10 December, 2013

Animals going extinct while millions in funding go squandered

The Sydney Morning Herald, 10/12/13

Animals are going extinct and millions of dollars in Australian endangered species funding are being squandered because of poor planning and monitoring, leading environmental scientists say.

If data on the welfare of an endangered species is collected, it is rarely analysed or acted on, said David Lindenmayer, one of the authors of an article in the journal Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment. "Usually [monitoring] is the last thing funded and the first thing cut," said Professor Lindenmayer, an ecologist at the Australian National University. "It's quite shambolic, this whole area."

Things might be going well, they might be going badly. We'd never know

In Australia, only five of the 122 recovery plans for 191 listed species had defined ''trigger points'' for intervention in the event that an animal's population numbers or range dropped, the paper found.

One of those five species - the Christmas Island pipistrelle - had its status triggered to critically endangered after its population dived but the change made little difference and the bat is now believed to be extinct.

The greater glider was one example of a species monitored to local extinction. The marsupial was common in Booderee National Park in southern NSW when tracking began in 2003. By 2005 its population had dropped significantly and two years later it was gone entirely.

The original program had no trigger points requiring action even though the yellow-bellied glider had gone extinct in the park in the 1980s, the authors said in their paper, "Counting the books while the library burns".

The greater glider has also become extinct in Booderee. Photo: Taronga Zoo
Even where triggers for action exist - such as for Victoria's endangered fauna emblem, the Leadbeater's possum - the state government failed to act, Professor Lindenmayer said.

"Their plan of action is no action," he said.

Leaving it to the last 20-30 individual animals before acting was inefficient economically and ecologically, Professor Lindenmayer said. "You have to start doing very expensive things that are nearly always prone to failure, such as captive breeding."

Government programs without sufficient monitoring and action points included the National Heritage Trust and its successor body, Caring for our Country. The situation is even worse where mining and energy companies, and farmers, were left to monitor their own environmental damage.

"Things might be going well, they might be going badly. We'd never know," Professor Lindenmayer said.

Examples of successful programs include efforts to reduce the fox threat to species such as the eastern bristlebird in the Jervis Bay area and the yellow-footed rock wallaby in the Flinders Ranges.

When species become extinct, authorities should compile obituaries so lessons are learnt to help save other creatures at risk, Professor Lindenmayer said.

06 December, 2013

Forest foes join forces to fight Tony Abbott's plan

Sid Maher
News.com.au, 6 December 2013.

NEGOTIATING an end to Tasmania's timber wars required a leap of faith for both Vica Bayley and Terry Edwards.

For years, they had been fighting opposite corners: Mr Bayley for The Wilderness Society, which had campaigned tirelessly to preserve the state's old-growth forests; Mr Edwards for the companies that fought just as tenaciously to log them.

Now they're on the same side with the same message for Tony Abbott, amid concern that intervention by the federal government could blow up the peace deal on Tasmania's forests.

"This thing is working; why go and tear out a key pillar of it?" Mr Bayley said yesterday, as the future of the agreement was expected to go before cabinet. Mr Edwards chimed in: "Our markets are calling for conflict-free wood."

Mr Edwards has written to the Prime Minister and senior ministers warning that implementation of a Coalition election policy to rescind expansion of Tasmania's World Heritage-listed forest reserve would scuttle the deal he helped broker on behalf of the Forest Industries Association of Tasmania.

The landmark agreement between the industry, environment groups and unions was backed by the then federal Labor government and the Tasmania government.

Increased forest protection was traded off for industry assistance measures, including a "green stamp" for timber products demanded in key export markets such as Japan.

Mr Edwards fears the Forest Stewardship Council certification scheme will be undermined if the 100,000ha World Heritage expansion at the heart of the deal is dumped, jeopardising up to 1000 logging-related jobs in the short term and thousands more down the track.

"The principal warning we have given them (the federal government) is it would put the FSC certification of the Tasmanian forests at risk and make it extraordinarily difficult to achieve," he told The Australian.

"From an industry point of view, that is one of the key planks of the whole of the forest industry agreement . . . our markets are calling for conflict-free wood that is independently certified to the FSC brand."

Mr Bayley, a key negotiator of the deal, said there had been a "paradigm shift" among the former warring parties. This meant that representatives of environmental groups had travelled to Tokyo last January and in September on trade missions to help promote the green credentials of Tasmanian timber exports.

"The agreement is demonstrably delivering . . . we are all signed up to the one vision, we are all promoting that same vision," Mr Bayley said.

"That's why you have environment groups in Japan and that's why you have got industry groups now standing up and defending this World Heritage area. Both of those things are unprecedented in the history of this conflict."

The local boss of veneer-maker Ta Ann, Evan Rolley, said the company had binding contracts to use only FSC-approved wood in its two timber mills employing 110 people.

Malaysian-owned Ta Ann also planned to promote its green stamp to break into plywood manufacturing - a market dominated in Australia by imports from countries "where forest practice is not nearly as rigorous".
Increasingly, the company's domestic customers were joining those overseas in demanding that timber products be sourced from sustainable forests, Mr Rolley said.

FSC certification under the forestry agreement "has been the basis of our entering into new wood supply and it's the basis on which we are producing our product in the market today".

Industry veteran Bernard McKay, of McKay Timbers, questioned whether Mr Abbott grasped how important the deal was - and how hard it had been to secure. His family-owned company operates two saw mills, a processing plant and a sales outlet employing 92 people, with turnover of about $12 million a year in Tasmania.

"There were huge compromises by all groups," 72-year-old Mr McKay said. "There really was. Many a time they were walking away . . . and I would suspect that the Prime Minister doesn't really understand how this end result has been achieved and what compromises have been made by all sides to reach the agreement."

While Mr McKay said he had been personally opposed to "locking up our forests", the damage to employment and the state economy would be compounded were the deal to collapse.
"It's a disaster, but going back and retreating from the agreement would be another disaster on top of it," he said.

Mr Abbott, on the eve of the September 7 federal election, stood by the Coalition's pledge to "seek" to unwind the extension to the World Heritage estate in Tasmania backed by signatories to the forests pact last June. His office did not respond to questions on whether this remained government policy.

Bill Shorten insisted it would be reckless of the government to try to dismantle the agreement.

"This has been a government who in opposition stormed around the country making every promise to every group of random people on every street corner they could find. Now they're finding out that being in government is harder," the Opposition Leader said.

Greens leader Christine Milne said the Tasmanian economy depended on being branded "clean, green and clever", and tearing down the agreement would "hurt the people Tony Abbott thinks he would be helping".
Additional reporting: Sid Maher

01 December, 2013

Victorian government report card. How is Denis Napthine performing - ENVIRONMENT

Tom Arup
The Age, 20/11/2013


The Coalition's environmental agenda has been defined by never really having one. No formal platform was taken to the 2010 election, allowing the government to freelance ever since.

Environment Minister Ryan Smith has largely plugged away at low-profile recycling and waste issues, while Water Minister Peter Walsh has made significant investments in storm water harvesting and water recycling.

Eventually a list of environmental priorities was quietly released. But much more has been dismantled. Almost all the state's climate change policies were scrapped and, controversially, cattle grazing was reintroduced to the Alpine National Park, only to be stopped by the Commonwealth.

A new allocation of brown coal is on the table. Firewood collection laws have been loosened; prohibitive wind farm restrictions have been introduced; and national parks opened up for private tourism development. The government has also faced rising community concern about the survival of state's animal emblem - the Leadbeater's possum. An election commitment to increase the average energy efficiency rating of all Victorian homes to five stars has not been seriously acted on.

Ultimately the Coalition has decided concern for the environment is not strong enough in the electorate to swing significant votes.

Knitting nannas in court over purler of a protest against logging at Mount St Leonard

Farrah Tomazin, Sunday Age's state political editor
The Sunday Age, December 1, 2013

As eight ''nannas'' face the clogged court system for knitting in a logging coupe, the price of protest in Victoria is set to escalate.

From left, Knitting Nannas Tess Hughes, Marion Lewis, Karena Goldfinch, Margaret O'Connell, Deanne Eccles and Lynn Dean. Photo: Meredith O'Shea

Fourteen months ago, six grandmothers and two grandfathers entered a logging coupe at Mount St Leonard, placed their chairs in a neat row, and quietly sat down to knit.

The group had watched for weeks as violent clashes escalated between young protesters and loggers on the mountain, 65 kilometres north-east of Melbourne. Fed up by the destruction of the forest - and fearing for the safety of those trying to protect it - the so-called Knitting Nannas of Toolangi had decided to take a stand.

"The loggers had begun doing citizens' arrests and they were getting very aggressive with some of those protesters," recalls Kerryn Blackshaw, a 66-year-old "nanna" who helped spearhead the wool-and-needles campaign. "As older women in the community, we felt we had to do something. So we walked in quietly, put our chairs in the safest place we could find, and got our knitting out."

It's hard to imagine a more civilised demonstration than a bunch of cross-stitching seniors, but as an act of defiance, it was simple and effective. For a few hours that day, the loggers stopped working and the Knitting Nannas protested peacefully. When police eventually arrived, they took a statement, escorted the group out of the forest, and no charges were laid. Or so the nannas thought.

Almost a year later, each member received a summons from the Department of Primary Industries. The offence? Carrying out an activity in a "public safety zone" - an exclusion area set up by the state government to prevent people from entering logging coupes.

Some of the nannas appeared in the Ringwood Magistrates Court last week; the others are due to defend their case in mid-December. But at a time when Victoria's court system is already under strain because of the Coalition's tough-on-crime agenda, many question why they were pursued in the first place.

"It was quite a surprise," another Knitting Nanna, Margaret O'Connell, said last week. "I just don't know what's behind it - maybe it's political or maybe we were being too effective. It just seemed like such a silly thing to pursue, so long after the event."

Whatever the motive, the price of democracy is about to get higher, with the government set to introduce new offences and penalties for people who protest in logging coupes. Once these amendments are passed by the Parliament, protesters will face new fines of $2877 for possessing prohibited objects or substances in a timber harvesting safety zone and $8661 if they are caught ''breaching an exclusion order''.

Prohibited objects include bolt cutters, cement or mortar mix, metal or timber frames and heavy steel chains.

But not knitting needles.

The same amendments will see a 20 per cent hike in maximum fines for people caught removing or destroying fences and notices in timber safety zones (each offence will now carry a top-level penalty of $8661).

Agriculture Minister Peter Walsh says the changes are designed to deter disruptions in logging coupes and improve safety. The government will preserve the right to protest, he says, "so long as the protest activities do not put anyone's safety at risk or break the law".

Others, however, are not impressed. "I think it's an assault on democracy," says 74-year-old Lorraine Leach, a grandmother of eight. "We're just there to protest quietly and show the industry that we're watching and don't approve. I've been walking these forests for 30 years and what is happening up there is shocking. If we don't take a stand, there will be nothing left."

The nannas who appeared in court on Thursday were placed on a diversion order, and only require a $50 donation to Landcare to avoid conviction. Ms Blackshaw says it was a good outcome, but admits the process was "distressing for everyone involved".

"All of us have totally clean histories yet we were treated like criminals," she said.