16 December, 2015

MEDIA RELEASE: VicForests facing legal action again


VicForests facing legal action again 

The state government owned logging company VicForests, is in the legal crosshairs of environmentalists yet again.  Lawyers acting on behalf of Environment East Gippsland have this week formally requested an explanation as to why a rich habitat site suited for rare forest-dependent wildlife was not surveyed before logging commenced last week.

“We believe this is a strong case of non-compliance with the law”, said EEG’s Jill Redwood. “This beautiful stand of wet forest contains old growth trees, rainforest and many habitat traits essential for rare and threatened wildlife. It should have been surveyed.”

“We won our Brown Mountain case in 2010 when VicForests logged without checking for the presence of rare native animals.  It seems they haven’t learnt.”

“To make things worse, rainforest in this area has not been protected from logging.  As far as we are aware, VicForests has already logged unlawfully within the protected rainforest buffer.”

The forest is part of the St Patrick's River catchment south west of Goolengook and NE of Orbost.

“EEG has had concerns for a number of years that VicForests has been making its own decisions on where to survey based more on its commercial interests rather than actual concern for protecting old growth habitat and rare native animals.”

“More areas of high quality habitat are planned for imminent logging and we believe they have also been overlooked for surveying. The less they find, the more they can cut down.

“We’ve told the Andrews Government about these issues and hope it will pull VicForests into line, but we haven’t had any indication yet that they plan to take action”

For comment:  Jill Redwood    (03) 5154  0145

15 December, 2015

MEDIA RELEASE: Protest halts vicforests illegal logging operation

MEDIA RELEASE – 15/12/2015

Conservationists from Goongerah Environment Centre (GECO) have halted logging operations in high conservation value forest on the St Patrick’s River in East Gippsland today due to multiple breaches of the law.

A person is positioned in a tree platform 30m off the ground. The platform is tied off to logging machinery which is preventing logging operations from continuing.

GECO believes the logging is illegal.  VicForests has failed to carry out necessary pre logging surveys for threatened wildlife, which it is legally obligated to do. Logging has also illegally impacted upon a large stand of protected rainforest.

“The Minister was alerted to these breaches last week but as logging continues we’ve taken direct action to prevent further destruction of wildlife habitat and rainforest,’ said Ed Hill.

Three threatened/protected species have been recorded close to the area; Yellow-bellied Glider, Sooty Owl and the endangered Long-footed Potoroo.  The forest is also rich in old trees with hollows – an indication that other rare and protected wildlife could be supported in this forest,” said Ed Hill.

“Many stands of forest with high quality habitat for threatened wildlife are listed by VicForests as being currently logged or about to be logged and appear to have no surveys associated with them.  These may also be illegal operations.”

“After a controversial rainforest logging operation was exposed by GECO earlier this year, Environment Minister Lisa Neville MP ordered her department to conduct ‘spot checks’ on VicForests’ logging operations in rainforest areas.  This should have ensured rainforests are protected”, said Ed Hill

“Instead we see repeated and blatant contempt of clearly worded laws which should see VicForests charged, as any of us would be for destruction of protected rainforest,” said Ed Hill.

“As the Minister responsible Lisa Neville must act to immediately halt the logging in this coupe and order a full investigation into the suitability of VicForests as a manager of public property,” said Ed Hill.

High resolution images and video available from 10am

Media contact: Ed Hill  (03) 5154 0109 or 0414199645

email: geco.media@gmail.com ,  website: www.geco.org.au

18 November, 2015

Our distorted values

Kath Angus, Thornbury
The Age, letter, 18 Nov 2015

That the proposed Great Forest National Park is in question because VicForests has made long-term logging contracts tells us nothing about the industry's viability or even the need for its existence (The Age, 17/11). It simply tells us our value system is so distorted we would rather  release ever more carbon into the atmosphere and watch species go extinct than break a contract and pay a fee. Chopping down trees simply because we said we would is madness.

16 November, 2015

Great Forest National Park needed now

Peter Campbell
Letter to editor, The Age (not yet published), 16/11/15

VicForests signing expensive and dubious logging contracts (Age 16/11) just before the change of government in 2014 highlights the urgent need for the Great Forest National Park.

VicForests lacks the social licence for continued logging of our native forests and ongoing destruction of Leadbeaters possum and other threatened species forest habitat. Species extinction and ecosystem collapse are not acceptable.

The declining availability of wood resource from native forests, consumer avoidance of timber and paper produced from it, paltry revenue and debts owed equates to the upcoming cessation of native forest logging.

There are few jobs involved now that whole logs are exported to China.

The future lies in transitioning the logging industry to sustainable plantations and recycled fibre - this will be good for jobs and good for the environment.

Nine out of ten Victorians support the immediate creation of Great Forest National Park during the term of current government. We now just need the political will to do so.

15 November, 2015

Leadbeater's possum national park plans dealt a blow

Josh Gordon, State Political Editor
The Age, November 15, 2015

The Leadbeater's possum is believed to be perilously close to extinction. Photo: Justin McManus

A plan for a new national park to protect the endangered Leadbeater's possum has been dealt a blow with revelations VicForests locked in millions of dollars worth of new logging contracts.

State Labor ducked a proposal to create a Great Forest national park stretching from Kinglake to Mt Baw Baw and north-east up to Eildon in the recent state election, instead announcing a taskforce made up of environment groups, scientists, the union and the forestry industry.

The decision to set up the taskforce to strike a "consensus" followed pressure during the campaign from the Construction, Forestry, Mining and and Energy Union, which had threatened to campaign against Labor on concerns that ending logging in the area would threaten Gippsland jobs.

Environment Minister Lisa Neville earlier this year said she believed the park would be created this term, with a commitment to protect logging industry jobs. Conservations and scientists – including Sir David Attenborough – have long argued that the park is needed to protect the possum, which is believed to be perilously close to extinction.

But VicForests' latest annual report, tabled in Parliament last week, suggests ending logging before the 2018 election could be difficult. The report shows VicForests negotiated various contracts to harvest and haul 900,000 cubic  metres of wood a year for the next three or four years.

It said the agreements – which could cost more than $50 million a year assuming current harvest and haulage costs – had the potential to be extended, "providing the greatest level of security that contractors have had since 2009".

News of the new deals has left the state government struggling to explain how a national park might be created into the near future. A government spokeswoman said the annual report confirmed the finalisation of the timber allocation process that began in late 2012, under the previous government.
But in a potentially controversial decision, Labor confirmed it would not financially back any new long-term timber deals until the taskforce has delivered its findings.

"The Labor government has determined that we will not indemnify any new long-term timber sales agreements until the deliberations of the industry taskforce are completed and the government has received its recommendations," the spokeswoman said.

"The taskforce involves government, industry and science working together to reach common ground on the issues facing the industry, such as job protection, economic activity and protection of our unique native flora, fauna and threatened species such as the Leadbeater's possum."

The annual report also showed VicForests returned a $4.7 million   profit last financial year, the third in a row, with a dividend of $1.5 million expected to be paid to the state. VicForests chief executive Robert Green said the industry contributed hundreds of millions of dollars to the economy a year.

"Our revenue from timber sales is up on last year and VicForests alone has injected more than $85 million into regional economies through contracts with local businesses and wages," Mr Green said.
The report also confirmed VicForests started exporting low-grade logs, with approximately 3600 cubic tonnes sent overseas, most likely to China.

27 October, 2015

Environment group to go to police over 'recklessly provocative' behaviour by logging supporters

ABC News (Australian Broadcasting Corporation), 27 Oct 2015

PHOTO: The giant log, estimated to be hundreds of years old, was cut down in contravention with forest regulations. (Facebook)
An environment group called Knitting Nannas of Toolangi is taking a complaint of intimidation to police after a logging truck drove past one of their gatherings at an "unacceptably high speed" last week, north of Melbourne.

When members of the group posted photos of the truck on Facebook, it sparked a torrent of abuse from pro-logging advocates, including a photo of giant tree on the back of a logging truck.

The log, believed to be four or five metres in circumference and hundreds of years old, had "hug this" painted on it, a reference to the term "tree huggers" which is often used to describe environmental campaigners.

The photo sparked outrage amongst environmental campaigners.

A spokeswoman for the group, who have campaigned against the logging of environmentally sensitive logging coupes in the area, said the photo showed a "lack of respect" for anyone who opposed logging.

The spokeswoman asked not to be named because of fear of reprisals.

She said the group was formed to stop intimidation from pro-logging groups.

"We're now being subjected to the same treatment," she said.

Loggers 'giving the finger'

Members of the Knitting Nannas said they were taking their complaint to police in hope the intimidation would stop.

Jill Redwood from another group, Environment East Gippsland, said it was the loggers "giving the finger" to environmental groups.

"It was recklessly provocative and shows total contempt for community values and the concerns about our forests," she said.

"It was put up the same day I and two other groups were meeting with department [Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning] to start process of working out giant tree prescriptions [to protect them]," she said.

Loggers are not supposed to cut down any tree over nine metres in circumference.

Nathan Trushell, of VicForests, the state-owned business responsible for logging, said it does not "condone this type of behaviour."

"We are following up with the contractor concerned to address the issue," he said in a statement.

"Our contractors are very responsible in the way the conduct themselves but this was a clear error in judgement from the individual involved.

"We apologise to anyone who was offended by the photo."

23 October, 2015

New colonies of Leadbeater's possum discovered in logging forests

Tom Arup, Environment Editor
Sydney Morning Herald, October 23, 2015

The politically sensitive and critically endangered Leadbeater's possum, which is also happens to be Victoria's animal emblem, is again proving a challenge with the discovery of dozens of new colonies in forests on Melbourne's northern doorstep that are open to logging.

In recent months government and community surveys have found 71 new colonies of Leadbeater's possum in the central highland forests.

That has prompted dozens of new 200-metre logging exclusion zones to be established across the patches of forest in the state's central highlands where the possum populations are being discovered.

A Leadbeater's possum at Healesville sanctuary. New wild colonies of the species have been found in state and national parks. Photo: Joe Armao

The new colony finds are documented in a progress report on state government efforts to protect the possum, which were first launched by the Napthine government (in conjunction with the timber industry and Zoos Victoria) after community and scientific concern for the creature's fate reached fever pitch.

The plan's goal is to find 200 new Leadbeater's colonies in state forest within two years. In April the Andrews government announced it was going to speed up the surveying program.

By September, 71 new colonies had been discovered. And a further 45 new colonies were also found in national parks, which already exclude timber harvesting.

Environment Minister Lisa Neville said the discovery of 116 colonies across state and national parks was "encouraging" and it was pleasing to see progress made "though a collaborative effort across government and with the community".

But Sarah Rees, from the green group MyEnvironment, said new discoveries were well short of the target and "deeply concerning".

"They have looked everywhere, like our teams," she said.

"We are now seeing most of the remnant possums in logging zones and this is what scientists and survey teams have been saying for years."

A spokesman for the state-owned timber company, VicForests. said it was "incredibly positive" to see more than 100 new detections of a critically endangered species and survey work was continuing with areas being protected to ensure harvesting did not impact on possum colonies.

The report says 188 protection zones have now been put in place to protect the newly found colonies, along with another 283 that were already known.

But scientists from the Australian National University have previously criticised the 200-metre protection areas as too small to be effective, arguing they need to be one kilometre to ensure the animal's safety.

The government's progress report also says that logging has been delayed in areas where there is a 65 per cent chance of the species living there, meaning harvesting of 14,800 hectares of forest has been deferred for two years to allow more surveys to take place.

The report also monitored whether Leadbeater's possums were nesting in artificial hollows that have been created, which replicate their natural habitat in old trees, finding about 25 per cent were being used.

It is still unclear how many possums the newly discovered colonies contain.  And there is significant debate about how many Leadbeater's possums still live in the wild overall, with different estimates ranging below 2000 to as high as 11,000.

But the decline of the species due to bushfires and logging pressures prompted federal Environment Minister Greg Hunt to this year boost its threatened species status to critically endangered, which is one step before extinction.

21 August, 2015

Victorian Government considers buying timber industry out of Leadbeater's possum habitat

ABC News (Australian Broadcasting Corporation), 21 August 2015

PHOTO: The Leadbeater's possum is one of the most critically endangered animals in Australia and faces rapid habitat loss from logging. (AAP: Healesville Sanctuary)

In a highly sensitive move, the Victorian Government is considering a plan that could buy the logging industry out of a forest to save the state's faunal emblem, the Leadbeater's possum.

The Leadbeater's possum is one of the most critically endangered animals in Australia and its habitat in the tall mountain ash forests of the state's central highlands is in decline due to logging and fires.

A long awaited industry taskforce has now been set up to consider whether logging and the Leadbeater's Possum can both continue in these forests.

Professor David Lindenmayer from the Australian National University (ANU) said the timber industry must stop logging the central highlands mountain ash forest if the possum is to have a chance of surviving.

"Lots of places are being logged that shouldn't, the big old trees aren't being protected, this leaves animals like Leadbeater's very little chance of surviving the next 20 to 30 years," he said.

Dave Blair, a senior research officer with ANU, said recommendations handed down by the Leadbeater's Possum advisory group last year are not adequately protecting the possum.

"The science we have been working on for decades now was largely sidelined with a lot of the recommendations either being extremely watered down versions of it or proposing things that we know already aren't going to work," he said.

Scientists from the ANU and conservationists are pushing for a Great Forest National Park, which would provide a much larger ecological reserve for the possum.

The state owned logging corporation, VicForests, said that would mean the end of the timber industry in the central highlands.

VicForests general manager of planning Nathan Trushell, said: "It's not a surprise to anyone, if the Great Forest National Park was implemented in its current form that would result in the end of most of the Victorian hardwood timber industry."

Buying logging industry out risks upsetting key union supporter

The Victorian Government is under intense pressure to do more to save the possum.

In the last month, Federal Environment Minister Greg Hunt has twice called on it to take action.

"We listed the Leadbeater's Possum as critically endangered and it's up to them now to be absolutely clear what their plans are because I understand that logging has recently commenced in new areas and I think it's time for the Labor Government in Victoria to be upfront about their plans," he said.

Mr Hunt has also invited the Victorian Government to apply for funding that could pave the way for it to buy the timber industry out of the central highlands mountain ash forest.

PHOTO: Rusty logging coupe in Toolangi state forest which was logged in 2014. (ABC)
If the submission was approved it would allow the State Government to bid for millions of dollars a year from the Emissions Reduction Fund to not log in Leadbeater's Possum forests.

It is a highly sensitive issue for the State Government because of its potential to upset one of its key union supporters, the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU), which represents timber workers.

Mr Trushell said even if millions of dollars of Emissions Reduction Fund money was available, it would not be easy or simple to move the timber industry out of the central highlands.

"Look, I think these are the types of issues that would be worked through the industry taskforce," he said.

"We're talking about a substantial industry. The reality is the solutions aren't easy. The alternatives aren't easy.

"Ultimately if you were to close down the timber industry in eastern Victoria, you would need to substitute from somewhere else."

Mr Trushell said it would also have a significant impact on some regional communities.

"It's an important industry regionally. It contributes to significant socio-economic benefits. You need to look at the whole picture."

The Victorian Government declined to be interviewed.

But in a statement a spokesperson said the terms of reference for the taskforce are currently being formalised.

07 August, 2015

Logging in national parks good for vulnerable species, Timber NSW says

ABC News (Australian Broadcasting Corporation)
7 August 2015

Vulnerable native species would benefit if New South Wales' national parks were opened up to controlled logging, according to the state's timber industry.

PHOTO: Controlled logging would protect vulnerable species in NSW, experts say. (Rose Grant)

Timber NSW says controlled logging should be allowed in the state's national parks and Crown lands as well as in state forests.

That view is supported by Senator Richard Colbeck, Parliamentary Secretary to Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce.

In an opinion piece published today on ABC Environment, general manager of Timber NSW Maree McCaskill and industry consultant Nick Cameron argue that the current legislative arrangements for land management in NSW are failing vulnerable species.

They argue that a unified approach to "tenure" — the legal term for land management — would have better results for vulnerable species, communities and the timber industry.

"The tenure system offers no broad landscape management and accountability. Frequently, forestry departments focus on the profits of timber production, park managers focus on the records of individual species and managers of Crown lands focus on administration," they wrote.

"Native forests are not static museums that can be locked up forever. Like your own garden or backyard they need careful management to keep them healthy.

"Through preventative measures like ecological thinning and fire mitigation, the timber industry can play an important role in active, adaptive management to tackle common threats across all tenure types."

In a recent interview for Radio National's Background Briefing, Senator Colbeck made calls for a similar "broad landscape" approach to forest management.

"If you look at, for example, native species decline in this country, the rate of native species decline inside of national parks is hardly different at all to what it is across the rest of the landscape," he said.

"In my mind, what that says to me is you need to manage the entire landscape to ensure that those values that you're looking to achieve are maintained. You can do that with sustainable forest management principles."

He said such an approach to forest management was being adopted globally.

"If you go to a lot of the landscape and forestry management conferences around the world right now, it's about broad landscape management," Mr Colbeck said.

"It's about managing the broad landscape for values. It's about managing the broad landscape for native species and doing what you can across that entire landscape, not just bits and pieces of it because if you do it that way I think that we're only going to continue to go backwards," he said.

Ms McCaskill said forestry science professionals appeared to have been forgotten over the last 20 years of national park expansion, saying they had skills and knowledge that should be used.

"The timber industry can provide harvesting and thinning services as it does now, under the controls applied and required by the EPA legislation, to reduce fire risk and improve forest health," she said.

The proposal for a more consistent approach to forests comes on the back of allegations made last month to Background Briefing that high-grade timber is running out in NSW.

In a statutory declaration, a north coast NSW landholder, Peter Roberts, attested that at a community meeting, a Forest Corporation NSW representative told him privately: "The hardwood forests along the coast have been flogged to death, there's no decent sawlogs left, the timber's all gone".

Current practices 'murder' and 'criminal'

Forestry workers who spoke to Background Briefing agreed, describing current forest practices as "murder" and "criminal".

Nick Roberts, chief executive of Forest Corporation NSW, agreed that many areas previously available to loggers had been turned into national parks, however he disputed the suggestion the forests were "flogged".

"No, that's not my assessment," he said, pointing to the example of lush forest at Bruxner Park that had previously been harvested.

Logging national parks is not going to restore key habitat features: time will.
NSW National Parks Association science officer Dr Oisin Sweeney
Environmental groups have slammed the suggestion that national parks be opened to timber companies.

"To suggest we can manage our way to high biodiversity through activities like logging is extraordinarily arrogant and misguided," NSW National Parks Association science officer Dr Oisin Sweeney said.

"Protecting large, intact landscapes, controlling invasives and letting nature do the rest is our best approach."

He disagreed with Senator Colbeck that other countries were moving to a more tenure-neutral approach to forest management.

"Much of the world, including Europe, is moving [away from that] approach as 'rewilding' becomes a more and more popular approach to restoring natural values," he said.

"The decline in biodiversity is a legacy of past mismanagement: we have fragmented all natural habitats, removed millions of trees from west of the divide as land was cleared for agriculture and timber, and logged all our old-growth forests.

"Of course species have declined. Logging national parks is not going to restore key habitat features: time will."

30 June, 2015

Native forest wood waste: The new renewable energy?

Albert McKnight
Bega District News,  June 30, 2015

BURNING native forest wood waste for power is applicable for financial incentives under the Renewable Energy Target (RET).

Late at night on June 23, the Senate passed legislation cutting the RET from 41,000 gigawatt hours to 33,000 in an agreement between Labor and the Federal Liberal Government.

Under the new legislation, native forest wood waste can receive RET certificates and be eligible for financial incentives, despite being removed from the target in 2011.

This move was made against protests from Labor and The Greens, who said this inclusion could encourage the unsustainable harvesting of native forests.

“It’s an open invitation for the struggling forestry industry to sacrifice NSW’s native forests into furnaces,” The Greens’ member of the NSW Legislative Council John Kaye said.

“Wood waste will take up opportunities to generate renewable energy certificates and crowd out solar and wind renewable energy sources.”

However, South East Fibre Exports general manager Peter Mitchell said the government had made a “very good decision”.

“Wood has been recognised as the main source of renewable energy for thousands of years,” he said.

Mr Mitchell said trees turn solar energy into wood, which can then be burnt, so it is “basically a renewable energy”.

However, Federation University Professor of Environmental Science Peter Gell said it was a “falsehood” to claim this type of electricity production as renewable.

“You can’t ‘renew’ or replace the burnt carbon stored in a 100 to 600-year-old forest in the turnaround time needed to address climate change,” Professor Gell said.

“If all Australian native forest log production in 2009 had instead been burned for electricity, it would have substituted as little as 2.8 per cent of our coal-based power generation.

“So, we risk unleashing an industry with the potential appetite to decimate our native forests, and all the services they provide, to gain very limited emissions benefit.”

Forty scientists – including Professor Gell - in such fields as ecology, chemistry and biology have signed an open letter to the Australian Parliament stating their opposition to the inclusion of native wood as an energy source under the RET.

“The native forest logging industry continues to decline across Australia as plantations now provide a viable alternative supply for building,” Professor Gell said.

“There is no logic in basing ‘renewable energy’ on the need to secure viable large supplies of ‘waste’ wood from a fast declining primary industry.”

While Mr Mitchell said while times had been hard for the forestry industry, things were improving as demand was growing for forestry products - especially in third world countries.

“It’s been tough times, but we posted a profit last year and we are going to make a profit this year,” he said.

A spokesperson for NSW Forestry Corporation said prior to the new legislation, native forest wood waste could already be burnt as an energy source.

Mr Mitchell said while this was the case, the waste was not applicable for RET certificates.

Under the Renewable Energy (Electricity) Amendment Bill 2015, biomass, or fuel, from a native forest must be harvested for a purpose other than energy production.

Acceptable biomass includes by-products of a Commonwealth or state approved harvesting operation, or an operation carried out with ecologically sustainable management principles.

Mr Mitchell said the industry is heavily regulated and if you cut down trees for the specific purpose of generating power you would not get renewable energy certificates.

A Forestry Corporation of NSW spokesperson said there had not been a demand for wood-fired power stations yet, but there may be opportunities in the future.

“We are aware of some private companies who are already investing in renewable energy generation elsewhere by combining waste from sugar mills with wood waste from timber plantations,” the spokesperson said.

IN 2011, a proposal for a wood-fired power station at South East Fibre Exports’ (SEFE) chipmill in Eden stirred up contention in the Bega Valley community.

However, the Federal Government removed native forest wood from its renewable energy scheme that year and the plans did not go ahead (BDN, 15/6/11).

Despite the recent Renewable Energy (Electricity) Amendment Bill 2015 listing wood waste as an energy source applicable for renewable energy certificates, SEFE general manager Peter Mitchell said his company has no plans to build a wood-fired power plant.

“We had plans a few years ago, but they were shelved as the amount of waste produced here reduced as exports reduced, so it was not economically viable to go ahead with that project anymore,” he said.

“It is a very fragile environment as the government can change the regulations very easily.

“So it is difficult to go ahead with a large, expensive investment unless there is certainty.”

In 2012, a DA was approved for a wood pellet fuel plant at Eden, which went on to produce wood pellets for heaters for a period of time before being shut down.

The plant will be leased this year and resume production.

Mr Mitchell said the new bill would have no effect on the wood pellet plant. 

09 June, 2015

Forestry Tasmania debt guarantee increased to $41 million by State Government

Rosemary Bolger
ABC News (Australian Broadcasting Corporation),  9/6/15

Forestry Tasmania logging coupe
The Tasmanian Government has increased the level of debt it will guarantee for the state-owned forestry business.

Treasurer Peter Gutwein has revealed he signed off on another Letter of Comfort for Forestry Tasmania (FT) in February, increasing the debt level covered by $10 million to $41 million.

The letter allows the ailing business to continue operating in deficit.

Forestry Tasmania will also get a $30 million equity transfer from the state-owned energy business TasNetworks.

The reassurance was initially issued in 2009 to allow the state-owned lender Tascorp and Forestry Tasmania to negotiate new lending arrangements.

Greens treasury spokesman Nick McKim said Mr Gutwein had repeatedly failed to explain how Forestry Tasmania could ever pay back the money it owed.

"We know that Forestry Tasmania currently owes $27.8 million, yet the Treasurer has no idea whatsoever how and when FT can ever become financially viable," he said.

"The simple fact is that logging native forests is a loss making enterprise, and there is no realistic prospect of that changing in the future.

"It's now clear that Mr Gutwein has no plan for Forestry Tasmania except continuing to throw public funds at it and allowing it to rack up debts and sell assets."

07 June, 2015

The UK's £1billion carbon-belcher raping US forests...that YOU pay for: How world's biggest green power plant is actually INCREASING greenhouse gas emissions and Britain's energy bill

David Rose
The Mail on Sunday (UK), 7 June 2015

  • Drax power station in Yorkshire uses wood pellets to create electricity
  • The move from coal was considered to be environmentally friendly
  • But far from cutting emissions, change is actually increasing them
  • In turn, it is adding millions of pounds to Britain's electricity bills

It is touted as the flagship of Britain’s energy future: the world’s biggest green power plant burning wood pellets to generate renewable biomass electricity that will safeguard the planet for our children.

But today The Mail on Sunday can expose the hypocrisy that underpins the Drax power station in North Yorkshire – which far from curbing greenhouse emissions, is actually increasing them, while adding huge sums to the nation’s power bills.

Drax was once Britain’s biggest coal-fired power station. It now burns millions of tons of wood pellets each year, and is reputed to be the UK’s biggest single contributor towards meeting stringent EU green energy targets.

But astonishingly, a new study shows that the switch by Drax from coal to wood is actually increasing carbon emissions. It says they are four times as high as the maximum level the Government sets for plants that use biomass – which is defined as fuel made from plant material that will grow back again, therefore re-absorbing the CO2 emitted when it is burnt.

Drax was once Britain’s biggest coal-fired power station. It now burns millions of tons of wood pellets each year, and is reputed to be the UK’s biggest single contributor towards meeting stringent EU green energy targets

Drax was once Britain’s biggest coal-fired power station. It now burns millions of tons of wood pellets each year, and is reputed to be the UK’s biggest single contributor towards meeting stringent EU green energy targets

At £80 per MW/hr, Drax’s biomass energy is two-and-a-half times more expensive than coal – a cost passed on to customers. Last year Drax soaked up £340 million in ‘green’ subsidies that were added to British consumers’ power bills – a sum set to rocket still further. Without these subsidies, its biomass operation would collapse.

Perhaps most damningly of all, its hunger for wood fuel is devastating hardwood forests in America, to the fury of US environmentalists, who say that far from saving the planet, companies like Drax are destroying it. Drax denies this, saying it only uses dust and residues from sawmills, as well as wood left over when others log trees for purposes such as construction. Inquiries by The Mail on Sunday investigation suggests this claim is highly questionable.

In 2013, Drax’s first year of biomass operation, only one of its six units – which each have a capacity of 650MW – was burning pellets. Its total green subsidy then was £62.5 million.

Drax qualifies for subsidy because under EU rules, biomass is rated as ‘zero carbon’ – on the basis that trees used can be grown back.

Yesterday, the plant’s spokesman Andrew Brown refused to say how much subsidy it is being paid now, claiming this information was ‘commercially sensitive’.

But a Mail on Sunday analysis shows that in 2014, with two biomass units operational, the subsidy rose to at least £340 million – about three-quarters of Drax’s gross profit. The figure was calculated from the plant’s own public declarations of how much power it has generated from biomass, and known details of how much the subsidies are worth per MW/hr.

Now, with a third 650MW biomass furnace due to be lit in the next few weeks, the subsidy will grow again, in step with Drax’s output. By 2016, the total it has received will be well over £1 billion, with about half a billion being paid annually.

Drax is proud of its green credentials, and claims that it uses sawdust from sawmills and ‘waste wood’ or ‘leftovers’ – branches and smaller sections – discarded by commercial logging operations.

In a promotional video for Bloomberg Business last month, the only pellet source that managing director Andy Koss mentioned was the sawdust. He said: ‘We take the sawdust that’s left over from sawmills that are cutting the big trees that go into house-building.’

In fact, according to Drax’s own website, last year sawdust made up just 9.5 per cent of its pellets. A much bigger source is American hardwood trees – such as oak, sweetgum, cypress, maple and beech – supplied by US firm Enviva, which sells Drax a million tons of pellets a year, a quarter of the plant’s 2014 supply. Drax claims the wood it is supplied with is ‘sustainable’.

However, the Dogwood Alliance, a US environmental group, has investigated Enviva operations on the ground several times and found evidence to the contrary.

Late last month, Dogwood campaigner Adam Macon travelled with colleagues to the Enviva pellet plant at Ahoskie, North Carolina, where he saw piles of hardwood trunks 40 feet high being fed into the plant’s hopper – the start of the process where the trees are pulped and turned into pellets. These could not be described as ‘leftovers’.

Macon recorded the number plate details of an empty truck leaving the plant and followed it to a forested area 20 miles away. He waited as numerous other trucks, laden with tree trunks, left the forest for Ahoskie. Then, the truck he had been following left too, carrying its load back to the plant. The next step was to visit the area being cut. ‘To avoid detection, we trekked in from the back, through a forested swamp,’ Macon said.

‘We trudged through mud and water up to our knees. Wildlife buzzed, chirped and splashed all around as huge hardwood cypress trees towered above – a testament to the incredible biodiversity that exists in this region.’
Finally they reached the cut: ‘All that was left were the stumps of once great trees. They had destroyed an irreplaceable wetland treasure.’

MACON described how on another occasion last year, he hid closer to the actual cutting. ‘We saw the trees being cut, all the way to the bottom, then being put into a machine that cut off all the branches. The trunks were loaded into trucks, which we followed to Ahoskie.’

This operation is not illegal. Although they are home to dozens of species of animals and birds, some of them endangered, the forests are not protected. But US environmentalists claim that demand for biomass is hugely increasing the rate at which they are felled.

Yesterday, Drax spokesman Andrew Brown denied this, saying that at the sites where Enviva operates, it takes only ‘waste wood’ – the leftovers after trees are sent to sawmills to produce timber for building. He emphasised that the plant’s wood comes from branches and tree tops, or whole trees that were diseased, too thin or too twisted to use for other purposes, claiming that areas would never be felled just to make pellets.


The disgraced former Energy Secretary Chris Huhne was a key political architect of Britain’s drive for biomass – and is now the European chief of a US pellet company which is seeking UK markets.
Lib Dem Huhne, left – who was jailed in 2012 for persuading his ex-wife to take his speeding points – is a director of Zilkha Biomass, which is currently completing a huge ‘black wood pellet’ plant in Selma, Alabama.

Zilkha already has a contract to supply a power station near Paris, and a spokesman said it was ‘absolutely interested’ in doing business in the UK. The firm’s website boasts of Huhne’s former Cabinet role, saying he was responsible for ‘setting up a new energy-saving framework’ as well as ‘market reform to spur low carbon investment’.

Huhne declined to disclose his salary, saying: ‘Biomass is one of the cheapest ways of generating low-carbon electricity ... all I am doing is working in a business that I have followed and been interested in for years.’


He added that it was much better to use the ‘leftovers’ for pellets than to let them rot, which would ‘release CO2 and potentially methane, without any net gain to society’.

In fact, the US Environmental Protection Agency reported in November that hardly any methane is released by rotting wood.
Enviva spokesman Kent Jenkins made similar assertions, saying: ‘You asked whether we take an entire harvest from a clear-cut of bottomland forests. No.’

However, The Mail on Sunday spoke last week to a senior forester at a North Carolina wood firm which has frequently worked for Enviva, clear-cutting areas from 20 to 80 acres. The forester, who asked us to protect his identity, said: ‘Most of this wood is no good for sawmills. You might get the odd log or two, but very few in the swamps I’ve cut. You might not get any that are any use for that. It’s very possible they will all just go for pellets or chips.’

His comments support claims that biomass is hastening forest decline. He added that the hardwood species that were cut might never grow back, because owners seeded other, fast-growing species in their place.

Wood chip pellets used to provide fuel for the heating system for the Olympic sailors village

According to Drax, the original forests grow back naturally.

In his video presentation, Drax’s Andy Koss claimed the firm was so green that its contribution to cutting emissions was the equivalent of taking three million cars off the road.

But a new study led by Dr Thomas Buchholz of the Spatial Informatics Group, a team of environmental experts and scientists, casts doubt on this. His findings are based on the official Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) model for calculating emissions, known as BEAC. This weighs factors including harvesting, transport and emissions from the furnaces – when pellets are burnt they produce much more CO2 than natural gas or coal – as well as new tree growth.

Dr Buchholz’s conclusions are devastating. The official DECC standard says biomass plants should emit a maximum of 285kg of carbon dioxide for every 1MW/hr of electricity. But the research found that averaged over 40 years, Drax’s net emissions will be more than four times as high.

"All that was left were the stumps of once great trees. They had destroyed an irreplaceable wetland treasure"  Dogwood campaigner Adam Macon

Enviva’s Kent Jenkins claimed the study ‘employed faulty assumptions and flawed methodology’, and should be disregarded because it was commissioned by the Southern Environmental Law Center in Virginia – a ‘vocal critic’ of the company.

Drax’s Brown cited another study from Duke University in North Carolina, which suggested biomass might cut emissions. He did not mention that this was funded by forestry companies, including Enviva. This study also admits it does not consider how long it takes for CO2 to be re-absorbed by new growth.

The UK government is taking the Buchholz study seriously. A DECC spokesman said it was ‘looking to expand our evidence base on the carbon impacts of bioenergy’ and had already commissioned further research to evaluate the findings.
Meanwhile, opposition by American environmentalists is building.

Dr Mary S Booth, a biomass expert and director of US think-tank the Partnership for Policy Integrity, said: ‘UK policymakers need to recognize that wood-fired power plants are a disaster for forests and the climate, and abolish bioenergy subsidies immediately.’

Dogwood Alliance director Danna Smith added: ‘It’s not the carbon emissions that are disappearing, it’s the forests – and there’s no guarantee they will ever come back.

02 June, 2015

Report Released at UN Climate Negotiations Says Forest Biomass Not Carbon Neutral

Media Release, 2 June 2015

Members of Parliament considering adding native forest biomass to the RET should be aware of a working paper released at UN Climate negotiations in Bonn overnight by Chatham House which says that burning forest biomass for electricity is not carbon neutral, warned Markets For Change.

Chatham House is a highly regarded international think tank based in London, also known as The Royal Institute of International Affairs.

The Working Paper “Forest-based biomass energy accounting under the UNFCCC: finding the ‘missing’ carbon emissions” is an advance release of one section of an extensive research paper examining the worldwide impact on forests and the climate of the use of wood for electricity generation and heat.

“According to the well-researched study, fostering forest biomass as a source of renewable energy in Europe is shown to be actually damaging the climate further with carbon emissions,” said Markets For Change CEO Peg Putt who attended the event in Bonn.

Key messages are:

  • The assumption that forest-based biomass is carbon neutral is flawed
  • The UNFCCC's GHG accounting framework treats biomass as carbon neutral within the energy sector based on the faulty assumption that emissions will be fully accounted in the land-use sector
  • The current land-use accounting rules result in a significant quantity of emissions from forest-based bioenergy being excluded from the global accounting system.
  • The global increase in the use of biomass for heat and electricity is making it increasingly clear that the accounting rules currently in place cause gaps in carbon accounting that can lead to perverse climate outcomes

A presentation on other parts of the upcoming full report also outlined that the burning of forest biomass creates a ‘carbon debt’ which can take decades or even centuries to recover.

“The important message for Australia from this weighty study is that burning native forests for electricity will not help the climate. The assumption that it is climate neutral is simply wrong,” Ms Putt said.

“The proposal to include native forest biomass burning into the Renewable Energy Target is deeply flawed and should be rejected when it is debated in Parliament in coming weeks,” Ms Putt concluded.

A copy of the paper can be obtained from: JHein@chathamhouse.org

Link to a blog about it

Contact: Peg Putt 0418 127 580

Markets For Change Limited
ABN 18 148 079 645
PO Box 3087, West Hobart, TAS, 7000
Email: mfc@marketsforchange.org

30 May, 2015

UNESCO calls for changes to Tasmania's draft World Heritage management plan amid mining and logging fears

ABC News (Australian Broadcasting Corporation), 30 May 2015

A view of Cox Bight in Tasmania's World Heritage which is part of the South Coast Track (Dan Broun)

UNESCO's World Heritage Committee (WHC) is concerned about mining and logging under a draft management plan for Tasmania's World Heritage Area.

It wants the plan changed, and has stated that mineral exploration and exploitation is incompatible with world heritage status.

The Tasmanian Government is trying to change the way the state's 1.5 million hectare World Heritage Area is managed.

The existing management plan divides the area into four zones, while the new draft plan replaces the wilderness zone with a remote recreation zone.

In Paris overnight, UNESCO's WHC urged the draft plan be changed.

An initial review cited concerns that the plan appeared to create potential for logging operations and mining activity in the World Heritage Area.

It is also concerned that there is no clear identification of the area's cultural value.

A planned survey of the cultural attributes of Tasmania's World Heritage Area is due to be completed in 2018.

In its review of the draft management plan, the WHC said it had "repeatedly called" for a definition of the property's cultural value.

The committee recommended a mission of international experts be invited to Tasmania to review and provide advice for a survey and the revision of the draft management plan before any moves to finalise it.

'It's a wake-up call that we have to get it right'

Vica Bayley from the Wilderness Society said UNESCO delivered a damning rejection of Tasmania's draft management plan.

"It's a wake-up call that we have to get it right, we have to completely withdraw and redraft the management plan and we have to get on with the job of honouring the committee's request to engage with the Aboriginal community and properly understand and study the cultural heritage values of this area," he said.

Mr Bayley said it was uncommon for UNESCO to recommend sending a monitoring mission.

"I think that's significant in that it signals the committee has deep concerns over the management direction of the Hodgman Government, and that it wants to send its team out here to give advice and to assist with the development and finalisation of the management plan," he said.

"It demonstrates that the committee, I think, has lost confidence in the way Tasmania's wilderness World Heritage Area is being managed."

UNESCO last year rejected a bid from the Federal Government to delist more than 70,000 hectares of forest from the World Heritage Area.

The State and Federal Governments have been contacted for comment.

28 May, 2015

Protest at FSC Australia’s AGM to demand probe into endorsement of logging WA global biodiversity hotspot


The Wilderness Society has today called for an immediate investigation from world-leading wood certifier the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) on how UK-based auditor Soil Association Woodmark gave FSC endorsement to Western Australian logging company FPC, which is logging old-growth karri forests in south-west WA.

“Supporters of the Western Australian Forest Alliance have attended the annual general meeting of FSC’s Australian arm in Melbourne to demand an investigation into how a fly-in fly-out FSC auditor could have comprehensively ignored information from local stakeholders about how FPC is failing to meet FSC’s high standards,” said Wilderness Society national forest campaigner Warrick Jordan.

“It’s crystal clear that FPC is planning to log old-growth forest without even bothering to properly identify it. UK-based FSC auditor Woodmark has ignored evidence about old-growth logging, impacts on the threatened Forest Red Tailed Black Cockatoo, and hasn’t even considered that South West WA is one of 35 official global biodiversity hotspots.

“It’s clear the rules of the world leading FSC standard are being breached in WA. Local volunteer conservationists have gone to extensive efforts to provide information to FSC auditor Woodmark but have been ignored.

“Local conservationists have followed FSC’s complaint processes and the UK-based auditor has ignored their concerns. It’s now clear that FSC’s auditing body Accreditation Services International and the Australian FSC branch in Melbourne have to step in to sort out the mess Woodmark has created.

“When consumers see the FSC logo on tissue paper or a piece of furniture, they want to know that the product comes from forests where nature is being protected. What conservation stakeholders are asking for is for FSC to maintain its world-leading standards.”

For further comment contact:

Wilderness Society national forest campaigner Warrick Jordan on 0451 633 197

For more information, contact Wilderness Society media adviser Alex Tibbitts on 0416 420 168

19 May, 2015

Goongerah Environment Centre threatened with trespassing prosecution after revealing Errinundra Plateau rainforest clearing

ABC News (Australian Broadcasting Corporation), 19 May 2015 

Members of an environment group who revealed evidence of rainforest clearing in East Gippsland, in south-east Victoria, have been threatened with prosecution.

After being tipped off by the Goongerah Environment Centre (GECO), the Department of Environment found VicForests had needlessly destroyed rainforest canopy on the Errinundra Plateau.

The state forestry compliance officer has now threatened to prosecute members of GECO for trespassing in the disputed logging coupes.

Ed Hill from GECO said he was shocked by the threats.

"Quite frankly we're disgusted that the Government would threaten to prosecute community members for getting out there and basically doing the work that the Government is meant to be doing and holding VicForests accountable to state laws that protect unique environmental values, like rainforest," he said.

Mr Hill said he had asked for Environment Minister Lisa Neville to intervene.

"She had a scathing assessment of the rainforest logging and on VicForests and their conduct in that operation, so we're really surprised that the Government wants to take further steps to prosecute community members for the work they're meant to be doing," he said.

The Environment Minister has referred the ABC's enquiry to another Government department.

18 May, 2015

A statement on the renewable energy sellout

Andrew Wilkie - Independent Member for Denison 
Media Release, 18 May 2015

The deal announced today to lower the Renewable Energy Target from 41,000 gigawatt hours to 33,000 gigawatt hours, to fully exempt trade-exposed industries from the target, and presumably to include the burning of forest waste, is a shocking betrayal by the Liberal, National and Labor parties.

The deal is the work of politicians who either don’t believe in climate change, or do and don’t care about it all that much. Nor do they care much about Australia's most precious forests seeing as this deal increases the likelihood of the trees now being chipped for firewood.

The deal is also the work of politicians who seem to be incapable of grasping the urgent need for Australia to adjust for the future global economy where reliance on clean energy will be good for business, and where countries developing and exporting the relevant technologies will profit handsomely from doing so.

Good politicians, women and men with vision and backbone, would see the merit in the Australian Youth Climate Coalition's Safe Climate Roadmap which sees Australia eventually achieving 100 per cent renewable energy dependency, and in propositions from others who make the case for at least 90 per cent renewable energy dependency by 2030.

15 May, 2015

Forest waste in the RET is ‘burning votes’

Graham Lloyd
The Australian, May 15, 2015 

Plans to allow burning native forest waste to qualify for renewable energy subsidies under a revamped Renewable Energy Target are proving unpopular with voters in two marginal Coalition seats.

Snap polling conducted by REACHtel for the Wilderness Society on budget night found less than a third of voters supported burning forest waste for power.

The poll in Eden Monaro and Corangamite found voters largely supported a higher Renewable Energy Target than the 33GWh proposed by the federal government but many said they would be less likely to buy electricity from a company that produced it from burning forest waste.

The issue of forest waste for power has been a long-running controversy fuelled by fears that burning forests could become a low-value replacement for woodchipping which has suffered a collapse in world markets.

Under existing legislation, forest waste has a broad definition and can make up more than 80 per cent of the forest harvest.

“This 11th hour inclusion of so-called wood waste in the RET scheme has nothing to do with promoting a transition to renewable energy and everything to do with propping up a native forest logging industry whose economic model is broken,” Wilderness Society national campaign director Lyndon Schneiders said.

“The industry is looking for a replacement for the collapsed native forest woodchip industry and is once again putting its hand out for a new subsidy through the Renewable Energy Scheme,” he said.

Mr Schneiders said polling showed voters in key Liberal marginals did not support the plan.

In Corangamite, only 24.2 per cent of those surveyed said they supported the federal government plan with 50.1 per cent opposed and 25.7 per cent undecided. Among Liberal voters, support for the forest waste plan was 41.2 per cent with 23.4 per cent opposed and 35.4 per cent undecided.

More than 45 per cent of Corangamite voters, including 21.1 per cent of Liberal voters, said they would be less likely to vote for a party that allowed the burning of native forest wood waste as part of the RET.

In Eden Monaro only 29.6 per cent of voters supported the federal government’s plans with 44.6 per cent opposed and 25.8 per cent undecided.

Among Liberal voters support for the forest waste plan was 52.4 per cent with 17.4 per cent ­opposed.

Forty-three per cent of Eden Monaro voters, including 16.7 per cent of Liberal voters, said they would be less likely to vote for a party that allowed for the burning of native forest wood waste as part of the RET.

The federal government reached a compromise target with Labor late last week for the renewable energy target of 33GWh.

However, negotiations have since broken down due to the federal government’s inclusion of forest waste and the retention of two-yearly reviews of the renewable energy target.

Supporters of bio energy claim debate about forest waste has stalled a promising industry for renewable energy.

Victorian farmer and World Bio Energy Association vice-president Andrew Lang said allowing forest waste to qualify for renewable energy “will not result in the outcome so hysterically forecast of ‘forest furnaces’ for the simple reasons of economics and logistics.”

He said to chip and transport the necessary large amounts of forest residues would be too ­expensive.

10 May, 2015

Irreparable loss

Linda Zibell, Mount Helen 
The Age, Letter, 10 May 2015

I grew up near the Australian Paper Mills. My family listened to its drone, smelt it, even earned by it. I also love a tiny pocket of temperate rainforest close by, Tarra Valley/Bulga Park, where lyrebirds call ("National park moves a step closer to reality", 3/5). The loss of a great Mountain Ash tree cannot be weighed against giving a human the job of cutting it down. We are all going down if we frame it like this.
Using the word "environmentalist" reduces and stereotypes people who support a healthy ecosystem in this Great Forest Park. As the federal government's "Australia, State of the Environment Report" 2006 states: "The environment is everybody's business."
The question is what will a Great Forest National Park mean? The possum is close to its heart but untold benefits for people are built into this genuinely sustainable proposal. It is designed for the future – to generate jobs, restore habitat, bring great healthy outdoor recreation to Melbourne's doorstep and create a tourist destination to rival Phillip Island. All this, in Australia's most environmentally depleted state.

27 April, 2015

Minister to outline the future of Forestry Tasmania this week amid renewed calls for its scrapping

Stephen Smiley
ABC, 27 April 2015

The future of publicly-owned forestry company Forestry Tasmania will be mapped out during an address in State Parliament by Resources Minister Paul Harriss on Wednesday.

PHOTO: The State Opposition says Forestry Tasmania has been hanging in limbo waiting to hear if it had a future. (ABC News: Tony King)

Mr Harriss said the Government intended to keep its election promise on the company.

"The Government took to the election a commitment to put Forestry Tasmania onto a sustainable footing

Cabinet signed off on the Government's response to a report on the viability of Forestry Tasmania on Monday.

Mr Harriss said the Government intended to keep its election promise on the company.

"The Government took to the election a commitment to put Forestry Tasmania onto a sustainable footing into the future, and we intend to deliver," he said.

Mr Harriss said he and Treasurer Peter Gutwein received the departmental report a couple of weeks ago and have been "constructively" working through its recommendations.

The Minister said the Government engaged consultancy company Deloitte to help the review Forestry Tasmania's economic and operational models.

They made a blue when they committed to withdrawing funding from Forestry Tasmania.
Tasmanian Opposition Leader Bryan Green
The Tasmanian Greens renewed its calls for the State Government to scrap the company.

Greens leader Kim Booth said he was worried the Government's review would be superficial.

"What we've achieved here is a financial disaster," he said.

"The Government's internal review into Forestry Tasmania will be completely inadequate in terms of getting to the bottom of what's happened since 1994 to 2014, when they've shrunk the value from $2.27 billion, down to $160 million."

Opposition leader Bryan Green said workers had been in limbo for months because the Government had refused to rule out winding up the business.

"That chair of the board has had to write to Forestry Tasmania workers reassuring them the Government is, he believes, hopefully working in their best interests," he said.

"They made a blue when they committed to withdrawing funding from Forestry Tasmania."

Mr Harriss said it had not yet been decided if the report would be made public.

Complicated science and direct action - trees are made of carbon

Source: Mark David on Twitter: "Complicated science #auspol

22 April, 2015

Government moves to save Victoria’s iconic Leadbeater’s possum

The Hon. Greg Hunt MP, Minister for the Environment
MEDIA RELEASE, 22 April 2015

After carefully considering advice from the independent Threatened Species Scientific Committee
and submissions from experts, interested organisations and the wider community, I have decided to
list the Leadbeater’s possum as a ‘critically endangered’ species.

The Threatened Species Scientific Committee’s recommendation was clear and unequivocal regarding the need to transfer the species from endangered to critically endangered.

This means Victoria’s faunal emblem will now receive the highest level of protection under national environment law.

Leadbeater’s possums have very specific habitat requirements in order for them to survive and flourish. Sadly, almost half of the possum’s ideal habitat – the old-growth mountain ash forest in the Central Highlands of Victoria – was burnt in the 2009 bushfires.

The challenges facing this iconic species are significant. It has undergone very severe population declines in recent decades with numbers having decreased by more than 80 per cent since the mid 1980s.

That is why we will be working closely with the Victorian Government to find a solution which will help save the possum for future generations.

First and foremost, I have already asked my Department to work with Victorian Government officials and commence a review and update of the Leadbeater’s possum draft Recovery Plan. This Plan must be finalised and acted upon.

The Australian Government is already taking significant action to protect threatened species. In 2014, we initiated a new national approach to saving our threatened species with the appointment of Australia’s first Threatened Species Commissioner. Since then, we have invested more than $76 million for practical science-based actions, to turn around species declines.

As an example, the Australian Government is supporting Zoos Victoria to grow habitat for lowland Leadbeater’s possum and helmeted honeyeater populations. Through funding under the 20 Million Tree Programme, the Government will help Zoos Victoria to plant 112,000 trees at Coranderrk

Bushland Reserve which will provide breeding populations of these species with suitable habitat to help their recovery.

In addition, the Australian Government’s National Environment Science Programme Threatened Species Recovery Hub will be investing $30 million over the next six years in practical science and field work to test and explore options to tackle the threats to our native animals and plants.


16 April, 2015

Victorian state emblem Leadbeater's possum pushed closer to extinction

Tom Arup
The Age, 16/4/15

Victoria's state animal emblem, the Leadbeater's possum, is set to be formally recognised as being on the brink of extinction, leading to the Andrews government fast-tracking a program to identify more colonies of the species.

On the way out: A Leadbeater's possum. Photo: Ken Irwin
But the state government has again stopped short of backing a new national park to protect the Leadbeater's habitat, which conservationists and many scientists say is crucial to ensuring the species' survival.

Environment Minister Lisa Neville on Thursday announced measures to find more Leadbeater's through surveys, including infrared aerial mapping of habitat and remote camera surveys in planned logging areas.

It is understood federal Environment Minister Greg Hunt will declare next week that the Leadbeater's formal national threatened species status has deteriorated from "endangered" to "critically endangered", considered the last step before extinction in the wild.

There is no accurate estimate of how many Leadbeater's possums still live in the wild, though government modelling has previously put the range between 4000 and 10,000 with large caveats.

Concern for the species' survival soared after the 2009 Black Saturday bushfires destroyed 45 per cent of its primary habitat in the state's central highland forests, north-east of Melbourne. Conservationists say continued logging of the species' habitat has further increased the pressure.

Hope grew among some environmentalists this week that the impending federal decision on the Leadbeater's conservation status might see the state government give some form of public support for a new national park.

Numerous conservationists and scientists – including Sir David Attenborough and Dr Jane Goodall – have supported a campaign to set up the "Great Forest National Park" in the region, which would encompass much of the highlands forest.

But the area is also one of the state's primary native forest logging areas.

During last year's state election campaign Labor had been expected to support a new national park in some way, but reportedly dumped the policy at the behest the CFMEU, which represents forestry workers.

Instead the Andrews government promised to establish a taskforce of industry, unions and green groups to reach common ground on issues facing forestry, including jobs, economic activity and environmental protection. Ms Neville said the relevant groups were now working on how the taskforce will operate.

"We will consider any reasonable proposals reached by consensus through the industry taskforce regarding the establishment of any new national parks," Ms Neville said.

The new survey program includes fast-tracking targeted searches to identify new Leadbeater's colonies, remote camera surveys by the state-owned timber company VicForests in forest to be cut down, and aerial surveys to identify possum habitat. The state government will also purchase and loan equipment for community surveys.

The surveys follow recommendations by a previous advisory panel, which was led by industry and Zoos Victoria and established by the Napthine government. The Andrews government says it is implementing the panel's recommendations, which did not include a new park and were criticised as being ineffective for the species' survival by environmentalists.

Australian National University ecologist, Professor David Lindenmayer, said: "This is not even Band-Aid stuff. We are dealing with a critically endangered animal in a critically endangered ecosystem. It needs real measures."

Campaigner from MyEnvironment Sarah Rees said the latest survey measures were dangerously close to status quo, "which is what is leading this animal to extinction."

"What we need is an improved reserve design, being the Great Forest National Park, to stop extinction, not a bunch of cameras, a search for habitat that does not exist and an expectation that the community will do the work of paid government personnel," she said.

04 March, 2015

Not just a pretty tail: The lyrebird is a superb firefighter

Darren Gray, Rural affairs reporter for The Age
The Age, 4/3/2015 

Superb lyrebirds reduced forest litter by 1.66 tonnes per hectare over a nine-month period. Photo: Alex Maisey

Victoria's forests have an unlikely fire warden: the superb lyrebird.

Lyrebirds are reducing the chance of fires occurring in the areas where they forage ... and unburnt patches within large wildfires are really important sites for animals to survive.

New research has revealed the iconic songbird reduces the risk of bushfire by spreading dry leaf litter and digging safe havens that help other species survive fires.

The lyrebird's foraging reduces forest fuel loads, which in turn can reduce the risk of life-threatening fires, researchers from La Trobe University have found.

With feet like garden rakes, and an appetite for worms and bugs that live in the soil, lyrebirds sift the forest floor, burying the leaf and other forest ltter, speeding up leaf decomposition, and reducing the amount of fuel for bushfires.

Their foraging was also found to inhibit the growth of ferns, grasses and other plants which would otherwise contribute more potential bushfire fuels.

The research, an honours project for student Daniel Nugent, quantifies the lyrebird's role in forest litter reduction.

Conducted in burnt and unburnt sites in the footprint of Black Saturday's two most devastating blazes, it showed that lyrebirds reduced forest litter by a massive 1.66 tonnes per hectare over a nine-month period.

Researchers produced these measurements by comparing the amount of litter in unfenced plots of the forest, with neighbouring plots that had been fenced off.

"Lyrebird foraging areas may therefore suppress the horizontal and vertical spread of fire, limiting the extent and severity of fire events. Our modelling suggests that the reduction in litter fuel loads brought about by lyrebird foraging has the potential to result in markedly subdued fire behaviour relative to that predicted in the absence of lyrebirds," the report said.

"The loss of lyrebirds from forests adjacent and within urban areas could result in higher fuel loads and an increased likelihood of wildfires threatening human life," said the report, published in the CSIRO's journal Wildlife Research.

Steve Leonard, research fellow in the Department of Ecology, Environment and Evolution at La Trobe University, said lyrebirds performed their protective role as they searched for food.

"They forage like chickens, they've got big feet with really long toes so they've basically got rakes for feet. They rake through the litter looking for worms and little bugs, stuff to eat. They're digging through that humus and litter layer looking for little invertebrates and whatever they can find," he said.

"Through that process they reduce the litter fuel load by, on average, 25 per cent, or about 1.6 tonnes per hectare. And we put those figures into a fire behaviour model and found that that level of fuel reduction is enough [that] in low fire-danger weather conditions it excludes fire, fire's not possible under low to moderate conditions. But even in more extreme conditions the fire behaviour will be more moderate, [with] lower rates of spread, lower flame height, so a less intense fire," he said.

"Our conclusion is that lyrebirds are reducing the chance of fires occurring in the areas where they forage and the ecological significance of that is that unburnt patches within large wildfires are really important sites for animals to survive post-fire," Dr Leonard said.

Alex Maisey, convener of the Sherbrooke Lyrebird Survey Group, welcomed the research.

"It really shows that it's an important species to maintain through predator control of the fox, even deer control, for maintaining the habitat in those key areas where the lyrebirds breed," he said.