30 October, 2010

In Eden lies knowledge of trees

Paddy Manning
Sydney Morning Herald, October 30, 2010
Also published in WA Today

''Clearing forests may enrich those who are doing it, but over the long run it impoverishes the planet as a whole.'' That's not tree-hugging blather, but a leader in The Economist a few weeks ago.

The magazine wants governments to ''move fast'' to save the world's forests, describing them as ''purveyors of water, consumers of carbon, treasure-houses of species … ecological miracles''.

''Without a serious effort to solve this problem,'' the leader concluded, ''the risk from climate change will be vastly increased and the planet will lose one of its most valuable, and most beautiful, assets. That would be a tragedy.''

A map of the world, inside the magazine's special report, coloured Australia bright red - one of a handful of countries, including Brazil and Indonesia, losing more than 500,000 hectares of forest a year since 2005.

As climate change accelerates, it makes no sense to be chopping down native forest - the cheapest, largest-scale carbon sequestration available. Land-use change (mostly deforestation) accounts for about 15 to 17 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions - more than all the world's ships, cars, trains and planes.

Afforestation, reforestation and reduced agricultural emissions could, the magazine reported, sequester 40 parts per million of greenhouse gas from the at osphere by 2050. (We are at 450 ppm and rising; we need to get back to 350 ppm.) Old growth forest may be especially significant in its ability to suck up carbon.

Which is one reason there has been an ecstatic reaction to the peace deal negotiated this month to phase out native forest logging in Tasmania.

A lot of detail needs to be fleshed out, and there is plenty of scope for backsliding, but the immediate focus has switched to the mainland. Can a similar coup be achieved here?

Talks are beginning, but it looks hard. At Eden, on the NSW south coast, the Japanese-owned South East Fibre Export woodchip mill is locked in a 40-year fight for survival against conservationists.

Its chief executive, Peter Mitchell, says that SEFE, unlike Gunns, does not have the option of switching to plantation. Too much nearby forest is protected, or is state forest which cannot be converted to plantation.

Woodchip prices are down. A value-adding pulp mill is not an option - the region does not have enough water and, at roughly a million tonnes a year, throughput is too small to justify the investment needed.

The mill is a major employer in the Eden area, whose economy the federal Labor MP Mike Kelly - also the parliamentary secretary for forestry - describes as tenuous. Parliamentary library research he's done confirms SEFE can't move to a wholly plantation base.

A bright spot for SEFE was a proposal, now before the NSW government, to build a five megawatts biomass plant to burn so-called fines - residues from their own mill, and from nearby sawmills - to generate renewable electricity. At the moment the residues either help power the Bega Cheese factory or are sold as mulch and carted away. Some is wasted.

The plant would power the mill and, if excess power was sold on and renewable energy certificates (RECs) generated, it could be a nice little earner.

SEFE estimates that on top of turnover of about $70 million a year, if the biomass plant generated its forecast 31,000MWh a year, sold on at $80/MWh (based on a REC price of $35 and a wholesale electricity price of 5.5¢/kWh) it would pull in about $2.5 million.

Which is not make-or-break - SEFE will survive if the plant does not get up. A key question is whether the local retailer Country Energy, the only logical buyer, will buy power from a controversial project. Mitchell says Country offered SEFE an indicative price a year ago.

''They'll buy it,'' he says, ''but they wouldn't sell it as Green Power.'' Country dodged the question this week, saying it has all the renewable energy it needs for now.

Conservationists fear the Eden biomass proposal is a test case, the thin end of the wedge, which would provide a vast new market to prop up native forest logging, just as the economic case for traditional woodchip operations is unravelling. It may seem crazy to log native forest for renewable energy now, but if a carbon price is brought in, and it rises as expected, dragging REC prices up with it, what now seems uneconomic could soon become a major industry. It is a deal-breaker for the environment movement if native forest can be burnt to generate ''renewable'' energy.

''It's the number-one conspiracy theory we get thrown at us,'' says Mitchell, adding that the REC regime incorporates a ''high value test'' that prevents logging for the primary purpose of generating energy. NSW environment protection laws prevent use of forest residues for power generation. Mill residues are OK.

Kelly, whose seat of Eden-Monaro takes in both the Snowy Hydro scheme and Infigen's Capital wind farm at Bungendore, wants the region to be Australia's renewable energy flagship and is working with the Clean Energy for Eternity movement, which promotes a ''50/50 by 2020'' emissions reduction target.

Kelly is a cautious supporter of the SEFE project as long as it does not use native forest waste, although he supports native forest logging in the region.

The forestry division national secretary of the Construction Forestry Mining and Energy Union, Michael O'Connor, is equally guarded. The union's position will depend on the outcome of collective agreement negotiations at SEFE. ''We're not going to support any employer … if they don't have good, safe union jobs. It's a bit like someone you live next door to. If they're rude to you, you're less likely to help them out.''


29 October, 2010

Road to extinction

Jill Sanguinetti, Narbethong
The Age (letter), 29 October 2010

ENVIRONMENT Minister Tony Burke's newly released biodiversity plan (''Biodiversity plan to lock up land'', The Age, 27/10) is woefully inadequate given the biodiversity crisis upon us.

The UN Global Biodiversity Outlook 3 report released in May found that the target set by the UN in 2002, to significantly reduce the rate of biodiversity loss by 2010, was not met. In fact, the rate of extinctions and habitat loss has significantly accelerated since 2002. The report calls for urgent, direct action to reverse a projected dramatic loss of biodiversity in the next 10 years.

If Tony Burke is listening he will call for an immediate halt to clear-fell logging in remaining pockets of ecologically mature, mixed-age forests that are home to vulnerable and culturally valued species.

In the central highlands of Victoria, species such as spotted quoll, Leadbeater's possum, greater glider and sooty and powerful owl are facing local or absolute extinction; floral species are being lost to clear-felling and monocultural plantation; and the habitat of iconic species such as superb lyrebirds and wallabies is being erased at an unprecedented rate. A five-year plan to meet biodiversity targets is way too slow.

28 October, 2010

No forest quick fix: union

Adam Morton
The Age (article), October 28, 2010

THE forestry workers' union has warned the Brumby government not to make a quick-fix election commitment on native forests to woo the green vote, saying it would kill any chance of a Tasmanian-style peace deal for Victoria.

The Construction Forestry Mining and Energy Union has called for forestry peace talks for Victoria similar to those in Tasmania, where the timber industry and environment groups last week agreed to a framework deal to phase out the majority of native forest logging.

Michael O'Connor - the CFMEU forestry division national secretary who will lead the entire union from January - said Victorian timber companies had already been approached about joining talks on the industry's future.

But he said this did not mean the union supported an end to native forest logging in Victoria, and cautioned against the state government promising a ''five-minute fix'' before the November 27 poll.

It is understood Labor figures have been considering an election forestry commitment, with ending logging in Melbourne's water catchments a likely priority.

Mr O'Connor said: ''My view is, if the government wanted to play around the edges with this issue they probably would kill off instantly any chance of a similar process as Tasmania ever happening.

