Archive

Biomass

As part of it’s asset protection works, the NPWS have been clearing around critical assets – road signs. While such work is expected, the methods employed seem to be inconsistent with the latest koala Priority Action Statement (PAS).

According to the PAS – ” . . . Intense prescribed burns or wildfires that scorch or burn the tree canopy : Liaise with relevant authorities or land managers to ensure that identified koala habitat areas are defined as assets for protection in fire planning tools when managing wildfires and prior to any hazard reduction burns. Promote best practice fire management protocols in areas of significant koala populations. Liaise with authorities or land managers to ensure that any unavoidable prescribed burns within koala habitat are conducted in a way that minimises impacts on koala habitat.”

As indicated in the picture below, the clearing involved cutting down two trees. If reducing fire hazard was the aim, cutting the tree trunks a metre off the ground, thereby creating standing dead wood, seems inconsistent with this aim. Similarly the heads of the trees, have been pushed under adjacent trees, creating fine fuels, also a metre above the ground. A simple solution would be to cut the trees down at ground level and remove the branches so the logging debris is all on the ground.

oak-cutting
Meanwhile the Nature Conservation Council is seeking donations to encourage more use of renewable energy, particularly wind and solar.

If local conservation groups were concerned about climate change and supported a different approach, the NCC could also push for the NPWS to move toward a carbon negative approach to management.

I expect the NPWS asset protection workers were driving a large diesel powered twin cab ute. An alternative vehicle could be a hybrid fossil fuel/ electric powered unit.

In that case the trunks of the aforementioned trees could be employed to generate electricity to power the vehicles. The charcoal from this process, about 90% carbon, could then be put in the ground. This approach would decrease CO2 emissions, increase soil water holding capacity, reduce soil acidity and perhaps aid in reducing die-back.

Of course, such an approach requires both support for and the implementation of best practice fire management protocols, in areas of significant koala populations.

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 Queensland government has recently released a report finding koala populations,  in the south east of the state, have declined by 80%.
According to the ABC ” . . . State Environment Minister Steven Miles has flagged a plan to establish an expert panel to point policy in the right direction.”
Minister Miles is quoted saying: ” . . . I think it’s time for an honest conversation with policy makers but also the public about what we think it will take to protect koalas. The alternative is doing what other governments have done, proclaim a solution then realise it’s not working. We need to determine some new action and it’s very much our intention to begin that in months not years.”
I couldn’t agree more about the need for an honest conversation about koalas. Along those lines, the notion of an expert panel has also been suggested, but is yet to eventuate. In part this may stem from the widely held belief that ‘protecting’ koalas can be achieved merely by stopping logging, even though the evidence proves otherwise.

carbon auction

Another impediment is the notion that re-vegetation will benefit koalas. The graphic above is a breakdown of the Clean Energy Regulator’s third Emissions Reduction Fund auction, held last month.

Locally,  the Bega District News ran a story about Far South Coast Landcare, moving into new premises. It referred to one of the organisations long-term projects, ‘the planting of 13,000 trees by children to re-vegetate a river corridor between Gulaga and Biamanga national parks’.
According to coordinator Dean Turner, “ . . . From all the survey work done over the last seven years we’ve got a lot of data about what is needed.” This statement would seem to be code for- ‘we planted the former primary koala feed trees but they didn’t grow’. As I understand it, secondary feed species trees are now being planted, although as soils limitations are not a consideration, there is no information to suggest these trees will either grow or be suitable for koalas.
A major difference between the various state and federal re-vegetation projects would seem to be the level of reporting. For projects that ‘Plant seeds or seedlings on cleared land to establish a permanent forest’, the Clean Energy Regulator requires actual measurements, in combination with computer based ‘Reforestation Modelling Tools’. However, there appears to be no such requirement for federal Bio-fund projects or state government funded projects, even though it is all public money.

It may be a rash and perhaps bold thought,  but a consistent approach could be a ‘new action’ that policy makers could try. Of course locally it would require considering whether Forestry’s 1997 koala recovery plan remains the best approach, given it is consistently wrong.

Further to my whining about FCNSW and its approach to koala prescriptions in Glenbog SF, the EPA has advised that an environmental incident report has been created (Ref No C16939-2015). What happens next is anyone’s guess, but as reported in the Sydney Morning Herald, calls from the NCC and NEFA for a government inquiry into the running of NSW Forestry Corporation and its regulation are clearly overdue.
Back on the south coast there is none of that, rather Chipstop have started a petition calling on the chipmill to stop logging native forests. According to spokesperson Harriet Swift –
“ . . . The change in ownership of the Eden chip mill presents a wonderful opportunity for a fresh start, to leave behind the conflict, cruelty and catastrophic carbon emissions of native forest woodchipping. ANWE will be welcomed in the region as a plantation wood only facility, bringing new hope and a future for the region’s forests, their wildlife and communities. It is time to leave behind this outdated industry.”
Great in theory, although there isn’t much plantation hardwood around these parts. The chipmill owners did plant a couple of hundred hectares some years back, but the trees simply don’t grow.

charunit

 

At a local scale, it’s possible the NSW Scientific committee will release a preliminary determination on koalas from Dignams to Wapengo in coming months. Should this be the case, there are likely to be several implications for the IFOA ‘rewrite’ and forest management generally. Particularly with regard to soils.
Hence, my quest to implement restoration management continues with the latest bio-char unit in photo above. Some cement, mudbricks, corrugated iron, a 44 gallon drum and an old 100lb gas cylinder.
It doesn’t produce much char, on this trial 5.4kg. Based on a carbon price of $20 a tonne, it’s worth about 10 cents. However, the unit is designed so the ‘syngas’ exits the cylinder via a pipe, initially  venting under the cylinder to  assist in the heating process .
What surprised me is the volume of gas it produces and the roar it makes when burning sounds like a blast furnace. On the basis that more gas is produced than is necessary for the bio- char, the next step is to cobble together a gas storage tank – when it stops raining.

