Following up on the condition of trees adjacent to the southern side of Cuttagee lake, it now appears that most if not all of the remaining Melaleucas have died. While a closer inspection is required, on this occasion some eucalyptus trees have also been affected.

As the factors leading to the death of these trees aren’t consistant with the known threat, overabundant and prolonged surface water. Another possibility is polluted groundwater.
Residents in the adjacent Murrah river catchment have known for many years that the groundwater is polluted. However, pollution that kills trees four years apart, in the same location is difficult to explain. Groundwater travels at a much slower rate that surface water. The Murray- Darling basin is a good example, where it takes some 2 million years for the groundwater to move from Queensland to South Australia.

Of course Cuttagee is quite different and a lot smaller than inland catchments. As indicated in the graphic from Council’s Rapid Catchment Assessment below, it is generally quite steep and short. The arrow is about 10 kilometers long and groundwater in these soils may travel only a ‘few centimeters a day, or even slower‘.

So rather than millions of years, a time frame of around 20 years is plausible, in the absence of other information.

As it turns out the first Melaleuca dieback, in May 2014, was exactly 16 years after rainfall that ended the first extensive dieback event in the Bio-region. The current tree deaths are 15 years after rainfall in February 2003, that punctuated the second extensive dieback event.

It is quite possible that groundwater was polluted with aluminium during these rainfall events, with subsequent negative impacts at the bottom of the catchment, in the longer term. It is also possible that the difference of one year reflects an increased ground water flow rate, due to ongoing soil dispersion and the associated reduction in soil Water Holding Capacity.

While it would be reassuring to know polluted groundwater isn’t and won’t be the cause of further environmental degradation. I expect the NSW government has no intention of restoring catchment management authorities.

Advertisements

The Regional Forest Agreement drop in sessions featured on radio and in print this week. What hadn’t been previously revealed was ” two invitation-only meetings for industry and environmental stakeholders”.  While several conservation groups had suggested they would be boycotting the sessions. It seems some did attend the invitation only meetings, although none have to up their hands to confirm attendance, so far.

Local ABC radio interviewed a few people at the Eden meeting including former BVSC Greens councilor Keith Hughes. Keith suggested the RFA renewal is largely based on supporting the large financial investment, associated with logging. This suggestion was confirmed in a Narooma News story quoting NSW Department of Primary Industry representative Nick Milham – “We’ve heard from industry that the long-term security that the RFAs provide for them is absolutely critical because it provides them with that longer-term security to enable them to invest in what are significantly capital-intensive industries,”.

Of course if one is going to invest in cutting down trees, it’s a good idea to have the trees to cut down.

In that regard, it seems the Koala surveys did not return to the original plots, so a plot to plot comparison is not possible. However, as reducing soil fertility is a general trend, broader comparisons should identify associated changes to species composition. The following chart, featuring Silvertop Ash and Black forest oak ranked by diameter classes, is based on data from trees (n = 17,670), recorded during the 2006-2008 surveys.

At the time Silvertop ash accounted for 9.9% of all trees above 150mm DBH. Black she- oak accounted for 11.1% of the trees.

The next chart also features Silvertop Ash and Black forest oak ranked by diameter classes, is based on data from trees (n = 9,360), recorded during the 2016-2017 surveys.
Silvertop ash now account for 14.1 % of all trees above 150mm DBH. Black she-oak accounts for 18.2% of the trees.

Following up my information request, back on December 22, the OE&H has actually provided a link  to a database (Access 2007-56Mb), with the most recent information from the koala surveys.  

I’m not sure if the link was just a one off thing, but if there’s anyone interested in looking at the data base and the link doesn’t work, drop me a line and I’ll pass on a copy.

While certainly no expert, the data base appears to have been put together from another larger database. So there is data, in the form of tables and queries, for the tablelands, Tantawanglo, Yurammie and Kooraban NP. Unfortunately the plots numbers have been changed since the first survey back in 2007-09. However, when the plot locations in the respective data sets are linked, they will provide the largest and probably only, data on tree growth on the far south coast.

In the interim, the chart below shows data from the two time periods including the number of plots, the active plots where koala fecal pellets were found and the percentage active plots. As indicated the percentage of active plots marginally increased during 2016-2017, although the total number of plots almost halved.

So one would have to be confident that an impression of increased habitat use, wasn’t due to an inappropriate interpretation of the data.  On the positive side it is possible that koala numbers haven’t reduced, within the 10,000 hectares allotted to them.

What may be reducing, again, are the Giant honey-myrtles, skirting the southern edge of Wapengo Lake in Cuttagee catchment. The first time this occurred was in 2014, when about half of the trees died. It will take a while to confirm or otherwise, but the remaining trees all looked decidely yellowish the other day. 

Dieback in this species is generally associated with prolonged periods of inundation, when the lake isn’t open to the ocean. While the lake wasn’t open during the first event or now, the water levels were quite low, as they are now. Perhaps there is another explanation.

Earlier this week, on ABC radio, Eurobodalla conservationist Mike Thompson spoke about the flora reserves and koalas. It seems Mike was responding to my most recent letter to the editor titled ‘Koala extinction plan on track’. Like most of the conservation movement on the south coast, Mike didn’t refer to dying forests.

Rather and among other things, he mentioned our local state parliament member, Andrew Constance. In particular Andrew’s statement that the flora reserves could be logged, in the future.

Mike suggested the best option for koalas is turning the reserves into National Park. If this happened, the management boards for Gulaga and Biamanga NPs may have an influence. Unfortunately, the boards don’t appear to have much influence over management in current National Parks.

What’s arguably more important, in the short term, are the details of the final working plan for the reserves. These may provide the leverage to modify the Regional Forest Agreements, given the federal koala listing. Naturally, there is no certainty and it will require going where the majority of the conservation prefer not to go. Particularly the dieback issue in National Parks and the associated inadequacy of state government forest regulations and management.

 

As reported in the Bega District News, on Thursday a workshop was held in an effort to re-introduce Aboriginal cultural burning. It brought together tablelands and coastal Aboriginals and there was a strong turnout of NSW government agencies. These included Local Land Services, Rural Fire Service, NSW Parks and Wildlife and the Forestry corporation.

Three sites have been selected at Wallagoot, Bermagui and Narooma, with the burns planned over four days in autumn.

While supportive of burning in grassy ecosystems, because there is evidence it increases the diversity of native grasses and herbaceous species. The article refers to observations indicating the ‘ bush is dense with native invasive species’ and burning will be undertaken in ‘different vegetation types’.

My concern is that the most influential of the agencies, Forestry Corp, believes burning is the cure for all forest health issues in all forest types. So it would be a shame if true cultural burning was somehow co-opted, to fit forestry’s single aim, further degrading all forests.

Similarly it would be a shame if such an outcome led to another falling out between Aboriginals. Apparently depicted in the painting above, is a battle back in 1825 at Barrabaroo (Yuin Aboriginal for ‘Fighting Ground’) Creek near Cobargo. Early settlers counted 70 bodies left on the grassy flood plains, after the battle between tablelands and coastal Aborigines.

After spending too much time on them, my comments on the  Murrah flora reserves final draft working plan, have been dutifully submitted. Based on experience, there is no certainty that anyone in the OE&H will read them. Should they be read, there is somewhat less certainty anyone in the OE&H will understand them and some what less certainty they will be acted on.

While it would be reassuring to think the proposal for adaptive management in the working plan actually meant something. The impediment to adaptive management, as pointed out in ‘Options forestry-acting on uncertainty’ (Bormann & Kiester 2004) is clearly associated with ‘spurious certitude’.

That is, the NSW government agencies all believe they know what ecologically sustainable forest management is and that’s what they do, so there is no need to learn from experience or change anything. Then there is the native forest logging industry, that, from the governments perspective, has to be supported at any societal or environmental cost.
For those who feel this approach is reckless, at best. The ultimate outcome could be disastrous.

Recently published in the journal Nature is paper titled “Europe’s lost forests: a pollen-based synthesis for the last 11,000 years“. According to the paper Europe’s forests reached their maximum extent between 8000 and 6000 years ago and then began to reduce. However, sometime after 4000 years ago the rate at which the area of forest reduced, greatly increased.

The reduction was greatest in southern Europe and an example given is Lake Dojran, between Macedonia and Greece. Here, pollen retrieved from the lake pointed to a large erosion event some 3200 years ago. At the time people had been clearing the temperate forests for agriculture and there was an increasing demand for timber, to build boats. Soils had been depleting for some time, but the large erosion event topped it off.

In a Sydney Morning Herald article one of the paper’s authors, Mr Rothacker indicated  ” . . . the link between soil health and agricultural output would have shown up rapidly.”
He went on to add – “Without soil, you basically lack the key component in the eco-system to grow food,” he said. “If you don’t have mature soils any more, you can’t grow that food and you can’t supply a large population.”

As reported in the Bega District News, ” . . . The National Parks and Wildlife Service is hosting two sessions of what they describe as “open houses”, in January for locals and visitors to learn more about the recently created Murrah Flora Reserves.” The first of these sessions was held last Saturday at the Tanja Hall.

Unlike the previous koala information session held at the hall and funded by the Federal Government, there weren’t may cars outside. Upon entering the hall and also unlike the previous session, there wasn’t much information available either. At the time there four people attending the session, two OE&H employees and the most recent NPWS South Coast Director Kane Weeks.

There were three maps on the wall, a couple of A4 print outs on koala monitoring and attempts to grow trees, along with one research paper about fire.

One of the maps showed the vast area planned for regular burning. Another the most recent modeled koala use areas and another indicating areas with a larger volume of vertical fuel load.
Kane Weeks asked me what I thought about the burning proposal. I suggested that all of it has been logged and burned and in the process lost hundreds of tonnes of soil per hectare. The vertical fuel load comes from trees that, among other things, drop large amounts of litter that aids in restoring the soils.

Burning these areas eliminates the litter, so the process of soil restoration has to start again.

According to the final draft for the flora reserves, these matters are too complex. So I wasn’t surprised when Mr Weeks indicated the Forestry Corporation will have the final say on the reserve management plan.

 

Last year I wrote to the OE&H and Forestry Corporation requesting information relevant to management plan.

From Forestry I requested a document, referenced in the plan and titled ” FCNSW 2016, ‘Logging records for Mumbulla, Tanja, Murrah and Bermagui State Forests, Reserve numbers 187, 188, 189 and 190’, unpublished records compiled by the Forestry Commission of NSW, Eden”

This is the response Forestry sent on January 6.

Hi Robert
It would be best to check this information with the Office of Environment and Heritage who have prepared the draft plan. They would be best placed to advise exactly which documents or records this reference refers to.
Regards
Joanna

I did ask about the document at the information session, but they didn’t know either. The OE&H has partly responded to my request, although the logging records document has been added to the list.

As reported by Sue Arnold in the Independent, the NSW Scientific Committee has rejected a nomination to list koalas around Port Stephens as an endangered population.
According to Sue ” . . . The Turnbull Government is overseeing a thoughtless extinction plan, dressed up as conservation, in which the koala will not survive.

While the Scientific committee’s determination acknowledges the population fits the criteria for listing as an endangered population. Under a previously unpublicised intergovernmental MOU this is now not possible, as per the following quote from the determination.

” . . . 18.Under clause 2.2 of the Intergovernmental memorandum of understanding relating to the agreement on a common assessment method for listing of threatened species and threatened ecological communities (CAM MOU 2015), a population of a species is not eligible to be listed as threatened if the species is separately listed as a threatened species under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999.”

Probably not co-incidentally, the NSW and Federal governments are now seeking ” feedback on five-yearly implementation reviews of RFAs and how to extend them for an additional 20-year term.”
The website goes on to suggest ” . . . Consultation will enable a full appraisal of the current RFAs covering the Eden, North East and Southern regions of NSW. It will also drive optimal implementation of new agreements, including what we can learn from our experience over the past 20 years.”

Regrettably, personal experience suggests forests managers have learned very little at a regional scale and this appears to be the situation throughout NSW.

For koalas in the Murrah Flora Reserves, the major issue should be trying to keep trees alive. Unfortunately , along with the rest of the NSW government the OE&H and FCNSW have a blockage when it comes to what trees grow in – soils.

What they rely on is the less than current information, some of which is in the table above, from a paper, Forestry’s holy grail,  titled Nutrient inputs from rainfall in NSW (Turner, Lambert and Knott, 1986). The fundamental argument in this paper is that virtually all the nutrients eucalyptus forests require fall with rain from the sky. So the loss of soil from erosion and dispersion won’t be an issue for hundreds of years.

Regrettably, this argument doesn’t really hold water, pardon the pun. The Calcium inputs from Mogo (4.2 kg haˉ¹ yrˉ¹), the closest station to the Murrah flora reserves, suggests 168 kgs of the nutrient would be deposited over a 40 year logging rotation. However a simple calculation for compartments logged in 1994, to be included in the reserve management plan comments, found around 1.4 tonnes of Calcium per hectare were likely to be removed or burned.

The replacement time for this volume Calcium from rainfall is 333.33 years. Of course this is before accounting for Sodium inputs, that counter the positive influence of calcium.

%d bloggers like this: