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Bio-regions

The NPWS is continuing its inane broad-acre burning, blotting out the sun and polluting the atmosphere for the past two weeks. Most recent is a 260 hectare burn in the Wapengo catchment, also in an area with recent koala records.

The subtle but perhaps important difference on this occasion, is that the records come from surveys funded by the federal government. According to the interim working plan for the flora reserves, the federally funded surveys found black she-oak (Allocasuarina littoralis), is one of the most abundant species. The reason for this outcome probably stems from the decision to increase the diameter of trees measured in the koala plots,from 100 mm to 150 mm. If 100 mm minimum had been retained, it seems likely the surveys would confirm black she-oak are the most abundant species in most of the reserve. 

While credible science tells us burning does not provide leverage over wildfire in this bio-region. The data employed is from eucalyptus forests, as opposed to the generally heavily logged and burned forests in the reserve. Accordingly the volume of fuel is reported as 16.4 tonnes per hectare, with fine fuels making up about 2 tonnes per hectare or 200 grams per square metre.

In the photo below is a black plastic bag filled with one square metre of fine fuel from under black she-oaks. Minus the bag it weighs 5660 grams, just over 28 times the weight of fine fuel in eucalyptus dominated forest. Not surprisingly this level of fuel greatly adds to the smoke and the CO2 produced from the fire. In this case, rather than the notional 32.8 tonnes of CO2 per hectare, the fire is likely to produce 142 tonnes of CO2 per hectare. NSW annual emissions per capita are around 19 tonnes CO2. So every 100 hectares burned equates to the annual CO2 output from 747.4 people.

Yesterday I received a response from Minister Upton, pasted below, regarding my request for NPWS contact details about the fence and catchments. While it’s expected that the NPWS would readily accept the Forestry Corporation’s version of events. I can’t find any reference to illegal encroachments, fences or investigations in the flora reserve working plan. So I wonder if there may be another non community version of the plan, circulating in state government departments

As for the Bega Valley Shire Council being the most appropriate contact about catchment issues. Mike Saxon is also the contact for a recently advertised OE&H position for a ‘Senior Team Leader – Water, flood plains and coast’, for the far south coast. So it possible that the NPWS and the OE&H are yet to employ someone that does catchments.

Only because I found the job description interesting, details for the position are at iworkfor.nsw.gov.au, job reference- 000057WJ, and applications close Monday 15 May 2017 11.59 pm.

 

Dear Mr Bertram

I refer to your email to the Minister for the Environment, the Hon Gabrielle Upton MP about your biodiversity reconstruction project on the NSW far south coast. Your email was referred to the Office of Environment and Heritage (OEH) and I have been asked to reply.

Thank you for your interest in the biodiversity of the far south coast. Before your proposal to trial biodiversity reconstruction can be considered for endorsement, there is an issue with the location of the fence that needs to be resolved. The National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) have advised that the Forestry Corporation of NSW did not approve the construction of the portion of the fence on State Forest that is now part of the Murrah Flora Reserves. As part of the handover of the management of the flora reserves from Forestry Corporation to NPWS, the fence was identified as an illegal encroachment onto the Reserve. In the Murrah Flora Reserves Interim Working Plan the fence is identified for investigation. In the first instance, the Director South Coast Region (NPWS), Kane Weeks would be the most appropriate person to contact regarding the status of the fence and to consider your proposal to use the area for fauna reintroductions. The most appropriate contact about catchment issues is Bega Valley Shire Council.

The Murrah Flora Reserves Interim Working Plan can be found at http://www.forestrycorporation.com.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0005/669281/Interim-working-plan-for-Murrah-flora-reserves.pdf

If you have any further questions about this issue, please contact Kane Weeks, Director South Coast Region, Park Operations on 02 4423 2170 or at Kane.Weeks@environment.nsw.gov.au.

MICHAEL SAXON

Director

South East Branch

The Queensland government has recently released two reports titled ‘South East Queensland Koala Population Modelling Study‘ and a ‘Koala Expert Panel Interim Report’.
The former is a comprehensive work that required collating koala survey data from 1996 up to 2014.  The outcome confirms a rapid and increasing rate of decline in koala numbers, particularly on the Koala coast and the Pine rivers area. Insufficient data was available to determine whether the decline is consistent across south east Qld.

If koalas haven’t declined in other areas, the report recommends ” Identifying these areas with a carefully designed monitoring program would appear to be a priority.”

