24 June, 2009
Letter to the editor, The Age, 24 June 2009
WE WILL know the world is truly past the climate-change tipping point when we stop seeing letters from foresters claiming that their regrowth plantations are better carbon sinks than mountain ash forests (Letters, 23/6).
Also disappearing at that point will probably be their argument that old-growth forests need harvesting to save them from becoming merely ash, despite their obviously superior fire survival rates.
The last survivors will probably be ministers for forests, tucked safely down the deep pockets of the industry's lobbyists.
23 June, 2009
Letter to the editor, The Age, 23 June 2009.
GAVAN McFadzean (Comment, 22/6) rightly points out that the old-growth mountain ash forests of the Central Highlands are important carbon stores. These are also relatively rare as much of this forest was killed during the 1939 fires. The old-growth forests remaining after 1939 were predominantly in Melbourne's water supply catchments. Unfortunately, they are far from fire resistant and many magnificent stands, including the state's top 10 tallest trees in the Wallaby Creek and O'Shannassy catchments, were killed in the February fires.
The small portion of the mountain ash forests that are harvested for timber production have, almost exclusively, originated from the wildfires of 1939. These regrowth forests form the basis of the Victorian hardwood sawmilling industry. Logs from the Central Highlands that are not suitable for sawing are predominantly used for paper production, creating value-added products and sustainable jobs in regional Victoria.
Sustainable timber production is greenhouse friendly, with harvested forests being regrown and becoming carbon sinks. As the trees grow they continue to take up carbon dioxide from the atmosphere — at a greater rate than old-growth forests.
22 June, 2009
The Age, 22 June 2009
SO WHERE are the world's most carbon-rich forests? Not the tropical rainforests of the Amazon, Borneo or Africa's Congo Basin, according to research by the Australian National University. They are the tall, old-growth mountain ash forests of Victoria's Central Highlands — a 90-minute drive east of Melbourne.
The researchers studied 132 forests from around the world to discover the regions that stored the most carbon. Their findings, published in the US-based Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, one of the world's most-cited scientific serials, is a surprise because conventional wisdom says that tropical forests store the most carbon.
So why our forests? The conditions are perfect. These forests occur at a confluence of environmental conditions that lead to high rates of plant growth and, because they are cooler, decay rates are slower. In short they grow fast but decay slowly. And they are very old — at least 350 years, growing dense heavy wood. That's important because the amount of carbon stored is due to volume and density. Also, these trees have not been subjected to logging.
The problem is, these very same forest types are being intensively logged for woodchips, mostly bound for Japan. These trees are not only the best at producing carbon; unfortunately for them, they are also some of the best for producing high-quality paper. To add insult to injury, several of Melbourne's water catchments are among those logged.
ANU science shows that for as long as these forests are logged, their carbon-carrying capacity is reduced by up to 60 per cent, not to mention the emissions from logging and post-logging regeneration burns. If we stopped logging all the forests of south-eastern Australia, and we now have enough wood in plantations to do that, we would avoid emissions equal to 24 per cent of the 2005 Australian net greenhouse gas emissions across all sectors.
Ironically, the plantation-based timber industry is under great economic stress, with several major wood plantation growers in receivership. This is the right time for Premier John Brumby to develop an integrated industry rescue and climate package, which creates green jobs in the plantation sector and focuses management of our native forests on emissions reduction.
Another reason why these forests are so carbon dense is because they evolved with fire.
Yes, the Black Saturday fires did pass through some of these forests, but most of the carbon remains in the forest. This is because it is in big old trees and dead trunks, and in the soil. Therefore, the proportion of total carbon lost in the fire is surprisingly small compared with logging. Also, many trees survive fire in less intensely burnt patches, facilitating regeneration. But logging these forests makes them more vulnerable to fire because it fragments and dries out the landscape, replacing fire-resistant tall forests and a wet rainforest understorey with young eucalypts and a much drier understorey.
This research (combined with research released by ANU last year) demonstrates how important it is for the Federal Government to assess how much carbon could be stored in Australia's native forests, how much greenhouse gas could be prevented from entering the atmosphere if we protect them from logging, and what their long-term ability to keep on pulling carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere actually is.
It also suggests that there is a serious new option to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions.
The Federal Government has made provision for complementary measures to be developed to supplement the carbon pollution reduction scheme. Clearly there is scope to develop a package to reduce emissions and protect and restore the carbon stored in our native forests. Such a package could prevent millions of tonnes of carbon dioxide being released.
We need to start recognising the value of these forests to climate change mitigation. The Government should provide incentives so that state governments and private land owners are rewarded for protecting and restoring the carbon stocks found in natural forests under their control.
Everyone is concerned with emissions from logging and tree clearing in developing countries, but the Government needs to ensure that the Copenhagen agreement also provides policies that give incentives to protect and restore carbon stocks in developed nations.
We knew these forests should be protected because they are our water catchments and habitat for endangered species such as the Leadbeater's Possum, Victoria's faunal emblem. Now it turns out they are the world's largest carbon banks and their protection should be a critical part of any response to climate change by Prime Minister Kevin Rudd and Premier John Brumby.
Will the public interest finally take precedence over that of the woodchippers? Surely these forests have put an irrefutable case for their protection.
Gavan McFadzean is the Wilderness Society Victorian campaigns manager.
17 June, 2009
Ken Browne, Wheelers Hill.
