27 May, 2013

Experts warn Victorian logging laws may drive Leadbeater's possum to extinction

The World Today By Simon Lauder
ABC News, 27 May 2013

PHOTO: An estimated 1500 Leadbeater's Possum are left in the wild. (AAP: Healesville Sanctuary)

The Victorian Government has been accused of deliberately driving the state's prized animal emblem to extinction, by allowing logging in its habitat.

There are only an estimated 1,500 Leadbeater's possums left in the wild and the Federal Government wants the species to be put on the critically endangered list.

In a letter published in the journal Science, two conservation scientists have accused the Victorian Government of taking calculated actions to substantially reduce the viability of the endangered species.

One of the scientists, Australian National University ecologist Professor Lindenmayer, has studied the Leadbeater's possum and its habitat for more than 30 years.

"There are less Leadbeater's possums than there are Siberian tigers, fewer Leadbeater's possums than there are orangutans," he said.

"Our estimate is that Leadbeater's possum has probably (between) 15 and 30 years left."

Until last year he was an expert adviser to a Victorian Government committee committed to saving the possum.

But then he quit, in protest against the Government's logging practices.

Now the ANU scientist, in partnership with Professor Hugh Possingham from the University of Queensland, has written a scathing letter in the journal Science.

In the letter they say government-sanctioned legal logging of the reserve system, which is supposed to protect the possums, will significantly increase the chance of their extinction.

New government standards criticised

The possums live in old growth mountain ash, in hollows high up in the trees.

Professor Lindenmayer said new government standards for identifying the possum habitat in logging areas are not good enough.

He says surveyors will not be looking up properly into the hollows where possums live, and that means their habitat will be logged.

"One of the changes is ensuring that places that we know Leadbeater's possum will occur, are no longer going to be surveyed in ways that will detect the animal," he said.

"It's an effort to deliberately miss the fact that a suitable habitat exists. It's really quite extraordinary.

"The situation is that we know what Leadbeater's habitat looks like, we know where it occurs, we know where we shouldn't be logging.

"But this new approach will mean that suitable areas of forest will be logged, and they'll be clear-felled in ways which will mean the habitat will remain unsuitable for at least 150 to 200 years."

Vic Forests rejects professors' attack

PHOTO: Logging machinery among logged trees in the Sylvia Creek Forest. (User submitted: Wayne Heywood (file))
Lachlan Spencer, the planning director at the state government-owned logging company Vic Forests, rejects the professors' attack on the new survey standards.

"The survey standard doesn't replace anything," he said.

"In the past there was simply the prescriptions, which had some interpretive elements in them, this has led to differences in opinion.

"The regulator has created these survey standards to clarify what the prescriptions that have been in place for some 15 years mean, so we're all on the same page with regards to what should and shouldn't be protected."

Victoria's Environment Minister Ryan Smith and Agriculture Minister Peter Walsh were both in a cabinet meeting and unavailable for an interview with The World Today.

But in a statement, Mr Smith said the Victorian Government was committed to doing all it could to protect the Leadbeater's possum, including identifying better ways to protect the species and its key habitat.

Federal Environment Minister Tony Burke says he is deeply concerned by continued reports the possum is being put at risk.

Mr Burke says he is taken the unusual step of writing to the chair of the Threatened Species Scientific Committee, asking the committee to consider listing Victoria's emblem as critically endangered.

16 May, 2013

VicForests attacked over logging plan

Tom Arup, Environment editor
The Age, May 16, 2013

A pocket of mountain ash trees at Kinglake that survived the Black Saturday bushfires. Photo: Jason South

Victoria's state-owned timber company will reduce logging by 25 per cent in the bushfire-ravaged mountain ash forests of the central highlands – but will wait until mid-2017 to make the shift.

The ash forests are home to Victoria's endangered faunal emblem, the Leadbeater's possum, whose numbers fell to well below 2000 after the Black Saturday fires ravaged its habitat and have not recovered.

VicForests has been under pressure from scientists and environmentalists over the impact of its logging, which has not markedly decreased since the fires, is having on remaining Leadbeater's possum habitat.

Those groups, including the Wilderness Society and the ANU's Professor David Lindenmayer, rejected the decision to reduce logging in 2017 as too little, too late to save the possums and mountain ash forests.

Releasing its 2013 resource outlook on Thursday, VicForests said the reduction in sawlog to be taken from ash forests will mean about 500 hectares less area will be logged each year than under current rates.

VicForests' director of corporate affairs, Nathan Trushell, said the move would result in the loss of up to 200 jobs. The decision to wait until 2017 to reduce logging had been made to allow the broader industry time to adjust, Mr Trushell said.

"First and foremost this decision has been driven by about what the forest can support, what it can supply," he said.

The resource outlook modelling predicts lower sawlog rates in ash forests will run until 2044-48, but could increase afterwards as regrowth forest matures.

Mr Trushell said VicForests would look at expanded opportunities in other mixed-species forests in the highlands, but that what could be on offer would not match that being reduced in mountain ash.

The Wilderness Society's Amelia Young said the decision meant VicForests had admitted what conservationists had been saying for years, that the industry had overestimated how much it could log public forests.

"By the time 2017 rolls around it will have taken VicForests nearly 10 years to respond to the impacts of the 2009 fires. To wait another four years before reducing their logging does nothing to address the biodiversity crisis in our forests," she said.

Professor Lindenmayer, who has studied the ash forests for decades, said the decision was not strong enough to save the Leadbeater's possum and the species was being driven towards extinction.

"It is so little, so late, and it puts off a decision that should have been made five years ago. It doesn't go anywhere near far enough. Twenty-five per cent to 2017? It is all pretty much all and done with by then," he said.

State Agriculture Minister Peter Walsh said: "While this decision will disappoint some businesses and workers, it is vital that VicForests manages the harvest of our state forestry resources at sustainable levels to ensure a long-term future for the industry."

Last week the Napthine government passed changes to state timber laws, allowing VicForests to sign supply contracts of up to 20 years and giving it greater control over when and where to log.

The government is also yet to release detailed monitoring and modelling it commissioned on the health of key central highlands species, including the Leadbeater's possum, after the 2009 fires.

14 May, 2013

Logging parks would be a disaster for wildlife and habitat

Letters to Editor
Sydney Morning Herald, May 14, 2013

I am appalled our national parks could be opened to commercial logging (''Logging looms in national parks'', May 13). It is ridiculous to propose swapping the old-growth, diverse forests in national parks for heavily exploited state forests. This will lead to a loss of wildlife and irreplaceable habitat.

Using land for forestry does not provide the same conservation benefits as managing land for conservation in the national park system.

The Premier must make a stand against the Shooters and Fishers Party and categorically rule out plans to log our national parks.

Robbie Bentley St Peters

I have seen small, rural communities sacrificed on the altar of city votes as their industries were closed down; forests that had been managed for over 100 years touted as ''virgin'' and marked ''must be preserved in parks'' and a succession of state politicians declaring more land tied up; maybe, just maybe, someone will take a rational look at the expansion of our national park system.

The Murray River red gum forests were the most recent sacrifice, just before our marvellously conservation-minded (and mining-devoted) Labor government went to the polls. Those forests had only been managed and had multiple usage for about 150 years, so saving them in a park was vital.

Why, on the South Coast the koalas keep turning up in state forests that have been managed for multiple uses for more than 100 years so now those areas desperately need to be locked up in parks. Forget their productive history.

Of course, declaring a national park is different to funding the national park service adequately to manage the massive areas of resources. The parks make do with insufficient resources and cop heaps of criticism from neighbours etc. Mere detail.

Nothing will come of this upper house inquiry though; there are no votes in the bush.

Terry Beath Wollongong

I can see the headline now: ''Logger shot by feral-animal hunter.''

David Sayers Gwandalan

So now Robert Brown wants logging permitted in national parks and proposes a compromise tenure swap between state forests and national parks. A better idea is to continue the logging ban and allow the Shooters and Fishers people into national parks - but only with their fishing rods together with the appropriate licence.