''People who are advocating certain positions about the forestry issue just because there is an election around the corner, shouldn't let the blood rush to their head.''

Mr O'Connor said the native forest industry was in crisis, and that peace talks were the best way to give security to forestry workers and towns. In the meantime, he called for the forest area available for logging to remain unchanged and timber contracts overhauled to protect workers' rights.

Wilderness Society forests campaigner Luke Chamberlain called on the government to commit to supporting Victorian peace talks. He said they would need to protect native forests and give the logging industry a secure future in plantations.

Victorian Association of Forest Industries chief executive Philip Dalidakis said the association would expect to be involved if talks went ahead, but they would have to be on a different basis to Tasmania's.

Environment Minister Gavin Jennings said the government would talk to all parties before any decisions.

Opposition spokesman Peter Walsh said a Coalition government would give security to the timber industry by guaranteeing ongoing access to forests. It would support peace talks if they had industry backing, but said it was ''very early days''.

26 October, 2010

Pulpwood uses

Peter Sheehan, Camberwell
The Age (letter), 26 October 2010

Judith Wakeman (Letters, 24/10) correctly observes that by volume, sawlogs comprise only about one third of a native forest harvest. By her argument, fertiliser must be the main purpose of cattle farming. After all, only about a third of an animal ends up as saleable meat.

Pulpwood is not just a low-value downfall product. Converted to particle and fibre boards, it comprises an increasing proportion of expensive ''solid'' timber products like flooring and furniture. Further, we all use an awful lot of paper.

25 October, 2010

Call time on subsidies

John Hermans, Clifton Creek
The Age (letter), October 25, 2010

NOT only are we losing our biodiversity, carbon stores, water runoff, honey production and tourism from our publicly owned native forests in Victoria, but taxpayers are subsidising this industry. I think, Premier Brumby, its time is up.

Tamar Valley wrong place

Anne Layton-Bennett, Swan Bay, TasThe Age (letter), October 25, 2010

GUNNS withdrew the proposed pulp mill project from the independent Resource Planning and Development Authority in 2007 knowing full well it had been judged ''critically non-compliant''. When the project then received the government rubber stamp of approval in the fast-tracked and shameful approval process that followed, little attempt had been made to tackle any of these ''critically non-compliant'' aspects properly.

It is therefore disappointing that Gunns chief executive Greg L'Estrange is continuing to spruik this flawed and deeply unpopular pulp mill to potential investors. Hopefully they will have realised the Tamar Valley is, and always will be, the wrong place to build a pulp mill. And perhaps they have also reached the conclusion, correctly, that it will never receive the ''social licence'' - community acceptance - so crucial to Gunns' requirements. Mr L'Estrange now needs to accept this.

Pulp mill still on agenda

John Hayward, Weegena, Tas
The Age (letter), October 25, 2010

THOSE applauding Tasmania's ''in principle'' forestry agreement should use no more than one hand. Gunns still plans the third-largest pulp mill in the world. While now vowing to source all of the mill's 4.5 million tonne input from plantations, it is refusing to surrender the 1.5 million tonnes a year allocation of very cheap public forest wood it was earlier promised under the mill's wood supply agreement. The company has also spoken of demanding $200 million compensation for abandoning further inroads into state forests.

Other native forest loggers are demanding 30 years to exit the industry, which, at present logging rates, will render the preservation issue entirely academic. When seeking models of progressive governance, Tassie belongs among your last stops.

Woodchips are the main game

Judith Wakeman, Templestowe
The Age (letter), October 25, 2010

ACCORDING to the most recent Monitoring Annual Harvest Performance report, published by the Department of Sustainability and the Environment (August 2008), 1,667,600 cubic metres of commercial timber was harvested from Victoria's state forests in 2006-07. Of this, 24.7 per cent became sawlogs and 68.5 per cent became woodchips. (In fire salvage areas, 11.5 per cent became sawlogs and 75 per cent became woodchips.) It would seem that sawlog production has become a byproduct of the woodchip industry. There has to be a better way to produce paper.

The same report stated that ''sufficient information on regeneration and thinning operations [within Victoria's state forests] was not provided to allow adequate reporting'' of regeneration operations. Surely it is not possible to regenerate 600-year-old trees in 120 years. And it is certainly not possible to regenerate extinct wildlife.

23 October, 2010

CFMEU declares forests war is over

Matthew Franklin, Chief political correspondentThe Australian (article),  October 23, 2010

CFMEU forestry division national secretary Michael O'Connor in parklands in North Melbourne. Picture: Aaron Francis Source: The Australian
The union representing forestry workers has conceded logging in the nation's natural forests must stop.

It has declared an armistice in its 30-year war with the environmental movement.

But the Construction Forestry Mining and Energy Union now wants the green lobby and governments to secure the industry's long-term survival by agreeing to a dramatic expansion of plantation forestry.

The CFMEU also wants a new focus on value-adding through investment in sectors such as pulp and paper, and veneer board. "Our industry is on the verge of collapse," CFMEU forestry division national secretary Michael O'Connor told The Weekend Australian yesterday.

"We've got to come up with a solution. The only way to do that was really to sit down with people we've been opposed to for 30 years and see if we could come up with one."

Mr O'Connor's comments, welcomed by the Australian Conservation Foundation, the Australian Greens and the Gillard government, represent a fundamental shift after years of often physical conflict over logging in native forests, particularly in Tasmania.

They suggest his union will dig in over its support for the proposed Gunns pulp mill in the Tamar Valley, strongly opposed by conservationists.

Last week Tasmanian environmentalists and loggers agreed to begin talks over a moratorium on logging in high-conservation areas and, ultimately, a shift out of all native forests and into plantation timber.

Yesterday, Mr O'Connor broke with employer groups to call for the Tasmanian deal to be treated as a template for nation-wide reform to provide a lifeline for more than 100,000 Australians employed in the timber industry.

"The hard truth is that the native forest industry in every state is in crisis," he said in his first interview about the Tasmanian deal.

Mr O'Connor is well known for his union-first stance and came to prominence in 2004 by making a forestry deal with John Howard to protect jobs.

Yesterday, he said successful activism by the green lobby had "trashed" the Japanese wood chip market and the hardwood sector was in deep trouble. His union had decided the best way to help its members was to secure green backing for an expansion of plantation forestry and encourage investment in value-adding projects.

"If we require a comprehensive plantation strategy that's going to increase the amount of saw logs available to the industry, perhaps the environmental movement will support us in a proposal about that.

"Maybe we can harness their effective political machine for an outcome."

Australian Conservation Foundation executive director Don Henry welcomed the CFMEU's shift and promised to help.

"This is a unique opportunity to lay down our arms and work respectfully together to build a strong and sustainable value-adding industry based on plantations," he said.

"The ACF is a strong supporter of plantation forestry and value-adding at world's best practice."

Greens leader Bob Brown, a veteran of Tasmania's forest wars, was not available yesterday but deputy leader Christine Milne said Mr O'Connor's comments were a cause for celebration because it meant forests would be protected.

"The Greens have always supported an assisted transition for forestry workers out of native forest logging, and we have always been confident that the transition will bring benefits to workers, industry and community," Senator Milne said.

