RETs, RFAs and the fight for improvement

At the last minute, the Abbott government has decided to include ‘wood waste’ as part of the greatly diminished Renewable Energy Target. While federal Labor is opposed to the proposal, the ABC reports Tasmanian Labor Leader Bryan Green saying “We think there is an opportunity to look at how we can use the Renewable Energy Target to allow for sensible opportunities when it comes to small-scale biomass innovation.”

Coincidentally, the Federal and Tasmanian governments are calling for comments on the third review of the Tasmanian Regional Forest Agreement (RFA). According to Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Agriculture, Senator Richard Colbeck and Tasmanian Minister for Resources, Paul Harriss, it is an ‘important step in the governments’ progress towards negotiating an extended agreement and establishing a 20-year rolling life for the RFA’.

One of the interesting aspects of the Tassie RFA was the Intensive Forest Management Program, part of the Tasmanian Community Forest Agreement from 2005 to 2010. $115 million was allocated by the Tasmanian and Australian Governments to ‘establish approximately 14,000 hectares of new plantation, prune and secondary fertilize 10,000 hectares of existing plantation and to thin a variable area of native forest regrowth all to be managed towards the production of high quality sawlog and veneer logs’.

The audit for the program found ” There were substantial decreases in the areas of plantation being managed to produce high quality sawlog and veneer logs due to Regime Change in areas of New Plantation.” In other words, Forestry Tasmania were finding many areas would be unlikely to produce a sawlog due to poor growth, so they downgraded them to pulp production.

Estimated growth rates for the plantations were based on an internal Forestry study titled “A rapid field method for assessing site suitability for plantations in Tasmania’s State forest”. The conclusions, based mainly on subjective perceptions of soil physical properties, average rainfall and vegetation, provided four classes. These ranged from the High Productivity Class 1, estimated to have an astronomical Mean Annual Increment (MAI) of greater than 20 cubic meters per annum, down to less that 10cm MAI.

Based on these estimates, and given the average MAI in Eden is 2 cubic metres per annum, it’s hard to see why the trees would fail to thrive. However, many of the downgraded areas were within coupes where other trees had apparently grown. This outcome is consistent with experience suggesting that while soil fertility may initially seem uniform, land degradation begins in patches. In addition to this unforeseen outcome, pruning has been behind schedule, thinning hasn’t occurred, hence the over abundance of ‘waste wood’ and fertilizing was less than effective.

The reason for the latter can be found in the local soils, like those in the federally funded timber stand improvement area in Mumbulla State Forest. Soil chemistry tells us that the clear felling was never likely to work and fertilizer won’t help.

mumlog2

Meanwhile up in Gunnadah, the Upper Mooki Landcare group is set to take on the NSW Planning and Assessment Commission’s approval of the Shenhua Watermark coal mine. It appears the PAC went along with the developers koala proposal to ‘encourage the animals to move away naturally’, ie. kill them slowly.

To the south in East Gippsland, forestry have been found guilty of logging rainforest. On this occasion it seem the regulators have taken a straw from NSW, no action is to be taken, although  forestry has been encouraged to tighten up its guidelines.

These issues again confirm that continuous improvement won’t come from governments, rather the community has to constantly fight for it.

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