07 December, 2012

A state of extinction?

Bridie Smith, Science and Technology Reporter
The Age, December 7, 2012

Bushfires and logging have taken a terrible toll on the habitat of the rare Leadbeater's possum. How long can it survive? Bridie Smith and Tom Arup report.

The critically endangerd Leadbeater possum. Photo: Angela Wylie

THE ground squelches underfoot, the forest a mass of branches criss-crossing between the slender trunks of mountain swamp gum and the ferny undergrowth. This is Leadbeater's possum country. And one of the tiny critters is about to get a rude awakening.

It's late in the afternoon, but for the endangered nocturnal possum it's the middle of the night. Its round black eyes are fully alert by the time it has been scooped from its timber nest box high in a mountain swamp gum and popped into a brown cotton bag.

Still radiating the body heat it has generated and shared with its nest buddies, the young male is weighed and measured at ground level before being returned to his treetop home.

A clear-felled Leadbeater possum habitat in Victoria's central highlands. Photo: Justin McManus
The annual weigh-in, which also gathers genetic data, is a vital opportunity for biologists to check the health of Victoria's faunal emblem and one of the rarest mammals in the country.

But what the surveying scientists are increasingly finding is a species under stress. Fire has destroyed much of its habitat, and conservationists say logging is putting pressure on the rest.

Now there are serious suggestions Victoria is watching its animal emblem head towards extinction. And there are calls for intervention.

After studying the marsupial for more than three decades, ecologist David Lindenmayer gives the possum's survival in the wild just 20 years. ''If we don't seriously look at conserving these intact areas of forest, then that's all we've got,'' he says. ''This is the time to make sensible decisions and go for it.''

At the Yellingbo Nature Conservation Reserve, a small patch of swampy forest is home to the last remaining lowland population. As its habitat shrinks, the past eight years has seen a 40 per cent decline in Leadbeater's possum there. Numbering no more than 60, they are now concentrated in an area measuring just four kilometres by 120 metres.

The situation is not much better for the other, larger, population of Leadbeater's in the tall, cool, mountain ash forests of Victoria's central highlands. Exact highlands numbers are unknown, but are likely to be somewhere under 2000.

On Black Saturday, more than one-third of public land within the Leadbeater's highland habitat range was burnt. Studies by researchers at the Australian National University and the Arthur Rylah Institute for Environmental Research have found that Leadbeater's have not returned. Highland possums like to live deep in hollows of old trees, so young trees tend not to be suitable. Victoria's central highlands are dominated by young forest - 99 per cent of the trees are from 1939 or later - and just 1 per cent of the mountain ash forest is old growth.

Lindenmayer says the front line of the fight to save the endangered species is the mountain forest, and that if the young forest isn't allowed to age, the possum will vanish.

Here lies the problem. As fire and felling shrinks forests, competition for the remaining resources between loggers and conservationists has intensified to such an extent that the petite possum, which weighs no more than an apple, is now a hefty political problem.

''Leadbeater's possum is an iconic species, somewhat like Victoria's tiger or panda,'' says Dan Harley, Healesville Sanctuary's threatened species biologist.

The dilemma facing the state government is that it wants to provide the timber industry with resource security to meet its contracts. That means nominating areas for the protection of Leadbeater's and other threatened species, and allowing logging elsewhere.

Harley says there are some risks to this approach. First, it needs to be established where the possum's stronghold populations are.

''At the moment we are protecting sites based on habitat attributes, which makes perfect sense, but you need to know that the possums are in there and at the moment we don't have that information,'' he says.

Second, protecting some areas invariably leads to others being logged. Clearing these areas puts pressure on those remaining sites - which are still vulnerable to fires, such as those on Black Saturday were.

''What Black Saturday did was wipe out areas you thought were important and suddenly the marginal areas become increasingly significant,'' he says.

Experience points to how precarious possum populations can be. Black Saturday wiped out a Lake Mountain population of about 300, leaving just six individuals in a partly burnt gully, half of which died. The remaining three were taken to Healesville Sanctuary earlier this year, with two still living.

When the 2009 Black Saturday fires swept through the tall mountain ash forest in the central highlands, it was indiscriminate. It burnt 1939 regrowth, 15-year-old regrowth and areas of thick forest that date back to the 1700s.

Studies of the forest after the fires showed that the younger forest burned at a faster rate. While it sounds counter-intuitive, Professor Lindenmayer and his colleagues found that the complexity of older forests which have a dense understorey of wattle and tree ferns slowed the flames down. The microclimate was also more moist and burned at a lower intensity.

Victorian government data suggests the average annual gross area for timber harvest in the central highlands over the next four years will be 3547 hectares. The actual area felled is normally slightly less.

In the Supreme Court last year, conservationists challenged three proposed logging coupes in the central highlands on grounds they contravened protection protocols for Leadbeater's.

Justice Robert Osborn found the coupes did not breach the existing state possum protections. But he added there was strong evidence for an urgent review of areas dedicated to possums because the 2009 bushfires had dramatically changed the landscape.

At the same time there have been lengthy delays in strengthening state and federal government plans to restore Leadbeater's numbers to respond to the habitat loss.

Fairfax Media has obtained drafts of the revised state and national plans for the species dating back to 2009 and 2010, which are yet to be put in place. These plans note the massive reduction in habitat after the Black Saturday fires and put forward 25 measures to better protect the species, costing $4.6 million over five years on early estimates.

Serious concerns about habitat loss are shared by an expert panel dedicated to the recovery of Leadbeater's and made up of representatives of the state Environment Department, Parks Victoria, Zoos Victoria and the scientific community. By late last year the possum recovery team was so agitated by the emerging data on habitat loss that it proposed a moratorium on central highlands logging until better protections were put in place.

But after raising its concerns within the Environment Department the team was told bluntly it could not make such a recommendation and talk of a moratorium ended.

Instead the committee wrote to the department in March, proposing changes to the current state possum recovery plan, including listing logging and future loss of suitable habitat as threats to the species' survival.

The panel also recommends tightening the definition of Leadbeater's habitat and tougher prescriptions for logging operations in the region to slow habitat loss.

''The Leadbeater's Possum Recovery Team is concerned with the rapid and dramatic loss of habitat for Leadbeater's possum that has been exacerbated by the 2009 wildfires,'' the letter says.

Late last year, the Baillieu government sought to boost the flagging forestry industry by allowing VicForests to offer contracts over two decades, up from the previous five-years.

The government also committed to indemnifying VicForests if a contract is broken due to changes in policy, potentially leaving taxpayers with the bill should a future government want to reduce native timber logging.

Lindenmayer says there is not enough in the mountain ash forests to meet contract timber quotas. Logging coupes are in areas that returned to life after the 1939 fires. This, Professor Lindenmayer estimates, is a finite resource which only has another 10 to 15 years left.

''At current rates of cutting, the sawlog industry will be exhausted in 15 years' time. The industry itself is on an extinction trajectory.''

In a paper published in the journal Science on Friday, Lindenmayer writes that the mountain ash are forecast to decline from 5.1 trees per hectare in 1997 to 0.6 trees per hectare in 2070.

And, the Australian National University professor says, there are just 12 months left to implement the drastic changes that are needed to save the possum.

At a briefing for government agencies including Parks Victoria and the Department of Sustainability and Environment last week, Lindenmayer called for a Great Forest National Park to be established in Victoria's central highlands.

Lindenmayer said logging should be reduced by half and the carbon storage capacity of the forest be harnessed by bringing in brokers to establish a carbon offset program involving big business.

Lindenmayer says exit packages should be made available to loggers who have contracts with VicForests - with the proviso that the companies exit for good. He also argues VicForests needs a ''cultural overhaul'' so forest management focuses on the carbon storage potential of the mountain ash rather than treating the trees as a source of timber and pulp.

For its part, the timber industry says logging's footprint on forests is only small and it doesn't log in old-growth forest in the highlands. ''The primary threat to the Leadbeater's possum habitat is not forestry, but fire,'' says Lisa Marty, chief executive of the Victorian Association of Forest Industries.

VicForests spokesman David Walsh says it believes Leadbeater's can co-exist with timber harvesting.

Walsh says VicForests is committed to identifying and protecting potential habitat in areas where logging operations are planned and supports any review of the forest zoning system.

VicForests will factor in the impact of the bushfires on how much they log and from where.

He says medium-term outlooks shows a dip in the availability of highlands timber because of past bushfires. Sales commitments and harvest levels will be managed in line with this.

Victoria's Environment Minister, Ryan Smith, says in response to the debate the Victorian government has begun a $1.86 million project to survey endangered species.

Smith says it will help strike the best possible balance between timber production and the protection of biodiversity.

To date, the main response to the decline of Leadbeater's has centred around a captive breeding program at Healesville Sanctuary.

But the man who each year goes out into the swampy Yellingbo forest to weigh and measure Leadbeater's says the current approach is less than ideal.

Despite being the architect of the captive breeding program, Harley stresses it is not the answer in the crucial mountain forests.

While captive breeding is important, he says, the main game remains habitat conservation.

"Leadbeater's conservation will be won or lost in the mountain forests," he says.

"The foundation stone of everything is to ensure that you've got an adequate amount of high-quality habitat for a species. And if you don't have that, then nothing else you try is going to work."

Environment delay riles business

Michelle Grattan, Political editor of The Age
The Sydney Morning Herald,  December 7, 2012

BUSINESS has reacted furiously to Prime Minister Julia Gillard putting on hold plans to give the states power to deal with environmental approvals for major projects.

After a meeting with Ms Gillard and the premiers, business representatives described the atmosphere variously as ''black'' and ''frosty'' and said the perception was that Ms Gillard had caved into the Greens and environmental groups.

Business Council of Australia president Tony Shepherd said later the forum had heard ''a frustrating reversal'' by the Commonwealth on its commitment to deal with the growing costs of the approval processes faced by major investments.

Ms Gillard said the Commonwealth needed to secure a consistent approach from the states that met proper environmental standards. Otherwise there would be a patchwork of arrangements and a threat to standards.

Business sources said no state had said it would not sign up. Victorian Premier Ted Baillieu and New South Wales Premier Barry O'Farrell said they were willing to sign up there and then.

There was disagreement over the wording of the communique from the meeting. Ms Gillard has left the way open for further negotiations with the states but business wanted this made explicit in the communique while the federal government did not. In the end, the wording was fuzzy and business is concerned there will not be more negotiations.

The final wording said discussions between the Commonwealth and states and territories would continue to work through various matters.

Australian Industry Group chief executive Innes Willox said it was disappointing for business that progress had stalled.

He accused the Greens of running a scare campaign. ''The business community stressed through this meeting that it does not want to see a reduction in standards,'' he said. To say the business community wanted to reduce standards was a ''distortion of reality''.

Mr Shepherd said the forum's participants from business and government alike reinforced the ''non-negotiable need to protect all environmental standards''.

But business had made clear that maintaining the present system involving duplication and multiple agencies ''will risk the investments that are critical to the strength and resilience of the economy''.

A one-stop shop was critical, he said. But the BCA had never sought a uniform national approach. ''We were seeking immediate progress on removing double handling while at the same time preserving the highest environmental standards.''

He called on the federal government to commit to accrediting the states through bilateral agreements and said it should take up the offers from Mr Baillieu and Mr O'Farrell to sign at once.

Greens leader Christine Milne said Ms Gillard had found out during the past few months that she had ''made a complete muck of it'', and now had made another mistake. Instead of abandoning ''this ridiculous proposition that the Commonwealth hand over its powers to the states, what she's said is 'all right then states, you go and sort it out, come back and tell me how much of the environmental protection powers you want, and I'll hand it over to you next year'''.

06 December, 2012

Environmental powers to be kept by Canberra

Michelle Grattan and Tom Arup
The Age, December 6, 2012

The federal government blocked a state trial of cattle grazing in the Victorian Alpine National Park. Photo: Justin McManus

THE federal government will tell business leaders that it is putting on hold plans to devolve to the states power to deal with environmental approvals for major projects.

The decision is a major blow to business - which has claimed ''green tape'' is jeopardising projects worth many billions of dollars - and a victory for green groups that have complained about a watering down of standards.

In a bid to streamline and speed up approvals, the Commonwealth started negotiations with the states after the Council of Australian Governments meeting in April for decisions to be made under state legislation. But concern about state approaches to standards has made it difficult to get bilateral agreements that are comprehensive and meet standards.

Business leaders at the pre-COAG Business Advisory Forum will be briefed on Thursday on the decision, which follows high-profile spats between Canberra and conservative state governments over environmental approvals.

The Baillieu government is challenging in the courts a decision by Environment Minister Tony Burke to block its controversial trial of cattle grazing in the Alpine National Park under national environment laws.

Tensions have also exploded between Mr Burke and Queensland Premier Campbell Newman over the approval process for Gina Rinehart's $6.4 billion Alpha coalmine in the Galilee Basin.

The federal government says if the states failed to properly maintain environmental standards there could be legal challenges, creating business uncertainty.

States have not yet provided assurance that the Commonwealth's high standards that flow from the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation (EPBC) Act would be met.

Given the problems, the federal government says bilateral agreements would cover, at most, only two-thirds of matters nationally, ranging between 25 per cent and 90 per cent across jurisdictions.

For example, proposals for accreditation would not cover all approvals, including some residential and commercial development, and approvals not involving land development. Not all state processes are capable of assessing all aspects of projects that may affect matters of national significance.

The problems would create a ''patchwork'' effect, the federal government says, with some processes accredited under the new system, others still with the Commonwealth and still others requiring co-operation between governments. The government will ask the states to do more work before talks proceed.

The government will instead introduce legislation to enact changes to the national environment laws resulting from a 2009 review headed by former senior bureaucrat Allan Hawke.

The changes include greater use of assessments of environmentally important landscapes to determine where major development should occur. The changes will also seek to reduce the time taken to make decisions if a project meets certain conditions, and amend powers over emergency listing of animals and plants for protection

On another COAG issue, the Australian Industry Group has appealed for Friday's meeting to make progress on energy reform. CEO Innes Willox said state concerns about Julia Gillard's electricity package were understandable ''but none should be a deal breaker''.

04 December, 2012

River red gums to face 'ecological thinning'

Ben Cubby and Tom Aru
The Age, December 4, 2012

WHEN is logging not logging? When it is ''ecological thinning'' in national parks, according to the governments of New South Wales and Victoria.

The two states are conducting trials in national parks on both sides of the Murray River. Under the project, trees will be cut down at 22 sites over about 400 hectares of the Barmah National Park in Victoria and the Murray Valley National Park in NSW. Most of the timber will be burnt as firewood.

The study will examine whether felling smaller trees gives more established trees a better chance of surviving in the parched environment.

But environment groups say the practice is an excuse to log in national parks, and will lead to them being opened up to more commercial activity.

The NSW government has advertised for commercial logging contractors and has held a meeting with contractors. The Victorian government will advertise soon.

A spokesman for Victorian Environment Minister Ryan Smith said the trial would determine if ''ecological thinning'' could be used to improve river red gum forest health by reducing competition between trees for nutrients and water. He said no trees over 40 centimetres diameter at chest height would be removed.
''The felled trees removed from the plots will be assessed for suitable byproducts, including domestic firewood, community projects and park furniture. Other felled trees will be left on the forest floor for potential wildlife habitat but managed in a way to minimise fire risks,'' he said.

NSW Environment Minister Robyn Parker said: ''It is estimated that about 3000 tonnes of residue will be created, which can be made available to local Riverina residents as part of the existing river red gum domestic firewood program.''

The state governments have not sought approval from Canberra, saying the project does not have sufficient impact to trigger national environment laws. But that is contested by conservationists, who say the project could harm internationally protected wetlands and endangered species. Federal Environment Minister Tony Burke said: ''My department is seeking clarity to determine what is being proposed.''

Nick Roberts, from the Victorian National Parks Association, said the project was ''logging by stealth'' and called on the federal government to step in.

''First the Baillieu government invented 'scientific grazing', now it's trying its hand at 'scientific logging'. The sanctity of Victoria's national parks is under serious threat,'' he said.

Victorian Association of Forest Industries spokesman Shaun Ratcliff welcomed the project. He said while some groups wanted forests protected as museums, they needed ''active management regimes'' to reflect the impacts of fires, drought and introduced species. The NSW government said the Natural Resources Commission recommended the project when the parks were established, and it had been accepted by the previous Labor government.

The Victorian Environmental Assessment Council gave qualified support in 2008 for ecological thinning in river red gum parks, and it also gained the backing of the former state Labor government.

03 December, 2012

Forests and wildlife – Not negotiable

Media release, Monday 3 December 2012

Gillard, protect the environment, not the Business Council

Emergency demonstrations in logging-affected communities around the country are taking place today, as conservationists call on the Prime Minister not to abandon environment and wildlife protection by finalising a closed-door deal with big business at the COAG meeting this week.

Community groups are holding banners in clearfells and forests devastated by logging in WA, NSW, Tasmania and Victoria, to show Gillard what environmental management by state governments looks like.

From her Observer Tree perch 60 metres up in the canopy of Tasmania's beleaguered old growth forests, where she has spent nearly twelve months during a time of intense negotiations and ongoing forest destruction, Tasmanian activist Miranda Gibson has a personal message to Gillard: 'Don't abandon environmental protection'

COAG and the Business Council of Australia (BCA) both meet in Canberra this week and plan to weaken federal environment protection laws and hand powers to assess and approve development in environmentally significant areas to state governments. This leaves Australia without any federal oversight of damaging activity in these iconic areas.

“Anyone who thinks that the Commonwealth should be able to transfer its responsibility for environmental protection to state governments and supervise at a distance need only have a look at the wholesale failure of the Regional Forests Agreements for an example of how disastrous this approach has been,” said 'Nature: Not Negotiable' campaign spokesperson, Lauren Caulfield.

'Putting the states in charge of forest management has led to the devastation of forests around the country for export woodchips, the ongoing decline of threatened species, and a legacy of community conflict,' said Jenny Weber, Huon Valley Environment Centre.

'In Victoria we are facing an extinction crisis – including that of our own wildlife emblem, the endangered Leadbeater's (fairy) Possum, as Premier Baillieu continues to allow the logging of its last forest strongholds,' said Ms Caulfield.

The proposed devolution of responsibilities under national environmental laws to state governments is similar to what we already have in place under Regional Forests Agreements, where the Commonwealth has entrusted state governments with protecting biodiversity.

'These moves are a rampant attack on environment to protection and will take us 40 years backwards, leaving our iconic wildlife and wild places at the mercy of state governments with an appalling track record on environmental protection,' said Miranda Gibson, in the Observer Tree.

“The Prime Minister’s responsibility is to Australians as a whole, not to the Business Council. She
should take this issue off the COAG agenda for Friday and off the government’s agenda for good,” said Jess Beckerling, WA Forest Alliance.

Actions continue today and through the week. Images next page. High resolution images available.

For more information please call:

Lauren Caulfield 0408 748 939
Miranda Gibson (in the Observer Tree) 0414 535 162

22 November, 2012

End to Tasmanian forest wars in sight Save

Andrew Darby
The Examiner, Nov. 22, 2012

A final deal that should end the generation-old Tasmanian forest wars has been signed, protecting more than 500,000 hectares of native forest.

Negotiators said the deal would shrink the surviving native-forest logging industry, but had been supported by all involved in the two-year-long talks.

"It delivers a comprehensive conservation outcome that we can all be proud of, once it is gazetted," said The Wilderness Society's campaigner, Vica Bayley.

"It's a final agreement that involves compromise, but in the end is win-win for everybody," Mr Bayley said.

Mr Bayley said 395,200 hectares of forest would be protected immediately under the deal, with a further 108,800 hectares to gain protection by 2015, giving a total of 504,000 secured from logging.

Protected forests will include the highly contested, tall, old-growth eucalypt Styx, Upper Florentine and Weld valleys fringing the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area.

Terry Edwards, chief executive of the Forest Industries Association of Tasmania, said he had mixed feelings.

"But I hope that for the sake of the state of Tasmania that the war might now be over," Mr Edwards said.

As of this morning, all bar one signatory had backed the agreement, and that party had given in-principle support, he told local ABC radio.

Mr Edwards said the industry had reduced its quota to 137,000 cubic metres, below a 155,000 cubic metre benchmark set in an interim agreement hammered out by Prime Minister Julia Gillard last year.

The biggest surviving native forest company, veneer processor Ta Ann, is to renegotiate reduced contracts to ensure that its supplies come from genuine arisings of sawlog supplies.

The agreement will go before Tasmania's cabinet today, before legislation is introduced to enact key components that would unlock $100 million in federal assistance.

The eventual fate of the deal also depends on the state's upper house, the Legislative Council, whose majority have opposed the negotiations. Mr Edwards urged all parties to get behind the proposal.

End to Tasmanian forest wars will curb logging

Andrew Darby, Hobart correspondent for Fairfax Media

The Age, November 22, 2012

A final deal that should end the generation-old Tasmanian forest wars has been signed, protecting more than 500,000 hectares of native forest.

Negotiators said the deal would shrink the surviving native-forest logging industry, but had been supported by all involved in the two-year-long talks.

"It delivers a comprehensive conservation outcome that we can all be proud of, once it is gazetted," said The Wilderness Society's campaigner, Vica Bayley.

"It's a final agreement that involves compromise, but in the end is win-win for everybody," Mr Bayley said.

Mr Bayley said 395,200 hectares of forest would be protected immediately under the deal, with a further 108,800 hectares to gain protection by 2015, giving a total of 504,000 secured from logging.

Protected forests will include the highly contested, tall, old-growth eucalypt Styx, Upper Florentine and Weld valleys fringing the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area.

Terry Edwards, chief executive of the Forest Industries Association of Tasmania, said he had mixed feelings.

"But I hope that for the sake of the state of Tasmania that the war might now be over," Mr Edwards said.

As of this morning, all bar one signatory had backed the agreement, and that party had given in-principle support, he told local ABC radio.

Mr Edwards said the industry had reduced its quota to 137,000 cubic metres, below a 155,000 cubic metre benchmark set in an interim agreement hammered out by Prime Minister Julia Gillard last year.

The biggest surviving native forest company, veneer processor Ta Ann, is to renegotiate reduced contracts to ensure that its supplies come from genuine arisings of sawlog supplies.

The agreement will go before Tasmania's cabinet today, Thursday, before legislation is introduced to enact key components that would unlock $100 million in federal assistance.

The eventual fate of the deal also depends on the state's upper house, the Legislative Council, whose majority have opposed the negotiations. Mr Edwards urged all parties to get behind the proposal.

Historic forest deal ends 30-year dispute

Matthew Denholm, Tasmania correspondent
The AustralianNovember 22, 2012

A HISTORIC deal to end the 30-year war over Tasmania's forests by protecting more than 500,000ha - one of the nation's largest conservation outcomes - is due to be unveiled today.

Multiple sources yesterday confirmed to The Australian that green and timber groups had agreed to protect more than 503,000ha of native forests while allocating 137,000cu m of sawlogs a year to industry.

The deal, following more than two years of difficult negotiation, was last night being voted on by the boards of the conservation and industry groups involved in the process.