The Age, 17/6/09
IT'S good to know that Victoria's mountain ash forests are the best in the world for storing carbon. Does that mean that, sometime in the future, some industrial polluter will gain carbon credits for not chopping them down?
Chris Clement, Carlton
The Age, 17/6/09
ISN'T it time evidence-based policy-making finally found its day in the Victorian Government and someone took note of our own scientists ("Mountain ash best for carbon", The Age, 16/6)?
The ANU is telling the world we have the best forests in the world for storing carbon, so why the heck are we chopping them down? Australia has been asking its neighbours to stop logging their "precious" forests"; well, let's get our own backyard in order before we rain down on those over the fence.
Seriously, we must be able to find alternative jobs among the mature plantations across Victoria to support the small groups that continue to log these essential ecosystems.
Everyone is entitled to a job but our drinking water supply, habitat for so many rare native animals and this vital system to reduce the causes of climate change are worth more than their small timber value. John Brumby, bump up your climate policy and get these forests off the loggers' radar.
16 June, 2009
The world's most carbon-dense forests are not in the tropics, but in a protected mountain catchment that supplies Melbourne's drinking water, new research shows.
A five-year study by the Australian National University of more than 130 forest sites around the world found these wet mountain ash forests just over an hour's drive from the Melbourne Cricket Ground store twice the amount of carbon as a tropical rainforest.
The cool, moist temperate forests of the O'Shannassy catchment, which includes the headwaters of the Yarra River, store just under 2000 tonnes of carbon a hectare in their giant 300-year-old mountain ash eucalypts, lush understorey vegetation such as tree ferns, and in dead wood on the forest floor. But as the trees age, the figure rises, with trees more than 250 years old boosting the carbon sink capacity to just over 2800t a hectare.
The unexpected findings, published online today in a National Academy of Sciences journal in the United States, have critical implications for climate policy in the lead-up to the United Nations climate conference to be held in Copenhagen later this year.
The research paper, by ANU ecologists Heather Keith, Professor Brendan Mackey and Professor David Lindenmayer, over-turns conventional theories on the role of forests in carbon accounting.
Professor Mackey said, ''It identifies a gap in climate change policy that Australia needs to address.
''There has been a lot of talk about the need to address tropical deforestation in developing countries, but these results show we must start by recognising the carbon benefits to be gained from protecting our native forests,'' he said."
Tuesday June 16, 2009
There are renewed calls to stop logging in old growth forests after new research found they could be the most valuable source of carbon in the world.
Scientists at the Australian National University studied 132 forests around the globe and the surprising results show a forest in central Victoria was the most carbon dense of all.
It has been widely believed that rainforests around the world are the most effective at storing carbon.
But now scientists are questioning that belief after research has shown mountain ash forests in central Victoria hold the most carbon.
The study shows the Victorian forests hold 1,900 tonnes of carbon per hectare, which is up to four times higher than what is found in tropical forests.
Brendan Mackey, a professor of environment science at the Australian National University, says it is an important find.
"The trees in these forests can grow to a very old age - at least 350 years - and they can grow very large, very tall, and they grow very dense, heavy wood," he said.
"Most of the biomass carbon is in big, old trees, and these are large, old, dense trees. These particular stands have not been subject to intensive land use, such as logging, so ... they've been able to grow and reach their natural carbon-carrying capacity.
"And finally, it also reflects the way these forests have evolved and adapted in response to fire."
Some other scientists now say this is proof that logging should be stopped in mountain ash forests in Victoria.
Dr James Watson, from the University of Queensland, says this level of carbon is so significant that it could be a real help in fighting climate change.
"We know that logging actually really does impact the amount of carbon in a forest," he said.
"These forests are incredibly carbon dense. We're talking about 18 tonnes of carbon in a hectare of forest, which is extraordinary. When we log this forest, we lose up to two-thirds of the carbon."
Around 9,000 hectares of forests are logged in Victoria each year. Dr Watson says given their significant carbon capacity, they should remain untouched.
But the National Association of Forest Industries chief executive, Allan Hansard, says logging is a tool in total forest management.
"One of the things that does come with the changing climate is the increasing risk of bushfires," he said.
"So if we have an approach where we lock up and leave these forests, what we're actually doing is increasing the risk that these forests will burn down.
"Now, this is important from a climate change perspective, because if you actually have a look at the amount of emissions that come from these fires, it's quite substantial."
Professor Mackey says the Federal Government needs to provide incentives to stop logging in these forests.
"Up until now we really haven't thought about the carbon value of these natural forests," he said.
"People have thought about their timber value, other people have thought about their habitat value for wildlife, but no-one has really given much attention to their carbon value."
June 16, 2009 07:08am
Australian forests are the world's best at storing carbon, a key weapon against climate change, researchers say.
All trees absorb carbon dioxide and store it as they grow, but some forests lock up more carbon than others.
The Australian National University scientists measured 132 forests around the planet and found that mountain ash forests in Victoria's central highlands were the most carbon-dense of all.
Carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere is one of the main causes of climate change.
Victoria's forests were so rich in carbon because they lived in a cool climate, which slowed down the decay of the trees, the researchers said.
The trees were very old - up to 350 years of age - which meant they grew heavy, dense wood, and the forests had not been logged.
Researcher Brendan Mackey said it had been thought that tropical forests were the richest in carbon.
"This is a real surprise ... instead its forests in the temperate region that have the most," Prof Mackey said.
The research is published this week in the US-based Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences."