30 January, 2012

Trees: the ultimate green investment?

Gregory Moore
Climate Spectator , 30 Jan 2012

The Conversation

Perhaps it is a pity that so many Australians think of our parks, gardens, streetscapes and urban landscapes only in terms of their aesthetics. While green spaces are beautiful and decorative, these attributes can mask the many functions vegetation serves in cities, to the point where its economic, social and environmental benefits are overlooked. Yes, trees are beautiful; but more than that, they save our cities a lot of money.

Cities are biodiversity hot spots because of the variety of habitats available in public and private open space, including front and back yards. Urban landscapes and trees have been wonderful but silent assets in our cities for decades and even centuries.

They are major urban infrastructure assets. I often hear it said that; “There are better things to use water on than plants and gardens”, but I challenge you to name them. What else delivers so many benefits immediately: benefits that last centuries into the future, which prolong healthy lives and make cities both sustainable and livable?

At a time of climate change, it is worrying that both private and public open spaces are threatened by urban renewal and development that puts at risk long-term sustainability. In many of these developments there is insufficient open space – public or private – to plant large trees, and the opportunities for vegetation to ameliorate the heat island effect, lower wind speed, provide shade and reduce energy use are lost. This affects the economic viability of such developments, as well as its long term environmental sustainability.
The shade provided by trees drops temperatures by up to 8°C: there is real economic value in that. Shade can reduce air conditioner use by 12-15%, which also decreases carbon emissions from our largely brown-coal-generated electricity.

When 11 million trees were planted in the Los Angeles basin, it saved US$50 million per annum on air conditioning bills. Large trees were removed from school grounds in the name of safety after the Black Saturday fires, without thought of the shade they provided. Consequently, large shade sails had to be provided to protect students from excessive summer sun.

It is more difficult to place a value on reduced wind speeds (up to 10%) due to the presence of vegetation, or on protection that trees provide from hail. However, we do know that under climate change winds will be stronger and that severe storms will be more prevalent. Indeed, Victoria has already suffered the effects of several major wind and hail storm events over the past few years.

Urban vegetation also removes atmospheric pollutants. It was calculated that the vegetation of New York provided US$10 million of benefit in pollution removal in 1994. Sadly there are few similar studies for Australian cities. However in the only study of its kind, economists found that each Adelaide street tree provides a minimum annual benefit of $200 per year and that it was an under-estimate of the real value.
Vegetation also holds and absorbs water during more intense rainfall events – unlike concrete and paved surfaces. The economic value of reducing localised flooding could be substantial.

Vegetated landscapes, especially those containing trees, improve human heath, extend life spans, reduce violence and vandalism, and lower blood pressure. Vegetation humidifies the air, easing breathing and reducing the need for medication in those with respiratory difficulties. In reducing the urban heat island effect, trees can also substantially reduce the excess deaths that occur, predominantly among the elderly, during heat waves. It is often forgotten that the fires of Black Saturday killed 172 people, but the heat wave surrounding it was responsible for 374 deaths.

There is ample evidence that treed landscapes foster both active and passive recreation. Green and leafy environments will be one of the vital strategic tools in dealing with children lacking exercise and becoming obese, encouraging an ageing population to exercise and curbing ever-increasing health costs. The human health benefits can save society a truck-load on medical and social infrastructure costs.

Melbourne is one of Victoria’s biodiversity hot spots. The parks, gardens, streets and front and backyards provide a very diverse range of plant species that generate a myriad of habitats and niches for wildlife. High density urban developments and inner city renewal make it virtually impossible to grow trees in places that were once green and leafy. We rarely ever see the real costs of such developments.

In the past decade tree populations in many Australian cities have declined, particularly with the loss of private open space. While the costs, damage and nuisance values attributed to trees are widely known, the benefits they provide are often subtle and under-appreciated.

Urban vegetation provides economic and ecological services to society. They are assets which warrant the expenditure of resources such as labour, energy and water. Such expenditure is not wasted: trees and urban landscapes provide far more economically and ecologically than they use. In any comprehensive and fair calculation urban trees and landscapes are worth more than they cost.

Gregory Moore is a Doctor of Botany at University of Melbourne

26 January, 2012

World's giant trees are dying off rapidly, studies show

John Vidal, environment editor
The Guardian, Thursday 26 January 2012
Ecological 'kings of the jungle' being toppled by forest fragmentation, severe drought and new pests and diseases

The largest patch of old growth redwood forest remaining in Humboldt Redwoods State Park, California. Photograph: Michael Nichols/NG/Getty Images
The biggest trees in the world, known as the true ecological kings of the jungle, are dying off rapidly as roads, farms and settlements fragment forests and they come under prolonged attack from severe droughts and new pests and diseases.