Barring last-minute revolts, it will be endorsed by state cabinet and the federal government and introduced into the Tasmanian parliament today. This meets a deadline set by the Gillard government for $100 million in regional development funds linked to a successful forest peace deal, as well as at least $15m to buy out sawlog contracts.

The Australian, which broke the story yesterday on its website, has confirmed the headline figure is 561,000ha, although about 58,000ha of this will be subject to some logging.

Immediate protection will be granted to about 395,000ha of the forests most coveted for conservation, in areas such as the Styx, Weld and Upper Florentine, with their eventual inclusion in World Heritage areas and national parks.

A further 108,000ha will be added to reserves in 2015, as long as environment groups have kept to the agreement and cease campaigns against the industry.

In addition, 21,000ha will be logged once, but then rehabilitated and added to the new reserves, while 37,000ha will be selectively logged for specialty timbers only.

For this reason, the conservation groups - Environment Tasmania, The Wilderness Society and the Australian Conservation Foundation - will regard the total conservation gain to be just over 503,000ha.

This means green groups have achieved 70,000ha less than their original conservation demand of 572,000ha, while the timber industry has shaved its sawlog demands from 155,000cu m a year to 137,000cu m.

The talks were initially made possible by Gunns' exit from native forest logging, freeing up 220,000cu m of sawlogs, although expert analysis later revealed less timber supply than previously thought.

This led the state and federal governments to run a sawlog buy-out scheme that identified a further 59,000cu m that could be surrendered for compensation.

Talks collapsed last month, but were resurrected informally in recent weeks, with the Construction Forestry Mining and Energy Union, via its national head Jane Calvert, playing a key role.

Pressure from Tasmanian Premier Lara Giddings, who governs in a power-sharing deal with the Greens, helped push the parties to reach agreement in time for the last sitting of parliament, securing the $100m federal funds.

Politically, the deal is seen as vital to any hope state Labor has of retaining power at an election due by March 2014.

The Liberal opposition, sections of the timber industry and some key independents in the state's upper house are likely to firmly oppose the deal, arguing that it sells industry short.

21 November, 2012

Forest sites saved from logging

The Age, November 21, 2012

An out-of-court settlement between VicForests and environmental groups has ensured protection of nine nationally significant rainforest sites in East Gippsland.

VicForests said the settlement had saved taxpayers' money being spent on a costly Supreme Court trial.

VicForests' director of corporate affairs Nathan Trushell said the outcome was a practical solution to a complex legal argument over an administrative matter.

He said the issue related to the management of forest adjacent to rainforest stands and that no rainforest was at risk of being harvested.

Jill Redwood, coordinator of Environment East Gippsland, said the settlement meant VicForests agreed to no logging at three forest areas and to modify their logging boundaries in another six rainforests sites of national significance.

She said the state government, through the Department of Sustainability and Environment, should have protected all significant rainforest sites but had failed to do so.

"We believe that the law requires them to do so and that none of the sites should be on the logging schedule," Ms Redwood said.


21 September, 2012

Tribunal orders release of log deal details

Saffron Howden
Sydney Morning Herald, September 21, 2012

THE NSW government will be forced for the first time to reveal how much logging companies pay to fell native trees on publicly-owned land after a court ruled it was in the public interest that it do so.

The Administrative Decisions Tribunal found yesterday that Forests NSW must hand over information contained in its wood supply agreements, denied to the environment group the Nature Conservation Council of NSW last year after a freedom of information request.

Copies of the agreements were given to the council, but the Department of Trade and Investment blacked out sections that revealed timber price, types and amounts of trees and compensation payments made by the state government when logging companies could not extract all the timber they were promised.
Two Boral subsidiaries joined the government in fighting to keep the information secret, arguing breach of commercial-in-confidence contracts.

But, in a test of the Government Information (Public Access) Act, which has replaced freedom of information laws, the tribunal ruled the information be released.

''I agree with the applicant that there is a clear public interest in an agency that is dealing with public assets being accountable for the manner in which it contracts to sell those assets,'' the tribunal said. ''This interest is strengthened by the fact that the agreements were entered under a system that did not involve an open tender,'' judicial member Stephen Montgomery said.

''I also consider that there is a strong public interest consideration favouring disclosure of the redacted information in order to further public policy development around the management of the publicly owned hardwood forest estate in NSW.''

The council's chief executive, Pepe Clarke, said the judgment set a precedent for public disclosure of forestry operations as the government reviewed timber allocations in the north-east forests.

''We know that we have forests being logged unsustainably,'' he said. ''[This decision] tells us the price that's being paid for trees and logs of different quality.''

The NSW Greens MP Cate Faehrmann said it was only right the contracts be open to scrutiny.

19 September, 2012

Community Yarn of Knitting Grans Stitches Up Logging

Via Steve Meacher. 19 August 2012

Community opposition to controversial logging near Toolangi continued this morning.

With knitting needles, chairs and chocolate, a knitting circle settled into a productive knit-in and a yarn, stopping logging for two and a half hours.

Through the rising morning mist, a skein of six grandmothers and two grandfathers briskly walked up Monda Track to the notorious logging coupe of Leo’s Foot, on Mount Saint Leonard in the Yarra Valley.

“Between us we have 28 grandchildren. We are all concerned they will never see our magnificent Mountain Ash forest,” says Kerryn Blackshaw, local Toolangi grandmother.

“Logging is costing Toolangi its tall trees. We must stop this destructive clearfelling in our local environment.”

When police arrived, the Community Yarn of Knitting Grands left peacefully, without dropping a stitch.

17 September, 2012

Govt 'starving' Forestry Tasmania of cash

ABC News (Australian Broadcasting Corporation), Sep 17, 2012

Forestry Tasmania chairman Miles Hampton has resigned over the State Government's restructuring plan for the state-owned company.

Mr Hampton said he could no longer support the policies of the Government and accused it of trying to starve Forestry Tasmania of cash.

Resources Minister Bryan Green wants to create a statutory authority to take control of production forests from Forestry Tasmania.

Mr Hampton said the decision was not in the best interests of the company and would result in its complete emasculation.

In a carefully scripted statement, Mr Hampton said he had lost faith in the Government because it had broken assurances the company would retain control of production forests.

Mr Hampton also used his statement to accuse the Government of starving the company of cash in order to justify bringing Forestry Tasmania under ministerial control.

The Government had led him to believe the company would be left to continue as a stand alone entity but there had since been an "about face".

"I do not believe that the Government has any intention of establishing a viable forestry business through its proposed restructuring of Forestry Tasmania," he said.

He refused to take questions after giving his statement to the media.

Mr Hampton's resignation is effective immediately.

He was appointed chairman just three weeks ago, after serving five years on the board.

The Government's move has also caused two industry signatories to the forestry peace talks to walk away from the negotiating table.

The Forestry Industry Association and the Australian Forest Products Association say the move is an unnecessary proposal that undermines the peace process.

14 September, 2012

Second forestry group leaves peace talks

ABC News (Australian Broadcasting Corporation), Fri Sep 14, 2012

A second industry player has walked out of the Tasmanian forest peace talks over the State Government's plan to restructure Forestry Tasmania.

Acting Premier Bryan Green wants to create a statutory authority to take control of production forests from the state-owned company.

The Forest Industries Association of Tasmania (FIAT) walked away yesterday and now the Australian Forest Products Association has joined it.

The association says it is an unnecessary proposal that undermines the peace process.

Its representative in the talks is Hans Drielsma, a former general manager of Forestry Tasmania.

The Forestry Union says work on the Tasmanian peace talks will continue despite the industry groups refusing to return to the negotiations.

The union's Jane Calvert says it does not spell the end of the peace talks which have been trying to resolve the state's decades-long forest wars.

Ms Calvert also believes FIAT's actions will not delay the signing of a final deal.

"There's a process going on at the moment of running a voluntary exit program and some modelling being done," she said.

"So we're actually not around a negotiating table as we speak this week, or next, but we're not withdrawing from the process.