The latter report is, to put it mildly, a generally scathing indictment of koala management through out the state. In essence it found none of the planning instruments worked for the benefit of koalas, indeed the reverse is usually the case. The report indicates the failures are around a lack of a strategic regional vision, an over-reliance on the planning legislation and inadequate resourcing.

So called ‘environmental offsets’ were also criticised on the basis of ” . . .the ability of local governments to offset matters of state significance, a lack of resources for monitoring and enforcement, the inability to offset outside local government areas where the impact occurs, lack of additionality deriving from offset actions, and potential perverse outcomes.”

Back in NSW, there is the ‘Saving Our Species’ program and its various streams, including the Iconic species program, where koalas have been lumped. However if one were looking for recent official and credible information on koalas, the chances of finding it are quite low.

In that regard, the map above provides koala records, available on the Atlas of NSW Wildlife, from 1 January 2013 to now.

Curiously, the single record is suggested to be a koala sighting, attributed to the Forestry Corporation, after the Flora reserves were announced. Clearly any conclusion from this information represents a poor outcome.

Regrettably, Long-nosed Potoroos could be in a similar position, as indicated by records since 1 January 2011, in the map below. A few years before there are records of Long-nosed potoroos in this area.  Under the NSW government’s approach, LNPs are a ‘land-scape managed’ species. The land-scape in this case begins south of Merimbula and extends to the Victorian border.

It’s difficult to avoid the conclusion that the ‘streams’ approach may not be ideal, but on the positive side, there is considerable scope for improvement.

Depending on one’s perspective, the decision to establish a Department of Environment and Energy could be the most interesting, or disturbing outcome from federal election.

Minister for the new department, the Hon. Josh Frydenberg, was quick to talk about the need for more natural gas. Naturally I expect this means more fracking, rather than constraining the large volumes of gas exported.

While this Bio-region has no coal, gas or oil, it does have a timber industry that government’s claim is sustainable. So it seems likely the Forest Industry Advisory Council will see some support for its proposals to burn ‘waste timber’ for energy production.

For those interested in growing trees, an alternative is using the timber currently burnt or eliminated through other means. For example, Bega Valley Council has an excavator, essentially a logging machine with a different attachment, that it uses to mulch trees along roads and elsewhere. While the purpose is increasing vision, there is an argument that such management should be part of efforts to reduce fuel loads and potential CO2 emissions, both on and beyond the road verge.

In that regard I’ve recently increased the size of the gas reservoir attached to the back-yard bio-char and syngas production unit. The first gas container was designed for continuous gas production from a methane digester and only holds 0.16 of a cubic metre, at low pressure. Based on trials to date this represents about 10% of the gas produced from 35kg of Silver-top ash sticks.

The new container holds 2 cubic metres and when operating, hopefully this week, should provide the opportunity to compare gas and char volumes from the other species of interest, Black forest oak.  Some long term trials to evaluate whether the soil preparation using char aids in the growth of Forest red gum would be helpful.

rg

 

A couple of weeks ago a (or the?) NPWS ranger for the Murrah reserves, Simon Conarty, dropped in to talk about the beginning of its dog/fox baiting program, letter below.

According to Simon the Local Land Services previously undertook the baiting program in Biamanga NP. The change to flora reserves has led to the NPWS taking over responsibility for baiting in both locations.

Simon also advised that there is to be no change to the Forestry Corporation’s baiting program, while a management plan for the reserves is developed.

The problem with the Forestry Corporation’s baiting program is the fact that it is not part of a ‘nil tenure’ approach. So while the baiting has largely eliminated dingoes and dogs, hence a significant increase in kangaroo numbers and associated road kill. It will never have a significant impact on fox numbers, while it isn’t part an approach across tenures.

Perhaps when the OE&H get around to a koala management plan, news of the New Zealand government’s project “Predator Free New Zealand”,  to eliminate “. . . introduced rats, cats, stoats, possums and so on.”, may have filtered through.

—————————————————————————————————————-

We are writing to inform you that the far South Coast Region NPWS are conducting a ground baiting program in the Murrah Flora Reserve and in Biamanga National Park wild dogs using 1080 meat baits. The program will commence on or shortly after 28th June 2016 and will be ongoing throughout the year. A warning that non-target animals may be affected. If you have any enquiries please call 64955023. If you have further enquiries, please call Simon Conaughty on 65955025.

