 7, 2007

Remarkably, both the Australian Government and Labor Opposition have now realised the importance of natural forests to solving the global warming problem. This is a good thing because the Kyoto Protocol is unfortunately blind to the role played by natural forests in the global carbon cycle.

But there is some way to go before Australia has consistency between its national and international forest-climate policy responses. The recently announced Labor forest policy for Tasmania does not recognise the link between forests and the global warming problem.

The Australian Government has recognised this link but is attending to forest-climate issues only at the international level. Both policy positions need to be reconsidered as they reflect a lack of scientific understanding about the role of natural forests in helping to regulate the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. This is not surprising as our understanding of carbon in natural forest has been transformed in recent years through scientific research and little of this new knowledge has yet filtered into popular literature and policy circles.

The forest debate in Australia remains dominated by conflict between those who see the forest as a source of raw material (woodchips) and those who value the forest left intact for nature conservation. We need to update the forest debate to reflect current concerns and the growing imperative that we solve the global warming problem. This means that forest policy, nationally as well as internationally, must begin to reflect the role of forests as part of a co-ordinated greenhouse-gas mitigation strategy.

In addition to reducing our use of fossil fuel, the other major mitigation strategy is to increase the removal of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere by natural processes through protecting and restoring the world's natural forests.

Natural forests are an important part of the global carbon cycle. They are buffers that soak up excess carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and store it in the biomass of trees and in the soil. Forests are an essential natural mechanism for stabilising atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide in the short and long term.

One hectare of mature, tall, wet forest can store the equivalent of 5500 tonnes of carbon dioxide. This is about the same as the annual carbon dioxide emissions from 1300 cars. Even less productive dry forests and woodlands store significant amounts of carbon. Most of the carbon in a natural forest is stored in the woody biomass of big old trees, dead wood on the forest floor, and in the soil. It is easy to forget about the carbon below ground: in the tree roots and associated fungi, other micro-organisms and decomposed plant material. These represent significant stocks of carbon that are continually replenished through natural ecosystem processes.

Forests contain about three to four times more carbon than is now in the atmosphere. About half the world's forests have been cleared for agriculture and human settlement. Much of what is left is commercially logged for timber products; especially woodchip for pulp-based products.

Forests that are commercially logged store about 30 per cent to 40 per cent less carbon than unlogged forests. If we were to halt further deforestation and allow the world's forests that have been logged to naturally regrow, the amount of carbon taken up and stored in these ecosystems would make

a significant contribution to solving the global warming problem. Plantation timber can be grown on land that has already been cleared and used to meet the demand for pulp and related wood-fibre products.

If global warming really is the mother of all environmental problems, then perhaps the time has come to bring to an end the clearing and logging of natural forests. This will make a significant and cost-effective contribution to solving the global warming problem. We must not forget that the laws of science apply universally and do not recognise political boundaries. Whether a natural forest is in Tasmania, Victoria or Papua, it performs the same kind of role in the global carbon cycle and in helping to regulate atmospheric levels of carbon dioxide.

All the signs are that sooner or later the carbon that is stored in natural forests will be assigned an economic value and become part of the global carbon market. When this happens, companies will be allowed to offset some of their carbon emissions by investing in forest protection. Once the carbon in forest ecosystems has a market value, companies that are fossil-fuel hungry (such as steel and aluminium producers) will seek to take advantage of offset opportunities in natural forests to give themselves more time to maintain production levels while making the transition to greenhouse-friendly energy sources.

For this reason, I predict that as the impact of global warming increases in the coming years, the market values of carbon in natural forests will dramatically increase. It will be ironic if Australia's natural forests are taken out of wood production not by conservationists but by international corporations.

Of course, before this can happen in a substantial and enduring way, the international rules have to change. But this process has already started at least in terms of recognising the need to prevent deforestation in developing countries, and voluntary investments in forest conservation are already occurring.

Brendan Mackey is a professor of environmental science at the Australian National University and an expert in ecosystems and the impact of climate change on biodiversity.


05 August, 2007

ARTICLE: State's emblem nearly extinct

Peter Weekes
The Age, August 5, 2007

The tiny Leadbeater's possum, Victoria's state faunal emblem, could be extinct in a few years if its numbers continue to plummet.

The population of the tiny nocturnal animal has dropped sharply since it was listed as critically endangered in 1996 — despite a decade-long joint federal and state recovery plan to save it.

Research by Professor David Lindenmayer, of the Australian National University, has revealed that since the plan was imposed, the Leadbeater's possum population has halved to around 2000.

The Australian Conservation Foundation's Lindsay Hesketh says unless logging bans are introduced to protect the Leadbeater's habitat, Victoria will go "the same way of Tasmania, which lost its state emblem, the Tasmanian tiger, years ago".

The possum, found only in a small area in the state's Central Highlands, lives in the hollows of old mountain ash trees that can take 200 years or more to grow. An unknown number were killed earlier this year when VicForests bulldozed large firebreaks through Leadbeater's monitoring stations following the Christmas fires.

The firebreaks and other clear-felled coupes prevent breeding with nearby colonies as the possums can only jump from branch to branch in the forest understorey.

Most people have never seen the Leadbeater's possum. The last one held in captivity at Healesville Sanctuary died in 2006. Even in colonial days sightings of the possum, which has a distinctive black strip along the spine of its 20-centimetre-long body, were rare.

It was thought to be extinct after the swamps and wetlands around Bass River in south-west Gippsland were drained for farming in the early 1900s. The possum was rediscovered in 1961 near Marysville and adopted as Victoria's faunal emblem.

Professor Lindenmayer, who has been researching the Leadbeater's for more than 20 years, said the Government must improve the recovery plan, especially the creation of management areas and protection zones.

"If you have two fires in less than 20 years in a wet forest, then that forest is gone forever, and with it about $500 million in logging revenue every year. It's been crucial to 'act now' on this for the last 20 years," he said."

Article source

01 August, 2007

LETTER: Come and see Tasmania

C. Hindrum, Launceston, Tasmania
Letter, The Age, 1/8/07

If Tricia Caswell would like to suggest that a comparison between industrial forestry practices in Tasmania and Victoria is reasonable, she needs to spend more time in Tasmania. We do not have the benefit of an environment protection authority. What we have is a forest practices code that has been repeatedly ignored by contractors, so that streams have been trashed, regulations for buffer zones ignored and, according to a recent Federal Court ruling, the habitats of several endangered species severely compromised. None of this is likely to be improved if the increased native timber supply for the proposed pulp mill is realised.

LETTER: We need to see the wood and the trees

Professor Rod Keenan, school of forest and ecosystem science, University of Melbourne, Parkville
The Age, 1/8/2007

Tricia Caswell is right. Forest policy needs a national view and a holistic approach to effectively face the challenges. Australia has 164 million hectares of forest. About 2 per cent is in Tasmania. Much of the public debate centres on timber harvesting in tall, wet, old-growth eucalypt forests on public land. These are a relatively small part of the total forest area. They are important habitat for many animals and plants, and some are in significant wilderness areas.

However, the latest State of the Environment Report indicates that tall, open forests are relatively intact (about 87 per cent of the pre-European distribution remaining) and well protected (34 per cent in reserves) with the remaining areas well managed.

The imperative for forest biodiversity conservation is now largely on private land. Many of the forest types under-represented in the reserve system are in shorter-stature, drier forests and heavily cleared woodlands now used for agriculture.

The notion that forest management problems can be solved simply by transferring lands to conservation reserves is also simplistic. Much of the debate is over timber harvesting.

However, fires, climate change, pests, diseases, feral animals and urban development are bigger threats to forest biodiversity, water and other forest values. They need to be managed, whether timber is harvested or not.

Despite past periods of heavy utilisation, native forests continue to provide many values and services. If these values are to be maintained and improved, we need a vision that transcends simplistic notions of production versus protection and a comprehensive forest policy based on a renewed commitment from all levels of government with sufficient resources for effective implementation.

LETTERS: Forests deserve better protection

Lauren Caulfield, Northcote
The Age, August 1, 2007

Tricia Caswell's claim that Australia's logging industry "may be the most carbon positive industry on the planet" (Opinion, 30/7) is deeply disturbing. Recent studies estimate that at least 150 tonnes of carbon is released per hectare following logging operations in mixed-age Australian forests. On average, 90 per cent of native forest wood removed from Australia's forests ends up in paper products, which release carbon dioxide within three years.

Caswell is right that we need environmentally, socially and economically sustainable decision making, but the 80 to 90 per cent woodchip-based logging industry we see today is not the answer. The Government is in the international arena pushing for forest protection — it is time the same approach is taken at home.