Sustainability Minister Tony Burke said he was not certain other states could mirror the Tasmanian agreement, which was linked to the building of a pulp mill and involved high-value forest areas such as the Styx and the Tarkine.

He said he was pleased the warring parties had found their own agreements rather than having deals imposed by the government, but warned change would not happen overnight.

Mr O'Connor called for an immediate change in the way logging volumes are determined. Under the existing regional forestry agreement process, governments took submissions from employers and unions as well as environmentalists and then acted as umpire.

"It didn't work," Mr O'Connor said. "We are saying why don't we see if we can get an agreed position with the environment movement and take that to government?"

Asked how his members would feel about the sudden change in tactics, Mr O'Connor said his job was to secure the best outcome for his members. "I think we've got a track record showing that we're not scared of a fight," he said.

"But if a better outcome can be achieved by negotiating or having dialogue with people we've traditionally been opposed to, then certainly we take that path.

"This next stage is going to be critical. But really the implementation of anything that comes out of it could be over a 15- or 20-year period. This will probably outlast the rest of my working life."

Mr O'Connor's comments come ahead of a union ballot next month to approve the Tasmanian deal.

22 October, 2010

The Magic Pudding industry?

Jill Redwood, Coordinator, Environment East Gippsland Inc
Letter to editor, Snowy River Mail (not published yet).

Regarding “Cuts remove six contractors” on last week’s front page.

In 1986, there was a strong warning given that unless the annual cut of sawlogs was reduced by four fifths the local industry would not survive. Overcutting was rife. The report by NIEIS was ignored by both government and industry.

The cut was then 370,000m3 a year. Through the 90s it was 280,000 m3 a year and about 110,000m3 this decade. This didn’t include about 300,000 m3 of woodchips a year that have fed the Japanese export mill at Eden.

Politicians like Craig Ingram and his rival, the National Party candidate Tim Bull, are repeating history. They proudly state they support the ever shrinking logging industry, righteously demanding more and more access to something that just isn’t there.

Rather than relying on Magic Pudding planning, to pander to a few voters, maybe our politicians should look to the recent Tasmanian solution.

VicForests own figures show that 85% of what is trucked out of our forests is now woodchipped (and sold for less that we are charged to cut our own firewood). Tasmania has suffered the same fate with overcutting and woodchipping.

The industry has always operated on a ‘cut-out and get-out’ basis. Yet conservationists and endangered wildlife cop the blame.

The recently declared 45,000 ha of forest for protection was almost entirely forest that was:

  • Inaccessible or too steep,
  • was already logged
  • was already protected under the RFA, or
  • too scruffy and degraded for even woodchipping.

 And as for Craig Ingram’s claim that the government is about to protect an additional 114,000 ha, our local pollie should do some basic homework.

These scattered patches of forest have been the minimal protection zones for rare and endangered wildlife since 1997. They are critical habitat for forest owls and marsupial quolls (which are almost extinct in Victoria now), rainforests and rare plants. But we were told by Craig Ingram that they are draft new reserves to “further restrict the industry”.

Thanks to the logging bosses and their political mates demanding that reserves be clearfelled, these patches are now in line to be sacrificed for clearfelling without any surveys or assessments. Hardly a deal being done with the Greens as claimed by Mr Ingram.

However, it reads well for a politician who only seems to value the votes of some of his constituents, and who works to protect the profit margins of the Japanese Nippon paper company. If he truly wanted to help this region and its future, it might be time he considered other options. Tasmania has finally seen the light. Will East Gippsland be next?

Irreplaceable wood

David Pollard, VicForests, Melbourne
The Age (letter), 22 October 2010

CINZIA Mariolini (Letters, 21/10) claims that plantations can already provide 98 per cent of Victoria's timber and paper products. Plantations in Victoria are grown primarily to produce pulp and paper products, or pine timber for light construction. Victoria's hardwood native forests are harvested and regenerated every 70 to 120 years to allow this timber to develop vital properties such as strength, durability and visual appearance.

This native hardwood can't be replaced by softwood or the short-rotation hardwood plantations that exist in Victoria.

The Australian Bureau of Agriculture and Regional Economics says Australia already has a $2 billion trade deficit in wood and wood products.

To suggest we could lock up our native forests and not affect the supply of wood and wood products in Victoria is incorrect.

21 October, 2010

In forestry's future

Cinzia Mariolini, Marlo
The Age (article), 21 October 2010

A HISTORIC decision has just been made by the Tasmanian timber industry, with Gunns finally moving out of native forests and agreeing to process only plantation wood.

The industry also agreed not to use native forest wood ''waste'' to burn for electricity - another significant decision.

Let's now see how long it will take for its Victorian counterparts to show similar courage and long-term vision.

With proper management and careful placement, plantations in Victoria can already meet 98 per cent of the total timber and woodchip/paper market demand. So there is really no excuse to continue clear-felling and industrial-scale logging in native forests.

Given the irreversible (and incontrovertible) environmental damage caused by native forest clear-felling and the fact that just a fraction of the Victorian workforce is employed by the logging industry, there is no justification left for the government to allow the destruction of everyone's precious environmental assets for the exclusive profit of a minority group.

20 October, 2010

Stop the Chop - protest at Joe Helper's office

Please attend this action if you can.  Minister for VicForests Joe Helper and the Brumby government need to hear that we don't want VicForests to keep destroying our native forests.

Still wild, Tassie forest now also less threatened

Andrew Darby
The Age (article), October 20, 2010

IT'S been on for young and old in the Upper Florentine for so long now that activists find it hard to believe their battle could be won.

Surrounded on three sides by the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area, this is a valley dominated by giant eucalypts, where a loose protest camp has run most of the past four years.

The camp has been been torn down, dozens of people arrested, protesters abused and assaulted, and their cars torched at night.

Yet the young people of Still Wild Still Threatened came back repeatedly to build intricate tree sits, protected by a spider's web of cables. And older local people who walked on to prohibited public forest coupes dubbed themselves ''Faces of the Florentine''.

Yesterday, with a road map unveiled to a final deal on protecting high-conservation-value forests, Bridie McEntee, 27, and Maggie Cashman Bailes, 70, went to the Upper Florentine to take stock.

Ms McEntee, a community worker, has spent two years with Still Wild Still Threatened, because she is moved by the Upper Florentine's environment.

''I love that it is a really intricate ecosystem, intact for thousands of years,'' she said.

She has blockaded, walked on to active clearfells to stop work, protested in Hobart, and been arrested for trespass. Yesterday she was hopeful the day of protection was close.

''To think in a few short months the Upper Florentine will be safe,'' she said. ''It would be a pretty amazing day.''

Ms Cashman Bailes, a bird expert alarmed at the rate nearby old-growth forests were being clearfelled, found herself increasingly immersed in a local residents' protest group.

She found it a ''scary thing'' to walk in to a coupe and meet a line of police. ''But it had to be done,'' Ms Cashman Bailes said.

Despite the agreement released yesterday, it gave her little comfort. ''I'm nervous about anything being signed, because a lot of those people I do not trust one bit.''