The Western Woodlands Alliance has released a report identifying priority forests for koalas , west of the divide. Based on koala records from various sources, the report attempts to define areas occupied by both meta -populations and local populations, within bioregions.
For the South East Highlands Bioregion, extending from north west of Newcastle , south to and across the Victorian border, seven meta-populations, including 19 potential local populations were identified. However, only seven local populations, from three meta-populations, are considered to be stable.
Perhaps not surprisingly, the descendants of translocated Victorian koalas, located north east of Cooma, are considered to be a stable population. Quoting the report ” . . . In the South-east Highlands, animals occur in ‘low-density’ populations covering home ranges of over 80-100 ha (Jurskis and Potter, 1997), while animals in more favourable areas occupy ranges of 10-20 ha (Ward and Close, 2002).”
Regrettably, Jurskis and Potter (1997) report on radio-collared koalas in coastal forests and make no reference to tablelands koalas. However, 1997 was the year Forestry released its Koala recovery plan, containing the first reference to these koalas. The other citation, Ward and Close (2002), isn’t in the report’s references.
Die-back isn’t referred to, rather the report suggests ” . . . Less than 10% of local populations appear to be stable or increasing in numbers. The latter are found in the higher altitude tableland and highland regions and suggest modelled climate change impacts upon Koala distribution may already be occurring.”

 

Deep rip

 
Also this week the ABC reported on Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce announcing $520,000 funding ‘for a research and development project to look into growing trees for harvest on farmland’.
Forest and Wood Products Australia (FWPA will receive the funding to ” . . coordinate the research to investigate the tree varieties, soil types and planning needed to introduce timber plantations on farm.”
Quoting FWPA managing director Ric Sinclair, ” . . . the industry had “learnt a lot” from the mistakes made by the agribusiness companies behind failed managed investment schemes.”

The CSIRO is also involved in the research, as it is with the Monaro die-back project, in the photo above. In this case deep ripping, a practise that brings less productive soils to the top, is being employed. The ripping is also appears to be across the contour, an approach likely to have a detrimental impact on overland and sub-surface water flows, potentially  increasing  incision and gully erosion.

One can only trust some more enlightened and less environmentally damaging approaches will be trialled.

 

Just like that, the NSW government has decided to convert Tanja, Mumbulla, Murrah and part of Bermagui State Forest into Flora Reserves. According to the press release from Environment Minister Mark Speakman, Primary Industries Minister Niall Blair and Member for Bega Andrew Constance, the move to flora reserves will ‘provide protection to the last known local koala population’.

However, the Bega District News quotes Mr Constance indicating the ” . . . forests were converted to flora reserves, which cannot be logged, instead of national parks so in the future the option of harvesting them again could be considered. ”

This future option would seem to depend on whether there are any koalas to protect and, regrettably, protection from logging in National Parks has not stopped extinction elsewhere in the bio-region.  The BDN also quotes National Parks and Wildlife Service deputy chief executive Michael Wright suggesting “ . . . It means we can manage in an integrated way across the landscape . . . This is important for fire management, pest and weed management, as well as working to improve the habitat for the koala.”

At this point the question about how the NPWS intends ‘to improve the habitat for the koala’ and how this aspiration fits with its typical management,  over prescribed fire lighting along with pest and weed poisoning, would seem relevant.

land tenure

To assist the timber industry, given as Minister Niall Blair stated ‘These forests contain some of the largest quantities of high-value timber on the Far South Coast’.  The government has arranged a $2.5 million grant, from the Environment Trust, to help pay for logs from forests to the north.

Clearly the NSW government has no qualms about spending money, intended to improve the environment, on increasing logging intensity in the Southern Region.

Reactions to the announcement, from die-back deniers Chipstop’s Harriet Swift and the OE&H’s senior threatened species officer Chris Allen were similar, with the latter quoted as saying “[The conversion] is a good outcome for these forests,”.

While having forestry out of the picture removes one obstacle,  the OE&H/NPWS dilemma and its cheer squad, the conservation movement, pay as much attention to the National Forest Policy Statement as forestry and the loggers do.

I suppose this represents some sort of balance, but it does seem to come at a cost, active and adaptive management for example.

An ABC report suggests a single name has been proposed for the flora reserves in the map above, the ‘Murrah Flora Reserves’.  Not sure it will catch on though.

Earlier this month Greens Senators Lee Rhiannon and Janet Rice traveled to southeast NSW gathering evidence on how the RFA’s have failed and why ending the native forest logging should be a focus for the up coming federal election. Examples cited were recent logging in Nullica SF, where there was a Spotted tailed quoll record and bulldozing wombats in Glenbog SF.

There were several responses from the logging industry. Sawmiller from Blue Ridge Hardwoods, Allan Richards suggested it is ludicrous to think native species are protected in National Parks.  He argued the Greens don’t appear to have a clear policy of wildfire management and despite taxpayers providing $60 per hectare/annum for National park management, wildfire, due to not enough fuel reduction, kills most animals.

Not sure how that sits with the NPWS policy to burn everywhere once every twenty years, although recent research suggests fuel reduction burning provides little ‘leverage’ against bushfire in this bioregion.

In addition and regrettably, in this case Forestry decided to log at a time when the debris would be left over summer. The Merimbula News reports this lack of consideration is now a concern for local residents and the Rural Fire Service.

Another comment suggested Nullica forest was last logged in 1974, there are no quolls and there are thousands of hectares of forest for the species, while this area regenerates.

Cpt618-19Just to get a handle on the compartments of concern, I downloaded the Harvesting Plan, the Operations map from which is above. As it turns out and as indicated on the map, Forestry have changed the boundary between the compartments. Last I heard and although they can muck around with internal areas, changing compartment boundaries is not permitted.

According to data FCNSW provided for the Eden RFA, logging in 1974 was confined to the lower portion of Cpt 618, the same area was logged again on this occasion, something else that isn’t permitted. However, estimated timber volumes were only provided for Cpt 619, indicating a total standing volume of 376 cm of sawlog and 8,160 of pulp logs.

Despite this estimate, the Harvesting Plan suggests some 15,712 cm had previously been removed from the compartment,  this event estimated to provide another 1,949 cm.

Among the ways to consider these discrepancies is the potential that the original volume estimates were either half right, or 100% wrong. The latter being more consistent with current native forest management and another reason for a different approach.

Recent calls to cull koalas on the north coast due to disease, raise the question about the level of stress koalas are under the factors contributing to it. The idea is to ‘humanely euthanize’ sick koalas, so they are not passing on chlamydia to others.This could lead to an increased number of healthier koalas, if other factors aren’t at play.

Co-incidentally, the proposal was followed by another article about Manna gum die-back on the Monaro and more on Vic Jurskis new book ‘Firestick ecology‘, referred to in the die-back article.

Interestingly, researchers looking into Monaro die-back have found ” . . . absence or presence of recent fire or pasture improvement made no difference to the trees’ health.”

While there is no doubt Aboriginals used fire in grassy environments, Vic’s theory requires pre-european inhabitants to burn every where.On this occasion, die-back on the eastern side Murrabrine Mountain, between Quaama and Cobargo, was one of Vic’s examples of how things have changed, due to a lack of burning and grazing.

Formerly part of Murrabrine State Forest, the mountain and the rest of the state forest were transferred to Wadbilliga National Park in 1999. At this point it’s worth noting that this was only a year after the first extensive canopy die-back event in the Bio-region, during the El nino in 1998. Not sure if Vic refers to this in his book though.

The only reason it was State Forest is due to the size of the trees, further to the west in Wadbilliga where soils are shallower, trees become smaller. Despite this desirability, the area was never logged, because it is generally too steep, as indicated in the map of slope classes below.

murrabslp2 Based on historic observations, the lack of grass, kangaroos and steep slopes suggest it is unlikely that much hunting would have taken place. Vic also suggested forestry would have leased the area for grazing, although again the steep slopes and lack of grass would seem to rule that out.

According to the recent fire history for the area, any Aboriginal burning would have ceased over 150 years ago, most of the eastern side of the mountain was burned in a wildfire during 1980. A fuel reduction burn was undertaken over most of the eastern side in 1990 and areas within this were burned again during 2003.

Much of eastern side of the mountain is in the Narira Creek catchment, of which close to 70% has been cleared. It seems likely that the focus of aboriginal grass burning for kangaroo hunting, would have been the more gentle slopes, on the now cleared land around much of the mountain.

In addition and for many sensible reasons, Aboriginal interests in the region were mainly focused on seaside activities. Mountains invariably have cultural significance and are frequently considered to contain scared places.

While forestry has its theory, their regulators, the EPA/OEH calamity prefer the climate change theory, so everyone is responsible and change is not necessary. They both can’t be right and until the loss of  biodiversity, as agreed by all governments,  is ruled out of creating problems for  forests and koalas, the differences of opinion will remain.

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