"So as soon as that work's done we'll be back in, sleeves rolled up and I hope by then FIAT has its assurances and is able to join us."

The Forest Contractor's Association is also sticking with the peace talks.

13 September, 2012

Green groups attack forest industry walk out

Zoe Edwards, state political reporter 
ABC News (Australian Broadcasting Corporation), Sep 13, 2012T

Environmental groups have accused the forestry industry of holding Tasmania's forest peace talks to ransom.

The Forest Industry Association of Tasmania (FIAT) will not return to the negotiations until the State Government ensures Forestry Tasmania will continue to control production forests.

That has incensed environmental groups involved in the peace talks.

Don Henry from the Australian Conservation Foundation says FIAT's actions are not in the public interest.

"You shouldn't hold peace negotiations to ransom, that's a dangerous game," he said.

The Wilderness Society has also criticised FIAT for walking out for a second time.

Spokesman Lyndon Schneiders says the negotiations are the best way to reach a deal.

"Then the concerns around what are future governments going to do have to be diminished," he said.

"We've got concerns as well about what Will Hodgman's going to do into the future.

"If we took that approach given Hodgman's been running round, saying he's going to tear up the agreement and start from scratch and give industry everything they want, we wouldn't be at the talks either."

FIAT's Terry Edwards says it will not be the association's fault if the talks fall over.

"Government can solve this today, if they are to make an announcement that satisfies the needs that we have," he said.

It has whet Opposition Leader Will Hodgman's appetite for an election.

"If the deal falls, so should the Government," he said.

The Acting Premier has conceded there will be no deal to end the decades-long forest wars if industry does not sign on.

But Bryan Green is not changing his mind.

"We will continue to work with them, allow them to understand the process as it unfolds," he said.

"We have said, just as we're doing with in the energy reforms, [we are] establishing a body to work through the restructuring process."

Mr Green wants to set up a statutory authority to take control of commercial forests from Forestry Tasmania.

He had hoped the plan would appease FIAT and entice it back to the forest peace talks.

Will Mr Hodgman also believes Forestry Tasmania should maintain control over production forests.

"It'll be just a colossal waste of time, money and effort and it will be another step in just trying to keep Nick McKim happy," Mr Hodgman said.

The Greens want more detail before fully backing Mr Green's plan.

Nonetheless, a cabinet sub-committee will meet tomorrow to deal with the issue.

VicForests posts loss after 'challenging year'

Leslie White
Weekly Times Now,  September 13, 2012

TAXPAYER-OWNED native forest logging company VicForests has recorded another financial loss.

Environment groups and Greens have said it is "staggering that VicForests gets free land and trees to cut down but still manages to make a loss" and it would be cheaper to send its employees "to Bali to retire" than to keep the entity alive.

But VicForests says it is looking to the "future after a challenging year" and blamed the high Aussie dollar, global economic conditions and legal expenses for the loss.

The 2011-12 financial year is set to be the fifth running VicForests has failed to return any money to the taxpayer.

VicForests clearfells state forest which it sells for around $130 million most years - just less than $650 million in the past five years.

It has about 120 employees and will not be affected by recent Victorian Government cuts which savaged the Department of Primary Industries and TAFEs as it is considered a separate company - but Weekly Times Now has learned those being offered redundancies at the DPI have been encouraged to apply to government be "Forest protest managers".

VicForests has lost money in three of the past six financial years.

Environment East Gippsland coordinator Jill Redwood said VicForests was a "taxpayer-funded work for the dole scheme".

"At $130 million (worth of) taxpayer gift a year for 120 employees . . . we're better off sending every person to Bali to retire than sending them out there to destroy our forests. The employment is miniscule, less than 1 per cent of the employment in East Gippsland (one of VicForests' two major harvest areas)."

VicForests lost a court case to Environment East Gippsland when it was found to have planned to log threaten species habatit.

It settled out of court last month on charges of logging rainforest laid by the Department of Sustainability and Environment.

VicForests faces another legal battle in the current financial year as green group My Environment appeals VicForests  right to log what the group says is habitat for Victoria's animal emblem, the endangered Leadbeater's Possum.

The group lost its initial judgement against VicForests in the 2011-12 financial year.

VicForests chief Robert Green said 2011-12 had been difficult financially "for many industries".

"Our legal expenses were significant and, despite being awarded costs when the Supreme Court dismissed proceedings brought by an environment group in March, we do not expect to recover much of the expense incurred," Mr Green said.

"Government support, an enthusiastic new VicForests' board and further investment by the private sector indicates the future remains healthy for the industry, and the thousands of jobs it provides in rural and metropolitan areas."

Greens Senator Richard Di Natale said it was "economic lunacy" that "Victorians are actually paying Vicforests to raze our precious native forests and exterminate the Leadbeaters possum, the state's faunal emblem".

12 September, 2012

Another hitch for forestry peace talks

ABC News (Australian Broadcasting Corporation), Sep 12, 2012

Tasmania's forestry peace talks remain in limbo after forest industry signatories walked away.

The Forest Industries Association of Tasmania (FIAT) is refusing to rejoin the talks because the State Government has broken a promise over the restructure of Forestry Tasmania.

FIAT says Government officials gave assurances the state-owned company would retain control over production forests.

Earlier today, acting Premier Bryan Green today announced he would push for the establishment of a new statutory authority to take control of Tasmania's production forests.

Labor's minority government partner had been arguing for the forests to be transferred to a government department.

"The industry had been concerned about ensuring that there is not ministerial control over the management of forests in Tasmania," Mr Green said.

"I agree with that. We're putting in place a process to ensure effectively a body is developed to allow that to happen, it is independent from ministerial control.

"What I'm looking to do is ensure that we get an outcome that everybody can be happy with."

FIAT was threatening to walk away from the peace talks if the Greens got their way.

Mr Green said he had found a "sensible" solution which he hoped would see FIAT remain at the table.

But FIAT's chief executive Terry Edwards says the pledge falls "substantially short" of what industry requires to stay in the peace talks.

Mr Edwards says the State Government had made commitments that production forests would remain with Forestry Tasmania.

Members voted unanimously to stay out of the peace talks until the Government fulfil its original pledge.

"When we signed the interim agreement we had been assured that the expectations we had about forest management would be met," he said.

"We had been assured that. That assurance now hasn't been honoured and as a result the Government has now got the situation they now find themselves in."

Mr Edwards says the association will stay out of the talks for four weeks to give Mr Green time to change his mind.

"I want to give the Government a genuine opportunity to resolve this problem."

"I don't want to talk about destroying these talks.

"The process is still there, we're committed to continue to use that process to try and produce an outcome but we will not do it in circumstances where we cannot be assured that any outcome will be durable and this is, in that contest, a key durability issue."

Greens leader Nick McKim had compromised, agreeing to consider Mr Green's plan to establish a new independent statutory body.

But Mr McKim's stance on FIAT's push remains the same.

"The Greens are not prepared to support those forests remaining with Forestry Tasmania," Mr McKim said.

"We've been consistent about that since day one and that remains our position and will remain our position."

07 September, 2012

'Appalling logging' exposed: green groups

Leslie White
Weekly Times Now, 7 September 2012 

ENVIRONMENT groups have launched a website mocking one of Australia's logging certification schemes.

A website showing photos of logging operations certified by the Australian Forestry Standard was launched this week.

The groups say the AFS approves "the most appalling logging practices like we see in Indonesia and Malaysia" - they prefer the rival Forest Stewardship Certification.

The website http://australianforestrystandard.com/ carries the words "Australian Forestry Standard: Certifying Australian Forest Destruction since 2003".

"We have created a brand new poster series to showcase some of the best standard-setting work right across Australia," the website says.

"The Australian Forestry Standard (AFS) is endorsed by the Program for the Endorsement of Forest Certification (PEFC). PEFC has been condemned by environmental organisations across the world for endorsing the certification of forest operations that destroy biodiversity, revoke human and community rights, and fail to undertake adequate engagement with key stakeholders."

It displays pictures of logged areas being burned (which logging companies do to aid regeneration after clear-felling) at AFS approved sites; of clear-felled areas approved by the AFS and of logs apparently left in the forest after AFS coupes were felled.

AFS national secretary Richard Stanton declined to comment.

Reflex Copy paper has lost its FSC over its use of native forest timber supplied by Victorian Government logging company VicForests, but has AFS certification.

Auditors under AFS have never raised a breach against VicForests - an AFS board member - despite it being fined more than $200,000 by the Department of Sustainability and Environment for logging over allocation, losing a court case for planning to log threatened species habitat and being taken to court this year over alleged rainforest logging.

AFS also renewed its certification of Forestry Tasmania in July, to howls from environment groups.

04 September, 2012

DPI and DSE drop charges against logging protesters at Mt St Leonard

From Steve Meacher

Good afternoon Forest Friends,

A large number of charges brought by the DPI and DSE against several anti-logging protesters will finally come to Ringwood Magistrates’ Court this Thursday morning, 6th September.

Many of the charges relate to protests that disrupted clear-fell logging on Sylvia Creek Road in Toolangi State Forest in July and August last year. The protests only ended when logging of the coupe known as “Gun Barrel” was stopped by a Supreme Court interim injunction, obtained by Healesville non-profit environment group MyEnvironment at the end of August, 2011. Clear-fell logging, and protest actions against it, are continuing at other nearby locations including Mount St Leonard (see photo taken today of Leo's Foot and South End coupes).

It is understood that the charges, most of which have been hanging over protesters for twelve months, are all to be withdrawn by the Department when their cases are called on Thursday. It is also understood that no reason for the decision to withdraw the charges has been given to the accused.

The withdrawal of all charges against community members and activists who defended Gun Barrel coupe last year is a significant win for us and supports our decision to protect this beautiful forest on our doorstep, which we know to be critical habitat for the Leadbeater’s Possum. It is particularly appropriate that these charges are being withdrawn on the eve of Threatened Species’ Day, which marks the death of the last Thylacine in 1936. We won’t stand by and watch the extinction of another unique animal without doing all we can to prevent it.

For the forests,


30 August, 2012

A calm approach at Mt St Leonard

Steve Meacher

Mt St Leonard logging. Credit: Steve Meacher

Aerial photo of Central Highlands logging. Credit: Sarah Rees

Good afternoon forest friends,

After a squally start, it's been a beautiful day up here in Toolangi, reminding us that winter is coming to a close.

Despite the early wind and rain, a small but significant action took place this morning at Leo's Foot coupe on the western face of Mount St Leonard (see attached photo, taken today). Having seen four early log-trucks leave the coupe fully-laden and a kangaroo hopping out of the way in a panic, soon after 7:00am members of the local community walked cheerfully but calmly into the log landing area and settled down on the logs to await events. There was no immediate response from contractors present other than to make some brief 'phone calls. A VicForests officer walked by without comment.

After a while DSE officers arrived followed by the police. The conduct of the police was friendly but one of the group was singled out and separated from the others. Unbowed, she took the opportunity to explain how the DSE is failing to uphold its charter by not protecting native forests and Leadbeater's Possum.

Meanwhile, the main group were asking the police about so-called "citizens' arrests", as allegedly encouraged on their website by Friends of Fibbers. The police gave clear assurance that such behaviour was not an appropriate response to non-violent protest. One officer also commended the community on the peaceful conduct of its extended campaign.

Having achieved their aims in dignity and with mutual respect, today's protesters agreed to leave the coupe without arrest. It was a deliberately low-key, non-confrontational event, designed to demonstrate that the aggressive and violent behaviour shown by a few rogue logging contractors towards activists at recent protests will not be allowed to prevail.

In this, it was a total success. Thanks and congratulations to all involved. Once again, Toolangi stands tall!

For the forests,


15 August, 2012

Interim forest deal revealed

Nick Clark
The Mercury, August 15, 2012

AN interim forest peace deal has been announced his afternoon -- but there is still no agreement on wood supply or forest reserves.

Industry and environmental groups have been negotiating for two years and have twice extended the talks beyond their initial deadlines.

The deal is not a final agreement, which the signatories say should be delivered after about another four weeks.

The agreement comes after Federal Environment Minister Tony Burke spent the weekend in Tasmania trying to facilitate a deal.

The Inter-governmental Agreement on Forestry is aimed at ending the dispute that has dominated debate for 30 years.

It is understood industry wants stronger guarantees from environmental groups that the industry would not be undermined in overseas markets in the future by groups other than signatories.

Such an agreement would bind conservationist groups outside the discussions to not actively undermine the agreement.

It would include a pledge that conservationists would not oppose Forest Stewardship Council certification.

It is understood it would also cover behaviour such as a campaign by Markets for Change earlier this year which discredited products from Ta Ann that was bound for the basketball courts at the London Olympics.

Industry wants 155,000 cubic metres of saw log and 265,000 cubic metres of peeler billets.

Environmental groups have targeted up to 572,000 ha of forest for reserve.

End in sight for Tasmania's forest wars

Andrew Darby, Hobart correspondent for Fairfax Media
Sydney Morning Herald, August 15, 2012

Marathon talks to end Tasmania's forest wars are approaching final agreement after recovering from near collapse.

An interim deal released today overcomes long-standing obstacles between industry and green groups, setting up for future conflict resolution, and backing strict timber certification system.

The two sides are yet to settle the major sticking point – how much native forest to log or protect – but say they are confident of final agreement.

An initial truce was agreed by industry leaders and environment groups in 2010 after 30 years of protests against native forest logging in Tasmania. It came as the industry collapsed in the face of market rejection of native forest woodchips, and the high dollar.

The talks won $276 million support last year from the federal government to pay out forest workers, restructure the surviving industry and protect forests.

But in recent months as computer modelling of forest use scenarios failed to bring an acceptable outcome the talks threatened to unravel.

Before the latest round began last Friday, the chief executive of the Forest Industries Association of Tasmania, Terry Edwards, described them as "a last hurrah".

The federal Environment Minister, Tony Burke, and the Tasmanian deputy premier, Bryan Green, joined the talks last weekend – and today Mr Edwards and other negotiators emerged with an interim agreement.

"It is our clear expectation to finalise an agreement in four to six weeks' time," Mr Edwards said. "At this stage we haven't been able to finalise issues around wood supply and reserve outcomes."

The conservation movement has been seeking protection of up to 568,000 hectares of native forests.

In the interim agreement, signatories accepted some continued native forest logging, with a transition to greater use of plantations, and legally binding protection of high-conservation-value native forests.

Today's document also spells out how a stakeholder council will oversee the "durability" of a final deal, and requires certification of timber production by the internationally accepted Forest Stewardship Council.

Environment Tasmania negotiator Phill Pullinger said negotiations had been very intense over the past week but all around the table were committed to achieving a solution.

"We absolutely want to deliver a strong and sustainable future for the forest industry in Tasmania that is free of the conflict and aggro that has gone on around this issue for so long," Dr Pullinger said.

"We absolutely are working to deliver a strong outcome for nature conservation, so that it does deliver that durability that the industry and all of us have been working so hard to achieve."

07 August, 2012

Planet Ark misquotes uni on logging

Leslie White
Weekly Times Now,  August 7, 2012

A BOGUS quote attributed to a major university by a key environment group is ``no problem'', the university says.

Planet Ark had released a quote claiming logging products are carbon-friendly to build with, complete with a reference to an RMIT study.

But the quote: "Substituting wood products from well managed forests and plantations for carbon intensive products could reduce the embodied emissions of a typical house by up to 18 tonnes over its life'' does not exist in the study.

