The NSW government has released its draft Coastal Integrated Forestry Operations Approval (IFOA) , being the protocols and conditions for coastal public forest logging, over the next 20 years.  While there is a public consultation period, until 5pm 29 June 2018. I expect the draft is pretty well set in stone.

As I understand it the government believes it has a good understanding of koalas on the north coast. However on the south coast koalas are a ” . . . Threatened species requiring the development of site specific biodiversity conditions.” Of course the notion that conditions have to be developed is far too complex for Forestry Corporation, so surveys for koalas are only required in Glenbog and Glen Allen state forests in the Eden region. Both of these forests are on the tablelands and both are pretty well completely trashed.

In the Southern region, koalas surveys are required in Tallaganda, Badja, Dampier, Moruya, Wandella and Bodalla State Forests. As previously reported Dampier and Moruya state forests are where FCNSW has recently burned several thousand hectares. A request for detail ( compartment numbers) on the areas burned has been sent to Forestry, but there is, as yet, no response.

 

Researchers down in Victoria have been looking into the thermal qualities of man made and natural hollows used by native species.

The man made ones, generally constructed out of plywood, have been found to have poor thermal capacities. That is they get too cold in winter and too hot in summer. On the other hand, hollows in trees are far less variable, staying warmer in winter and cooler in summer. The researcher made some prototypes using a chainsaw.

So I had a try at making a little one, as indicated in the photo, from part of a smallish tree trunk that recently fell on the road.  In essence it is a section of trunk cut length ways and a cavity is then cut into its center. A 3.5cm diameter hole provides access to the cavity, when the two pieces are screwed together. It is a relatively simple process, although best for those experienced in using a chainsaw.

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Last Sunday the NSW government released its statewide koala strategy. The response from conservation groups the NCC and NPA was generally poor and less than supportive.

A major issue both groups refer to is the government’s land clearing laws. It seems pretty stupid to allow vast areas of private forest to be bulldozed, while spending public funds to buy land and encouraging people to plant trees.This seems particularly the case when the government’s attempts to grow koala feed trees don’t work out.

Down here the ABC spoke to SERCA spokesperson and die-back denier Harriet Swift, who suggested the strategy did nothing for koalas and best way to help the species was to stop logging. Regrettably, this is one of the issues the government can exploit, because while logging remains the only focus for conservation groups down here, any other management is perceived to be acceptable. Hence, proposals for management aimed for positive outcomes at an ecosystem scale, don’t get a look in and forests continue to decline.

However, Harriet’s comments suggest a lack of support for the  “Saving our Species” approach indicated in the map above for koalas here. So while looking forward to information on what SERCA actually supports, I expect, apart from logging,  it won’t deviate much from the NSW government’s position.

In particular the proposal to translocate koalas as indicated in the quote below. According to the strategy ” . . The Office of Environment and Heritage will work with other NSW Government agencies to assess the koala habitat values of land excess to the agencies needs. This will help inform if the land should be permanently reserved or have protections in place.”

There is plenty of land on the south coast without koalas, that the conservation movement and forestry have previously agreed, is suitable for the species.

” . . . Office of Environment and Heritage will work with communities, through the local action workshops, and fauna rehabilitation groups, to identify areas to relocate koalas. The relocation will be informed by research and an agreed plan to maximise koala health outcomes. Office of Environment and Heritage will also partner with researchers to investigate the effectiveness and challenges of undertaking the translocation of koalas. Translocation in this context refers to reintroducing koalas from existing NSW populations to improve genetic diversity and health of local populations.”

It is now just over three months since comments were closed on draft flora reserve management plan. While it’s disappointing that the public are yet to be informed about any outcome, perhaps more disappointing is the lack of any sign of forest management that isn’t locked into the unsustainable past.

Looking north from the Murrah the sky is grey with smoke, from the thousands of hectares of forest that have been deliberately burned. One of these fires, lit by the NPWS, has apparently spread to adjacent forest in National Park and on private land, so far degrading another 300 ha.

To the south the NPWS lit up 120 ha in Bournda NP, within the black circle on FCNSW’s predisposition to dieback map below. The particular area is referred to as the ‘Sandy Creek Strategic Fire Advantage Zone’ and was last burned in 2005-06. On this occasion the very lame justification for the burn is to ‘reduce the spread of wildfire’. There appears to be no consideration of the animals, the ongoing dry weather or the fact that without substantive rainfall, most forests will again turn brown, within a few weeks.

Meanwhile down in Victoria, Friends of the Leadbeaters Possum (FOTLP), have successfully applied for an interlocutory application, to stop Vicforests logging several coupes in the central highlands.
FOTLPs application was based on the failure to undertake the required reviews of the relevant Regional Forest Agreement. A trial on the matter will commence on 25 February 2019, for a period of three weeks.

Things are a little different up here, where the flora reserve management plan has to be consistent with the Forestry Act (2012). In particular part 25 clause 2 that requires ” . . .The object of any such scheme is to be the preservation of native flora on the flora reserve.”

It seems an appropriate time to investigate the potential to challenge the plan/scheme, given the different views on the management required to preserve native flora.

Widely reported over the past week has been the fire, thought to be deliberately lit, in and around the Holsworthy army base, south west of Sydney. Some 3,450 hectares has been burnt and koalas escaping the fire have found found wandering in the adjacent suburbs and one was apparently rescued in the base.

Interestingly, back in 2012 a summary of environmental assessments was undertaken for the Department of Defence, when it proposed moving infrastructure at Moorebank to Holsworthy. According to this summary evidence of koalas was not found and if there were koalas they would be ‘ . . . unlikely to be an important koala population”.

More recently on the north coast, the NSW Department of Primary Industries has been employing digital recorders to find koalas. According to an ABC report spokesperson Dr Brad Law said ” . . . We’ve got two main aims. One is to look at the status of koalas across the northeast forests, [The other] is how is their level of occupancy responds to different levels of timber harvest and time since harvest — so we want to look at the effects of logging on koalas.”

Brad went on to say “They’ve been surprised by what the sound recordings have revealed. In the 1990s, there had been a spotlighting survey for koalas over roughly the same study area in northeast NSW. Close to 200 sites were surveyed and koalas were only detected on about 5 per cent of sites using spotlighting. But [using the song meters] we’re finding about 80 per cent of the sites we’ve got koalas.”
So it would appear that logging has proceeded over the past 20 years in areas with koalas and the intention is to continue this management.

Meanwhile on the far south coast, around the area of the red circle on the map, Forests NSW has been undertaking extensive ‘fuel reduction burns’ over some 6,000 hectares. While forestry believe this will make the forests healthy, it also gets rid of koalas.

Whatever the reasons for this management, if one were looking for other koalas on the south coast this would be the place to start. So the notion that forestry found evidence of koalas cannot be excluded.

Having had a bit of a look at the areas burnt in the flora reserve and toward Tathra, a surprising outcome is the relatively small areas where tree canopies burned. As indicated in the satellite image below, leaves in the tree canopies have been scorched, but not consumed by the fire. In essence the outcome is much like a hot fuel reduction burn. 

The big difference between this fire and a canopy fire is the flame height and the temperature it creates both within and in front of the fire. Typically, a crown fire can heat the air at the front of the flames to 800 °C (1,470 °F). Attempting to fight a fire under these conditions is impossible, so it seems fire fighters and local residents saved most of the town because it wasn’t too hot or too windy.

Had the weather conditions been more extreme, as with the Black Saturday fires, back in 2009, it seems likely that more houses would have been destroyed and lives lost. The houses that were destroyed were all built prior to the bush fires codes introduced in 2009. None of the houses built after the new codes were destroyed.

There is still no talk about the fate of koalas in the area, although it seems unlikely any animals survived in the burned areas. A bulldozer and chainsaws have been used to push over or cut down dozens of trees deemed ‘dangerous’, in the flora reserve. Not surprisingly most of these were large mature trees.

 

As reported in the Eden Magnet last week, Forestry Corporation and the Eden Aboriginal Land Council  planned  a ” . . . contemporary cultural burn using traditional fire practices at East Boyd State Forest near Eden . . . The cultural burn will begin on Wednesday, April 4 with a traditional ceremony and continue for several days, with the aim of improving forest health and access to country for cultural purposes.”

The arrangement is clearly a big deal for Forestry, with a member of its Aboriginal Partnerships team, the Strategic Projects and Programs Leader and Forestry Corporation’s south coast Protection Supervisor, Julian Armstrong, all having a say.

According to Julian “For safe hazard reduction burns, we need to act when it’s not too hot and dry or too cool and damp and when the wind isn’t too strong.” While the issue of dryness appears to be a lower priority, the article suggests updates on the 750 hectare burn would be available on the RFS – ‘Fires near me’ website’.

The fire was on the website for two days and then disappeared, so either it burned the area very quickly or was postponed.

The cause of the fire that destroyed 65 homes in and around Tathra is being put down to a tree falling on power lines, along Reedy creek road. To date there has been no mention of the Flora reserve, although the fire started near the south west corner of the Tanja section.

As indicted on blurry map below, showing recent koala records and the Forestry Corporation’s incomplete logging history, the fire traveled straight down the Bega River. Aided by 38 degree heat and strong north westerly winds, it jumped the river and took off toward Tathra.

Under these conditions there is nothing fire fighters can do to stop a fire so the town was mostly evacuated. I say mostly because many stayed behind, successfully defending their homes and no-one was killed or seriously injured.

Unfortunately roads into Tanja forest remain closed, while more trees are cut down for safety reasons. However, it is clear that locations where koalas were active, back in 2012, were burnt. While trusting there will be some effort to ascertain their fate, the fire has led to the inevitable concerns about the ‘bush’ and the threat it poses.

A coronal inquiry will be examining aspects of the fire, although whether its scope will be adequate remains unclear. For example, when Europeans invaded this country, there was tall open forest, not bush. This new bush generally has a contiguous fuel load from the ground to the tree tops. Consequently, it seems likely that convection currents and the capacity to both produce and more rapidly spread burning embers is increased.

Clearly the major reason for this threatening bush is decades of mismanagement. However, there will be the inevitable calls for more broad acre burning, even though it won’t help.
Similarly, I’m anticipating, should no evidence of koalas be found, that post fire salvage logging will be proposed, so the timber isn’t wasted.

On a positive note the ABC reported on the Federal government concerns that renewing the RFAs may lead to a legal challenge, because the information is old. From another perspective the information was old when the RFAs were agreed and nothing has changed since then.

Congratulations go to the Nature Conservation Council, on its successful legal challenge, earlier this month, to the NSW government’s land clearing laws. Although it does seems likely the government will come back with something similarly appalling.

In that regard, pro-logging Rob de Fegely, currently Chair of Sustainable Timber Tasmania, Co-chair of the Commonwealth Government’s Forest Industry Advisory Council and a member of the Far South Coast Regional Advisory Committee for NSW National Parks, recently spoke about his preferred approach to south east forests.

According to Rob ‘it’s time people step up, be brave, put politics aside, and re-engage in what has been a divisive and emotionally charged issue’. He went on to ask “ . . . As a private landholder I am likely to improve habitat for lyrebirds, koalas, bandicoots, and potoroos, but where is the direction to do that? . . . And how do we build that across the landscape to link in with National Parks, the Forestry Corporation, Crown Lands and others to develop a system across the South East where we would end up with a landscape we are all proud of?”

Co-coinciding with Robs questions has been the release of twenty spotted quolls into federal land, Booderee National Park at Jervis Bay. This follows the previous apparently successful release of bettongs, bandicoots and potoroos, the latter from forests around Eden.

Having stepped up and submitted some brief comments on the RFA rollover, largely a rehash of the flora reserve comments. It is difficult to escape the conclusion that the greatest impediment to any positive change is the Forestry Corporation.  This seems particularly the case given its general disregard for forests and threatened species.  On the other hand my recent meeting with the NPWS, in the Flora reserve, was at least amicable, although who knows what will come of it.

I was advised that some sort of report will be produced on the 30 odd submissions received about the reserve draft plan, prior to the release of final plan. The final plan for the Flora reserves is similar to the clearing laws, because it too requires the agreement of the NSW environment Minister and the primary industries Minister. While hoping for a positive outcome, It seems likely the latter Minister will have a significant influence.

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