Peter Bennett Nelson Bay

When Bob Carr came to government he commandeered large tracts of native forest, which were sustainably managed to supply timber for domestic consumption and export, to create new national parks. He locked the loggers out and replaced foresters with park rangers.

In the meantime, the greenies looked at the remaining native forests as they thrived under expert care and, when they reached about 40 years of age, they started claiming the loggers were harvesting old-growth forest. Bob Carr locked up yet more native forest. It's time for a more balanced approach to native forest management in NSW.

Cherylle Stone Soldiers Point

I was under the impression the existence of national parks was for the conservation of nature for future generations.

How exactly does shooting by recreational hunters and logging fit into this concept?

Sarah Benmayor Bondi

When there's a downturn in jobs in the construction industry, I suppose we could knock down the Opera House and build something new.

Dominic Toomey Hunters Hill

Of course, the Shooters' proposal makes perfect sense. Without those pesky trees in the way, the risk of bushwalkers getting shot by recreational hunters will be much reduced. It is win-win!

Anne Cooper Earlwood

13 May, 2013

Logging looms in national parks

Sean Nicholls, Sydney Morning Herald State Political Editor
Sydney Morning Herald, May 13, 2013

Logging would be allowed in NSW national parks and a freeze imposed on the declaration of new conservation areas under recommendations of a state government-dominated parliamentary inquiry.

An upper house committee into land use chaired by the Shooters and Fishers Party MP Robert Brown has made the recommendations in a draft report, obtained by Fairfax Media.

The report says the government should ''immediately'' consider opening national parks and other reserved areas for logging to ensure the viability of the timber industry.

The report urges the government to consider the possibility of a ''tenure swap'' between national parks and state forests, meaning sections of parks would be opened for logging and state forests, which are already subject to logging in NSW, would be reserved in return.

Asked about the report, the government said it did not support commercial logging in national parks and had ''no plans'' to introduce it.

But a committee member, Greens MP Cate Faehrmann, has branded the inquiry a ''kangaroo court'' and said the government could not be trusted to rule against its recommendations.

''Barry O'Farrell said he had 'no plan' to let shooters into national parks before the last election. Now we've got shooters in national parks,'' Ms Faehrmann said.

''The Premier needs to rein in his cowboys in the NSW upper house who are intent on trashing our natural heritage for their own political interests.''

Environment Minister Robyn Parker said in a statement: ''The NSW government does not support commercial logging in national parks and has no plans to allow it. Once the committee's report is finalised and tabled in Parliament, the government will respond in the usual fashion.''

Members of the committee travelled throughout NSW to speak to representatives of the logging industry, farmers and conservationists.

Their draft report says a key question for the inquiry was whether national parks provided ''the best means of conservation and, if so, whether they are indeed fulfilling the conservation objectives they were designed to meet''.

It says the committee concluded that ''reservation is not the only means to protect biodiversity'' and highlights concerns about the economic and social impacts of converting land to national parks.
''Important industries, such as the timber industry, suffered, communities are now struggling and calls are being made to reconsider the reservation of land as national park estate,'' it says.

The timber industry argues that land historically available for logging before being reserved as national park or a conservation area should be reopened to increase wood supply. The committee was ''sympathetic to this cause'' and recommends the government ''identify appropriate reserved areas for release to meet the level of wood supply needed to sustain the timber industry''.

The report highlights the need for action in the Pilliga region and presents a case study of the river red gum forests in the southern Riverina that were mostly given national park protection in 2010 by the former Labor government.

The committee heard the decision reduced timber volume from 60,000 cubic metres of sawlog to 10,000. This had reduced the number of timber supply mills from 20 to two and led to job losses.
The report appears to question the science of national park creation by placing inverted commas around the word science.

It recommends a moratorium on the creation of new national parks while an independent review is conducted into the management of all public lands.
Last year the government froze the creation of marine parks while the science behind them was reviewed, after recommendations of a committee chaired by Mr Brown.