15 December, 2014

Native forest clearing on farms ban ditched by Tasmanian Government

ABC,  15 December 2014

Native forest clearing on farms ban ditched by Tasmanian Government - ABC News (Australian Broadcasting Corporation)

PHOTO: The plan to ban broad-scale land clearing on farms was due to come into effect next month. (Rose Grant)

The Tasmanian Government is confident a decision to scrap a plan to ban broad-scale land clearing will not breach its commitment to retain 95 per cent of the native forests that existed in 1996.

New rules that were expected to come into effect next month would have prevented farmers from clearing more than 20 hectares over five years.

But Resources Minister Paul Harriss has announced the limit will remain at 40 hectares a year while a review of the permanent native forest estate policy is undertaken.

"Business as usual will be available from the first of January 2015 to the first of January 2016," he said.

Mr Harriss said only 720 hectares were cleared last financial year.

"That 95 per cent of the native forest estate which existed in 1996 still has about 6,000 hectares in the bank," he said.

Vica Bayley of the Wilderness Society has warned broad-scale land clearing puts threatened species such as the orange-bellied swift parrot at risk.

VIDEO: Tas Government scraps ban on broad-scale land clearing (7pm TV News TAS)
"In some regions of Tasmania there's absolutely nothing left in the bank," he said.

Tasmanian Farmers and Graziers Association's Jan Davis said the move will allow them to expand crops to capitalise on the benefits of new irrigation schemes.

"If it frees up some land for us it's an important part of the overall picture," she said.

Farmers are also calling for compensation for decreases to land value due to caps on clearing.

The policy review will form part of the $500,000 review of the Regional Forests Agreement.

30 October, 2014

Forestry Tasmania posts $43m loss, minister blames peace deal

ABC News ,  Thu 30 Oct 2014

The minister blames the peace deal for Forestry Tasmania's financial woes.

PHOTO: The minister blames the peace deal for Forestry Tasmania's financial woes. (ABC, Jessica Kidd)
The Tasmanian Government is blaming the forest peace deal brokered under its predecessor for another big loss posted by Forestry Tasmania.

The Government-owned forest estate manager lost $43.1 million after tax in the financial year that ended in June.

That was despite the previous Labor-Greens government handing the company $37 million during the year in a bid to keep it solvent.

Resources Minister Paul Harris told Parliament the peace deal that led to the creation of new native forest reserves was to blame for the result.

"Forestry Tasmania has had another very challenging year," he said.

"It has advised me that the reduction in land area under the Tasmanian Forest Agreement (TFA) was a significant contributor to its difficulties."

Greens MP Nick McKim claimed the loss was the result of poor markets

28 October, 2014

Committees stacked to provide 'right' outcome

David Blair, senior research officer, Fenner School of Environment and Society, Australian National University
The Age, letter, 28 October 2014

First the review into the renewable energy target by climate sceptic Dick Warburton; now an inadequate report on the Great Barrier Reef written by a committee lacking independent experts, but containing coal industry representatives ("Scientific academy slams government's Great Barrier Reef plan", 28/10). Both are examples of government handpicking a review committee to provide an outcome desirable to its ideology and backers, rather than doing what is best for the country.

In Victoria we see the same thing. The Alpine Advisory Committee, which is helping rewrite the Greater Alpine National Parks Management Plan, is stacked with cattlemen and those wishing to exploit the alpine parks rather than protect the sensitive environment.

Meanwhile, the Leadbeater's Possum Advisory Group has recently rewritten the Action Statement (which dictates management) for our state faunal emblem. Who was selected to provide expertise on saving this threatened species? VicForests' chief executive and timber industry support groups are on the panel, while the two leading ecologists who have studied the species for decades are not. Furthermore, the terms of reference set by the government explicitly tied the survival of Leadbeater's Possum to the health of the extractive industry that threatens it and VicForests will get a significant part of the funding earmarked for "saving" the possum.

22 September, 2014

Environmentalists sue over threat to owls

Bridie Smith, Science Editor
The Age, September 22, 2014

Vulnerable ... the powerful owl. Photo: Simon O'Dwyer
Environmentalists are suing the state government for failing to look after three threatened species of owl found in key logging areas of Gippsland.

Green group Environment East Gippsland launched the legal action in the Supreme Court on Monday, alleging the Department of Environment and Primary Industries and VicForests had failed to set aside areas in the Gippsland Forest to protect the powerful, sooty and masked owls.

Environment East Gippsland co-ordinator Jill Redwood said the Goongerah-Deddick fires in January and February this year burnt 170,000 hectares of forest. Legally, the government was required to review and secure replacement forest areas considered as suitable habitat for the owls, she said.

A four-year-old masked owl. The species is listed as endangered. Photo: Sandy Scheltema
The powerful and sooty owls are listed as vulnerable and the masked owl as endangered, according to Victoria's Flora and Fauna Guarantee Act 1988.

Action statements for the management of the powerful and masked owls state each species requires at least 100 areas of 500 hectares each, while the sooty owl needs 131 areas of at least 500 hectares.

"The government is in total contempt of their own laws," Ms Redwood said. "When you get a response from the minister that shows they are more devoted to the logging industry than to the law that says we need to protect our threatened wildlife, then there's nowhere else to go but the courts."

Ms Redwood said East Gippsland was considered a stronghold for the owls because the age of the forest meant it was ideal habitat for the birds of prey.

"They need that vast area of old-growth hollow trees because they prey on gliders like the greater glider and the yellow-bellied glider,"she said.

VicForests spokesman David Walsh said there was currently no logging taking place in any of the four coupes mentioned in the writ, although harvesting was forecast for 2015. However, he said VicForests was keen to work with Environment East Gippsland to resolve any concerns the group had.

A spokesman for the Department of Environment and Primary Industries said the government was committed to ensuring the state's native forests were managed to ensure threatened species and other native flora and fauna were protected.
"The department has a comprehensive framework in place to protect native species during timber harvesting operations, including forestry management plans and a code of practice for timber harvesting operations," the spokesman said.

27 August, 2014

There’s an urge to fuel reduction burn, but not to learn

Phil Ingamells, Victorian National Parks Association spokesman
Weekly Times Now, 278 August 2014 

FOR three years the Victorian Bushfires Royal Commission’s independent monitor Neil Comrie has strongly advised the Victorian Government to abandon one of the commission’s recommendations: the call to burn 390,000ha of public land annually for fuel reduction.

Yet Environment Minister Ryan Smith is sticking to that target and, even more puzzling, DEPI plans to increase that annual target to an extraordinary 450,000ha.

Former police chief commissioner Comrie understands the importance of fuel reduction, but he sees the target as unachievable, and that it compromises a strategic burn program.

He says it “will not necessarily reduce the bushfire risk to life and property, and may have adverse environmental outcomes”. That’s an expensive lose-lose situation.

Minister Smith says he is listening to the latest science, but is he?

Five leading fire behaviour scientists in Australia, Canada and the US have demonstrated that managing the ignition point of a fire through increased capacity for rapid attack, and by closing public access to remote areas during high fire danger days, was more effective in reducing the extent of fire than fuel management.

And other published papers, from leading Australian fire scientists and ecologists, convincingly show that fuel reduction burns are most effective when performed close to the assets they are meant to protect. This is the sort of strategic effort — small, difficult and expensive local burns — that Neil Comrie says is less likely to happen when managers are struggling to sign off on a large area target.