Long-term studies in Amazonia, Africa and central America show that while these botanical behemoths may have adapted successfully to centuries of storms, pests and short-term climatic extremes, they are counterintuitively more vulnerable than other trees to today's threats.

"Fragmentation of the forests is now disproportionately affecting the big trees," said William Laurance, a research professor at James Cook University in Cairns, Australia. "Not only do many more trees die near forest edges, but a higher proportion of the trees dying were the big trees."

"Their tall stature and relatively thick, inflexible trunks, may make them especially prone to uprooting and breakage near forest edges where wind turbulence is increased," said Laurance in this week's New Scientist magazine.

Big trees may comprise less than 2% of the trees in any forest but they can contain 25% of the total biomass and are vital for the health of whole forests because they seed large areas. "With their tall canopies basking in the sun, big trees capture vast amounts of energy. This allows them to produce massive crops of fruits, flowers and foliage that sustain much of animal life in the forests. Their canopies help moderate the local forest environment while their understory creates a unique habitat for otherplants and animals," said Laurance.

"Only a small number of tree species have the genetic capacity to grow really big. To grow into giants trees needs good growing conditions, lots of time and the right place to establish their seedlings. Disrupt any one of these and you lose them."

In some parts of the world, Laurance said, populations of big trees are dwindling because their seedlings cannot survive or grow. "In southern India an aggressive shrub is invading the understorey of many forests, preventing seedlings from dropping on the floor. With no young trees to replace them, it's only a matter of time before most of the big trees disappear."

According to Laurance, it is not just the biggest trees in the world that are suffering, but also the biggest in their communities. Dutch elm disease killed off many of the stateliest trees in Britain in the 1960s and 70s, and new exotic organisms and bacterial infections, often brought in from other continents via garden centres, are threatening oak, ash and other species.

Longer lasting and more intense droughts, which are becoming more frequent in many tropical areas with climate change, are also taking their toll. Studies in Puerto Rico and Costa Rica suggest that big trees also suffer more in droughts than most other organisms, said Laurance.

"In rainforests droughts promote surface fires that burn through leaf litter on the forest floor. Larger trees were initially thought to survive these fires but in fact many die two to three years later. In cloud forests, big trees use their branches and crowns to rake the mist and capture water droplets. Global warming could push clouds up to higher elevations depriving them of sources of moisture".

"The danger is that the oldest, largest trees will progressively die off and not be replaced. Alarmingly this might trigger a 'positive feedback' that could destabilise the climate: as older trees die, forests would release their stored carbon, prompting a vicious circle of further warming and forest shrinkage," said Laurance.

Many of the big trees are the oldest and most ecologically important inhabitants of the forest. In the Amazon, they are often 400-1,400 years old, in North America giant redwoods can exceed 2,000 years and giant sequoias 3,000 years.

Big trees, like the old-growth forests they inhabit, are declining globally

Rhett Butler
mongabay.com. January 26, 2012

Already on the decline, demise of giant trees may be hastened by global warming.

Already on the decline worldwide, big trees face a dire future due to habitat fragmentation, selective harvesting by loggers, exotic invaders, and the effects of climate change, warns an article published this week in 
New Scientist magazine.

Reviewing research from forests around the world, William F. Laurance, an ecologist at James Cook University in Cairns, Australia, provides evidence of decline among the world's "biggest and most magnificent" trees and details the range of threats they face. He says their demise will have substantial impacts on biodiversity and forest ecology, while worsening climate change.

"To persist, big trees need a safe place to live and long periods of stability," he told mongabay.com via email. "But time and stability are becoming very rare commodities in our modern world."
Giant trees offer critical habitat and forage for wildlife, while transpiring massive amounts of water through their leaves, contributing to local rainfall. Old trees also lock up massive amounts of carbon — in some forests they can account for up to a quarter of living biomass.
Dipterocarp in Borneo
Dipterocarps are commonly targeted by loggers in Southeast Asia. This Dipterocarp was photographed in Borneo by Rhett A. Butler.
But their ability to sequester carbon and render other ecosystem services is threatened by human activities. Some of the world's largest trees are particularly targeted by loggers. The oldest trees are among the most valuable and therefore the first to be cut in "virgin" forest areas.
Big trees are also sensitive to fragmentation, which exposes them to stronger winds and drier conditions. Laurance's own work in the Amazon has shown substantial die-off of canopy giants in small forest fragments. Their susceptibility seems counter-intuitive given big trees' life histories, which invariably include periods of drought and other stress.

"All around the tropics, big canopy and emergent trees are succumbing to strong droughts," Laurance said. "That's been a surprise to me and many other ecologists, because big, ancient trees would have had to survive many droughts in the past."
Forest giants may suffer disproportionately from climate change, writes Laurance inNew Scientist, highlighting research in La Selva, Costa Rica by David and Deborah Clark.
    "Trees are probably getting a double-whammy when the thermometer rises,' says David Clark. “During the day, their photosynthesis shuts down when it gets too warm, and at night they consume more energy because their metabolic rate increases, much as a reptile’s would do when it gets warmer.” With less energy being produced in warmer years and more being consumed just to survive, there is less energy available for growth.The Clarks’ hypothesis, if correct, means tropical forests could shrink over time. The largest, oldest trees would progressively die off and tend not to be replaced. Alarmingly, this might trigger a positive feedback that could destabilize the climate: as older trees die, forests would release some of their stored carbon into the atmosphere, prompting a vicious circle of further warming, forest shrinkage and carbon emissions.
Laurance notes climate change is having less direct impacts on forests, including creating conditions for exotic pathogens to thrive. For example, pathogens such as Dutch Elm Disease, introduced by trade or circumstance, can devastate native forests.
Giant Kapok tree in the Brazilian AmazonGiant Kapok tree in the Brazilian Amazon. Photo by Rhett A. Butler.
All told, the outlook for big trees is not good, according to Laurance."The decline of big trees foretells a different world where ancient behemoths are replaced by short-lived pioneers and generalists that can grow anywhere, where forests store less carbon and sustain fewer dependent animals, where giant cathedral-like crowns become a thing of the past."

25 January, 2012

Forestry stand-off moves north

Narooma News, 25 Jan, 2012

FORESTS NSW has asked police to investigate thefts and vandalism to a logging contractor’s machinery near Batemans Bay over the weekend.

Forests NSW Southern Region manager Daniel Tuan said the thefts of radios, tools, GPS equipment and other material worth thousands of dollars had taken place in Boyne State Forest on Friday night and was discovered on Saturday.

LOGGING AREA: Protestors attached cables to logging equipment in the Boyne State Forest near Batemans Bay. Photo courtesy SEFR

On Sunday night vandals broke into the same four pieces of machinery and set off fire protection equipment.

“These thefts of essential and expensive equipment can be a lasting setback to forestry operators,” Mr Tuan said.

“UHF radios are an essential operating and safety measure.

“Operators of these pieces of heavy machinery have to be aware of each other and visitors to the workplace.

“The GPS equipment is used to help the contractors comply with the exacting operating procedures they work under to ensure they are harvesting in an environmentally sustainable manner.

“The loss of time in replacing this equipment, as well as the cost, is a major impost on their operating budget and a setback to Forests NSW which needs to supply timber to its customers.”

Mr Tuan said the vandalism of the fire protection units was also a risk to operator health and safety in a difficult workplace environment.

Forests NSW is harvesting spotted gum sawlogs from Boyne State Forest for the local sawmill industry.

There is a long history of harvesting in the area.

In solidarity with Victorian conservationists in the Central Highlands, protestors from South East Forest Rescue (SEFR) last week claim to have halted logging operations Boyne State Forest north of Batemans Bay.

The conservation group claims to have found more illegal logging in Compartment 99 and is calling for an end to native forest logging on public land.
Their action saw four logging machines attached by high tensile steel cable to a structure in a tree 20 metres off the ground, and a banner stating “Carbon Criminals”.

Boyne State Forest is part of the National Estate Register, contains records of nationally listed endangered species, as well as state-listed species, such as swift parrots, yellow-bellied gliders, masked and sooty owls.

South East Forest Rescue’s nocturnal fauna survey revealed greater gliders, feather-tailed gliders and sugar gliders as well as micro bats.

SEFR have demanded that the state-run logging agency Forests NSW guarantee there will be no impacts on the environment as a result of the logging and to guarantee any logging Forests NSW and their authorised contractors undertake will not impact on the health and wellbeing of the citizens of New South Wales, being both present and future unborn generations.

“These contractors are repeat offenders,” said Ms Stone, spokesperson for SEFR. “In Dampier State Forest and Bodalla State Forest in the foothills of Gulaga Mountain near Narooma, we uncovered breaches of the licence conditions committed by this contractor.”

“The Office of Environment and Heritage upheld these breaches,” Ms Stone said.

“Old-growth forest, ecologically mature forest, was logged.

Clear felled hillsides are not any form of environmental protection. There are now serious adverse impacts to the many threatened species of the area, and the water catchment

19 January, 2012

Deanmill timber mill workers return

ABC News (Australian Broadcasting Corporation), January 19, 2012

The Shire of Manjimup in south-west Western Australia says the return of workers to the Deanmill timber mill is a significant step forward for the town.

Dozens of timber workers lost their jobs when Gunns Limited closed the mill early last year.

Auswest Timber, which bought the mill in December, switched its saws back on this week, employing 31 new workers.

It plans to employ 20 more when the mill is officially opened in March.

Shire president Wade De Campo says the future of Manjimup's timber industry is looking bright.

"It's created optimism I think in the air of the community," he said.

"Coupled with plans that we have for the timber industry for long-term as a local government, then I think the future is bright in that regard.

18 January, 2012

Logging breaches discovered by conservationists in Yambulla State Forest


Following the reports on unlawful logging in State forest on the south coast, the conservation group South East Forest Rescue today found more illegal logging in Yambulla State Forest.  This is the third time these type of breaches have been discovered in these particular compartments.

The conservationists are calling for a halt to native forest logging operations.

The compartment contains records of nationally listed endangered species such as Glossy Black Cockatoos, Smokey Mice, Southern Brown Bandicoots, Tiger Quolls, Eastern Pygmy Possums, Bent Wing Bats, Yellow-bellied Gliders, Gang Gang Cockatoos and White-Footed Dunnarts.

Environmentalists used a large wooden tripod attached to a structure in a tree 25 metres high with a person in it to halt logging operations south of Eden on the New South Wales far south coast.

There were four Rocky Outcrops in Yambulla State Forest Cpt 444 that have been logged.  This is unlawful under the licence conditions. (Eden Region TSL regulation 5.11).

“The response from Forests NSW shows the complete lack of regard for the licence conditions that Forests NSW and their contractors must abide by,” said Ms Stone of SEFR.  “The licence conditions for threatened species and habitat conservation are not being adhered to, even though the conditions are grossly inadequate.”

“We have reported the breaches in this compartment to the Office of Environment and Heritage,” said Ms Stone.  “We stated last time that the probability of further breaches in this compartment if harvesting continues is high given that this logging contractor is a repeat offender and that FNSW still is not complying with the licence conditions.”

"These breaches have caused major environmental damage. We have called on the Federal Minister for the Environment to take action.”

“We’re calling on the NSW Minister for the Environment to prosecute Forests NSW without further delay,” she said.  “Verbal and written warnings have been ineffective in rectifying this behaviour nor commensurate with the degree of environmental damage being inflicted upon threatened species habitat.”

"FNSW has had enough chances to get this simple direction right over 13 years and have failed miserably.  The time is over for 'education'. It is now time for the government to get serious and prosecute public
forest offenders of serious environmental damage as they are prosecuted on private land."

Contact Lisa Stone on 0428 640 271

16 January, 2012

Gillard defends new forest deal

ABC News (Australian Broadcasting Corporation), January 16, 2012

Prime Minister Julia Gillard has urged environmentalists to stick with Tasmania's forest peace deal, despite their concerns about a new conservation agreement.

The state and federal governments last week gave Forestry Tasmania approval to continue logging 2,000 hectares of the 430,000 hectares of native forest earmarked for protection.

The Government insists it is necessary for industry to meet existing contracts, but the Greens say it is a breach of the original peace deal.

On a visit to the state, Ms Gillard said it was just an interim agreement until the conservation value of the forest was properly verified.

"The process has been agreed to, Jonathan West was the person agreed to, so I do expect people who have been in that process every step of the way to hold to the process that they agreed to," she said.

"When you read the agreement we always said that we would be guaranteeing wood supply for current contracts and we've done that.

"As a result of the interim conservation agreement Minister Tony Burke signed, 99.5 per cent of the nominated area for interim protection is being protected."

The Greens are disappointed that while in the state, Ms Gillard did not take up an invitation to visit disputed areas.

One protester remains in a 60-metre-high tree-sit.

Greens Leader Bob Brown says members of Still Wild Still Threatened asked Ms Gillard to see the forest first hand.

"She hasn't taken up the invitation from Miranda Gibson, who's sitting 60 metres up in a tree below Mount Mueller in the World Heritage Area," he said.

"[Ms Gibson] has been there for four weeks in a coupe the Prime Minister says would be protected."

10 January, 2012

Taxpayers stump up for logging policy failures

Andrew Darby, Age and Sydney Morning Herald Hobart correspondent
The Age,  January 10, 2012

As $45 million of your taxes is about to be divvied up for broke loggers, a worrying precedent has come to light that raises serious questions about this bailout of a struggling industry.

Attempts by successive federal governments to pay businesses out of the native forest industry in Tasmania have failed to meet basic benchmarks for proper government funding — let alone meet the goal of making the industry more sustainable.

Instead, largesse for new equipment in one program was followed by a more costly exit package to some of the same businesses in the next program.

These failures, by both the Howard and now Labor governments, are being pursued through Senate committees and questions by Greens senator Christine Milne. They are recorded in the dry accounting language of an Ernst & Young investigation into a $54 million Howard government program run by the Federal Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry.

There’s no question that the island’s native timber industry is in a dire state.  ANU researcher Dr Jacki Schirmer found in a 2010 study for the Forestry CRC that one-third of Tasmania’s forest workers had lost their jobs in the previous two years.  The burdens of the high dollar, global market shifts to certified plantation timber, and environmental campaigns were largely to blame.

When the crisis was gaining pace five years ago, the Howard government established the $54 million Tasmanian Community Forest Agreement Industry Development Program. It handed out 108 grants ranging from $6000 to $10.5 million, mainly to buy new logging machinery or upgrade existing timber plant with the aim of keeping pace with market shifts.

In a pre-election boost from the then forests minister Eric Abetz, the grant winners even gained an extra 30 per cent to compensate for tax.

But in 2008 the federal Auditor-General cast a very cold eye over this program, saying it failed taxpayers, and the department asked Ernst & Young to investigate in 2010.

The Ernst & Young study said department files were so deficient that in 60 cases it could not find the grantees’ own audited income and expenditure statements in support of their applications. That means the files lacked the basic proof that the grantees actually needed a grant. It said that in 29 cases, money was handed over before funding deed requirements were met.

In 26 cases, either there was no confirmation the claim was for an approved purchase, they were given more money than agreed, or there was no tax invoice on file.

This was your money — gone.

After these grants were given out, Tasmania’s native forest industry crashed. To meet this fresh crisis, another $17 million was made available by the Labor government in a department exit assistance program in late 2010.

Comparison of grant awardees in the two programs show that at least five contractors given grants of up to $410,000 for big new logging machines in the 2007-9 program later won up to $825,000 to leave the Tasmanian industry in 2010-11. They had won money to stay, followed by money to go.

A Victorian sawmiller was given $175,000 to build a sawmill in remote Roger River, Tasmania, but only partially completed it, according to the report. The big manufacturer Australian Paper, given $1.48 million for new boilers and paper-winding equipment at its Wesley Vale mill, shut the plant in March 2010.
Following public complaints, the department conducted an investigation into alleged fraud into the 2010-11 program, but did not refer any matters to the AFP.

Now the department is considering applications for the third, $45 million, tranche of aid to the loggers — the Contractors’ Voluntary Exit Grants Program.

There have been 98 applications, and most appear to be treating the taxpayer in time-honoured fashion. According to the department, almost 75 per cent of applications lack enough information for the department to make a final decision.

It says an advisory panel has sought independent financial assessment of applications, which could be finalised ‘‘early in the new year’’.

With the lesson of history on her side, Senator Milne doubts the money will be properly spent. ‘‘To that end I’m calling for an overhaul of DAFF’s internal audit committee so a majority is independent, and secondly, that it is mandatory to apply international auditing standards,’’ Senator Milne said.

A department spokeswoman said it had fully agreed to all of the recommendations made in Ernst & Young’s  report.

But as bailouts go, the lesson here is to watch closely.

Vision for a new Tasmanian forest sector

Tasmanian Country Hour - ABC Rural Australian Broadcasting Corporation, Tuesday, 10 January  2012

The start of 2012 coincides with a new Forestry Tasmania vision for the industry.

Their forestry innovation plan released late last year outlines what they describe as a once in a generation opportunity to re-engineer Tasmania's forest sector.

The plan takes into account the fact that under the intergovernmental agreement there will be less timber available from native forests, at the same time as increasing supplies from plantations.

Forestry Tasmania's managing director Bob Gordon says the market is looking for certified wood products, and in particular, engineered products made hardwood and softwood, and from a mix of native forests and plantations.

Bob Gordon says its about diverting products from the woodchip market, into innovative, engineered wood products.