And the assertion has angered other environment groups - who say less than 20 per cent of wood recovered from a forest goes into wood products - and other university researchers, who say the RMIT study itself says forest management was outside its scope.

Following questioning by Weekly Times Now, Planet Ark admitted the quote came from a "fact sheet'' supplied by logging industry body Forest and Wood Products Australia.

Planet Ark campaigns head Brad Gray said the line was "accidentally attributed with no intention to mislead''.

Planet Ark has a deal worth $700,000 with FWPA, and FWPA's logo appears on the RMIT study.

Weekly Times Now contacted the study's lead researcher, who saw "no problem'' with the FWPA quote being attributed to the study as he considered it reflected the findings.

RMIT initially told Weekly Times Now the quote was merely "paraphrased''.

After Planet Ark admitted "accidental attribution'', RMIT issued a one-line statement saying it accepted Planet Ark's explanation and "now regards the matter as closed''.

But days later, Planet Ark again disseminated the "quote'' attributed to RMIT - this time to ABC's 7.30 program.

The "quote'' was displayed on 7.30's website, but Planet Ark wrote to it with a correction early this week - after questions from Weekly Times Now.

RMIT failed to answer questions from Weekly Times Now on how much FWPA contributed to the study and on whether it would accept incorrect referencing from its students.

But it said RMIT "undertakes research sponsored by industry partners in an independent and professional way''.

06 August, 2012

No peace deal for Tasmania's forests

ABC News (Australian Broadcasting Corporation), August 06, 2012

Long-running talks to strike a peace deal for Tasmania's forests have failed, with signatories unable to meet today's deadline for a final agreement.

The industry and environmental groups involved say they need fresh eyes and cannot do it alone.

They have called on the state and federal governments to facilitate a final agreement to reduce the amount of native forest logging in the state.

The groups will not say what the key sticking points are, but say the plan they had almost settled on did not provide enough timber for the industry.

Terry Edwards from the Forest Industries Association says the issues which need sorting out are "significant".

But Phil Pullinger from Environment Tasmania says failure is not an option.

"We do think that the new set of eyes may help us with some lateral thinking," he said.

Tasmanian Premier Lara Giddings says an agreement is vital to bring hope for the future.

"It is a reality that our forestry industries are under pressure, it is a reality that our world markets are in decline," she said.

"There is no use being a (Opposition Leader) Will Hodgman in all of this and putting your head in the sand and pretending the problems in the forest industry will go away.

"What an agreement will do is give us some hope, some way to providing for a sustainable native and plantation forest industry into the future."

Federal Environment Minister Tony Burke says he is confident an agreement can still be reached.

"Throughout all of this, we need to remember two things: one, we are talking about a group of people who a fortnight ago were able to reach an agreement; secondly, everybody around that table knows what it means if they don't reach agreement," he said.

"Industry are only at the table because they believe there are significant benefits to industry from them being in an agreement.

"The conservation groups are only on the table because they believe there is a one-off opportunity there for a conservation outcome.

"And the union is at the table because they know there are strong employment outcomes from reaching an agreement."

The parties will meet Mr Burke and Deputy Premier Bryan Green on Friday.

They expect a deal, if any, will be announced early next week.

Doubt cast on Gunns pulp mill

ABC News (Australian Broadcasting Corporation), August 06, 2012 

The Tasmanian timber company Gunns has raised the possibility it will not proceed with its planned $2.3 billion Bell Bay pulp mill project.

Gunns has told the stock exchange its board can not agree on whether the Tamar Valley project will go ahead.

It is now accounting for the $250 million it has already spent on the project as an expense rather than an asset.

The money is included in a $800 million asset write-down which the company is anticipating as part of its annual result expected later this month.

Gunns says this does not necessarily mean that the project will not go ahead, only that it is an indication of the company's decreased confidence about it proceeding.

"The company's board has been unable to reach a view for the purposes of the company's 30th of June 2012 financial accounts that the mill project is 'probable to proceed' in terms of the concepts defined in relevant accounting standards," the statement reads.

"The decision taken by the board does not necessarily mean that the mill project will not proceed.

"Rather it is an indication of decreased confidence from the company that is has the ability to influence the mill project proceeding."

Industry analyst Robert Easement says the announcement highlights external pressures on the company.

"The high Australian dollar has made it hard for them, the falling assets value of their plantations has made it hard for them," he said.

Company shares have been in a trading halt for almost five months as it tries to negotiate a planned $400 million capital raising.

Gunns says it is unclear when it will emerge the trading halt.

02 August, 2012

DSE - prosecuting while being prosecuted

Environment East Gippsland
MEDIA RELEASE, Thursday 2 August 2012

Today, in a curious paradox, the Department of Sustainability and Environment is being taken to court for not adhering to its own rainforest protection laws, while next week DSE will be in court prosecuting VicForests for criminally logging rainforests.

The environment group which successfully sued VicForests in 2010 for planning to unlawfully destroy endangered wildlife habitat, has today served court documents on DSE*.

Environment East Gippsland hopes to prove that DSE neglected to follow its own law and protect identified areas of nationally significant rainforest.

“While DSE takes VicForests to court for illegally logging rainforests, we believe it has itself broken laws on rainforest protection, which has forced our community group to now take DSE to court”, said Jill Redwood from EEG “It reads like a silly Monty Python sketch, but this absurdity is real”.

VicForests is due to appear in the Bairnsdale Magistrates court this Monday 6th August and the Environment East Gippsland vs DSE case should be heard in the Supreme Court in November later this year. 

For comment or information:  Jill Redwood (03) 5154 0145

*Environment East Gippsland initially began proceedings to sue VicForests last December/January over 14 areas of rainforest it planned to clearfell. These 14 areas support nationally significant rainforest in East Gippsland. It has now joined DSE into the case as EEG believes DSE is the authority which should have by law mapped and protected all Sites of National Significance for Rainforest.

01 August, 2012

Planet Ark founders cut ties with 'lost' organisation

Adam Harvey
ABC News, 1 Aug 2012

PHOTO: Pat Cash and John Dee have withdrawn their memberships from Planet Ark. (johndee.com) 

The founders of environment group Planet Ark are speaking out about the charity they say has lost its way.

Environmentalist Jon Dee and tennis great Pat Cash founded Planet Ark 20 years ago.

It soon forged a high profile, thanks in part to the backing of celebrities like Olivia Newton John, Kylie Minogue and Pierce Brosnan.

But times have been tough for Planet Ark lately.

It has made substantial losses for three years running, sold some major assets and offered redundancies to staff.

After National Tree Day at the weekend, Mr Dee and Mr Cash have told 7.30 they are particularly upset about Planet Ark's links with the timber industry.

Planet Ark has allowed its logo to be used on advertisements for timber, paid for by Forest and Wood Products Australia (FWPA).

It is part of a sponsorship deal in which Planet Ark gets $700,000 from the timber industry.

Planet Ark is also under fire for working with the timber industry to update the industry's certification system for wood products, which is called the Australian Forestry Standard (AFS).

It is seen as weaker than the rival certification system backed by the environmental movement and run by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC).

A timber company ticked off by the AFS was last year fined for illegal logging.

The Planet Ark board and management team should be held accountable for this decision to work with the forest industry... Planet Ark needs to return to the values that once made it such a great organisation.

Mr Dee and Mr Cash left Planet Ark five years ago. They say at that point, the organisation was "highly successful".

They remained members of the organisation, but now, both Mr Dee and Mr Cash have cancelled their memberships.

"The AFS scheme concerns many environmentalists. Clear felling, environmental destruction, death of native forests," Mr Dee said.

"An organisation like Planet Ark cannot be seen to be associated with that particular standard. The only standard they should promote is FSC. That's why I felt I had to take a stand on this.

"It's been very difficult for Pat and I. We founded Planet Ark. They do some great projects, National Tree Day on the weekend with a million native trees and shrubs.

"We beleive this campaign, tied up with the forest industry, is one step too far."

