30 September, 2013

Possum taskforce seeking a balance

Nick Toscano 
The Age, September 30, 2013

Photo: Ken Irwin  
A taskforce trying to protect Leadbeater's possum from extinction has begun battling the complex challenge of determining how to balance logging and conservation in Victorian forests.

The possum, Victoria's endangered faunal emblem, lost almost half its habitat during the Black Saturday bushfires of 2009, and scientists say the timber industry is putting the rest at risk.

A government-appointed taskforce led by Zoos Victoria and logging leaders is holding meetings on Monday and Tuesday. It will then draft its recommendations on how to support the recovery of the possum while sustaining the financially troubled timber industry.

The media group looking at a 300 year old Mountain Ash, (centre) which has Leadbeater's Possum nesting hollows.

This giant mountain ash has Leadbeater's possum nesting hollows. Photo: Ken Irwin
But critics fear reforms will not go far enough after studies showed the possum has insufficient habitat for long-term survival. Many want a new highlands national park that would protect habitats from further logging.

Forests in the central highlands are the last main home for Leadbeater's possums, but also a primary logging area. Exact numbers of the possums in the highlands are unknown, but are likely to be fewer than 2000.
Australian National University ecology expert David Lindenmayer said logging was the main threat to the species' survival because it reduced habitats and made forests more flammable.

He said 30 years of forest research showed the only way to stall the species' extinction trajectory was to declare a national park.

Victoria's state-owned timber company VicForests said it would strengthen its conservation codes, but locking up the central highlands would be a ''simplistic notion to what is ultimately a complex problem''.

''There are long-term challenges for the possum which would exist if we harvested timber or not,'' spokesman Nathan Trushell said.

23 September, 2013

Failing on forests

Warwick Sprawson, Brunswick West
The Age (letter), 23/9/13

The decision to log Mount Cole State Park (''Green anger at go-ahead for state forest logging'', 21/9) shows the gulf between the state government's actions and community expectations. In 2010, a National Parks Association report, ''Better Protection for Special Places'', listed Mount Cole as the Central Victorian reserve in most need of additional protection, based on the park's high-quality vegetation and diversity of wildflowers, including species such as the vulnerable Grampians bitter-pea. Mount Cole was also home to a range of vulnerable animals rare in Victoria, such as the powerful owl and brush-tailed phascogale. The state government's continued assault on our environment does not meet modern standards of environmental stewardship.

21 September, 2013

Green anger at go-ahead for state forest logging

Tom Arup, Environment editor
The Age, September 21, 2013

The Napthine government will reopen commercial logging in the Mount Cole state forest near Ararat in the first significant step towards increased timber cutting in western Victoria.

Agriculture Minister Peter Walsh on Friday announced he was seeking expressions of interest from foresters to harvest 3000 cubic metres of sawlogs in the Mount Cole forests over three years.

The decision follows a one-year harvesting ''trial'' at Mount Cole launched in late 2012 that allowed 600 cubic metres of wood to be taken through silvicultural harvesting and the salvaging of trees felled by storms.
Mr Walsh said the new Mount Cole logging licence was small-scale, but would create ongoing jobs in harvesting, hauling and processing of timber. He said 20 of the 4000 hectares of forest in the region that was suitable for sawlogs would be harvested each year. Before last year's trial, logging had not occurred at Mount Cole since 2004.

The government has also recently completed a tender for increased logging in ironbark and sugar gum forests near Bendigo, and will issue new licences for sawlogs in the red gum forests of the Mid Murray and Horsham regions when old ones lapse.

It follows the recommendations of a government-commissioned review into logging rates in western Victoria, also released on Friday.

Green groups hit out at the decision, with Nick Roberts, a campaigner with the Victorian National Parks Association, saying the report was a wish list from local timber interests wanting access to western Victorian forests.

''The industry was paid millions to exit these forests 10 years ago,'' he said.

''Expanding logging in high-conservation-value forests is not supported by most Victorians. This announcement shows the Napthine government is not listening.''

But the timber industry welcomed the move, with Victorian Association of Forest Industries chief executive Lisa Marty saying that allowing harvesting at two-thirds of the sustainable level of Mount Cole was ''a good example of setting a balance between ecological, social and economic values''.