Without politicians

Ed McKinley, Thornbury

The Age (letter), 20 October 2010

YOUR story about the peace deal for wild forests in Tasmania offers the following gem: ''parties to the talks … all strenuously rejected the involvement of politicians in the negotiations''. This implies that they thought they would get a better result if they sorted it out among themselves. This issue has been so protracted and so bitter, yet they have found their own way forward.

I bet it was well facilitated, and I bet that all parties felt well heard - as opposed to what we see unfolding regarding the Murray-Darling Basin.

I would dearly love to hear more about why they were all so determined that it would go better without the politicians.

Tasmania leads, Victoria must follow

Justin Tutty, Darwin, NT
The Age (letter), 20 October 2010

THE end of Tasmania's forest wars comes down to nothing more bizarre than a hard-headed business decision by Gunns to switch to plantations (''Historic deal on forests'', The Age, 19/10).

The Tasmanian government has fallen into line because the economic argument is compelling. Global financial pressures have hit the contentious export of native forest woodchips, and the rise of demand for certified plantation timber combines to dictate that if there is to be a future for the industry, it must be in well-managed plantations.

Yet in Victoria, where the parameters are the same and the industry is in decline, policy makers have yet to heed the writing on the wall. Instead, we see further conflict provoked as diminishing native forest resources lead government to move loggers into contentious areas.

Victoria must follow Tasmania's lead, and put an end to native forest destruction. Rather than holding on until the last bitter woodchip, it's time for government to lead a transition out of our ancient native forests into existing plantations. By partnering with industry to fund retooling, retraining and relocation, the Brumby government has a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to save jobs and trees.

Greens seek quick start to logging ban

Andrew Darby, Hobart
The Age (article), October 20, 2010

THE Greens are pressing the Tasmanian government to begin rolling out a ban on logging in the island's old-growth forests, amid signs protection could still be some time away.

The moratorium is a cornerstone of the landmark forests peace plan unveiled yesterday, which is hoped to end a generation of conflict.

A statement of principles, negotiated in secret by industry and green groups over five months, includes a transition from native forest logging, and support for timber processing, including a pulp mill.

About 200,000 hectares of public forests eventually could be covered by the high-conservation-value ban, the Tasmanian Greens' forests spokesman, Kim Booth, said yesterday. But he said coupes about to be logged could be spared if the state agency Forestry Tasmania was prepared to reschedule its work.

''We are very strongly of the view that high-conservation-value forests are being deliberately targeted and they should be immediately withdrawn,'' Mr Booth said.

The deal between industry and environmentalists provides for ''immediate'' protection of high-conservation-value native forests, and outlines a means for a moratorium, commencing in 30 days and completed over three months.

But Tasmanian Premier David Bartlett said he believed the 30-day period had not yet started, and he might need to reach agreement first with Prime Minister Julia Gillard.

''We will be moving as rapidly as possible to start that clock ticking,'' he said.

The deal, described by Mr Bartlett as a ''fragile foundation'', holds the promise of ending decades of bitter conflict in Tasmania, and restructuring a troubled industry.

Apart from protecting the state's ancient tall eucalypts, and other forests with high conservation value, it provides for a transition by ''commodity'' logging such as woodchipping out of another 450,000 hectares of public native forests.

Federal funding is being sought for the revamp, and Mr Bartlett said the Gillard government's help would be needed to vary the state's Regional Forests Agreement.

The industry will contest some of the green groups' demands for protection.

''Just because a forest is nominated doesn't by itself make it a high-conservation-value forest,'' said Terry Edwards, chief executive of the Forest Industries Association of Tasmania.

He said it could take 30 years to complete the transition out of some native forests. But Forestry Tasmania is confident that it would be able to meet demands for sawlogs while introducing a moratorium on high-conservation-value trees.

19 October, 2010

Era of protest ends in a principled peace

Andrew Darby , Hobart
Sydney Morning Herald (article), October 19, 2010

A forests peace deal has finally been reached in Tasmania to shift loggers from wild forests into a sustainable plantation industry.

Marathon talks aimed at ending a generation of conflict will culminate in the handover today of a statement of principles, already signed by both sides, to the Premier, David Bartlett.

The industry bowed to environmentalist demands at the last stumbling block, a clause that restricts the burning of timber as biomass fuel, sources said. Green groups in turn agreed to recognise existing wood supply contracts.

The struggle between activists and loggers over Tasmania's old-growth tall eucalypt forests began in the mid 1980s.

Despite several federal government interventions that protected more forests and compensated industry, the logging and the protests continued as recently as last week.

The roundtable peace process began after a Labor-Green government was elected in Tasmania in April, and as international markets moved against the logging of native forests.

Held behind closed doors, the talks involved the National Association of Forest Industries, the Forest Industry Association of Tasmania and the CFMEU from the industry side. Green groups were led by the Australian Conservation Foundation, The Wilderness Society and Environment Tasmania.

At its core, the statement recognises the need to protect high conservation value forests and end ''industrial forestry'' of them in a timeframe to be agreed. It still allows for specialty timbers to be logged from these forests, for purposes such as craftwood.

It also calls for a move to ''a strong and sustainable industry based on a range of plantation-based industries including a pulp mill''.

No mention is made of the controversial $2.2 billion Gunns mill project, and there is no calculation of compensation required, or jobs that will be shed, or gained, by the transition.

But it says the state should call upon the Commonwealth to help rebuild the industry to ensure timber communities are able to be more economically resilient than they have been until now.

Yesterday another 120 jobs in the timber industry were lost when Gunns confirmed the long-feared closure of a pine sawmill at Scottsdale in the north-east.

"Sadly, this is more evidence that doing nothing is not an option," Mr Bartlett said. "Many, many commentators have said difficult change is coming to the forest industry, whether we like it or not.''

Historic deal on forests

Andrew Darby
The Age (article), October 19, 2010

A peace deal has been struck to save Tasmania's wild forests after a quarter of a century of conflict between the logging industry and the environmental movement.

Marathon talks between industry, union and green groups will culminate in the handover today of a statement of principles, already signed by both sides, to Tasmanian Premier David Bartlett.

The deal is designed to shift loggers out of Tasmania's ancient forests and into a sustainable plantation-based industry.

Under the deal, Tasmania is expected to go to Canberra to seek hundreds of millions of dollars compensation to secure the future of the timber industry.

The industry bowed to demands from environmentalists on the last stumbling block - a clause that restricts the burning of timber as biomass fuel - sources told The Age. Green groups, in turn, agreed to recognise existing wood supply contracts.

The struggle between activists and loggers over Tasmania's old growth forests began in the mid-1980s.

During the dispute, tens of thousands of hectares of tall eucalypt forests up to 400 years old have been clear-felled - mostly for low-value export woodchips - and hundreds of protesters have been arrested.

The dispute has claimed several political scalps, including then opposition leader Mark Latham in 2004. His offer to protect the Wilderness Society's list of high conservation value forests and give $800 million compensation to the industry was regarded as having contributed to his 2004 election loss.

Greens leader Bob Brown, who was dragged through the mud by loggers and later shot at in the 1986 Farmhouse Creek protests, said the agreement could represent a landmark in the dispute.

''Nothing like this is ever totally finalised,'' he said last night. ''But I have high hopes that this could be the greatest breakthrough since the promise Mark Latham held out.''

Despite several federal government interventions that protected more forests and compensated the industry, the logging and the protests continued as recently as last week.

The peace process began after a Labor-Green government was elected in Tasmania in April, and as the industry saw international markets moving against native forest logging and a slump in profits.

The peace ''road map'', as it has been described, recognises the need to stop ''industrial forestry'' of old-growth forests in a time frame to be agreed. It still allows for specialty timbers to be logged from these forests, for purposes such as craftwood.

It calls for a move to ''a strong and sustainable industry based on a range of plantation-based industries including a pulp mill''.

No mention is made of timber giant Gunns proposed $2.2 billion pulp mill project, and there is no calculation of compensation required, or jobs that will be shed or gained by the transition.

But it says the state should ask the Commonwealth to help rebuild the industry to ensure timber communities are able to be more economically resilient than they have been until now.

Last month, Gunns chief executive Greg L'Estrange conceded that the public relations battle over old-growth logging had been lost.

''We see that the conflict has to end,'' he said in a speech in Melbourne, adding that many good ideas came from ''the people we used to throw rocks and brickbats at''. ''The vast support of the Australian population is with the environmental non-government organisations.''

Yesterday, another 120 jobs in the timber industry were lost when Gunns confirmed the long-feared closure of a pine sawmill at Scottsdale in Tasmania's north-east.

''Sadly, this is more evidence that doing nothing is not an option,'' Mr Bartlett said. ''Many, many commentators have said difficult change is coming to the forest industry, whether we like it or not.

''That's exactly why the current negotiations between the forest industry and environment groups are so crucial for the industry's future, and jobs of our timber workers.''

Parties to the talks, who all strenuously rejected the involvement of politicians in the negotiations, refused to comment before today's announcement.

The Tasmanian deal will increase pressure on the Victorian government to boost protection of the state's native forests before next month's state election.

The government this month proclaimed the creation of 45,000 hectares of national park in Gippsland - the result of a commitment made before the 2006 election. Native forestry logging continues in eastern and central Victoria.

Environment East Gippsland spokeswoman Jill Redwood, who in August won a Supreme Court injunction to stop logging at Browns Mountain due to the threat to endangered potoroo and glider species, said Victoria should follow Tasmania's lead.

''If a forest annihilator such as Gunns can see the light over native forests, then it is time our government moved into the 21st century and followed suit,'' she said.

But Victorian Association of Forest Industries chief executive Philip Dalidakis said the Tasmanian situation was unique, and no parallels could be drawn.

With Adam Morton

18 October, 2010

Our old growth much too precious to be threatened by the axe

Irv Banman, steward of the Cowichan Garry Oak Preserve.
Cowichan News Leader Pictorial - Opinion, October 18, 2010

Our old growth forests are of vital importance to bio-diversity and the well-being of all citizens.

They are not replaceable, logging them is not sustainable and they play an important role in carbon sequestration.

They are found nowhere else on earth and are subject to intense logging pressures dictated by world markets.

In an Oct. 6 News Leader Pictorial article we are informed that within North Cowichan, old growth accounts for less than one per cent of the 12,000-acre municipal forest. Anyone living within the Cowichan Valley would be hard-pressed to find a patch of old growth near where they live and likely have never seen an old growth forest of any size in the valley.

Rick Jeffery, president of Coast Forest Products Association, asserts there is plenty of old-growth left for harvesting, even within Cowichan.

It is well-known that on the south-east rain shadow coast of Vancouver Island the percentage of old growth left is roughly the same as what is left in North Cowichan, less than one per cent. Certainly this fraction cannot be what Mr. Jeffrey is referring to when he talks about plenty of old growth left for harvesting. Even if there were enough old growth somewhere to log for another 50 years, does it make sense to continue cutting until we are left with next to nothing?

A few jobs for today and profitable company margins, but something will be lost that can never be replaced within our lifetimes.

With continued logging however, even these shrunken forests will dwindle down to minuscule little patches or individual trees which will not serve to sustain the specially adapted species that live there. Exporting logs is the quickest and easiest way to turn trees into cash. Many are familiar with the closure of the mill at Youbou that left hundreds unemployed, while old growth and second growth logs continued to flow past unprocessed for export to foreign markets.

The monetary values of old growth forests are tremendous. Besides absorbing carbon, they provide the irreplaceable services of water and air quality purification and stabilization.

Visitors from around the world travel to B.C. to experience the exceptional forest, lake, mountain and ocean surroundings. Old growth B.C. coastal forests are world heritage sites even if not formally recognized as such.

Higher species diversity also means greater stability and old forests may be more resistant to disease.

We have the privilege and responsibility to steward these forests to ensure that they do not disappear. Thankfully there are groups that are working together to bring attention to the need to stop old growth logging on the B.C. coast.

Environmental organizations, unions, forestry workers, and First Nations have all voiced concern over the cutting of old growth trees, let’s give them our support.

14 October, 2010

Native-forest felling split

Leslie White
The Weekly Times (article), October 14, 2010

THE logging industry is split over the clear-felling of native forest.

Australia's biggest logging company says the future lies in plantations, while the nation's biggest mill will consider an exit from native forest products and Tasmanian workers will vote on a proposal to end native-forest logging next month.

And the Forest Industries Association of Tasmania appears set to sign a deal to end native forest logging by its members.

But state government-owned logging agencies VicForests and NSW Forests continue to clear-fell native forest, and peak Victorian native forest industry body, the Victorian Association of Forest Industries, argues native forest logging should continue.

Tasmanian Construction Forestry Mining Energy Union forestry division members will vote on "a transition out of native forests which is fair for workers" on November 9-10.

CFMEU forestry division national secretary Michael O'Connor said unless there was a "fundamental change in the way the industry operates, it won't just shrink - it will collapse".

A spokesman for the owner of Australia's biggest paper mill, Australian Paper, has confirmed the company is "considering" a move out of native forest.

Australian Paper sources large volumes of native forest from the Marysville region.

Gunns Forestry, which owns mills at Heyfield and Alexandra, has announced it will end native forest logging.

A spokesman for Victorian Government company VicForests would only say VicForests worked "within the rules and regulations we're given".

VAFI president Bob Humphreys said a ban on native-forest logging would mean imports from "less sustainable industries from other countries" would replace them.

He said the Victorian industry employed 25,000 people, a figure disputed by environmental groups.

Timber Workers for Forests president Frank Strie said he opposed clear-fell logging, "particularly on sloping terrain".

"Many places have run out of good timber," Mr Strie said.

"The industry says, 'blame the greenies', but the reality is the good timber is gone. They ran it (the forest resource) into the ground."

12 October, 2010

Managing the trees

Nathan Trushell and David Walsh, VicForests, Melbourne
The Age (letter), 12 October 2010

Judith Wakeman (Letters, 11/10) quotes from Victoria's State of Forest Report 2008, which stated that 9470 hectares of forest are harvested in Victoria each year. This figure is correct, but relates to harvesting between 2002 and 2006.

VicForests harvests and regenerates about 5500 hectares of forest each year. This significant reduction highlights the efforts of the native timber industry to ensure our forests are managed sustainably.

The letter also refers to figures in the Department of Sustainability and Environment's annual monitoring report of 2007-08. Since then, VicForests has regenerated almost 10,000 hectares across Victoria.

VicForests also completed its largest aerial-seeding program in 2009-10, aimed at regrowing forests, including areas affected by the Black Saturday bushfires.

VicForests appreciates more than anyone the need to harvest and regenerate our forests at levels that are sustainable.

It is the trees we plant today that will sustain our industry for future generations.

Peace over forests a precedent

The Australian, editorial
12 October 2010

AS environmentalists and irrigators dig in for a fight in the Murray-Darling Basin, they should look across Bass Strait, where the Tasmanian timber industry and green groups are on the verge of ending a generation of conflict over the logging of native forests.

Both sides say there are details to debate, in particular whether residue from native forests can count as fuel for renewable power generation. But for both sides to want peace at all is an achievement all but unimaginable six years ago, when the state split over the issue at the 2004 federal election. The green south backed Labor leader Mark Latham's promise to protect forests and the working-class electorates of the north supported John Howard, after he committed to the timber industry. It was the culmination of years of conflict, with timber workers demanding job security and activists arguing that clear-felling native forests was vandalism.

Now it appears the two sides are accepting the other has a point because economics has provided a solution that always eluded ideology. On the loggers' side, changes were forced on big timber company Gunns by institutional shareholders, worried by its tough tactics in fighting environmentalists and its controversial plan for a pulp mill. Gunns also took over 300,000ha of plantation blue gums from the failed Great Southern company this year, ensuring that the Tasmanian company no longer needs to exploit old-growth forest . While the Wilderness Society indulged in some unseemly crowing last week, saying Gunn's agreement was a "backdown", there is no doubting sober strategists among the environmentalists understand public opinion will never accept a ban on logging altogether, and that the timber company was never going to go away.

While it is far too long in coming, this outcome offers hope for the water debate. Despite decades of venom, the loggers and environmentalists both needed Tasmania's forests to survive. It is the same with the Murray-Darling. Nobody benefits if the river system is degraded, just as no one wins if the rivers run a banker but communities along their banks die for want of water. Like the fight over Tasmania's forests, the argument over river use is immensely complex and controversial and will take years to resolve. But the first step to a solution is for all sides to accept that ultimately they will have to compromise, so why waste time with non-negotiable claims?

11 October, 2010

Conflicting figures

Judith Wakeman, Templestowe
The Age (letter), 11 October 2010

Nathan Trushell assures us (Letters, 9/10) of the success of VicForests' regeneration program, but the latest Department of Sustainability and Environment report, Monitoring Annual Harvesting Performance in Victoria's State Forests, estimates that 19,000 hectares are overdue for regeneration surveys, and that a further 7191 hectares ''require additional effort for successful regeneration''. These figures do not include the effect of fires in 2006 or 2009.

Mr Trushell also assures us that the regeneration is maintaining biodiversity, yet on its website, under the headings of topics like ''monitoring change in species composition'', ''monitoring stocking survey success'' and ''monitoring root regenerating species'', it reports that ''results are still being collected''.

Furthermore, Mr Trushell states that VicForests harvests 5500 hectares of native forests each year but Victoria's State of the Forests 2008 reports that 9470 hectares of native forest are harvested each year. Who do we believe?

10 October, 2010

Support the supporters

Simon Birrell, Victorian Rainforest Network
The Age (letter), 10 October 2010

On October 1, I went to East Gippsland with former forest activists to see Environment Minister Gavin Jennings proclaim the protection of high conservation forest areas in East Gippsland. These forests included Goolengook, Yalmy and Dingo Creek. It was a great day for the thousands of people who worked very hard for well over a decade to finally see important rainforest and old-growth forest protected.

The sacrifices to achieve this have been huge. Between 1997 and 2002, about 250 people were arrested trying to stop clearfell logging at Goolengook. A bitter court case was successfully fought by a few individual activists to prove logging at Dingo Creek was unlawful. For the thousands of people who made a stand for the forests in East Gippsland, I say very well done.

However, some peak conservation groups are unhappy, as they want to see a total ban on all native forest logging. The Wilderness Society described the protection as ''a very good step'' but at the same time belittled the significance of the outcome with dubious arguments.

For example, the Wilderness Society claims a cow paddock has been protected. This is in reference to a field a bit bigger than just a few hectares included within the 45,000 hectares the state government has now added to the existing East Gippsland reserves. So what? Maybe a good location to have a picnic and kick a football?

The Wilderness Society also falsely claims that the forest within ''special protection zones'' is safe from logging. These informal reserves have no legal protection. They can be unlocked for logging based on a recommendation from the minister of the day. A review of the informal reserve system in East Gippsland is occurring right now. The loggers want more of the zones unlocked for logging and they have support from the Coalition to do just that.

It was also disappointing to hear MP Greg Barber, on behalf of the Victorian Greens, declare in Parliament that the legislation to protect Goolengook and Dingo Creek is nothing more than a broken promise. In his half-hour parliamentary speech last December, Mr Barber made no reference to the huge personal effort made by thousands of people to protect these areas. It would be nice if the Greens, every now and then, could give credit and recognition where it is due.

08 October, 2010

Forest harvest

Nathan Trushell, VicForests, Melbourne
The Age (letter), 8 October 2010

Contrary to Jill Sanguinetti's letter (7/10),VicForests harvests 5500 hectares of forest in total across Victoria each year. This equates to less than 0.1 of a percentage point of our state's 7.8 million hectares of native forest.

VicForests then re-sows every hectare with seeds from the local region to maintain diversity.

Rather than creating a monoculture, this process ensures the same mix of species present in each area grows back following harvesting.

The area permitted to be harvested in Victoria each year has reduced by more than 30 per cent over the past decade, further helping to ensure the sustainability of our forests.

07 October, 2010

For the chop

Jill Sanguinetti, Narbethong
The Age (letter), 7 October 2010

When will people understand that scouring our native forests and turning them into virtual silvicultural plantations through monocultural seeding amounts to permanent loss of habitat?

The .05 to 1 per cent of forests logged in any one year (Letters, 6/10) refers to all forested areas in Victoria - including privately owned land, degraded remnant forests, national parks and dry, open woodlands in the west of no interest to the timber industry.

It is small pockets of mature, biodiverse, wet forests where the endangered species actually live that are disappearing at an alarming rate.

VicForests focuses on mature mountain ash forests in the Central Highlands. It says that 66,000 hectares are available for logging there - and that it plans to clear-fell 5500 hectares of that next year. At this rate, it will all be gone in 11 years. How sustainable is that?

PNG rainforests reveal 200 new species

Emily Beament, London
The Age, October 7, 2010

A TINY, two-centimetre frog, a mouse with a white-tipped tail and a white-flowered rhododendron are among more than 200 new species discovered in remote mountain rainforests of Papua New Guinea.

The new species of animals and plants were found during two months of surveying in the rugged and little-explored Nakanai and Muller mountain ranges last year, Conservation International announced

A newly discovered katydid in Papua New Guinea. Photo: Piotr Naskrecki/iLCP

The findings included two new mammals, 24 species of frog, nine new plants, nearly 100 new insects and about 100 spiders.

The mouse with the white-tipped tail, at least one ant and several crickets, or katydids, are so different from other known species they each represent an entirely new genus, the scientists said.

Two scientific teams — co-ordinated by Conservation International's rapid assessment program, in partnership with Papua New Guinea's Institute for Biological Research and the conservation organisation A Rocha International — explored different altitudes of the forest-cloaked Nakanai mountains, which host cave systems and some of the world's largest underground rivers, and the Muller range.

In the Nakanai surveys, scientists discovered a yellow-spotted frog, found only high up in the mountains in the wet rainforests, the mouse, and the tiny ceratobatrachid frog, which is just two centimetres long and calls for a mate in the late afternoon — unlike most frogs in the area which call at night.

In the Muller range, researchers found what they described as a "spectacular variety" of insects, spiders and frogs.

The scientists hope the discoveries will help secure World Heritage status for the two areas, in the face of pressure on PNG's forests from subsistence agriculture, logging and oil palm production.

Conservation International has been working with the provincial government and local communities in the Nakanai range to protect a large tract of rainforest from logging.


06 October, 2010

Smoke and mirrors

Timothy Cleary, Werribee
The Age (letter), 6 October 2010

I agree with Jill Redwood (Letters, 5/10) and her concern for our forests and their wildlife, but I disagree with the impact that she attributes to logging.

In the past seven years, about a third of Victoria's forests have gone up in smoke due to wildfire. In the same period, less than 0.5 of 1 per cent has been logged. Minister Gavan Jennings may be making more national parks to ''save'' our forests (and marginal Labor seats in inner Melbourne), but this is not the same as fireproofing them.

05 October, 2010

Criminal behaviour

Jill Redwood, co-ordinator, Environment East Gippsland, Goongerah

The Age (letter), 5 October 2010

THE Central Highlands forests and endangered wildlife are being hammered by the same ruthless management that is destroying East Gippsland's forests (''Hello, possum - you're an emblem of extinction'', The Age, 2/10). This story shows how close to extinction these small possums have become under our government's close watch, with expert advice. It shows what a stranglehold the logging industry has on the Brumby government.

We're supposed to believe VicForests searches for hollows before logging starts. What an insult to the public's intelligence. This industry and its pimps in government need to be hauled up before an environmental crimes commission.

Parks with pleasure

John Fraser, Downer, ACT

The Age (letter), 5 October 2010

Last Friday the state government declared a set of national park extensions in East Gippsland. The inclusion of Goolengook is particularly welcome after a 15-year campaign for its protection that included a five-year forest blockade.

Also welcome is the inclusion of a link between the Errinundra and Snowy River national parks. It's a relief to see a national park created with the aim of linking areas, rather than another set of tiny islands of protected forest that won't survive long term.

Credit is also due to the main groups that provided support to this campaign, namely the Goongerah Environment Centre, Friends of the Earth Forest Network and its successors, and the Victorian Rainforest Network.

As always, not everything we hoped for was included. Like many, I grieve for the huge areas on the Errinundra Plateau that have already been logged, and the parts of Goolengook logged in 1997 and 2002. But given the impossibility of changing the past, Gavin Jennings has made a wise decision. I thank him for it.

Leadbeaters Possum needs protection

Barry Jackson, Clifton Creek
The Age (letter), 5 October 2010

The Leadbeaters Possum and Victoria’s other amazing wildlife have been evolving on this small patch of the Earth for millions of years. The lifespan of a logging industry or government is a blink in comparison. How sad Mr Brumby seems happy to let our state emblem become extinct. What hope for the rest of Victoria’s rare and threatened wildlife?        

04 October, 2010

Easy to miss

John Hayward, Weegena, Tas
The Age (letter), 4 October 2010

As dismaying as the critically endangered status of Leadbeater's possum is the fact that VicForests has been entrusted with its protection.

Like many extraction industries, forestry has been successful in cultivating its regulatory bodies, as well as politicians, even to the disastrous extent of gaining formal self-regulation in Tasmania. To loggers, the avoidance of threatened species habitat is a costly nuisance.

A nocturnal animal as discreet as this possum is easy to miss, particularly by those who don't really want to find it.

Management helps our state icon

Max Rheese, Victorian Lands Alliance, Benalla
The Age (letter), 4 October 2010

HIS zeal for an end to sustainable catchment timber harvesting obscures the facts for David Lindenmayer (''Hello possum, you're an emblem of extinction'', The Age, 2/10), who states ''forestry is the key threatening process'' endangering habitat for Leadbeater's possum.

As the article states, Leadbeater's possum was rediscovered in 1961, in Central Highlands forests ravaged by fires in 1939, recovering to a population of 8000 despite 150 years of timber harvesting.

Lindenmayer and many others have previously identified fire as the ultimate determinant of forest structure in Victoria, while arguing for an end to timber harvesting in native forests. They have thus identified a supposed solution that will have no effect on fire as the primary cause of habitat change.

In his book On Borrowed Time, Lindenmayer argues for improved fire management to protect our forests, a commonsense argument recently accepted by the Victorian government.

Leadbeater's possum and other forest species will benefit enormously if their habitat is managed for the primary risk potentially affecting tens of thousands of hectares of habitat on a single day, as we saw on Black Saturday, rather than campaigns against socially beneficial timber production spread over a few hundred hectares in an entire year.

03 October, 2010

Uneasy truce carved from log wars

Maris Beck
The Age, (article), October 3, 2010

East Gippsland Tree and Tama Green
Tama Green, a protester in the Goolengook logging dispute, admires a mighty eucalypt. Photo: Ken Irwin (right)

AT 5am the loggers would roll in. The activists were ready: locked to bulldozers, lying on platforms in the giant trees, waiting for the headlights, deep in the Goolengook forest in East Gippsland.

"The adrenalin!'' recalled protest leader Stuart Paton, who lived in the forest for five long years. "It was kind of like a war mentality.''

Another activist, Tama Green, said that offsetting the hardships were the sunny days, good friends and small wins that kept them going. Ms Green remembers mornings waking up: ''It's all crisp and clear and the birds are singing … and you're like, 'Yep, they can't log this.' ''

The decades-long struggle over the Goolengook, which raged between environmentalists, the state government and loggers, culminated on Friday in a kind of coming together.

On one of those dazzlingly crisp days, Environment Minister Gavin Jennings, surrounded by former protesters and traditional owners - but no loggers - officially launched the new East Gippsland National Park.

The park covers 45,000 hectares, including the contested Goolengook that is home to 400-year-old trees and rare and threatened species such as the long-footed potoroo, spot-tailed quoll, powerful owl and slender tree fern.

Traditional owner Aunty Rachel Mullett thought the park declaration would never happen.

