22 May, 2008

MEDIA RELEASE: Major parties ignore communityconcern on forests

Jill Redwood, Environment East Gippsland
22nd May 2008

Environment East Gippsland has responded to the Federal Government’s report on the state of Australia’s forests as little more than a PR exercise.

"It’s little wonder that logging supporters like VAFI chime in with glowing compliments after pro-logging reports are produced on forests", said Jill Redwood of EEG. “No matter what flavour of government has been in over the decades, our forests have been and still are sacrificed as union pacifiers and exchanged for political donations. The only thing that's being 'sustained' is the parties' submission to the logging industry."

“What they didn’t announce yesterday from the report is that Australia has 10% less forests, 200,000 hectares less old growth and more threatened species than was reported in the 2003 report. The report also admits that about 1/3rd of these important conservation forests left remaining are still allowed to be clearfelled for timber and woodchips. Yet we’re told this is sustainable.”

“There are 1,290 forest dependent species classed as nationally rare and endangered. But the ALPs minister for forestry, Tony Burke, says he’s happy to keep the bulldozers knocking over Gippsland’s native forests. There’s been absolutely no change to more sensitive management of our environment since Ironbar Tuckey held the portfolio”.

“Thousands of Gippsland voters are extremely concerned about climate change, the loss of our wildlife, the destruction of our native forests by logging and the loss of water that results. But unfortunately these voters can’t match the political donations given by the large logging companies and unions that seem to influence the ALP, Liberal and National’s forest policies.”

“Tree growers in western Victoria are currently screaming out for a thousand workers to help process their wood. If jobs were really the concern, the CFMEU and the ALP would not support woodchipping but be looking at mature plantations for providing secure employment.

An NCS Pearson poll showed that 70% of East Gippslanders don’t want to see our forests turned into woodchips. Politicians must acknowledge this. Our public forests are far more precious as climate moderators and carbon stores than as woodchips, cardboard and union-pacifiers.”

For comment: Jill Redwood 5154 0145

17 May, 2008

THE AGE: Forestry industry to tap tree 'sinks'

Fred Brenchley
May 17, 2008

AUSTRALIA'S forest industries are bidding for a major role in Australia's climate change future, claiming forest "sinks" could absorb 20% of the planned 60% cut in emissions by 2050.

A confidential document from the National Association of Forest Industries circulating in Prime Minister Kevin Rudd's office proposes a joint industry-government strategy for forests and plantations in Australia's carbon-constrained future.

It involves forestry not only helping meet emissions and renewable energy targets but also becoming involved in biofuel production and indigenous economic development.

Overarching these outcomes, according to NAFI, is the need for the Coalition of Australian Governments to reaffirm commitment to the 1992 National Forest Policy Statement, which opened the door to regional forests agreements.

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15 May, 2008

THE AGE: Slug loggers too

Scott Bilby, Kensington
Letter, The Age, 15 May 2008

In "Plan to make timber industry pay for rain" (The Age, 11/5) the Victorian Government is deciding whether to make the plantation timber industry pay a fee for the rain that plantations soak up. This is because plantations reduce the amount of water that would otherwise flow into streams, thereby reducing water available for rural towns and the environment.

If the Government is so concerned, why does it allow the native timber industry to clearfell our precious native forests in water catchments that supply the majority of water to Melbourne?

Despite the very long drought and tough water restrictions, five of Melbourne's catchments are still available for logging. These catchments supply more than half of Melbourne's water, yet water supplies are reduced by up to 50% when we log them.

If the Government thinks it's a good idea to make the plantation timber industry pay for the water it soaks up, then it must also see the logic in making the native timber industry pay for the vast amount of water that is lost when they destroy the native forests in our water catchments.

BBC NEWS: Charles urges forest logging halt

BBC News
Thursday, 15 May 2008

The halting of logging in the world's rainforests is the single greatest solution to climate change, Prince Charles has said.

Prince Charles said there needed to be rewards for preserving the rainforest

He called for a mechanism to be devised to pay poor countries to prevent them felling their rainforests.

The prince told the BBC that the forests provided the earth's "air conditioning system".

He said it was "crazy" the rainforests were worth more "dead than alive" to some of the world's poorest people.

The world's forests store carbon in their wood and in their soils.

But they are being felled for timber products, food and now bio fuels. Experts say this carbon is being released into the atmosphere and contributes to global warming.

The Stern Review on the Economics of Climate Change, published in 2006, suggested that the destruction adds about 18% to the CO2 from human sources.

In an interview to mark BBC World Service's Amazon Day, Prince Charles said: "When you think they [rainforests] release 20 billion tonnes of water vapour into the air every day, and also absorb carbon on a gigantic scale, they are incredibly valuable, and they provide the rainfall we all depend on."

He said a way had to be found to ensure people living in the rainforest were adequately rewarded for the "eco-system services that their forest provides the rest of the world".

We're asking for something pretty dreadful unless we really understand the issues now
Prince Charles

He said: "The trouble is the rainforests are home to something like 1.4 billion of the poorest people in the world.

"In order to survive there has to be an effort to produce things which tends to be at the expense of the rainforest.

"What we've got to do is try to ensure that those forests are more valuable alive than dead.

"At the moment there's more value in them being dead. This is the crazy thing."

Drought and starvation

The prince called on governments, big business and consumers to demand an end to logging in the rainforest.

He said the time was right to persuade business to play its part because there was increasing concern about global warming.

"Halting deforestation would be the easiest and cheapest way in helping in the battle against climate change," he said.

"Waiting for all the new technologies to come on stream is not going to be soon enough."

Charles said if deforestation did not slow down soon there would be "far more drought and starvation on a grand scale".


He said: "We're asking for something pretty dreadful unless we really understand the issues now, and urgency of those issues.

"It is the easiest way to create a win on the climate change front while all sorts of other things come along later."

The BBC's environment analyst, Roger Harrabin, says that Prince Charles' observation that saving the forests is the cheapest and most effective way of cutting CO2 emissions is "widely acknowledged".

At the recent Bali climate conference, developing countries asked for compensation from rich nations if they agreed to avoid future deforestation.

Talks are continuing, but there are issues over sovereignty – and genuine difficulties over who pays, who collects, and how much money should be offered.

Mike Childs, of Friends of the Earth, said: "The Prince is absolutely right to highlight deforestation as the single greatest cause of climate change, but putting a stop to it much more complex.

"Forests are cut down for many different reasons, such as the growing of food, animal fodder and bio fuels."

Article source

11 May, 2008

THE AGE: Parched forests get an overdue drink

Melissa Fyfe
The Age, May 11, 2008

Thousands of red gums on the brink of death have been saved — temporarily at least — after 17 billion litres of water were released from dams to boost Victoria's ailing Murray wetlands.

The water sparked an immediate response from the environment. Hundreds of frogs spawned, waterbirds arrived and tortoises laid eggs. Many of the areas targeted had not seen water for two years. Numbers of waterbirds have dropped by two-thirds during the 11-year drought.

About 10,000 red gums — some 500 years old — would have been dead within a year had the environmental flow not occurred, said Dr Jane Doolan, from the Department of Sustainability and Environment.

Water has flowed through the wetlands and creeks for two weeks.

Recent studies have found that 70% of red gums in northern Victoria are dead or dying. This month's watering will cover only 900 hectares, or 1.4% of the state's river red gums.

The environmental allocation consists of 6 billion litres from the Murray-Darling Basin Commission's Living Murray program and 11 billion litres from Victoria's pool of environmental water.

It is flooding the Gunbower Wetlands north-west of Echuca; Little Lake Boort west of Echuca; the Lindsay-Walpolla site in the Mallee; and the Reedy, Kinnaird, Black and Moodies swamps near Shepparton.

State Environment and Climate Change Minister Gavin Jennings said the water had prevented ancient forests from turning into red gum graveyards. "Some of the river red gums were alive when Columbus discovered the Americas. They are part of all Victorians' heritage," he said.

The Murray remains bleak, however. Dried-up wetlands and creeks in the lower parts of the river in South Australia have started to turn acidic and leach heavy metals, including high amounts of aluminium and arsenic, zinc and lead.

The $12.9 billion water package to save the Murray has been finalised, but water specialist Mike Young, from the Wentworth Group of Concerned Scientists, has warned that time is running out and the Federal Government must act quickly to use $3 billion to buy back the 1500 billion litres the river system needs to be healthy.

The Bureau of Meteorology winter forecast for the basin, released last week, suggested another dry El Nino phase could be on the way and there was little hope of good rainfall. The basin commission's chief executive, Dr Wendy Craik, described the situation as not terribly optimistic, but dam levels were slightly higher now than at this time last year.

It is hoped the northern Victorian environmental water will help threatened species such as the regent parrot, the inland carpet python, the barking owl, the painted snipe, the white-bellied sea eagle and the growling grass frog.

It is hoped the royal spoonbill, the great egret and the glossy ibis will benefit from the watering in the Gunbower Wetlands.

Article source

THE AGE: Plan to make timber industry pay for rain

Melissa Fyfe
The Age, May 11, 2008

In a blow to Victoria's massive plantation industry, the State Government has moved to make thirsty timber plantations accountable for the water they use.

Companies such as Timbercorp may face extra costs as Government documents show it is considering making them pay for the water the trees suck up.

Many Victorians have sunk millions of dollars into the plantation industry because investments are tax deductible.

The move has worried the industry, which says it is being unfairly "picked on". But the documents show the Government is concerned that precious rain that would flow into groundwater and then to streams is intercepted by thousands of hectares of plantation trees, leaving less for farmers, rural towns and the environment.

Under the 2004 National Water Initiative, all Australian governments agreed that changes in land use — such as large-scale plantations — could significantly affect the amount of water available to others, and needed to be regulated. The Brumby Government, which adopted the commitment in its water plan, recently released a tender to develop such a policy. The tender documents indicate where the Government may be headed on the issue.

The Department of Primary Industries tender refers to all sorts of land use changes that affect water availability, but it clearly has the plantation industry in its sights.

It suggests the successful contractor consider a permit system or "market-based mechanisms", which the industry believes may mean it has to buy the water the trees use.

Asking companies to pay for the water trees use is controversial because it is, essentially, charging for the rain that falls on private property. Such a decision could have implications beyond the plantation industry.

"It is complicated and legally questionable about how you would charge a plantation grower for using the water that falls on their land," said Richard Stanton, manager of policy at the Australian Plantation Products and Paper Industry Council. He said the water use of plantations was exaggerated and there were far more significant issues to deal with.

The Government faces the tricky task of balancing the benefit of plantations — reducing carbon in the atmosphere, erosion prevention, better water quality — with the negative "third party" impacts of taking water out of the system.

A 2003 study said all types of reforestation in the Murray-Darling Basin would suck 600 billion litres of water from the system each year by 2020. The industry argues this overestimates the number of trees that will be planted, and its best guess is that, by 2028, plantations will take 50 billion litres from the basin.

The tender, called Impacts of land use change on water resources — policy analysis and development, shows that recent studies of south-western Victoria have found that plantations and climate change have sucked 6% to 10% of surface and groundwater from the region.

Matt Hillard, a spokesman for Victorian Agriculture Minister Joe Helper, said it was important for the Government to ensure resources were well managed.

Allan Hansard, chief executive officer of the National Association of Forest Industries, said it was too early to jump to conclusions but the industry should not be "picked on".

The companies that may be affected by any policy change include Timbercorp, Great Southern Plantations, ITC, HVP Plantations, Midway and Willmott Forests.

Under the tender, the contractor must report back with policy options by early October.
Where the trees are most thirsty

Areas where plantations are likely to be cutting water availability:
  • Some areas of the Strzelecki Ranges, including the Tarra Valley.
  • Parts of the Thomson and Latrobe river basins.
  • Groundwater aquifers in South Gippsland.
  • Surface and groundwater across much of south-west Victoria.

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07 May, 2008

AUSTRALIAN: End the forest wars

David Bowman, Peter Kanowski and Rod Keenan
The Australian, May 07, 2008

The bushfire smoke that blanketed the sky above Hobart late last month graphically marked an abrupt turn in the public debate about forest management.

Environmentalists were quick to make the link between forest regeneration burns and carbon emissions, and to argue that old growth should be saved to serve as carbon stores.

Indeed, this debate was anticipated in February at a conference in Hobart on management of the world's old forests; by co-incidence that week Government adviser Ross Garnaut released his interim report on Australia's possible response to global change.

Like it or not, carbon and the forestry debate are now firmly linked. Peppered throughout Garnaut's report are references to how land cover change, and especially de-forestation, is connected to worsening climate change.

Garnaut advocates re-forestation and forest conservation to providing breathing space for new technologies to "de-carbonise" our economy in the next decade before we trigger dangerous climate change. He says Australia should be working with Indonesia (the globe's fourth-largest carbon emitter in absolute terms) and with Papua New Guinea (a potential big emitter) to reduce their carbon footprint by conserving forests.

Garnaut also has made specific reference to "structural economic adjustment" to help domestic industries, including forestry, adapt.

Clearly, if we don't practise what we preach in our forests, the charge of double standards is hard to dodge, and Garnaut's quest for "head room" to allow new clean technologies to become operational will collapse.

This would be a brave new world for forest managers and forest conservationists, both battle-scarred following decade-long debates about biodiversity conservation, aesthetics and wood production. While hard-won agreements for greater reservation and changed forest practices have been achieved, simmering tensions remain over old-growth forests and the development of pulp mills.

Suddenly the game has changed. The catch is that rules of the new carbon game for forests are far from settled.

Factoring forests into national and international carbon trades will be devilishly complicated, as complicated as the global carbon cycle itself, the full understanding of which remains on the frontiers of ecological science.

To make matters worse for Australia, the life cycles of eucalypt forests have peculiar attributes, especially the need for wildfires to initiate regeneration. This compounds the problem of neatly quantifying the carbon biomass in forests. The fact that our giant eucalypt forests arise from occasional intense fires is often forgotten.

Similarly, the fact that climate change will increase the likelihood of more frequent and bigger bushfires profoundly challenges our management. The plain truth is that eucalypt forests are periodic emitters of carbon and excluding fire from our forested landscape is neither realistic nor ecologically justifiable. Factoring eucalypt forests into the carbon economy is not for the faint-hearted.

Quantifying the current and potential carbon stocks is a research challenge. We are not yet in a position to undertake routine carbon auditing exercises that will be a prerequisite for a carbon economy. We don't have a good enough handle on the carbon dynamics of our forests, on the relative contribution made by regrowth and old-growth forests, or the life cycle of the carbon products derived from the harvest of native forests and plantations.

We need a coherent and comprehensive national monitoring framework which properly values carbon in wood products, and establishes a sensible baseline for forests and the forestry sector. The omission of the agriculture and forestry sectors from reporting frameworks shows how important this work is, and reinforces Garnaut's emphasis on research and development to enable adaptation to climate change.

Universities have a unique opportunity to create the knowledge required to help resolve many of these vexed issues surrounding carbon and forest management. Hard evidence from independent researchers will be crucial in resolving many of the claims and counter-claims about the relative carbon costs and benefits of different forest management practices. Because forest science is at the centre of the emerging carbon economy, degree courses for "landscape carbon accounting" are not out of the question.

Viewing forests through a climate-change and carbon lens changes all the old orthodoxies about forest conservation and management. With foresight, imagination and serious investment in research and training, the carbon economy presents a remarkable opportunity to create new forest-based industries and jobs.

We need to end the "forest wars" and focus on future challenges. Garnaut may be the trigger for this renaissance in forest management.

David Bowman, Peter Kanowski and Rod Keenan are professors of forest science at the University of Tasmania, Australian National University and University of Melbourne, respectively.

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