Much of the large-scale commercial native timber logging in Victoria takes place east of the Hume Highway in the forests of Gippsland and the Central Highlands.

Large-scale logging in western Victoria - notably in the Otways forests - was phased out by the previous state Labor government, with plantations and a handful of native firewood cutters remaining.

But since coming to power in 2010, the Coalition-led state government has flagged it wanted to see a boosted timber industry in western Victoria. An internal note from the former Department of Primary Industries, seen by Fairfax Media, says after timber harvesting was scaled down in the early 2000s, several areas in western Victoria had been left ''underutilised''.

The review identifies other areas that could be opened up to small increases in logging, including the Otways, although that would not occur until the timber industry is re-established at Mount Cole.

But Mr Walsh said: ''While the review assessed potential sawlog yields in timber production areas across western Victoria's state forests, there are no plans for new sawlog allocations aside from those mentioned above.

''The Victorian Coalition government will not consider any expansion outside of existing timber-production areas.''

20 September, 2013

House backs bill to boost logging in national forests

MATTHEW DALY, Associated Press
KOMO News, Sep 20, 2013 

WASHINGTON (AP) - The Republican-controlled House Friday approved a bill to sharply increase logging in national forests - a measure the GOP said would create jobs in rural communities and help reduce wildfires that have devastated the West.

The bill also would add hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue from new timber sales while reviving an industry that has shed tens of thousands of jobs in the past three decades.

Opponents called the bill a giveaway to the timber industry and said it would harm water quality and habitat for fish and wildlife and jeopardize recreation areas that have become a major source of jobs in national forests.

The White House has threatened to veto the bill, which was approved on a 244-173 vote. Seventeen Democrats joined 227 Republicans to back the bill. Just one Republican, Rep. Chris Gibson of New York, opposed the bill.

The Obama administration says the measure would jeopardize habitat for endangered species, increase lawsuits and limit the president's ability to create national monuments.

The bill as passed has little chance of approval in the Democratic-controlled Senate, although senators have not ruled out adoption of a forest management bill.

Keith Chu, a spokesman for Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, said Wyden "agrees it's time get the (timber) harvest up, to create more jobs in the woods and make forests healthier."

Wyden plans to introduce a forest bill this fall, Chu said, but added: "It's clear that bills that undermine bedrock environmental laws or turn large swaths of federal land over to private ownership cannot pass the Senate or be signed into law by the president."

The House bill's sponsor, Rep. Doc Hastings, R-Wash, said wildfires burned 9.3 million acres last year, while the Forest Service only harvested timber from about 200,000 acres. "We burned 44 times more acres than we've managed," Hastings said. "Imagine the carbon imprint" of those wildfires, which are fed in part by overstocked forests.

Rep. Greg Walden, R-Ore., said many rural counties in Oregon and other states "are literally on the brink of bankruptcy sitting next to national forests" where increased timber sales could provide a lifeline.

"They're choked with smoke, and their economies are choked" by policies that prevent logging, Walden said.

Environmental groups criticized the bill.

"They're viewing our national forests as big ATM machines that they can just level out to fill county coffers," said Noah Matson, vice president of Defenders of Wildlife, an environmental group.

Increased logging "is not a sustainable, long-term solution" to economic problems in the rural West, Matson said, adding that an increase in logging jobs could be offset by a decrease in outdoor recreation jobs that have increasingly come to dominate rural Western economies.

The bill includes a provision developed by members of the Oregon delegation to turn over half of federally controlled lands in western Oregon to a state-appointed trust that would manage them for timber production. The other half would be managed for fish and wildlife habitat, including creation of new wilderness areas. The measure also includes a federal subsidy for timber-dependent counties until the logging revenues start to come in.

The bill makes logging a requirement on some public forestland, speeding up the timber sales process and making it more difficult for legal challenges to be filed. If enacted, the bill could again result in clear-cutting of national forests, Matson said, calling that a return to misguided policies that harmed wildlife and the environment for generations.

The Congressional Budget Office estimates the bill would increase revenue from timber sales by about $2 billion over the next 10 years, with a net gain to the government of about $269 million over that period.