''You talk about it and think about it and it never happens,'' she said. "Today has blown us away a little bit.''

Mr Jennings said the government had threaded "the eye of a needle" in balancing the interests of loggers and environmentalists.

But, of course, compromise also means everyone is left a little unhappy. The government estimates 63 per cent of the new park is old-growth forest; the Wilderness Society claims it is only 33 per cent.

Forest campaigner Luke Chamberlain of the Wilderness Society said the park was "a very good step in the right direction". But many areas included in the park had already been logged, other areas were already protected from logging as "special protection zones", and the reserved land included a cow paddock.

Mr Jennings said the so-called paddock was ''a meadow of rare and endangered vegetation that has high conservation value''.

He also said national park status was more permanent than special protection zones and suggested that activists were remaining critical as a tactic so that they could lobby for more areas to be protected.

The government has promised the logging industry that the East Gippsland park will not mean a loss of timber resources or jobs, with Mr Jennings claiming the area is "not necessarily that great for logging" - but loggers beg to differ.

Victorian Association of Forest Industries chief executive Philip Dalidakis said it was "environmental hypocrisy" that society demanded parks but was not willing to cut its consumption of paper and wood.

He said that as the timber industry was pushed out of Victoria, it went overseas to countries with far fewer regulatory controls.

"I'm not sure that jumping up and down celebrating a reserve in Victoria benefits the orang-utans in Indonesia."

A co-ordinator at Timber Communities Australia, Trevor Brown, was sceptical about the promise of no job losses. He said the park area was valuable for saw logs and pulpwood, "the eye fillet and the mince meat" of the timber business. "It is just another kick in the guts for the industry."

Mr Brown said the Gippsland activists had endangered loggers' lives for years and stopped them from earning a lawful living.

But that was all history now. "I think you can only look forward to the future and hope there is one," he said.

On that point, the environmentalists and loggers agree.

02 October, 2010

Hello possum, you're an emblem of extinction

Adam Morton
The Age, October 2, 2010

IT IS not every day you get a chance to make an animal extinct twice. According to scientists, Victoria is steadily working on it.

Leadbeater's possum, a marsupial endemic to native forest on Melbourne's fringe, was declared extinct in the 1950s, apparently wiped out by agricultural land-clearing around the Bass River in South Gippsland.

It was rediscovered near Marysville in 1961 - an event considered so momentous it was chosen as one of the state's two faunal emblems.

Its population peaked at about 8000 in the 1980s, but the last possum in captivity in Victoria died in 2006, and last year's Black Saturday bushfires devastated its main home in the central highlands, burning 42 per cent of the permanent reserve system in which it lives.

Leading scientists say its survival is now at risk from the state's forestry industry, particularly the ongoing "salvage logging" operation aimed at maximising timber yields from blackened areas.

Six weeks after Black Saturday, in a report seen by The Age, a US Burned Area Emergency Response team and Victorian bureaucrats advised the Brumby government that extreme care was needed during the salvage logging of large hollow-bearing trees that give the possum its home.

It said: ''It is recommended that none be removed from fire-affected areas known to contain Leadbeater's possum, powerful and sooty owls, and within Leadbeater's possum reserves.''

Scientists working in the central highlands claim this advice has not been followed. David Lindenmayer, an Australian National University ecologist who has spent 25 years studying the possum, says that trees are regularly felled in areas important to the survival of Leadbeater's possum and other threatened species of possum, glider and bird.

While fire can be an effective way of creating the old-tree hollows that the possum thrives in, Professor Lindenmayer says some have been removed - at times through breaches of the Central Highlands Forestry Management Plan, which prohibits logging of pre-1900 trees.

He says the animal is being pushed ''incredibly close to extinction'' by the removal of its habitat through a combination of fire and salvage logging, and 40 years of clear-felling of unburnt forest.

''Forestry is the key threatening process,'' he says. ''Basically you have a part of the landscape that is non-functional for an animal, and then you add another one and another one. You may reach a stage where the entire landscape is essentially non-functional for animals to live in.

''I really think we need to revisit clear-fell logging of green forest in the central highlands, because after the fire its impact on the possum is being magnified.''

Professor Lindenmayer's concern is shared by Melbourne Zoo threatened species biologist Dan Harley, who earned a PhD studying a relic population of possums in Yellingbo Conservation Nature Reserve. "Tree hollows suitable for Leadbeater's take more than 200 years to form," Dr Harley says.

These claims are vigorously contested by VicForests, the state government forestry agency. It has rejected a claim by environmentalists, formalised in a complaint to the state Ombudsman, that it has illegally logged pre-1900 mountain ash, putting the possum at risk.

Michael Ryan, a VicForests forest scientist, says field surveys are carried out to check for potential Leadbeater's possum habitat before logging, and an exclusion zone created where necessary. He says there is also ''an extensive conservation reserve system'' designed to protect the possum.

VicForests is required by law to leave untouched any three-hectare area with more than 12 hollow trees, and retain four to five trees a hectare in all logged areas. Mr Ryan says clear-felling is used to replicate the natural regeneration process only.

The debate over the impact of salvage logging comes amid a bigger argument about the future of the native forest industry - and whether an impending decision on Tasmania's forests could put pressure on the Victorian government to consider a similar commitment.

Dr Harley estimates the population of Leadbeater's possum outside the central highlands would total fewer than 100, restricted to tiny pockets at risk from the next major bushfire.

''We've got a second chance, but the possum's entire distribution is confined to a 70 by 80 kilometre area. We don't have much margin for error.''

01 October, 2010

Government recycles announcements and logged forest

Jill Redwood, Environment East Gippsland
Media release, Friday 1st October 2010

For at least the third time, the Government today announced the new additions to the reserve system in East Gippsland. The ALP’s 2006 election promise was to protect ‘the last significant stands of old growth planned for logging’.

But environment groups say that most of what has been protected was either in existing protection zones, had already been logged or was degraded forest unwanted for logs or woodchips anyway.

“We’re pleased some areas of old growth have been put into National Park, but they account for only about one quarter to a third of what the state government is claiming has been saved from logging”, said Jill Redwood from Environment East Gippsland.

“The government is to be praised on its clever recycling of protected zones back into protected zones, and logged forest into National Park. It’s mostly been a creative game of swaps.”

“However the protection of Yalmy’s forests and Goolengook’s magnificent old growth and rainforest is very welcome, despite Goolengook’s heart having been logged out.”

“The areas have taken four years to be finalised, while DSE accommodated the logging industry’s demands over this election promise. Meanwhile thousands of hectares of old growth and mature forests were clearfelled in the interim. Like an extinct species, they will never return.”

“This includes forests at Brown Mountain, which had recognised old growth values and supported endangered wildlife. If the government didn’t consider Brown Mountain ‘significant old growth’ it shows how many other equally magnificent forests have been condemned to clearfelling.”

“The new parks announcement today is at least a start.

For comment: Jill Redwood 03 5154 0145

Jill Redwood

Environment East Gippsland Inc
(6800 Bonang Rd Goongerah)
Locked Bag 3
ORBOST Vic 3888

Ph (03) 5154 0145