Koala challanges, the RET, a caught out government and the red headed step-child

Last week the Federal government’s reduced renewable energy target passed the senate with a vote of 41 to 14. The deal to include native forest ‘waste’ , made possible by including a “wind farm commissioner (?!)”, seems to confirm the government’s low interest in renewable energy.

The ABC reported the Greens Larissa Waters describing the bill as a “lifeline to native forest logging”, adding “This, basically, is dead koala certificates they’re making by allowing native forests to be logged and burnt”.

The report indicates Foreign Minister Julie Bishop didn’t agree with Senator Waters concerns saying “What a bizarre comment to make”.

Based on the requirements of the bill, it would be a poor outcome if attempts by the industry to produce electricity go unchallenged. To date I’m only aware of one sawmill on the north coast proposing a 3 MW generator, although this is supposed to be fueled by waste from the sawmill, koalas are likely to die. However, I do wonder whether the mill-owners would bother if the requirement was to use only slow pyrolysis for electricity generation, given the reduced energy output.

On the energy/fuel issue the Nature Conservation Council has released proceedings from its bushfire conference.

Of interest are the transcripts of talks given by the OE&H/NPWS and FCNSW, given they work as a team.

In his opening address the OE&H’s Mr Rob Quirk confirmed local impressions, speaking of recent changes to the organisation that has moved them from fire fighters to fire lighters. According to Mr Quirk ” . . . There’s lots of examples now where we’re using fire in a similar way dealing with coastal lantana and dealing with the issues of bell miner associated dieback in some of the landscapes in the north. Interestingly it was a bell miner associated dieback fire that resulted in the loss of one of our fire fighters when a tree fell on him. So none of these decisions are easy when you take decisions to introduce fire into natural areas but it’s critical if we’re going to manage for ecological health in the long run. Looking at the conference and some of the things that have been touched on there are Service people highlighting some of the ecological restoration efforts that we’re doing with fire currently.”

Mr Quirk also referred to ‘ two very hot wild fires in Bundjalung National Park four years apart’, seemingly confirming that fuel reduction may not stop a wildfire.


Mr Mick Wilson spoke for FCNSW suggesting ‘Forestry is the red headed step-child – everyone picks on us.’ and highlighting the constraints on the organisation’s ability to burn more, while maintaining fire lighter safety.

One of Mr Wilson’s slides, above, shows a LIDAR image of what he described as  ‘long unburned’ Bell Miner affected forest.  According to Mick, ” . . . the reddish stuff and the pink and yellowish stuff is the heavier understory. This can be both valuable regeneration as well as heavy understory with high elevated fuels. So it’s quite sophisticated.”

While looking forward to the sophistication that can differentiate between valuable regeneration and viney scrub, also speaking at the conference was Naomi Rea from Mulga Data Services. Naomi spoke of soils and animals and the need for research ” . . . to clarify the difference between essential and non-essential factors in ecological restoration.  . . . fire isn’t a requirement for growth. Topography climate and soil differ from stochastic disturbances, major irregular forces such as fire, flood, and drought which are non-essential factors in the environment.”

According to Naomi and I can only agree , ” . . . We need to explore the merit of statements such as “the bush needs a burn” and the difference between plant tolerance versus plant adaptation.”

Naomi indicated that ” . . .  A feature of scientific knowledge is that it always changes. Many ecologists and scientists are passionate one minute about something and move on the next. What we are doing today is not necessarily what we did 20 years ago nor what we’ll do in 20 years. Scientists are famous for enthusing people to come on board with new ideas and then leave them behind when they move onto the next idea. This phenomenon can catch Governments out. ”

Can’t help thinking that’s where the NSW government is with koalas, left behind and caught out.



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