Forestry clean out – climate change, koalas and trees

In an unexpected and poorly publicised move, Forestry Corporation NSW have apparently decided to restructure the hardwood side of its business.  Shadow Minister Steve Whan indicated forestry workers have been told that ‘all jobs in the Hardwood Division will be declared vacant and they all have to contest new positions – with 40 less jobs to be available’.

While it’s uncertain why FCNSW has chosen this approach, improving manager and staff relations may be part of it. If I were, for example, Southern Region manager Mr Daniel Tuan, my preference would be for a significant improvement in the quality of information from staff.

On the information issue, OE&H researcher, Dr. Dan Lunney (, have published an abstract titled, “Extinction in Eden: identifying the role of climate change in the decline of the koala in south-east NSW.” Although the paper is still being edited, the scope of the modeling and conclusions come largely from the results of community surveys, where evidence of koalas was ‘verified through interviews with survey respondents’.

One of these surveys, undertaken in 1991 and generously funded by woodchip company Harris-Diashowa, now South East Fibre Exports, provided the basis for implementing the NSW government’s formal koala conservation procedures – do nothing – that have prevailed since that time.

On this occasion the authors conclude that “Climate change, particularly drought and rising temperatures, has been a hitherto hidden factor that has been a major driver of the decline of the koala in the Eden region.” They suggest  “Development of strategies to help fauna adapt to the changing climate is of paramount importance, particularly at a local scale.”

With additional model inputs and given the first large dieback event occurred 17 years ago, an alternative conclusion could associate koala decline with long term soil degradation, such that forests become sources of atmospheric carbon rather than earth bound sequesters. From this perspective, the major driver of koala decline is habitat loss, so helping fauna to adapt to climate change is more about keeping trees alive, at a local and broader scale.

Regrettably, it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that the EPAs fixed licence prescriptions for logging preclude this understanding, due to perceptions the prescriptions are based on credible soil science and demonstrate sustainability.

Another widely held perception is the notion that trees, like people, reach a certain size and then stop growing. Some recent research adds to what was the ‘majority view . . . supported by previous research that, among other things, has shown as a tree gets older its growth rate per leaf decreases.’

As it turns out this isn’t the case, as lead author, Dr Nate Stephenson, a research ecologist with the US Geological Survey indicated, data collected from ‘650,000 individual trees from 403 species in both temperate and tropical areas’, confirmed that while leaves on older trees are less efficient – “A tree that is a metre in diameter has, on average, 100 times as much leave (sic) mass as one that is only 10 centimetres in diameter.” therefore “Old trees are the ones putting on the most bulk in old forests. They are the star players.”

The Maidens gum (E. maidenii) in the shot above has a diameter at breast height of just over a metre (1065mm), a girth of over 3 metres and is likely to have sequestered at least six tonnes of carbon, but it is threatened. In this case the threat is BMAD, and while looking forward to increased importance being placed on the issue, getting strategies from the government to address it may require more than a clean out.


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