28 September, 2011

More to logs than jobs

Prue Acton
ABC Environment, 28 SEP 2011

Logging the forests of south east Australia releases three per cent of our carbon dioxide emissions, and destroys precious biodiversity. Yet this activity is subsidised by our governments.

FORTY YEARS AGO, the NSW Government agreed to supply 5,000 tons of waste from saw logs to the newly established export woodchip mill at Eden. A Japanese and an Australian company, Harris Daishowa, then jointly owned the mill.

By 2008, the Eden chip mill had become South East Fibre Exports and was wholly owned by Nippon Paper and Itochu, exporting around 200 times the original quantity, one million tonnes of woodchips.

Make no mistake, these days woodchips are not waste from saw logging, woodchips are the main game. From logging operations that are close to clear felling in many compartments, 80 per cent of all logs along the Far South Coast of NSW are woodchipped, and 90 per cent of logs taken from the Eden region.

Forty years of heavy industrial logging has taken its toll on the forests, their water catchments, their wildlife and soils. Threatened and endangered species numbers have dropped alarmingly. Even once common species like the koala are in danger of imminent regional extinction.

Logging has changed the character of the southeast forests - from wet to dry schlerophyll, with dangerously wildfire-prone regrowth. And climate change will exacerbate the dangers. Under the NSW Forestry Act, the State government is charged with protecting the character of forests. But in the face of plummeting yields it is condoning short logging rotations, even though we know that it takes 180 years to restore water and carbon levels and more than 400 years to restore forests to their former glory - if the complex interrelationships of species from higher order, koalas, greater gliders, powerful owls, down to soil microbes can ever be recovered.

In recent years consumer preferences for plantation chips and the global financial crisis have reduced demand for Australian native forest chips from the Japanese paper-makers by around 30 per cent.

This should be good news for our native forests. However the industry now seeks a new income stream supplying native forests for electricity generation, in Australia and abroad. South East Fibre Exports currently has an application before the NSW Government to build a wood-fired power station, and its wood pellet plant approved by local government is close to completion. Both projects will use mainly native forest inputs.

As part of its Clean Energy Futures package, the Commonwealth ruled out native forest biomass as a renewable energy fuel that was eligible to earn Renewable Energy Credits. However this welcome decision does not necessarily reduce the threat to our southeast forests.

The chipmill says it intends to go ahead with constructing the power plant once it is approved, regardless of losing the economic benefit of earning RECs.

Moreover there is nothing to stop the Eden chipmill exporting chips or pellets for electricity generation overseas.

The group to which I belong, South East Region Conservation Alliance represents around 12 groups and is affiliated with Environment East Gippsland. It is also a founding member of Australian Forests and Climate Alliance. SERCA led the way in alerting the public and campaigning against burning native forest wood for electricity. SERCA applauds the Federal Government for ruling out eligibility to earn RECs, the inclusion of native forests in the Carbon Farming Initiative and the Biodiversity Fund. However none of these initiatives will force the much needed restructuring of the industry in this region.

The Eden chipmill claims its exports are now back to pre-GFC levels. Currently Forests NSW is seeking to recruit more logging contractors on long term contracts, including from Victoria as numbers there are cut by 30 per cent; already we have seen a crew from Tasmania relocated in SE NSW, despite its having received a $830,000 payout for exiting the industry in Tasmania.

It looks as if both Forests NSW and the Eden chipmill intend to intensify their logging/ chipping/pelletising.

The forests of southeast Australia are now acknowledged to be the most carbon dense in the world. Their value as carbon and water stores is vastly greater than the value of the logs produced.

Who is winning here? Not the environment, and not the taxpayer. Last year NSW Forests lost $15 million from its native forest sector, and across the border Vic Forests made a small profit only because of a grant for its bushfire recovery services. Taxpayers are effectively subsidising the industry and workers' jobs.

The logging industry provides 214 direct jobs in SE NSW and 138 in East Gippsland, including logging crews, truck drivers and chip mill workers - a minute proportion of jobs in the southeast region.

Logging for the Eden chip mill alone produces the equivalent of around three per cent of Australia's annual greenhouse gas emissions - similar in extent to the emissions from the brown coal fired Hazelwood power station in Victoria, that the Commonwealth considers to be unacceptably high.

Natural forests are resilient, diverse - evolutionary masterpieces - it is time we changed from mining eco systems such as forests to valuing them in the 21st Century for climate, water, wildlife and beauty.

Prue Acton is an Australian fashion designer who has received an OBE for her work. She has a passion for the forests of south east NSW. To celebrate 2011 UN International Year of the Forests, SERCA has put together a travelling photographic exhibition: Natural Forests - Australia's wilderness coast. It opens in Cyclone Gallery, 399 Clarendon Street, South Melbourne, 6-28 October before moving to Gallery Bodalla, NSW, 5 November to 5 December 2011.

Biomass misses boat

Justin Tutty, Darwin, NT
The Age, 28 Sep 2011

TED Baillieu needn't trouble himself over possible conflicts of interest when considering Gary Squires's latest proposal for Victoria's native forests (''Tree lopper turns up as biomass spruiker'', BusinessDay, 27/9).
Biomass power generation is only viable within a national emissions trading regime, and it has become clear that native forest won't meet the criteria set out in the Clean Energy Future package now before Parliament.
Mr Squires has run his dash, and then some. The age of converting high-value habitat to high-volume commodity is over.

26 September, 2011

Kmart envelopes fail rainforest test

Paddy Manning
The Age, September 26, 2011

LABORATORY testing of Kmart's Indonesian-made Office One home-brand envelopes shows they contain 19 per cent mixed tropical hardwood fibre sourced from rainforest.

The analysis, commissioned from an American lab by environment group Markets for Change, comes amid an increasingly bitter debate about Indonesian forest practices, which has seen Australian retailers, including IGA and Officeworks, stop supplies from manufacturers of paper products including giants Asia Pacific Resources International Ltd and Asia Pulp and Paper.

Kmart's Office One copy paper is made in China but its home-brand envelopes are made in Indonesia, although the manufacturer is not identified on the packaging.

A Kmart spokesperson yesterday was surprised at the findings and said the company would ''take the matter extremely seriously and begin an immediate investigation''. On Friday the secretary-general of Indonesia's Forestry Ministry, Hadi Daryanto, addressed a conference in Sydney organised to counter environmental campaigns against forest industries.

19 September, 2011

Toolangi forest logging halted until 2012

Emily Webb
Lilydale & Yarra Valley Leader, 19 September 2011

A HALT on logging in a Toolangi forest has been extended until February, 2012.

The Supreme Court today extended the injunction to stop logging in Sylvia Creek forest near Toolangi after VicForests agreed to the moratorium.

Healesville-based conservation group My Environment Inc has challenged the legality of VicForests logging operation on the grounds that the area is habitat for the endangered Leadbeater’s possum.

The full court hearing is now scheduled for February 6, 2012.

17 September, 2011

Like a voice in the wilderness

The Canberra Times, 17 Sep, 2011

'Life on earth is inconceivable without trees,'' the great Russian playwright Anton Chekov wrote in a letter to a friend in the late 1880s. ''Forests create climate, climate influences peoples' character, and so on and so forth. There can be neither civilisation nor happiness if forests crash down under the axe.''
And in the first act of Uncle Vanya, there's an environmental monologue, in which the country doctor Mikhail Astrov passionately rails against the destruction of Russia's forests for firewood.

''Why destroy the forests? The woods of Russia are trembling under the blows of the axe. Millions of trees have perished. The homes of the wild animals and birds have been desolated; the rivers are shrinking, and many beautiful landscapes are gone forever ... Who but a stupid barbarian could burn so much beauty in his stove?''

Only last month, the Sydney Theatre Company performed a revival of Uncle Vanya at the Kennedy Centre in Washington DC, with Cate Blanchett and Richard Roxburgh in the lead roles, and Hugo Weaving playing Astrov. The New York Times gave it a glowing review, describing the production as ''deeply, outrageously funny [and] also heartbreaking enough to make you want to dive straight into a bottomless vodka bottle''.

What's also heartbreaking enough to warrant a plunge into a bottomless bottle of booze, is that Chekov wrote his ''save the forests'' monologue in 1897, maybe even earlier. More than century later - 114 years in fact - there is no equivalent eco-outburst in contemporary theatre. And in Australia, despite logging of old-growth forests being one of our most politically contentious issues, there are no Astrov inspired eco-monologues in any of our popular contemporary plays. Lots of social drama, but nothing to make a federal environment, or forestry minister squirm uncomfortably in their theatre seats. That's if they're inclined to go to the theatre.

Australia's forests have provoked more than their fair share of political drama, and protests over their destruction pre-dates demonstrations with people dressed in fluffy koala suits. It began in the very early days of colonial settlement. Australian National University cultural historian and environmental lawyer Tim Bonyhady traces this concern in The Colonial Earth, shattering the myth that ''the invaders wreaked havoc on their new environment both gratuitously and as an inevitable part of the process of settlement''. Bonyhady shows our earliest forestry conservation battles date, not from the Daintree blockade of the 1980s, but the 1790s, when colonial magistrate Richard Atkins suggested Australia's weather was changing ''in consequence of the country opening so fast'' by land clearing for pasture and settlements. By 1804, several environmental protection and planning laws were in place, including what was ''probably the world's first prohibition of cruelty to animals'' writes Bonyhady.

Australia's forests had their colonial champions, including the artist John Glover who described Tasmania's eucalypt forests as ''a painter's delight''. Within a month of becoming Governor of NSW in 1795, John Hunter banned the felling of native cedar trees on public land along the Hunter river.

''Australia perhaps more than anywhere else began with a form of colonialism alive to the importance of environmental protection and planning,'' writes Bonyhady.

''Some species of eucalypt also acquired global significance ... The Victorian mountain ash was acclaimed as a 'wonder of the world' after the government botanist Ferdinand von Mueller announced in 1866 that it was probably the tallest tree on earth, eclipsing the giant sequoias of California.''

Earlier this week, ANU forest ecologist Professor David Lindenmayer published a scientific paper that paints a shockingly bleak future of those old-growth mountain ash forests. Less than 1.1 per cent remain, destroyed by ''the interacting effects of wildfire [and] logging'' creating a previously undocumented ecological condition called ''a landscape trap''.

Lindenmayer describes it as ''a positive feedback loop'' between the frequency and severity of bushfires and the reduced age of trees in the mountain ash forests.

''These old growth forests are being wiped out, and up to 40 per cent of old trees are dying,'' he says.

''They're being replaced by young, fire-prone trees. that means a huge shift in the forest ecosystem. Young trees don't have nesting hollows, they don't have as extensive bark streamers which are essential foraging micro-habitats for wildlife ...

''We're seeing a whole lot of changes in vegetation structure that are likely to lead to irreversible losses of suitable habitat for around 40 species of animals that are dependent on big, old-growth trees with nesting hollows.''

Lindenmayer has called for an urgent review of all of Australia's joint federal and state regional forestry agreements in the light of these findings. But both federal Forestry Minister Senator Joe Ludwig and Environment Minister Tony Burke have defended the 20 year agreements between the Federal Government, NSW, Tasmania, Victoria and Western Australia.

''These agreements are already regularly reviewed,'' a spokeswoman for Ludwig said.

Burke said an assessment last year by the former Bureau of Resources Sciences found that 73 per cent of all old-growth forests in areas covered by the agreements were in protected areas.

''The effective management of these forests is important, so any published research that can support improved management is welcome,'' he said.

Lindenmayer co-authored his recent research paper with three of the world's most distinguished ecologists - Professor Gene Likens, Professor Richard Hobbs and Emeritus Professor Charles Krebs. Likens pioneered the study of acid rain and its impacts on ecosystems, and was awarded a a US National Medal of Science for science leadership. Krebs, from the University of British Columbia, is the author of several influential ecology textbooks (one standard work, widely used for ecology courses at universities throughout the world, is simply referred to as ''Krebs'') and an expert on cool climate forest ecosystems.

Hobbs, from the University of Western Australia, is an Australian Research Council Laureate, and of the world's top experts on restoration ecology.

In the world of environmental science, these are four names that resonate loudly, and the paper - Lindenmayer is the lead author - published this week in the United States in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences is already creating more than a ripple of interest. But not, it seems, among Australia's politicians. Lindenmayer has not met Burke or Ludwig, and no one from the Federal Government has contacted him following news reports of his findings. And despite being one of Australia's most published and awarded scientists (more than 20 books, a Harvard University forest ecology fellowship) he has never been asked to brief a federal minister on forestry conservation or related biodiversity issues. He has also not been asked to brief the Coalition or the Greens.

''There is a general disrespect for science these days among politicians. The Government will pick up the phone to talk to lobbyists before they will - if ever - talk to a scientist,'' he says.

''As a result we have an atrocious forest management policy, and as a result if that we will see extinctions within 20 to 30 years.''

Lindenmayer says he's been told by federal contacts that Burke has ruled out any changes to the regional forestry agreements although, as Environment Minister, he has the capacity to request a review.

''I've been told the RFAs are right off the table,'' Lindenmayer says.

''That's crazy because we have had massive changes in recent years, not least the 2009 Black Saturday bushfires in Victoria. We need to revisit those agreements, and do it immediately.''

The agreement for Victoria's southern highlands was drafted in 1997, and states in its biodiversity technical report that ''effects of timber harvesting and wildfire on water harvesting is not well understood'' and biodiversity data ''is incomplete''. It notes populations of 13 wildlife species - including Leadbeater's possum and squirrel gliders - have declined, and the status of a further 15 species ''is unknown''.

But a 2010 independent review of the agreement made no new recommendations regarding ecologically sustainable forest management, but did recommend giving ''priority to monitoring of sustainability indicators to enable comprehensive reporting in the next State of the Forests report due in 2013. The next five-year review of the agreement is due by June 2014.

Lindenmayer says this is ''way too late, and far too bureaucratic to be in any way meaningful''.

''How can you not review a forestry agreement after a massive loss of resources caused by one of Australia's worst bushfires? How can you not review the agreement when you discover you've already lost 99 per cent of old-growth mountain forests? It's insane.''

The Australian Forest Products Association has unexpectedly backed Lindenmayer's call for a review of the agreement. The association's policy manger Mick Stephens says there is a need for ''new discussions'', in order to give certainty - or adequate compensation, in some cases - to sectors of the forestry industry.

''We don't always agree with David Lindenmayer, but in this case, we would support him in calling for a review of the regional forest agreements. We have been advocating a review for some time, including comprehensive re-assessment of wood supplies,'' Stephens says.

''We also want to see monitoring and performance of all forest land tenures to ensure environmental and biodiversity management objectives are being met. That's a necessity.''

But Australian Greens forests spokeswoman Senator Lee Rhiannon wants the agreements scrapped. She said the Greens had already written to Ludwig ''pressing for a review of regional forest agreements and we will continue this call in the Senate''.

Rhiannon described Lindenmayer's research paper as painting ''a devastating picture of a landscape that is irreversibly changing from healthy old growth forests to young fire-prone forests without hollows and microclimates for habitat''. She has accused the Gillard Government of ''sleepwalking into an environmental disaster'', with a forests policy that is failing to protect biodiversity, water catchments and local communities.

Lindenmayer has thrown down a challenge for Burke to visit the old-growth mountain ash forests in Victoria's southern highlands. In recent weeks, he has taken some of the world's top forest ecologist on a tour of the research sites where he has worked for more than 20 years on one of Australia's longest-running environmental studies.

''They have been emotionally and physically sickened by what they saw,'' he says.

''These are some of the world's leading authorities - from Seattle, Japan, Vancouver - and they have all asked me how the hell something like this could happen. How could Australia allow this?''

He says University of Washington ecologist Professor Jerry Franklin - was ''rendered speechless by the scale of devastation'' and angrily demanded ''why science had failed these forests. Franklin, who has advised the White House on forest conservation, is also writing a paper on the devastation of Australia's old-growth mountain ash forests. So, memo to federal ministers, this is about to go global.

Lindenmayer says the ''landscape trap'' described in this week's scientific paper is ''historically unprecedented''. It is a landscape that is in ''start contrast'' to the mountain ash forest landscape recorded last century, both in historical accounts and photographs. He explains that data analysis in the two years following the February 2009 Black Saturday bushfires show ''young forest burns at higher severity than mature forest'' and is more fire prone. Therefore, it increases the risk of bushfire, and also ecological functions such as carbon storage, water production and wildlife habitat.

''The irony in all of this is that we're going to get a carbon tax, and yet the Government is not willing to do anything to protect one of the most important carbon storages in the world, that's worth tens of billions of dollars,'' he says.

''These old growth mountain ash forests are the world's most carbon-dense forest. There's a lot of talk about the need to stop logging tropical forests in developing countries, but why not have a forests policy that starts by recognising the carbon benefits to be gained from protecting our own native forests.''

Any chance of getting Andrew Upton and Cate Blanchett, co-directors of the Sydney Theatre Company, to rework an Australian version of Uncle Vanya? David Lindenmayer could surely offer them a few ideas about an updating Astrov's forestry speech.

Rosslyn Beeby is Science and Environment reporter.

Tackle deforestation

Doug Ralph, Castlemaine
The Age (letter), 17 September 2011

THE introduction of a carbon tax may help reduce emissions in the long term but the other important cause of global warming is being ignored. Deforestation through land clearing and loss of biodiversity are a major contributor to climate change.

The International Union for Conservation of Nature states that loss of biodiversity - the variety of animals, plants, their habitats and their genes - on which so much of human life depends is one of the world's most pressing crises.

It is estimated that the extinction rate of species is between 1000 and 10,000 times higher than it would naturally be. The main drivers are caused by converting natural areas to farming and urban development, introducing invasive alien species, polluting or over-exploiting resources such as water and soils, and harvesting wild plants and animals at unsustainable levels.

Many scientists agree that restoring natural ecosystems could cool the earth and offset our present carbon emissions in the short term. Let's get our priorities right.

16 September, 2011

Conservation, recreation and carbon values of the Australian natural forest resource are worth more than its log value

"I will go out on a limb here and suggest that the conservation, recreation and carbon values of the Australian natural forest resource are worth more than its log value on net present value terms. Sustainable forest management projects should be evaluated with full incorporation of the resultant loss of non wood values; the formula should not be based merely on a technical estimate of maintaining log volume increment over the stand".

Australian Jim Douglas, who has spent the last eight years as the World Bank's Forests Adviser in Washington, writing a guest editorial in the latest "Australian Forestry" magazine.

15 September, 2011

Species at risk 'need old growth forests'

Anna Salleh
ABC, Thursday, 15 September 2011

When it comes to protecting tropical species that are at risk from extinction there's no substitute for old growth forests, a new study has found.

The findings fly in the face of suggestions that loss of biodiversity can be tamed by the regrowth of forests in tropical areas.

Ecologist Professor William Laurance, of James Cook University in Cairns, and colleagues report their findings today in the journal Nature.

"This notion that we don't have to worry about the future of biodiversity in the tropics because there is forest regenerating in some areas is a very misleading argument," says Laurance.

"Most forms of forest degradation have an overwhelmingly detrimental effect on tropical biodiversity."

Old growth forests are those that have been undisturbed for centuries and contain enormous trees that in some cases are 1000 years old.

Laurance says about half of the world's old growth forest has been completely cleared, and much of the remaining forest is damaged.

"What we're witnessing in our lifetimes is a really massive transformation of the tropics," he says.

"An important question has been what the impacts are going to be on biodiversity."

Comparing habitats
Laurance and colleagues analysed 138 published studies that compared the abundance of species in old growth forests with that in other habitats, including areas given over to agriculture, regenerating forests, and selectively logged forests.

"When you compare these different types of habitat you find that the old growth forests are definitely the most important for sustaining biodiversity," says Laurance.

He says the findings feed into a recent debate about the importance of disturbed tropical forests in sustaining biodiversity.

Some biologists argue regenerating forests can sustain biodiversity. While this is true, says Laurance, they are no substitute for old growth forests.

He says old growth forests have 10 to 30 times more species of trees than other forests and have specialised habitats such as hollow trees.

Laurance and colleagues found that when it came to the species that are at greatest risk of extinction, old growth forests were the most important habitats.

"You tend to find the extinction-prone species almost exclusively in old growth rainforest," he says.

Laurance says a forest would need to be left undisturbed for around 300 years to qualify as old growth.

He says in the Brazilian Amazon, where an area the size of France has been cleared, a third of that is regrowth forest that is on average just six to seven years old.

Second best option
Laurance emphasises that while old growth forest is the most important habitat for at risk species, selectively logged forest may provide a second-best option.

In fact, Laurance and team found the least dramatic difference in species abundance between old growth and selectively logged forests, where only certain trees are cut out but much of the original habitat remains.

"That's important because it shows selectively logged forests should also be preserved as important habitat," says Laurance.

He says that Indonesia has 30,000 million hectares of selectively logged forests and most has been designated to be cleared on the basis it doesn't have any conservation value.

But, says Laurance, most of these forests are in areas where old growth has been completely removed and they represent the best hope for preserving biodiversity.

"To just write that stuff as being valueless is very bad policy."

No substitute for natural forests: study

Sydney Morning Herald, September 15, 2011 - 3:04AM

Natural forests undisturbed by humans are irreplaceable while degraded forests are a poor substitute, a new study has found.

The team of Australian and international scientists is strongly urging the protection of primary forests as a result of its findings.

The study, published in the scientific journal Nature, says most forms of forest degradation have an overwhelmingly detrimental effect on tropical biodiversity.

The report compared human impacts on biodiversity across key forested regions across the world.

"The conclusion is very clear," report co-author Professor Corey Bradshaw from the University of Adelaide said.

"Undisturbed primary forests are the only ones in which a full complement of species can thrive."

The team emphasised that until now some people believed that revegetation and other conservation programs in secondary forests would be enough to help preserve or return most species.

"It's not that secondary forests have no biodiversity value. They are just less valuable than primary forests. We should be focused on protecting primary forests as much as possible."

Professor Bradshaw's colleagues also emphasised that most forms of forest degradation have an overwhelmingly detrimental effect on biodiversity.

"The study shows that the impact of human interference in those forests is too strong. We're kidding ourselves if we think the damage can be reversed," Professor Barry Brook also from the University of Adelaide said.

South-East Asia is the worst affected area, suffering the greatest losses of biodiversity of any tropical region over the past 50 years.

The report's authors said that while South-East Asia must remain one of the top priority regions, that doesn't mean other areas can be ignored.

They suggest the expansion and greater enforcement of protected areas.

"We have already invested substantially in setting up parks. So expanding them and making them more effective might be practical," one of the study's leaders, PhD student Tien Ming Lee said.


Government's VicForests logs a profit, but only just

Ben Butler
The Age, September 15, 2011

THE state government's logging company, VicForests, burnt through more than $5 million in cash last year as its customers struggled to pay their bills, accounts tabled in Parliament yesterday reveal.

Thanks to a $5.8 million grant for bushfire recovery services from the government, the native forest logging monopoly declared a profit of $2.3 million for 2010-11.

But VicForests' operating cash flow was negative for the second year running and its borrowing from government again blew out, increasing from $19 million to $25 million - a tenfold increase since 2009, when it owed Treasury just $2.3 million. A dramatic surge in overdue customer accounts, which ballooned from about $6.9 million to about $16.4 million, was due to ''the difficulties the timber industry is currently experiencing'', the company said in notes to its accounts.

''A major customer incurred substantial debts amounting to $7.3 million and up to 60 days past due, which has resulted in VicForests suspending supply,'' the company said. The customer had resumed paying in July or August, ''with the account expected to be current by the end of August''.

''Without this delay VicForests would have returned to a positive operational cash-flow position in 2011,'' the company said. It said some customers were on payment plans and one big customer had quit the business, leaving behind a ''long-outstanding debt'' that was being repaid.

VicForests also wrote off $407,000 of trade debts it no longer believes will be collected.

Chief executive David Pollard said VicForests' financial results had improved ''even though the global markets for wood fibre of all types remains problematic''.

''We are optimistic about sustained performance in the year ahead, particularly if continuing pricing problems can be resolved with key customers,'' he said.

One customer has owed VicForests $3.5 million for more than a year, but is disputing the amount, the accounts show.

He said VicForests had been ''discussing strategies to revivify the industry in Victoria'' with the Baillieu government, elected in November. ''This has included a range of related activities that affect the commerciality of VicForests and necessary changes to law and regulation.''

Keep city liveable

Steven Katsineris, Hurstbridge
The Age (letter), 15 Sep 2011

MUCH of Melbourne's liveability status is intimately bound up with its bushland areas and green spaces. I hope the people of Melbourne can make the state government understand the importance of the woodland of the suburban fringe areas. The outer Melbourne region's dams and weirs provide the unpolluted water the people of Melbourne drink.

Trees and other vegetation act as a natural water purifier, with the forest floor filtering mountain water that runs into the dams, keeping our water clear and pure. The region's trees also give Melbourne its good air quality, inhaling carbon dioxide and releasing oxygen. The region provides habitat for wildlife, places for rest and leisure activities. And most importantly its forests store carbon and reduce the effects of climate change. These are just some of the myriad valuable ways green wedges assist Melbourne, the nation and the planet. We need to treasure and protect these precious natural assets.

14 September, 2011

Primary forests are irreplaceable for sustaining tropical biodiversity

Luke Gibson, Tien Ming Lee, Lian Pin Koh, Barry W. Brook, Toby A. Gardner, Jos Barlow, Carlos A. Peres, Corey J. A. Bradshaw, William F. Laurance, Thomas E. Lovejoy & Navjot S. Sodhi

Nature, 14 September 2011

Received 13 May 2011 Accepted 08 August 2011 Published online 14 September 2011

Human-driven land-use changes increasingly threaten biodiversity, particularly in tropical forests where both species diversity and human pressures on natural environments are high1. The rapid conversion of tropical forests for agriculture, timber production and other uses has generated vast, human-dominated landscapes with potentially dire consequences for tropical biodiversity. Today, few truly undisturbed tropical forests exist, whereas those degraded by repeated logging and fires, as well as secondary and plantation forests, are rapidly expanding.

Here we provide a global assessment of the impact of disturbance and land conversion on biodiversity in tropical forests using a meta-analysis of 138 studies. We analysed 2,220 pairwise comparisons of biodiversity values in primary forests (with little or no human disturbance) and disturbed forests.

We found that biodiversity values were substantially lower in degraded forests, but that this varied considerably by geographic region, taxonomic group, ecological metric and disturbance type. Even after partly accounting for confounding colonization and succession effects due to the composition of surrounding habitats, isolation and time since disturbance, we find that most forms of forest degradation have an overwhelmingly detrimental effect on tropical biodiversity. Our results clearly indicate that when it comes to maintaining tropical biodiversity, there is no substitute for primary forests.

Gunns accepts $23m compo deal

ABC News (Australian Broadcasting Corporation), September 14, 2011

The Tasmanian timber company, Gunns, has reached an agreement with the State Government on compensation.

Gunns has formally accepted an offer of $23 million to abandon its residual native timber rights.

State-owned Forestry Tasmania will also be paid $11.5 million to ensure it does not on-sell the native forest contracts.

The Premier, Lara Giddings, says the payment is necessary as the Government is not able to direct FT to extinguish the contracts.

Ms Giddings says the payments will also settle the dispute between FT and Gunns over an alleged $25 million debt.

The Government's original offer rejected by Gunns was for $23 million to be split equally between Gunns and FT.

Gunns will update the stock exchange tomorrow on the details of the agreement and the implications for the company.

Its shares have been suspended from trading for more than a month, pending an outcome of negotiations.

Ms Giddings says the deal aims to avoid the possibility of lengthy court action.

"We have resolution of issues that must be resolved in order for the Inter-Governmental Agreement (IGA) to progress."

"That of course is step one, that Gunns step out of the native forest industry and the $23 million enabled that to happen.

"They did have residual contractual rights that the Solicitor-General told us we needed to settle.

"Similarly, if we did not settle these issues with Forestry Tasmania, these contracts could otherwise have been on-sold and therefore wouldn't be available for verification of conservation outcomes.

"This resolution means that we have avoided the lengthy delays and costs that would inevitably be incurred if these issues were pursued through the courts," the Premier said.

The Forest Contractors Association has welcomed the agreement.

Spokesman Ed Vincent says he hopes it means contractors will soon be able to apply for grants from the $45-million industry exit assistance package.

"I think realistically it is going to take a few weeks before contractors actually receive any approvals."

"There'll need to be an application process gone through but hopefully that application process will be announced within the next few days.

"From our point of view, it's essential that that be reached to provide some surety for the contractors who are looking to progress the exit package under the IGA so that they can actually retire out of the industry with some dignity," he said.

13 September, 2011

Union chops link to forestry body

Ben Butler
The Age, September 13, 2011

GAPS have widened in the formerly close alliance between the CFMEU and the forestry industry with the resignation of a union official from a key industry body.

In a scathing letter to Australian Forestry Standard chairman Geoff Gorrie, Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union forestry and furnishings policy research officer Travis Wacey said he was resigning from the board of the environmental standards body because ''I do not want to be associated with a company which has such standards as I see it as detrimental to my professional reputation''.

The union's forestry and furnishings division has been a staunch friend to the forestry industry, even to the extent of supporting the timber policy of former prime minister John Howard during the 2004 election campaign.

But late last year the union signalled a move away from its support for logging in native forests, saying it would attempt to secure a plantation timber-based future for its members by talking to the green groups with which it had been locked in conflict.

In his letter to Mr Gorrie, sent on Thursday, Mr Wacey said the process used by the AFS to appoint Richard Stanton, formerly head of plantation timber lobby group A3P as chief executive, was ''potentially or actually compromised'' and said corporate governance at the organisation needed to be overhauled.

It is believed Mr Wacey's concerns about corporate governance relate in part to the dominant position state-owned native logging companies, including VicForests, enjoy on the AFS board.

AFS differs from its rival, the Forest Stewardship Council, by placing more emphasis on the views of industry than those of green and community groups.

Directors appointed by government-owned loggers hold four of nine board seats.

The private forestry sector has three seats, while community organisations and employees have one seat each. Mr Wacey represented employees as the representative of AFS's sole employee sector member, the CFMEU.

While Mr Wacey's letter to Mr Gorrie made it clear he regarded Mr Stanton as a ''quality appointment'', he raised concerns that the position was not advertised.

He said the appointment process ''lacked transparency'' and did not deal with ''serious conflict of interest issues''.

Mr Gorrie said he had received the letter but did not wish to comment

12 September, 2011

Timber auditor axes operations

Ben Butler
The Age, September 12, 2011

THE ORGANISATION that gives a green tick to some of Australia's biggest timber and paper companies has voluntarily suspended most of its operations after a bruising stoush with environment groups over its approval of paper brand Reflex.

SmartWood, a division of Rainforest Alliance, gave up its ability to give out chain of custody certifications following an investigation into its audit of Reflex maker Australian Paper by international governing body the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC).

In addition to Australian Paper, Smartwood certified Tasmanian forestry group Gunns, plantation owners Hancock, tissue company Kimberly Clark and Norwegian paper group Norske Skog, which supplies most newsprint used in Australia.

The voluntary suspension was accepted by Accreditation Services International (ASI), which was auditing SmartWood on behalf of the FSC, on September 1, and remains in force until lifted by ASI.
''This is the first time in the development of FSC Australia that this has occurred,'' local FSC head Michael Spencer said.

He said the suspension showed the FSC system worked. ''Integrity is really paramount to the system,'' he said. ''Businesses particularly need to know the rules are applied consistently.''

If SmartWood is not reinstated then once certificates held by the Australian companies it audited expire, those clients will have to find a new auditor to remain in the FSC program.

ASI's investigation of SmartWood was triggered by environment groups unhappy it had continued to certify Australian Paper's use of timber logged from native forests by the Victorian government's logging company, VicForests. Green groups say all native forests in Australia are classified ''high conservation value'' and cannot be logged for use in FSC-certified products.

Australian Paper withdrew from the FSC system last month so it could continue to use VicForests logs, approved by rival accreditation system the Australian Forestry Standard.

My Environment director Sarah Rees, whose complaint helped spark ASI's probe, said the result showed that the FSC ''is capable of responding to environmental and community change''.

''This is a fair and transparent audit and has put FSC leagues ahead of other timber standards in Australia.''
Wilderness Society forest campaigner Luke Chamberlain said ''by hitching their wagon to the unsustainable practices of VicForests and Australian Paper, Rainforest Alliance have taken themselves out in what is an international blight on forestry practices in Australia''.

SmartWood spokeswoman Anita Neville said the organisation would invest in auditor training and reviewing its performance against Australian FSC standards with a view to ''getting back to work in this area as soon as possible in 2012''.

Just 1% of central highlands old growth survives

Adam Morton
The Age, 12 Sep 2011

BEFORE European settlement up to 80 per cent of the wet eucalyptus forest of Victoria's central highlands was old-growth mountain ash, with trees taller than 90 metres towering above the landscape.

According to research published in US journal the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the old-growth is nearly gone and on the verge of being unrecoverable.

The paper says decades of logging and frequent bushfire have reduced the area of old-growth to about 2000 hectares - 1.2 per cent of the forest area north-east of Healesville.

Lead researcher David Lindenmayer, from Australian National University's Fenner School of Environment and Society, said if the current combination of clearfelling and fire continued the mountain ash could be lost and replaced by wattle, or ''acacia scrub''.

''This forest is one of the saddest things I've ever seen in 30 years of ecological science. What we are seeing is a truly iconic forest evaporating before our eyes and it will never be the same again,'' Professor
Lindenmayer said.

''If it collapses into acacia scrub, it is impossible to get out again. It really is a catastrophe in the true sense of the word.''

The paper says Victoria's central highlands forest is an example of a ''landscape trap'' - a new label for an ecosystem that is fundamentally changed through human action and natural disturbance.

More than 150 years ago the central highlands were dominated by forests aged 200 to 450 years, and regulated by infrequent late summer wildfires that released seedlings from burnt trees to produce new stands.

According to the paper, in the past century the natural cycle has been disturbed by more frequent bushfires - there have been at least five, including Black Saturday in 2009 - and clearfell logging for pulp and timber.

It says the frequency and severity of fires has been exacerbated by the reduction in rainfall and overall forest age in recent decades - young mountain ash saplings are densely packed and more likely to burn.

When the time between regenerating events is less than 20-30 years, mountain ash is at risk by being replaced by other species.

Professor Lindenmayer said the loss of mountain ash had a huge impact on biodiversity, water supply for Melbourne's catchments and carbon dioxide emissions.

A 2009 paper found the central highlands' forest was the most carbon-dense in the world.
About 40 local vertebrate species rely on old-growth tree hollows for habitat.

Trees older than 100 years are no longer logged, but Professor Lindenmayer said fixing the landscape trap would require ending clearfell logging and trying to limit future fires through prescribed burning in some areas to reduce the risk to surviving old-growth.

''What is really needed now is restorative forestry, not industrial forestry, which is what we've got now,'' he said.

State government-owned timber agency VicForests says it operates sustainably.
Last week it released a consultant's report that found claims that plantation timber could completely replace native forest wood in Victoria were unrealistic.

The paper comes as conservation group My Environment is applying for a court injunction to stop logging in three forest coupes near Toolangi on the grounds they could be home to the endangered Leadbeater's possum.

The case is scheduled to be heard in the Supreme Court next week.


11 September, 2011

Compo decision within days

Blair Richards
The Mercury, 11 September 2011

GUNNS Limited is expected to decide within days if it will accept a second and potentially much larger offer from the State Government to exit native forests.

Late last week the company rejected an initial offer of a maximum of $23 million.

A Gunns spokesman yesterday said the company would respond to the latest offer this week.

The Government has said the new offer would remain confidential until it got a response from Gunns.

The Federal Government has provided funding for a deal under the $276 million Intergovernmental Agreement.

On Friday, Premier Lara Giddings said the new offer included a proposed resolution of disputed debts of up to $25 million between Forestry Tasmania and Gunns.

Ms Giddings has confirmed there is now $43 million available if necessary to pay Gunns in return for the company giving up its native-forest contracts.

Ms Giddings said the Government would provide details on both the original and follow up offers made to Gunns, once the company agreed to a deal.

Yesterday the State Opposition seized on comments by former state Labor minister Julian Amos that the State Government should walk away from the Intergovernmental Agreement.

In a column published in yesterday's Mercury, Dr Amos said Gunns had made the decision to exit native forest logging long before any Government compensation was put on the table.

Yet the company had put its hand out for money and, rejecting an initial offer, had asked for more in what he described "an extraordinary exhibition of arrogance".

"To destroy an entire industry, to ruin the livelihoods of so many people, to place so many rural communities in jeopardy and then seek compensation for doing so, quite takes my breath away," Dr Amos wrote.

Opposition forestry spokesman Peter Gutwein said he agreed with Dr Amos' suggestion that the State Government drop the Intergovernmental Agreement and revert to the Regional Forests Agreement.

"Given Gunns voluntarily gave up its native forest contracts, compensation should not be paid to them at all -- end of story," he said.

04 September, 2011

Old-growth forests won't save planet

Martin Moroni and Ian Ferguson
WA Today, September 4, 2011

Managing regrowth may help us turn green, write Martin Moroni and Ian Ferguson.

IN AUSTRALIA, too often we're told the solution to all environmental problems is locking all native forests in unmanaged reserves, where they'll be immortal, grow forever and continuously suck large amounts of greenhouse gases from the atmosphere.

We're led to believe all forested landscapes can become old growth, and that forest management destroys forests. This is simplistic, flawed and represents missed opportunities for the environment, society and the economy.

Most of Australia's forests aren't full of enormous old trees and most of our old-growth is already in reserves. Just 6 per cent of Australia's forests are managed for wood production.

Managed forests maintain biodiversity, water quantity and quality and produce a variety of other goods and services, including carbon sequestration, employment, income and other opportunities to society.
Sure, photosynthesis takes carbon from carbon dioxide, an atmospheric gas, to form wood. Dry wood is half carbon by weight and each tonne of carbon absorbed from the atmosphere into wood came from about four tonnes of carbon dioxide.

So wood products store carbon in them and trees can absorb some carbon dioxide from the burning of fossil fuels. But trees can't absorb all the carbon released from the burning of fossil fuels. To do so would require us to produce enough wood to form a 30-cubic-kilometre block of wood almost four times the height of Mount Everest, from forests each year. This is impossible. We must focus on reducing the burning of fossil fuels.

Growing forests absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, but as they die they emit it. Wildfires frequently burn our forests releasing huge amounts of carbon dioxide back to the atmosphere and preventing many forests from becoming old-growth.

Since 2003, 3.5 million hectares have burnt in Victoria. Many of our prime forests require high-intensity wildfires to regenerate - they cannot remain as old-growth indefinitely. Valuable as it may be, storing carbon in forests doesn't change our use of fossil fuels.

Cutting trees down is the only way forests can reduce our use of fossil fuels. This is done by using wood instead of fossil fuels for heat or electricity and, most effectively, using wood instead of products associated with large emissions.

For example, the use of metal, concrete and plastic in construction produces more greenhouse gasses than when wood is used in their place.

Ideally, we should substitute fossil fuels and emission-intensive materials with renewable alternatives like wood.

Globally, wood products store an additional 150 million tonnes of carbon annually and landfill another 44 million tonnes, equivalent to removing 700 million tonnes of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

Wood use in residential house construction instead of non-wood alternatives prevented 483 million tonnes of carbon dioxide from being emitted in 2007. By 2030 the global use of forest bio-energy will prevent 1000 million tonnes of fossil fuel carbon emissions annually.

These initiatives lack support in Australia where we are missing easy, proven opportunities to reduce greenhouse gas emissions with forests, unlike their rapid uptake in Europe and North America.

Wood products are traded on the global market. Australia has an annual $2 billion deficit in wood products, annually importing 600,000 to 900,000 cubic metres of sawn wood extracted from thousands of hectares of international forests each year, much of which are managed to lesser standards than Australia's forests.

Withdrawal of more Australian native forests from management can be expected to increase greenhouse gas emissions from more intensive harvesting elsewhere, and from increased transportation of imports. That is not a green outcome. Sustainable management of Australia's native regrowth forests is.

Dr Martin Moroni is senior research scientist, forest carbon, at Forestry Tasmania, and Ian Ferguson is professor emeritus of forest science, University of Melbourne.


  • The authors of the above article clearly have a vested interest in the continued logging of Australia native forests.
  • Bushfires do not prevent native forests "becoming old growth", nor do they destroy forests to the same extent that clear fell logging and burning them does.
  • The authors neglect to mention that about 80% of the logs extracted from native forests ends up was woodchips, the vast majority of which are exported to Japan.
  • Old growth forests don't "emit carbon", they continue to store it
  • The authors neglect to mention that logging native forests, particularly old growth ones, put very significant net carbon emissions into the atmosphere, that are are not offset by regrowth forests within a 200 year period