Many studies show that we now have very little long-unburnt bush left in Victoria, even in remote areas such as the Mallee, and that the impacts on native wildlife are serious and growing.

One of the best ways to survive a severe bushfire is to have your own well-designed bunker at your home. That crucial fact never made it to the commission’s final recommendations.

We need to develop a more comprehensive strategy for bushfire management and direct more attention to the whole range of available tools, including building a serious rapid attack capability, encouraging well-designed bunkers in existing homes, and developing a far more strategic burn program. Lives would be saved, and our great natural heritage would benefit.

Phil Ingamells is Victorian National Parks Association spokesman

14 August, 2014

Its time for the Great Forest National Park

Peter Campbell
Letter to the Editor (submitted to Heraldsun), 14/8/14

A clear majority of Victorian's want our native forests protected.

However, the Napthine government still allows Vicforests to continue logging them, even though they operate at a loss.

The export woodchip industry in NSW has collapsed and no longer buys wood from VicForests - which now has a very low value product with no buyers.

It's time for this to change.

Vicforests don't make a profit and should be shut down.

We need political leadership and a commitment to modernise the Victorian paper industry by shifting out of native forests into existing plantations.

Our forests are far more valuable for the water they produce, the carbon they store and for tourism.

The proposed Great Forest National Park would see our Central Highlands forests protected, along with Leadbeaters Possum and several other threatened species, for future generations to appreciate.

Chops and chips hard to swallow for some Libs

James Campbell
Heraldsun, August 14, 2014

EARLIER this month VicForests, the state government-owned entity that manages logging in the state’s native forests, celebrated its 10th birthday with a party.

On the face of it the foresters had a lot to celebrate. In its first eight years, despite taking in hundreds of millions in revenue, VicForests made a profit of only $12.3 million and it hasn’t paid a dividend to its owners — the taxpayers — since 2007. Lately, however, the business seems to have turned the corner. In the financial year 2012-13 it made a profit of $802,000 on $106.3 million in revenue.

Not great, but a profit is a profit. And according to government sources, when the next annual report is released, we can expect to see a doubling of VicForests profits to about $2 million.

But according to informed government sources, that is the last good news the taxpayers can expect from VicForests for a long time. This year, they say, it will be lucky to break even. And after that it is likely to be all downhill.

The reason is that in May, South East Fibre Exports, which operates out of Eden in southern NSW, announced it would not renew its contract to take product from VicForests when it expires at the end of this year. SEFE currently takes about 200,000 cubic metres of timber from East Gippsland, which it exports as woodchips.

Even with the SEFE contract, the VicForests operation in East Gippsland is said to be losing between $5 million and $6 million a year. When that revenue goes, the losses will skyrocket. But VicForests is refusing to concede it’s curtains for native forest logging in the east of the state.

“The challenge in front of us now is to build a different future for the timber industry in East Gippsland, which continues to provide jobs and economic benefits to the region but may not include export woodchips,” VicForests CEO Robert Green said in May.

Fighting words from Mr Green, but the question needs to be asked, exactly how many jobs are at stake if logging were to cease in the region. According to an internal government document from 2013: “Over the last 10 years in East Gippsland, timber harvesting contractors have declined from over 80 employees working for 25 companies to around 45 employees working for the remaining 12 contractors.”

Of course, in addition to the contractors who extract and haul the stuff, there will be people employed at sawmills — but it’s not exactly Holden, is it?

Turning away from East Gippsland to the profitable bit of VicForests, the Central Highlands, the picture is a little rosier. No one is denying that logging in the Central Highlands is profitable. And, unlike East Gippsland, there are a lot of jobs dependent on it — namely at the Maryvale paper mill, which employees 900 people.

How wedded Australian Paper, which operates Maryvale, is to VicForests’ product is an open question, however. In the past it has been reported the company would like to transition out of native forest timber. But there isn’t enough plantation wood at the moment to replace native wood.

Actually, there probably is enough timber, but it’s in the wrong place — the Green triangle in the state’s far west. The problem is that getting it to the Maryvale mill is too expensive. Were the Government to offer a subsidy to transport plantation product, the company would probably jump at the chance to use it.

How likely are we to see a change in government policy on native forestry before the next election? While there’s no doubt that Agriculture Minister Peter Walsh is a firm friend of VicForests, his views are not shared by a number of Liberals in the Government. The Liberals’ dislike of the organisation is partly environmental and partly economic — that is to say a suspicion of loss-making government enterprises. They can also see that a commitment to ending native forest logging would be handy in Melbourne going into November’s state election.

That will be a space to watch in the next few months.

James Campbell is state politics editor

09 August, 2014

Forestry industry out on a limb

Tom Arup, Environment editor
The Age, August 9, 2014

In its heyday, the town of Cann River in the far east of Victoria was home to seven sawmills. But now just one remains .

Bob Humphreys, 70, has run it for 43 years. As a boy he spent school holidays working at the mill.

In all that time no changes have been as dramatic as those which have buffeted the industry in the past five years.

"Our critical mass has shrunk to such an extent that sooner or later it will no longer be viable. And we're rapidly approaching that point, I reckon," Humphreys says.

Forestry is one of the most disrupted industries in the country. On top of the challenges facing all heavy industry - the high dollar, international competition, falling commodity prices and relatively high cost base - the $7.5 billion timber industry faces specific difficulties at the heart of its business model.

A perpetual and heated environmental contest hangs over native logging, and plantation growers are still dealing with legacies from shambolic tax breaks and collapses. The markets for their products, meanwhile, are in a state of constant change.

The impact is broad, from small mills to the large state government-owned timber companies in NSW, Tasmania and Victoria.

Tasmanian forestry giant Gunns is the most celebrated victim, although, in truth, most of the industry is under stress, or if you are being polite, "in transition". And there is likely more pain to come.

The once-dominant native-forest chip export industry has been the hardest hit. Chips, not sawn timber, has sustained the industry for many decades.

"I can’t argue that there is no decline in the native forest industry," says Peter Mitchell, an experienced timber man and general manager of South East Fibre Exports, a mill and woodchip exporter on the NSW south coast.

"It is not happening because of green pressure. Not because of somebody sitting up a tree. It is happening because of the market."

International competition from plantations in Vietnam, Thailand and South America produce cheaper chips with higher yields. They are crowding Australia out of its traditional and once lucrative markets in Japan.

On the demand side Japanese buyers are less hungry as paper demand has flatlined and they are also confronted with a high Australian dollar. Some Japanese purchasers, mostly paper companies, are also reluctant to take woodchips from Australian native forests because of their contested environmental nature.

That has driven the volume of native hardwood - such as eucalypts - down from 10 million cubic metres to 3.8 million cubic metres. The industry has been cut by more than half in a decade.

The development of domestic hardwood plantations - such as blue gums - has added to competition for native chips.

Companies such as TimberCorp and Great Southern gorged on juicy government tax breaks and planted swathes of forests across southern and western Australia. When they fell over the estates were snapped up at cut price rates and the timber is now being flogged off, meaning production has soared 350 per cent to 5.5 million cubic metres in a decade.

The vast bulk of Australian export woodchips is now plantation-grown; they have replaced native sources in just a handful of years.

Away from chips, the market for higher-quality native sawlogs, which are used in furniture and housing, is also sliding as international competition, alternative products and a quiet global housing market have nibbled on the demand side.

And continued reductions in the amount of wood that can be economically or practically cut out of native forests in a sustainable way have also reduced the supply.

The impact of these reductions can be seen in the NSW government's recent deal to buy out a chunk of a sawlog supply contract with building giant Boral after modelling showed that, next decade, forests in the state's north would be less productive than expected.

In East Gippsland, Bob Humphreys once processed 65,000 cubic metres of native sawlogs a year across four mills in three towns; these mills employed 77 people. Now the remaining mill handles 11,500 cubic metres for sub-floor structures. He has kept the mill in the black through downsizing and a determination to maintain jobs in Cann River, where he employs 17 people. He says Cann River has become a ‘‘welfare town’’.

When a round tree is milled into square planks there is a lot of waste. As is the case with many mills, Humphreys sells the waste for wood chips.

He sells about 5000 tonnes a year to South East Fibre Exports, but in May SEFE announced an end to buying pulp logs or mill waste from East Gippsland from January.

"I am yet to find a market for my residues come the end of the year when SEFE stops taking them. And that may be a precursor to my final demise, I'm not quite sure yet,'' he says.

His experience goes to the heart of the native industry’s economic underpinning. The harvesters who cut down the trees are like millers in that they sell pulp logs - smaller or lower quality logs that cannot be used in saw mills - for chips and are now also facing weakening demand.

"Any forest owner needs a residue market to make things viable," Peter Mitchell says.

"It is like selling the cow and only selling the T-bones; it doesn’t make sense, you have to sell the sausages as well."

VicForests, which is in charge of harvesting native forests, is working to find alternative buyers for its pulp logs from East Gippsland.

The state-owned company sold 200,000 tonnes of pulp log to SEFE in the 2012-13 financial year.

Nathan Trushell, director of strategy at VicForests, says it may not need to replace the entire volume of lost sales. He concedes there will be likely be a hit - though not as large as people suggest -  but he is giving little away about what VicForests might do.

He says there are a range of measures are on the table, from different harvesting techniques to selling logs as firewood.

Trushell says it is a chance to develop a more resilient industry that is domestically focused, and would likely be smaller.

Notwithstanding VicForests' struggles to break even, Victoria’s native sector has actually held up better than that of other states.

Victoria has become the largest harvester of native hardwood forests. But even Victoria has seen production fall by about a third to 1.3 million cubic metres over the last decade.

Crucially, the state's most lucrative logging region – the mountain ash forests region of the Central Highlands – has a stable pulp log customer in Australia Paper, which is owned by Japanese paper giant Nippon.

Australian Paper’s Maryvale mill in the Latrobe Valley uses VicForests residue along with plantation timber to produce Reflex printing paper.

VicForests and Nippon have faced staunch opposition from environmentalists and scientists campaigning to protect endangered species, such as the Leadbeater’s possum, and the mountain ash forests that were ravaged in the 2009 Black Saturday bushfires.

Ten years ago NSW produced roughly the same amount of native timber as Victoria; now it has dropped well below 1 million cubic metres.

The Forestry Corporation of NSW – also state-owned – has posted operating losses from its native timber operations of about $15 million a year since 2010-11.

These losses were easily offset by the returns from their plantation assets – largely softwood species such as pine trees that are used as sawlogs, mostly for housing.

The future of South East Fibre Exports is critical for forestry in the state's south. Long a profitable business, SEFE has struggled to break even in the past three years.

SEFE’s owner is also Nippon as well as Japanese trading company Itochu. Nippon for a long time also bought all SEFE's exported woodchips.

That came to an end when Nippon got access to higher quality chips from other sources. Nippon told SEFE it no longer wanted as much supply. SEFE then had to look to Taiwan and China where prices are lower and competition is no less intense.

SEFE does have a deal to buy Forestry NSW native pulp logs. That has a few years to run but if Nippon decides to shut SEFE when that contract is up then sawmills and native harvesting in southern NSW will face the same problems as their Victorian counterparts.

‘‘Our strength is [that] our customer is our owner. But they can only support us so long. And they can buy cheaper, better quality chips somewhere else; if they don’t it drags their business down,’’ Mitchell says.

While the falls in Victoria and NSW are large, nowhere has the collapse in the native timber industry been more dramatic than in Tasmania.

At its height last decade the state was processing more than 5 million cubic metres of native timber. In 2012-13, as exports to Japan collapsed, a little under 800,000 cubic metres was processed.

That plunged Forestry Tasmania to operating losses of almost $30 million a year. The bleeding has been stemmed courtesy of a government lifeline, but the future of the state’s industry is under another cloud.

The newly elected Hodgman Liberal state government, supported by the Abbott federal government, is in the process of tearing up a peace deal stuck between environmentalists, unions and industry in 2012 to end the forest wars that have plagued the state since the 1970s.

Plantation owners have faced their own issues.

It is true hardwood estates have grabbed the vast majority of the Australian export woodchip market. But they are selling a classic commodity and are also facing the same international competition and pricing pressures as native timbers.

Some plantations established under the MIS tax breaks, introduced under the Howard government, were put on marginal land with unrealistic expectations about what could be produced.

Plantings have now come to a halt and some are even being ripped out of the ground and returned to traditional farming.

In the 2013 financial year less than 2000 hectares of hardwood plantations were established. At the height of the MIS boom 76,000 hectares were planted in 2007 alone.

The large softwood plantation estate has hardly moved in terms of area or volume for about 25 years.

For pessimists wherever one looks forestry is not growing. Optimists, though, see signs of life in the woodchip market driven by emerging Chinese demand.

The consultant Wood Resources International reports that Australian woodchip exports increased in 2013 after falling to a 12-year low the year before. That increase almost exclusively came from plantation.

The first quarter of 2014 saw the largest shipment since 2010 at the same time as exports to China, for the first time, overtook exports to Japan.

The rub, WRI also noted, is that Chinese customers paid almost $30 less per metric ton - or 15 per cent less - than Japanese customers.

David Brand, chief executive of New Forests, runs a company which has snapped up 500,000 hectares of forests and land from the ruins of MIS ventures and Gunns.

His firm forecasts that the volume of the Asian woodchip market will grow by up to 25 per cent in the next two to three years on the back of Chinese, and possibly Indian, demand.

New Forests also expects the Australian hardwood plantation estate to contract by about 40 per cent, with owners, including New Forests, choosing not to replant some areas.

Brand says that, ultimately, the company aims to produce the same amount of wood over a smaller area by increasing the yield of the plantations that remain.

‘‘Effectively for the world to become self-sustaining we’ve got to be able to increase productivity as opposed to try to clear more native ecosystem for production systems,’’ Brand says.

What does that all mean for the future?

Once the post-MIS rationalisation is complete, plantation owners might back themselves to claim an ongoing slice of growth in the Asian markets.

But it is unlikely the woodchip exports markets will return to their former glory for the native harvesters.

‘‘For a resource like the mixed species [forests] in East Gippsland we can’t complete on price and quality against the blue gum plantations. And that’s the reality, and that’s one of the reasons why we are looking at alternatives,’’ Trushell says.

Many in the industry are eyeing off technologies that may chew up large volumes of lower-grade wood and continue to support the harvesting of sawlogs.

Jim Henneberry, who ran Australian Paper until February, points to bioenergy – where pulp is burnt in furnaces to produce energy – and other processes of feeding wood fibre into products such as biofuels, solvets, chemicals and others products as a possible transition point.

He says these new technologies are not going to be dominant, but they can contribute to a much more profitable, sustainable industry.

In that vein the industry is pushing for the burning of native timber for power to be included under Australia’s renewable energy target, which is under review.

Others are hoping that by gaining certain sustainability certification – namely from the Forestry Stewardship Council that is favoured by green groups – they will again secure access to prime international customers, and at least lessen the social and environment conflict around their operations. Both Forestry Tasmania and VicForests are pursuing FSC accreditation to different degrees.

In a sign that the threat to jobs is real the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union is becoming more vocal in its calls for government to support for the sector.

For example it is pressuring the federal government to use Australian Paper products in government departments over imported paper. CFMEU national secretary Michael O'Connor draws a comparison to other struggling manufacturers.

"The majority of jobs in the forest products industry are in the sawmills and in manufacturing plants. And it therefore faces the same challenges that other parts of manufacturing face, which is high Australia dollar, increased energy costs, increased competition from imports," he says.

Judith Ajani, a senior fellow at the Australian National University's Fenner School of Environment and Society, says talk of transition for native timber is wishful thinking.

A close watcher of the industry for many decades, Ajani says it cannot survive unless it can provide a cheap, high-quality and reliable supply for chips and sawlog products at a commodity scale.

And she says it has proven unprofitable to do so. She says ultimately Australia’s timber industry will be virtually all plantation-grown, bigger and more productive than what has existed under the native-dominated model of past.

Those who believe in the native industry argue it provides benefits from the social value of job creation in rural towns to the benefit of having timber companies as land managers that prevent fires and weeds infiltration.

Another prominent argument is that plantation timber cannot replace so-called appearance products, essentially high-end, authentic furniture and hardwood floors made from native timber.

"There will be need for wood products from native forests - whether that is to offset land costs or whether there are particular products that you can’t get from international (markets) or plantations," says Ric Sinclair, managing director of Forest and Wood Products Australia

Sinclair says he believes the future of the Australia industry will be focused around a handful of highly productive regions, both plantation and native, supplying a mix of high-value, manufactured products and underpinned by meeting smaller domestic needs such as timber for bridges and power poles and eventually the potential new markets of power and bio-products.

To achieve this investor confidence needs to be restored and better use made of the existing resource.

Ajani believes a bigger issue hanging over timber is resolving the social conflict between the environmentalists and industry. That means the transition to plantations.

The role of government is critical, says Ajani. Governments own most of the native-log resource; they will decide if trees are burnt for power.

She argues that with the growth in plantations and the fundamental market restructure, the forestry industry is already enduring, and Australia is more than 80 per cent on the way to a new model. It will fall to policymakers to decide whether the final step is taken.

"It is the government’s role to end conflict in society. And it now has a practical way to do it," she says.

"The question for government is, why would they keep it all going?"

04 August, 2014

The inconvenient truth is out, logging forests increases bushfire severity

Peter Campbell
Letter to the Editor, The Age. Submitted 4/8/14

The inconvenient truth is out, logging forests increases bushfire severity according to recent research from Professor Lindenmeyer.

This was demonstrated during the Black Saturday bushfires when previous logged drier forests were decimated by bushfire while intact moist forests in Melbourne's water catchments resisted burning.

Yet the Napthine government continues to fund Vicforests, a sheltered workshop for environmental vandals who log them, while grossly overstating the paltry number of jobs in this destructive industry.

It time this logging stopped and our Central Highlands forests were protected in a Great Forest National Park for future generations to appreciate.

External links

Logging can 'greatly increase' fire severity for 50 years, researchers say

ABC 774 Melbourne, August 4th, 2014

Photo: The Black Saturday fires in Victoria in 2009 killed 173 people.  Photo by: Andrew Brownbill: AAP

Logging practices can "greatly increase the severity of fires" in extreme weather conditions such as Black Saturday, Australian researchers have said.

Researchers from the Australian National University (ANU) and Melbourne University examined hundreds of thousands of trees burnt in the 2009 bushfires in Victoria, which claimed the lives of 173 people on a day of extreme temperatures and high winds.

They found that the increased fire risk began about seven years after an area had been logged and lasted for another 50 years.

Professor David Lindenmayer, from the ANU, said the results showed the fires around Kinglake and Marysville were about 25 per cent more severe due to the clear-felling of forest in the area.

"If we cut down a forest tomorrow, we're still going to be adding to the fire risk in 50 years time," he told 774 ABC Melbourne.

Professor Lindenmayer said the big concern was that many of the areas recently logged were around towns such as Healesville, Toolangi, Warburton, Noojee and Marysville.

"It's a really important outcome, and quite a concerning one, given how much logging has taken place in the last 40 years and how much logging is planned in the next five to 10 years," he said.

Professor Lindenmayer said there should be no logging within five to 10 kilometres of towns to ensure "that we don't add extra risk through extra logging".

"There's a need to comprehensively revise forest policy in this state to reduce fire risk," he said.

"We need to let those forests recover and we need to develop the wet forests... which do have a fire suppressive effect."

03 August, 2014

Study finds logging increased intensity of Black Saturday fires

James Campbell
HeraldsunAugust 03, 2014

A study has found logging in the decades prior to Black Saturday made the deadly blaze much more ­extreme.

THE heat and severity of Kinglake and Marysville fires that killed 159 people on Black Saturday was significantly increased by clear-fell logging of forests, scientists believe.

In a landmark two-year study of the Kilmore East and Murrindindi Mill fires, which destroyed Marysville and ­severely damaged Kinglake, scientists from Melbourne University and the ANU examined satellite images of hundreds of thousands of trees burnt on Black Saturday.

The scientists say the study showed conclusively that logging in the decades prior to Black Saturday made the deadly blaze much more ­extreme.

They also warn that increased fire danger in forests lasts for up to 70 years after an area is logged, with the risk peaking between 10 and 50 years.

The findings of the study will have implications for the bushfire risk to towns such as Warburton and Healesville, which are close to logging operations.

Professor David Lindenmayer, Australia’s leading scientist of forest ecology, who headed the study said it showed conclusively that clear fell logging increased the danger from bushfire.

“Our findings show the severity of the fires on Black Saturday was significantly higher in the areas that had been logged,” he said.

Professor Lindenmayer said preliminary estimates suggested the fire was 25 per cent more severe in forest that had been logged than in old-growth forest.

“This added severity is sufficient to kill people and add significantly to property and forest damage,” he said.

Prof Lindenmayer said the increased fire risk had strong implications for towns close to forestry operations such as Healesville, Powelltown, Warburton and Noojee as well as towns such as Woodend that were close to areas logged in earlier decades.

“Industrial clear felling of ash forests should not take place close to any human settlement,” he said.

The scientists believe the increased fire risk in logged areas is due to several factors.

Regrowth forests have more trees packed more closely together and contain large amounts of flash fuels allowing fire to build in severity, the study found.

Old-growth forests usually have wet rainforest under­storey canopies, which do not burn as well as the drier understorey canopies of regrowth forests.

In the past 50 years, more than 47,000 ha of wet forest have been logged with 17,600 ha to be logged in the next five years.

The Kilmore East and Murrindindi fires, which later merged, were the most deadly on Black Saturday, collectively killing 159 people , destroying 1780 homes and burning 168,542 ha.

30 June, 2014

Leadbeater's possum death fuels survival fears

Bridie Smith, Science Editor
The Age, June 26, 2014

A Leadbeater possum at Healesville Sanctuary.
A Leadbeater possum at Healesville Sanctuary. Photo: Justin McManus

Conservation scientists have expressed concern about the genetic health of the last population of lowland Leadbeater's possums, after a fatally diseased possum arrived at Healesville Sanctuary from the wild and died.

It's the third consecutive year that a wild animal, selected because of its apparent health and value to the captive breeding program, has died.

Listed internationally as endangered, the Leadbeater’s possum is Victoria’s faunal emblem.

There are just 40 of the lowland Leadbeater’s left, living in a small patch of forest near the hamlet of Yellingbo, near Healesville.

Melbourne University conservation geneticist Andrew Weeks analysed tissue samples from the lowland possums. The most recent results reveal a 10 per cent slide in genetic diversity over the past decade.

‘’We’ve recorded a loss and that’s quite a concern,’’ he said.

The typical level of genetic diversity in a Leadbeater's possum population is 65 per cent. The diversity level in the Yellingbo population is now 45 per cent.

Dr Weeks said as populations shrank in size, the rate of inbreeding increased and genetic abnormalities could start to show. This included shorter lifespans, fewer offspring, a greater predisposition to disease and a weakened ability to fight disease.

He said while there were 40 individuals living in the Yellingbo Nature Conservation Reserve, 50 kilometres east of Melbourne, it was unlikely that all were breeding. Therefore, the animals contributing to the gene pool was smaller than the population numbers suggested.

The female possum that was brought to Healesville Sanctuary as part of a captive breeding program in May died earlier this month. A post-mortem revealed she had cancer in her reproductive tract, inflammation of the liver and kidney disease.

General manager of life science at Healesville Sanctuary Rupert Baker said the adult male that died in 2013 also had cancer, while the adult female that died in 2012 had a rare blood parasite that vets believe has never before been seen in an Australian marsupial. The deaths have prompted concerns that the population’s gene pool is too shallow to allow for healthy, resilient genetic diversity.

Healesville Sanctuary’s threatened species biologist Dan Harley said the deaths highlighted the precarious position of the wild population - and raised the difficult question as to whether authorities should start to consider bringing the wild population into captivity.

‘’We knew the wild population wasn’t going well numerically but what this says is that it’s probably not going well in terms of its genetic health,’’ Dr Harley said.

When confronted with a similar scenario with the mountain pygmy possum, scientists opted to cross-breed the Mount Buller population with the genetically distinct Mount Hotham population. The hybrid animals were then released into the wild to boost the gene pool at each location.

However it is a last resort for scientists who, where possible, try to preserve distinct groups in the wild.

"We should really only intervene when things are dire," Dr Harley said.

Indonesia overtakes Brazil in clearing tropical forests resulting in habitat loss and animal extinction, scientists claim

ABC News, 30 June 2014 
Satellite images have found that Indonesia has surpassed Brazil in clearing tropical forests, and losses are accelerating, scientists say.
That's despite a 2011 moratorium meant to protect wildlife and combat climate change.
Between 2000 and 2010, Indonesia's loss of virgin forests totalled 60,000 square kilometres, an area almost the size of Ireland, partly to make way for palm oil plantations and other farms, researchers say.
In 2012 alone, deforestation in Indonesia was estimated at 8,400 square kilometres, compared with 4,600 square kilometres in Brazil.
In 2012 alone, deforestation in Indonesia was estimated at 8,400 square kilometres, compared with 4,600 square kilometres in Brazil.
According to the study, deforestation in the Amazon basin in Brazil has traditionally accounted for the biggest losses, which the country has managed to reduce in recent years.
And it says the loss of primary forest areas is damaging global biodiversity.
"Indonesia's forests contain high floral and faunal biodiversity, including 10 percent of the world's plants, 12 percent of the world's mammals, 16 percent of the world's reptile-amphibians and 17 percent of the world's bird species," the study said, published in the journal Nature Climate Change.
"Extensive clearing of Indonesian primary forest cover directly results in habitat loss and associated plant and animal extinctions."
The research, lead by Belinda Margono of the University of Maryland, looked at long term satellite images.
Ms Margono says monitoring of clearing in Indonesia needs to be increased.
"We need to increase the law enforcement, the control in the area itself," Ms Margono said.
The study found lowland and wetland areas in Sumatra and Kalimantan were the worst affected.

Native fauna at risk

Indonesia's 2011 moratorium on forest clearing was imposed partly to slow deforestation that is ruining the habitats of orangutans, Sumatran tigers and other wildlife.
Norway has also promised $USD1 billion to Jakarta if forest losses are slowed.
It has already paid almost $50 million to Indonesia to help set up new institutions to reduce deforestation and says the study's findings strengthen reasons for the program.
Norwegian environment ministry spokeswoman, Gunhild Oland Santos-Nedrelid, says the partnership constitutes a strong financial incentive.
Norway will only start to handover large amounts of money to Indonesia if monitoring proves a slowdown in deforestation.

23 June, 2014

Tasmanian forest world heritage decision 'will be accepted'

Oliver Millman
The Guardian, 23 June 2016

A United Nations decision on whether to allow the stripping of world heritage protection from swathes of Tasmanian forest will be adhered to, the Australian government has indicated.

Unesco’s World Heritage Committee has gathered in Doha, Qatar to determine its position on, among many other matters, whether to allow the removal of 74,000ha of forest from Tasmania’s world heritage area.

It’s expected that the committee will hand down its decision late on Monday night, Australian time. A draft ruling, following a recommendation by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, states that the boundary change, as requested by the Australian government, should not be permitted.

The Coalition formally requested the world heritage area to be shrunk earlier this year, citing economic benefits from opening up more forestry to logging. The government has argued that 74,000ha of the 170,000ha nominated by the previous Labor administration for world heritage protection is degraded by previous logging and development and should be excised from the area.

But ministers have indicated they will abide by the World Heritage Committee decision, should it confirm it has accepted expert opinion that the current boundary should remain.

A spokesman for Liberal senator Richard Colbeck, who has published a series of photographs showing degraded areas within the 74,000ha, told Guardian Australia the government would respect the Doha ruling.

“The decision will be accepted, whichever way it goes,” said the spokesman for Colbeck, who is the parliamentary secretary to the agriculture minister. “It’s all hypothetical until we hear, but we will move forward with whatever they decide.”

Greg Hunt, the federal environment minister, was less definitive on the issue, telling the ABC that it was “a matter for the Tasmanian government”.

A spokeswoman for the Tasmanian government told Guardian Australia that it would also respect the outcome of the World Heritage Committee meeting.

“We continue to support the federal government in its decision to seek the delisting of 74,000 ha of world heritage area,” she said. “We will accept the umpire’s decision when it is made.”

In its recommendation to the World Heritage Committee, the IUCN stated that the Coalition’s request was “clearly inappropriate” and would "impact negatively on the outstanding universal value of the property" and "reduce integrity of key natural attributes".

The IUCN stated that, contrary to the government’s claim that the area was heavily degraded, 85% of the 74,000ha was natural forest, with 45% old-growth forest. Just 4% could be described as heavily disturbed by logging, roads and other infrastructure, the IUCN report found.

The Greens have called on the government to abandon its map-redrawing exercise, which would trim the protected area which covers much of southwestern Tasmania. Christine Milne, the Greens’ leader, has called the proposal a “demeaning act of environmental vandalism”.

Unesco has confirmed that the proposed boundary change is highly unusual as it comes just a year after the area was assessed to be of world heritage quality.

The world heritage listing was agreed following an agreement between conservationists, loggers and the government, in order to end decades of argument over the use of native forests for timber. The Coalition wants to scrap this agreement, arguing that it was hastily conceived by vested interests and unfairly locked out local communities and the logging industry.

“To assert that pine plantations, roads, high tension wires, eucalypt plantations is worthy world heritage preservation simply does not pass the common sense test,” Liberal senator Eric Abetz told Seven’s Sunrise show on Saturday.

29 May, 2014

VicForests should be chopped

Peter Campbell
The Age, Letter (not published yet), 29 May 2014

The Victorian Government should cease subsidising VicForests, its loss-making logging business . Most of the logged forest logged ends up as low value woodchips, the market for which has just collapsed with the Japanese-owned South East Fibre Exports woodchip mill no longer accepting Victorian woodchips (The Age, 29/5/14).

However, VicForests continues to log our remaining wonderful native forests, including Toolangi State Forest that wasn't burnt during the Black Saturday bushfires. Professor David Lindenmeyer has repeatedly warned that Leadbeaters possum, Victoria's faunal emblem, is destined for extinction if VicForests continues to log our Central Highlands forests.

Instead, the Victorian Government should support the community-led proposal to create the Great Forest National Park to protect our scarce remaining native forests, rather than continue to destroy them.

It makes much more sense to create long-terms jobs in managing and protecting our forests and associated tourism. These forests harbour the tallest flowering trees in the world. In addition, the forests provide valuable water.

There is more than enough plantation timber resource available than can immediately provide a substitute timber resource.

We are just lacking the political will and courage to stop the logging and create the urgently needed new national park that will benefit all Victorians.

Axe VicForests or chop off the public money

Josh Gordon
The Age, May 29, 2014 

The age of entitlement is alive and well in Victoria. At least when it comes to the logging of native forests, a proposition that has become so financially fraught the government is considering getting into the business of firewood collection and chipboard production just to prop it up.

A couple of weeks ago South East Fibre Exports – the Japanese-owned company that owns a large woodchip mill at Eden – decided to dump a contract taking waste timber from VicForests’ East Gippsland logging operations.

It was seen as a body blow for the industry. As it is, harvesting sawlogs from native forests is barely viable, with international markets increasingly demanding cheaper and higher-quality plantation timber, and wood also increasingly sourced from low-cost countries, such as Vietnam. Australia's high dollar hasn't helped.

Even before the decision by South East Fibre Exports, the local sawlog industry was in strife. A December 2013 report by Victoria’s auditor-general found that last financial year at least 250,000 cubic metres of residual wood – 16 per cent of the total harvest – was left on the forest floor and burnt because no one wanted to buy it.

"It is not sold primarily because there is currently no market for it," the auditor said.
What a waste. There may no longer be a market for Victoria's "residual" native timber, but selling this unwanted byproduct is still seen as vital to make sawlogging viable.

Under the current arrangement with South East Fibre Exports – which will end next year – VicForests supplies about 200,000 cubic metres of wood to the Eden mill, equivalent to about one-sixth of the total 1.2 million cubic metres produced by VicForests in 2012-13.

The situation is so dire that VicForests is now considering the possibility of selling the residual wood from its forestry operations as firewood, producing chipboard, or using old-growth waste wood for power generation.

"There is the opportunity for local bio-energy production, but also simple markets, particularly given the increase in energy costs, [like] domestic firewood for home use," VicForests corporate affair's director Nathan Trushell told Gippsland ABC radio.

You can only wonder how a private sector firewood business might feel about the prospect of a heavily subsidised state-owned behemoth encroaching on its businesses.

Indeed, as far as socialist-style, publicly owned businesses go, VicForests is in a league of its own.
Not only has VicForests been gifted a hugely valuable public asset free of charge, it has been given monopoly rights to chop this asset down, all the while being spared massive direct and indirect costs associated with logging operations.

It is enough to make Fidel Castro blush.

These indirect costs include the $20 million annual cost of maintaining forestry roads, the opportunity cost of the water lost from our catchments, plus intangible costs such as lost biodiversity and reduced public amenity.

What does the public get in return for this bold experiment in socialism? According to an assessment of VicForests’ finances by the Australian Conservation Foundation, since 2005, VicForests has accrued operating cash flow losses of $11.9 million on its core forestry activities. Over the same period, it has notched up investment losses worth $10.2 million.

That’s a combined loss of $22.1 million from forestry activities – equivalent to about $1.50 for every square metre of timber harvested so far. As the report notes, VicForests' financial position has to a significant extent been propped up by reliance on cheap debt from the Treasury Corporation of Victoria.

In the nine annual reports since it was established, VicForests has announced just three dividend payments to taxpayers: $3 million in 2006 and $2 million in 2007 and a further $250,000 payment this financial year after a positive profit in 2012-13.

The big argument in favour of protecting the local industry is employment. As the auditor pointed out late last year, the timber industry employs more than 21,000 people, while VicForests claims native forest timber harvesting in eastern Victoria has generated about $1 billion in direct economic benefits since 2004.

Agriculture Minister Peter Walsh insists the market is "fundamentally sound" for high-quality sawlogs, claiming the challenge is to find alternative options for the residual and low-grade timber.

But at what cost? There are very real questions that need to be tackled about whether we can continue to push public resources into an industry that would surely struggle to survive on its own – particularly in an age where the public is told the age of handouts is over.

If the objective is to protect jobs, surely there are more sensible ways to do this. If the government is determined to protect Victoria’s timber industry, investing in economically viable plantation forestry might be a good start.

Already there are rumblings within Coalition ranks about the future viability of VicForests, with the issue seen as a potential pressure point between the the Liberal and National parties.

Given the predicament facing VicForests, it is not hard to see why. The debate is no longer one of ideology, it is one of basic economics.

15 May, 2014

Government stands firm on bid to reduce Tasmanian forest World Heritage listing

Felicity Ogilvie
ABC News 15 May 2014 

The Federal Government is ignoring a Senate inquiry's advice on a World Heritage-listed forest in Tasmania after the inquiry condemned plans to delist the forest.

PHOTO: The World Heritage committee will hand down its draft decision on the Tasmanian forest this week. (Rob Blakers: Supplied)
The extension of Tasmania's World Heritage area is the centrepiece of the so-called forest peace deal.

But the Coalition opposes the deal and say they want the World Heritage committee to reduce the Tasmanian extension by 74,000 hectares.

Greens leader Christine Milne is on the Senate Committee that has told the Government to stop trying to delist the forest.

"If a country like Australia decides that, as a result of a political whim, it can destroy its World Heritage area to facilitate logging, that will send a very clear message to other countries that they can adjust their boundaries for uranium mines or any other kind of mining, logging, tourism, development or whatever they like," she said.

"It would be a real blow to World Heritage globally."

Tasmanian Liberal Senator Richard Colbeck says the Government will push on with its request.

The area contains some plantations and areas that have been previously logged.

Senator Colbeck says it should never have been World Heritage.

"I think the Tasmanian community said at the federal election last September, and again at the state election in March, that they want to have a forest industry, they want to sensibly use our resources in Tasmania, but they also ... value and want to maintain the wilderness World Heritage values of the outstanding area that is the original estate," he said.

"So I think there's an opportunity to have win-win-win all round."

The World Heritage committee will hand down its draft decision this week.

Spokesman for the Tasmanian Special Timbers Alliance Andrew Denman is hoping the area's World Heritage status will be revoked.

Mr Denman builds boats out of specialty wood and he says the forest agreement and subsequent World Heritage listing is putting pressure on timber supplies.

"The TFA (Tasmanian Forest Agreement) has had a terrible impact on especially the timber sector," he said.

"We've seen a massive reduction in supply of timber, in some cases over 90 per cent for some species.

"We've also seen a doubling and sometimes a tripling of the resource price as well, all because of a political agreement to restrict access to a sustainable resource.

"So if the World Heritage committee decides not to approve the Federal Government's request to remove 74,000 hectares, obviously that 15,600 hectares of specialty timber area that could possibly be accessed will not be available and that will have an impact on industry."

Vica Bayley from the Wilderness Society is one of the environmentalists who negotiated the forest agreement and he wants to keep the World Heritage extension intact.

"The industry has restructured and, similarly, the specialty timber sector needs to readjust and accept that fact," he said.

"There are plenty of specialty timber operators and specialty timber workers that are saying, keep this World Heritage list, keep the Tasmanian Forest Agreement, and let's work with what we have."

Environmentalists have already been back into the forests protesting against the World Heritage delisting.

Mr Bayley says delisting of the World Heritage forest will spark more protests.

"If these World Heritage listed forests are indeed delisted and they are indeed logged, clearly people will continue to stand up for their protection," he said.

"Not only here in Tasmania, but across Australia and around the world. And, that's not only people that care about the forests; that's people that care about markets and where they get their wood from."

Environmentalists will travel to Doha next month to lobby the World Heritage committee when it makes its final decision on Tasmania's forests.

13 May, 2014

Chip mill to end Gippsland timber contract

Blake Foden 
Bombala Times, May 13, 2014

The owner of the Eden woodchip mill has announced it will not be renewing its contract to purchase timber from state forests in East Gippsland, when the current agreement expires at the end of 2014.

South East Fibre Exports general manager Peter Mitchell says international market pressures are the major reason behind the decision, and that company shareholders are yet to give SEFE any final direction on its next move.

Mr Mitchell said that while the announcement is a “serious development”, it does not signal an imminent closure for the chip mill.

“International market pressures have made it difficult for us to compete by selling VicForests’ resource on the basis of price and quality,” Mr Mitchell said.

“Obviously Vietnam is exporting a lot of wood chips now and has taken over from Australia as the world’s largest exporter.

“But I can reassure people that as far as Eden goes, we won’t be closing tomorrow.

“This is a serious development, but it isn’t an imminent ‘shut-up shop’ and there have been no decisions made in terms of the people who are working here.”

In the wake of the announcement, Chipstop campaigner Harriet Swift has challenged SEFE and parent company Nippon Paper to “come clean about their future plans”.

She said the Eden woodchip mill “should close now” and cease logging operations for the good of forests and wildlife.

“Closing the chipmill now would avoid so much suffering, save valuable carbon sinks and allow the forests and the community to start the healing process after 40 years of woodchipping,” Ms Swift said.

“Almost half of SEFE’s hardwood inputs come from Victoria and it looks highly improbable that the mill could survive without the Victorian logs and sawmill chips.”

The Australian Forests and Climate Alliance (AFCA) also welcomed SEFE’s announcement, labelling it a “body blow” to the logging industry.

AFCA spokesperson Jill Redwood says it is time to follow the lead of whaling and “retire the industry to history”, and warned the logging industry against turning its focus to biomass burning.

“This is a key turning point in the history of south-east Australia’s forests,” Ms Redwood said.

“Forests as now seen as essential climate moderators and Governments should take this opportunity to re-value them as carbon stores, water production areas and as essential habitat for so much of our rare wildlife.

“The burning of forests has recently been approved by the NSW government as renewable energy, and if the forests of south-east Australia are to now be clearfelled and incinerated for electricity, it would be an act of environmental wrecking that is unequalled.”

But VicForests CEO Robert Green says there are no plans to cease logging operations, saying SEFE’s announcement has ended ongoing uncertainty and now allows the state-owned business to move towards identifying new opportunities.

Mr Green said there is still strong demand for timber produced in East Gippsland, and he is confident that the industry will continue in the region, with or without export woodchips.

“SEFE’s decision to cease taking timber from Victoria will affect the market for residual timber produced from our harvesting operations,” he said.

“SEFE has been an important part of the Victorian timber industry for decades and we understand this is a commercial decision which has been made due to a range of external factors.

“Importantly, there will continue to be a timber industry in East Gippsland, and the region will continue to benefit from the contribution made by the industry.

“There are businesses that are ready to invest in the region, and we will be working closely with industry, Government and local communities over the coming months to ensure we adjust to this change.”

But Victorian Greens leader Greg Barber disagrees, saying SEFE’s exit from East Gippsland is “the beginning of the end” for native forest logging.

Mr Barber says VicForests are “in denial”, and urged the Government to immediately put a plan in place to end native forest logging.

"VicForests is a loss-making public owned company and now it is absolutely finished,” Mr Barber said.

“They can't sugarcoat it; no one wants to buy their product and they can't make any money off it.

“Their media release shows they are in complete denial about it.

"The native forest loggers have been comprehensively beaten in the marketplace by plantation tree growers.

“Instead of throwing more taxpayer subsidies at it, the government should accept the inevitable and come up with a plan for an orderly, fair and rapid exit from native forest logging.

“It's what the vast majority of the public wants."

Loss of contract a blow for East Gippsland logging industry

Tom Arup
The Age,  May 13, 2014

The future of native forests logging in East Gippsland is under a cloud after the main woodchip customer in the region announced it would not renew its contract with Victoria's state-owned timber company.

South East Fibre Exports, which owns a large woodchip mill at Eden in south-east NSW, has told VicForests it will not accept East Gippsland residual timber - the waste from native forest logging not turned into sawlogs - after this year.

VicForests chief executive Robert Green said the company faced a challenge to run a forestry industry in the state's east that continued to support jobs if it no longer exported woodchips.
The decision puts further pressure on VicForests which is seen by some as having underperformed financially since its inception in 2003. Last year VicForests registered an $802,000 profit; the year before it registered a $96,000 loss. The lacklustre performance has prompted questions about whether the loss of native forests through logging is justified for little profit.

VicForests spokesman David Walsh said it supplied about 200,000 cubic metres of wood to the Eden mill in 2012-13 - about a sixth of the total 1.2 million cubic metres of wood produced by VicForests for the year.
But Mr Green said there would continue to be a native logging industry in East Gippsland - one of the two major logging areas in the state.

"The announcement offers the certainty necessary for us to get on with the job of looking to the future and identifying new opportunities for the industry," he said.

The loss of the contract could also put pressure of the region's sawlog industry, given the sale of waste timber for woodchips contributes to making the industry viable. Mr Green said VicForests would continue to meet its commitments to sell higher-value sawlogs.

Victorian Greens leader Greg Barber said: "Japanese woodchip companies [that own the Eden mill] have more environmental consciousness than the Liberal Party. Plantation wood is greener, makes better paper and there's millions of tonnes of it available.

"VicForests is a loss-making public-owned company and now it is absolutely finished. They can't sugarcoat it. No one wants to buy their product and they can't make any money off it."

The decision to end the VicForests contract at Eden had been expected for some time among forestry circles given the struggling financial performance of South East Fibre Exports in recent years.

Agriculture Minister Peter Walsh said the government, along with industry and parts of the East Gippsland community, had last year begun drawing up a plan to explore other markets for logs used for woodchips.
"The Victorian Coalition government recognises that forestry makes a valuable contribution to regional jobs and small communities and we will continue working with local communities to support viable, sustainable and responsibly managed local industries," he said.

Speaking on ABC Radio in Gippsland, South East Fibre Exports general manager Peter Mitchell said the decision was a result of lower international demand, increased production in countries such as Vietnam, and more wood flowing from failed managed investment scheme plantations.

Calls to stop East Gippsland logging as VicForests loses one of its biggest customer

Annika smethurst
Herald sun, may 13, 2014

THE future of Victoria’s taxpayer-owned logging company is in serious doubt after one of its biggest customers announced it would no longer buy timber from the state’s forests in East Gippsland.

South East Fibre Exports, a wholly owned subsidiary of Japanese paper giant Nippon Paper, said it would not enter a new agreement with VicForests when its present contract expired.

The contract was believed to be worth about $12 million annually with SEFE taking about half of its supply from VicForests.

Industry sources say the ­decision could spell an end for native forest clearing in East Gippsland and put further pressure on the state-owned logging company, which has continued to receive government subsidies despite failing to pay a dividend for more than five years.

Farmers continue to put pressure on the State Government to stop logging in the Yarra Valley catchments due to reduced water supplies.

VicForests’ chief Robert Green said despite SEFE’s decision affecting the market for residual timber produced from harvesting operations, the industry in East Gippsland would continue.

“The challenge in front of us now is to build a different ­future for the timber industry in East Gippsland, which continues to provide jobs and economic benefits to the region but may not include export woodchips,” he said.

Victorian Greens leader Greg Barber said the State Government should stop logging native forests instead of subsidising it.

“VicForests is a loss-making public-owned company and now it is absolutely finished,” Mr Barber said.

“No one wants to buy their product and they can’t make any money off it.”

Environment East Gippsland co-ordinator Jill Redwood said woodchipping had been an economic drain.

“The Government should now manage our public forests for public good not for private profit,” Ms Redwood said.

20 March, 2014

Don't give up on Australia's endangered species

David Lindenmayer
The Guardian, 20 March 2014

Endangered: the leadbeater's possum. Photograph: Healesville Sanctuary

Recently, there has been a lot of discussion in the scientific community about whether we should allow some species to go extinct. The argument put forward is that the number of endangered species is so great, it isn’t worth the resources to attempt to save them all. But in a wealthy country like Australia – which has some of the best ecologists, conservation biologists and conservation scientists in the world – it is critical that we do far better in managing the nation’s natural resources. A loss of biodiversity is an indicator of poor environmental management. Suggesting that we should let yet more species go extinct on this continent is too defeatist and does not inform the public about what is needed to solve the country’s biodiversity issues.

The approach to allowing species extinction has been around for some time. It’s called “ecological triage”, whereby limited resources for conservation funding are targeted at the subset of species for which management success is most likely. The approach stems from the same process used in medicine to set priorities for allocating efforts to treat patients. The ecological triage approach is thought by some to be essential because it is believed that many resources are directed to species on the brink of extinction that are doomed in the long run, and too few are targeted at declining flora and fauna that are still recoverable.

As a counter to these ideas of ecological triage, some conservation biologists believe that parallels between emergency medicine and conservation biology are inappropriate. For example, they consider that it makes extinction acceptable and allow decision-makers to get away with allocating insufficient resources to address environmental problems. More than a decade ago, scientists Cameron and Soderquist argued in Nature that nations such as Australia should reject the concept of ecological triage because it is has the knowledge, time and ability to save threatened and endangered species.

My own opinion is that rather than arguing about which species to save and which ones to let go extinct, five key things need to be done.

1. We need to make some general calculations about how much money is needed to adequately conserve Australia’s biodiversity.

2. We must develop the funding framework to support effective conservation and land management efforts. Piecemeal, short-term and underfunded attempts characterise the environmental management arena in Australia – usually with limited success. Large-scale and long-term initiatives like an environmental levy (like the Medicare levy) or a GST on food with the funds directed in land management are possible options. Levies can work and if managed appropriately (and transparently) can raise sufficient funds to solve major problems and spread the burden across all of society to generate a public good outcome.

3. We must identify the management actions and expenditure of resources that will provide the maximum benefit.

4. We need to do the proper management interventions to tackle the processes threatening biodiversity in particular ecosystems – be it limiting industrial clearfelling in the wet forests of Victoria to conserving populations of the endangered leadbeater’s possum, continuing strategic fox-baiting to reduce feral predators and maintaining populations of animals like the eastern bristlebird, or protecting woodland remnants and re-vegetating patches of woodland on farmland to help recover temperate woodland birds.

5. We must do the monitoring so that we can tell what management is working (and then keep it going), and what is not, so that it can be changed. This last step is critical as it essential to show investors – the Australian public – what was the environmental return on the investment.

Debates about letting species go extinct are important to stimulate discussion among the public, policymakers and politicians about the long-term trajectory of conservation. This nation must properly identify the expenditure of resources, management actions and monitoring that will conserve its natural heritage.

17 March, 2014

PM Tony Abbott hopes for 'renaissance of forestry' following Liberal election victory in Tasmania

ABC News (Australian Broadcasting Corporation), 17 March 2014

Prime Minister Tony Abbott has reaffirmed his commitment to seek to remove 74,000 hectares of Tasmanian forest from the World Heritage List as part of a "renaissance of forestry" in the state.

The newly-elected Liberal Government in Tasmania, led by Premier-elect Will Hodgman, has promised to rip up the state's Forestry Agreement as well as re-open listed forests to logging.

Under the Tasmanian peace deal, 170,000 hectares of forest was added to the World Heritage area.

Mr Abbott says the Federal Government is committed to growing the forestry industry in the state.

"We want to see a renaissance of forestry in Tasmania," he said.

"Will Hodgman wants to see a renaissance of forestry in Tasmania and we'll work very constructively with the new state government to try to make that happen."

The Prime Minister declared earlier this month that too many of Australia's forests are "locked up".

He has vowed to set up a new advisory council to support the timber industry.

"We have quite enough national parks. We have quite enough locked up forests already. In fact, in an important respect, we have too much locked up forest," Mr Abbott told a timber industry dinner in Canberra earlier this month.

The Federal Government argues part of the land locked up in Tasmania's World Heritage area has already been partially logged or degraded and it should be opened up to the forestry industry.

Liberals post best-ever Tas results

Tasmania's Liberals posted their best-ever election result on Saturday night, claiming at least 14 of the 25 seats on offer on the back of a 12 per cent swing.

It ends Mr Hodgman's reign as the country's longest-serving opposition leader.

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten believes state Labor's power-sharing deal with the Greens cost the party at the ballot box.

After 16 years in power Labor suffered its worst result in six decades, winning 27 per cent of the vote and just six seats.

Premier Lara Giddings dumped the Greens from Cabinet shortly before announcing the election date.

Mr Shorten says the years in partnership were not good for the Labor brand.

"In Tasmania the Labor government had been in for 16 years that's a very long time and there's no doubt that Labor having an agreement [with the Greens] was marked down by Tasmanian voters," he said.

Meanwhile, the state's electoral commission has revealed 163 postal votes were destroyed after they were irreparably damaged by a letter-opening machine.

More than 2,300 ballot papers for the Hobart-based seat of Denison were damaged during preparation for the count on Saturday evening.

The Tasmanian Electoral Commission (TEC) said 2,175 ballot papers were repaired but 163 were damaged so badly they had to be counted as informal.

The incident has been blamed on the machine not being used properly and poor quality control.

State Electoral Commissioner Julian Type said it was not likely to impact the result.