Mr Cash issued a statement to 7.30, saying Planet Ark should be held accountable for its decision to work with the forest industry, and return to the values that made it great.

"The deal with the forest industry and the controversy around the Peter Maddison TV advert has eroded Planet Ark's credibility as an environmental organisation," Mr Cash said.

"The Planet Ark board and management team should be held accountable for this decision to work with the forest industry, as well as the sale of Planet Ark Park and any staff redundancies.

"Planet Ark needs to return to the values that once made it such a great organisation and withdraw from their association with the AFS and the FWPA."

Selling out?

Mr Cash and Mr Dee are not the only ones accusing Planet Ark of selling out.

"What in effect Planet Ark is doing today is endorsing logging in the Styx Valley," Sarah Rees from My Environment said.

"This is a very confusing message for consumers, given Planet Ark has such an important role to play in advising people on best brands and good wood."

Greens Leader Christine Milne agrees.

Planet Ark is an environmental organisation committed to encouraging positive behaviour change... We guard our independence and reputation fiercely.

"What Planet Ark has done is they have undermined the rest of the environment movement by effectively trying to give some green wash to the native forest logging industry," she said.

"The AFS has no credibility at all. It was only dreamt up in response to the FSC standard and Australia couldn't meet that standard. Next thing we knew we had this dodgy standard which no-one has any respect for."

Independent Senator Nick Xenophon says Planet Ark's deal with the timber industry is a conflict of interest.

"There could be a perception that who pays the piper calls the tune. And when you're getting $700,000 in donations from the industry and part of the review of the forest standard, then it raises some serious questions of a potential conflict of interest," he said.

Financial trouble

Planet Ark's financial statements show it has been in the red for three consecutive years.

Last year, the charity put its former Blue Mountain headquarters on the market. It sold for a bargain $875,000.

Planet Ark says it is not in financial trouble, and recent redundancies are simply because the charity has shifted from the Blue Mountains to Circular Quay.

Planet Ark's deal with the Forest Industry has made it easier to balance its books for now, but they may find that the relationship causes long-term damage with its traditional supporters.

"I think it will be the beginning of the end for Planet Ark unless they change direction because everybody looks at it and sees what it is," Senator Milne said.

Planet Ark declined 7.30's request for an interview. But in a statement, it says it is not compromised by its deal with the forest industry.

21 July, 2012

Star-picket attack on anti-logging campers

Deborah Gough
The Age, July 21, 2012 - 3:22PM

A camp of anti-logging protesters in a state forest near Healesville say they were terrorised by "thugs" who attacked them in the early hours of this morning.

MyEnvironment spokeswoman Sarah Rees said up to 10 men ambushed the two-men camp at Toolangi State Forest, at Mt St Leonard, at 2.30am.

The attackers shone car headlights into the faces of the protesters, John Flynn and Andy Lincoln, and menaced them with star pickets and a large car jack.

Mr Flynn, 60, came out of the tent first and was knocked to the ground with his throat compressed. Mr Lincoln, 25, then emerged from the tent and tried to photograph the attackers but instead had his camera equipment stolen.

The thugs wrestled with both men and the camp and a car was smashed up. Both men were taken to a medical clinic for treatment with "wrestling" injuries.

A star-picket was used to smash the windscreen and passenger window of the protester's truck.
The protest was set up to stop clear-felling in habitat used by the Victoria's faunal emblem, the Leadbeater's possum.

An Australian National University study estimated that the possum's numbers were cut by half by the nearby Black Saturday bushfires.

Ms Rees said tensions had been simmering between conservationists and loggers for months. She said a Facebook page, set up by supporters of the timber industry, was "stimulating violence".

MyEnvironment sought an injunction against the state-owned timber business, VicForests, to stop it clearfelling in the Toolangi State Forest.

It lost its case in the Supreme Court in March but yesterday the group lodged a Court of Appeal challenge to the decision.

"We are calling for a full investigation into who (attacked the campers) and what links they might have with the timber industry and individuals higher up in the logging industry," Ms Rees said.

A Victoria Police media spokesman Marty Beveridge confirmed Yarra Ranges CIU detectives were investigating the incident at the camp where it is alleged that damage was done to a vehicle and property stolen.

State government spokesman Michael Moore said he was unaware of the incident that although ''sounded serious'', was a matter for police.

20 July, 2012

Pro-logging protester joins tree-sit activist

ABC NewsJuly 20, 2012

Tasmanian police are monitoring a remote southern forest where a farmer has set up camp under a long running tree-sit protest by an anti-logging activist.

PHOTO: The activist says she is not troubled by Mr Hirst's presence. (AAP: Paul Hoelen)
Police were called to the remote Tyenna Valley in Tasmania's south west-last night after farmer Michael Hirst set up his own protest at the tree which has been home to Miranda Gibson since December.

Mr Hirst represents a pro-logging group called "Give it Back".

He says members will take turns camping at the base of Ms Gibson's tree to voice their side of the forest debate.

"We're here to fight for Tasmania's resources, the right for people to live in this state."

Ms Gibson says as long as her supporters can work safely, she is not troubled by Mr Hirst's presence.

"I'm a 100 per cent committed to staying in this tree and continuing to speak up on behalf of these forests," she said.

AUDIO: Duelling protests in chilly Tassie forest (AM)
Police have warned both protesters against escalating the situation.

Tasmania's Greens leader is worried any escalation in the two protests could derail the forest peace talks as they enter their final days.

Nick McKim says the forest negotiations are at a delicate stage.

"Everyone has a right to peaceful protest no matter what their cause but we are concerned that this situation may escalate and we are calling for calm heads and cool heads to prevail," he said.

"We're hoping that other community leaders and political leaders will echo that call."

Former Australian Greens leader Bob Brown says he hopes Mr Hirst will learn to appreciate the forest during his camp out.

"Good on Michael for having a different point of view and being prepared to camp out there, even if only for a few days," he said.

Wood waste energy plan thwarted

Gippsland Times, 20 Jul, 2012

PLANS by Australia’s biggest hardwood sawmill and timber processing operation, Australian Sustainable Hardwoods at Heyfield, to produce electricity from its waste have been stymied by provisions of the Federal government’s carbon pricing scheme.

ASH chief executive Vince Hurley explained that despite the operation purchasing only regrowth ash (timber) certified under the Australian Forestry Standard as being a sustainable resource, and being certified to ISO14001 International Environmental Standard, AS4801 Australian Safety Standard and AS4707 Chain of Custody for Certified Wood and Forest products, its waste cannot be used to generate power because of compromises negotiated between the Greens and the government.

Mr Hurley summarized the dilemma the company faces as being caught by the agreement between the Greens and the Australian Labor Party enabling the carbon-pricing scheme to pass through the parliament on the provision that anything originating in native forest could not be eligible for carbon credits, and could not qualify as renewable energy.

“We (ASH) could build a power station here quite easily, a turbine that could supply our own power, Heyfield, Maffra and more with renewable energy power, just by burning our waste,” Mr Hurley said.

“Dry sawdust in suspension, so it’s a very clean fuel, but we can’t qualify for renewable energy certificates which means . . . it makes it very difficult for the project to pay itself back, because if doesn’t qualify for green power and doesn’t qualify for renewable energy certificates then it is competing with brown coal (generated) power.”

“Now sure it (brown coal power) is going to go up in price but not to the extent where you have a differential that is going to pay back the cost of the equipment.”

Currently ASH uses the sawdust to provide 85 per cent of its energy needs for steaming timber and kiln drying. It buys in 15 per cent of its energy needs in the form of electricity.

Mr Hurley argues that a hardwood sawmill utilizing regrowth ash, certified as renewable and having chain of custody for supply, should be treated the same as mills using Radiata pine produced from high-input plantations on land that was formerly productive agricultural land.

For more, including details about how the Heyfield mill's new ownership has impacted operations, read Friday's Gippsland Times.