The Victorian government has recently confirmed it will be dropping its annual 5% burning target. Introduced as a result of the 2009 bushfires, the death knell for the target was a planned burn on State Forest near Lancefield, that jumped containment lines. Although the burn was intended to be 266 hectares, over 3,000 hectares, including several houses, sheds, stock, fences etc. were consumed before the fire was controlled.

According to the report on the fire the risks had not been adequately assessed, there was a series of cock-ups and in essence the fire, a spring time burn that coincided with Victoria’s earliest total fire ban, should never have been lit.

Rather than the target, the government has opted for a risk based approach to fuel management, to be introduced on July 1 2016. In the interim it is aiming to improve it’s communication with local communities and work toward developing methods for dedicated monitoring of ecosystem resilience, to gauge whether they are being maintained and improved.

Sounds like something the conservation movement should be pushing for in NSW. If that were the case, one of the considerations may be the value of burning in spring, when many critters like Blue wrens are trying to breed.

 

bluewren1

 

Further north, James Cook University put out a press release about a new study on koala genetics. Undertaken with  the University of Sydney and in partnership with the NGO Science for Wildlife organisation and San Diego Zoo, the study found that low levels of koala genetic diversity may not be the reason for declining populations and local extinctions.

Testing of  koala genetic samples from ‘ from all key locations on the east coast of Australia’  found diversity was greater than originally thought.  In addition little evidence was found to support the notion of three distinct koala sub-species, ranging from north to south.

According to Shannon Kjeldsen, a PhD student working on the project, “ . . . We know that it would be unwise to move koalas between these regions, because they live in different climates and have adapted to different environments, but we do not know where the management boundaries lie”

For its koala management boundaries the Federal government employed average annual rainfall. However, the issue is made a little more complex,  due to the translocated koalas.

In the absence of information to demonstrate otherwise, it could be assumed the NSW government has gone ahead with it’s proposal to translocate koalas from plantations in the Strzelecki ranges to the Southeast National Park. A significant difference between this proposal and koalas around Numerella, that we can be reasonably certain also came from Victoria, is the different climates. The Strzelecki ranges and Numerella being in the same Bio-region

The press JCU release also quotes Associate Professor Zenger saying ” . . . (the) management and implementation of a national koala conservation program was vitally important to protect this charismatic species.” I couldn’t agree more, although it’s difficult to see how the NSW government could be on the right track.

In the lead up to the climate change ‘Paris Agreement’ later this year, governments are supposed to submit “intended nationally determined contributions” (INDC), to aid in limiting predicted global temperature increases. The authoritative Climate Action Tracker rates Australia’s current attempts as ‘inadequate’ and it seems any INDC produced is unlikely to improve the rating.

Making things a little more difficult for governments, ABC’s PM program recently posted an interview with Professor David Lindenmeyer, from the Australian National University.

Employing the federal government’s “Fullcam” forest carbon modelling tool, Dr Lindenmeyer found a saving of 190 million tonnes of emissions, about 80% of the abatement requirements up til 2020, if native forest logging stopped at the end of this year. Correctly approached, this saving could lead to several billion dollars in forest carbon credits for ‘cash strapped state governments’, over the next five years. According to David, if the calculations are incorrect ‘ . . . we cannot faithfully and accurately report to the United Nations on emissions from native forest management’.

Not surprisingly Senator Richard Colbeck, federal parliamentary secretary for forestry differed suggesting, ” . . . I’ve looked at the science from very eminent Australian forest carbon scientists and they quite clearly show that a well-managed forest can provide – harvested and managed over time, can provide a better carbon outcome than one that’s just left fallow.”

While a more appropriate position for Senator Colbeck may be secretary for previously plowed paddocks, the advice from ‘very eminent Australian forest carbon scientists’ may not be the very best. In part this stems from ‘Fullcam’, because like any model its outputs are is only as good as the inputs.

Perhaps the major input limitation is the lack of broadscale tree inventory data, what the states were supposed to collect under the RFAs. These data are also supposed to provide input for the ‘Forest Productivity Index’, the driver for tree growth in the model. Other limitations include credible information on soil carbon, particularly with regard to repeated disturbance.

For many years Australian scientists have relied on the work of forestry to inform an understanding of soils and their limitations. Confirming this reliance is an oft cited study in Eden region forests, the ‘Effects of forest harvesting nutrient removals on soil nutrient reserves’ (Turner J and Lambert M, 1986). With regard to soil phosphorus the very optimistic paper suggested ” . . . at least four forest rotations (320 years) would be required before any detectable change would occur within forest communities.”

It goes on to say ” . . . A similar depletion estimate was calculated for the potentially most vulnerable cation, calcium.”, although subsequent soil analysis found significant calcium depletion in soils locally and regionally.

However, authors John and Marcia do sum up another reason koalas have been pushed to the edge, indicating ” . . . It would therefore appear probable that, during logging, relatively higher quantities of nutrients could be removed from the more fertile sites.”

baitstation

 

Also on the ABC this week, the North East Forest Alliance says it has lost confidence in the Environment Protection Authority, claiming the EPA is allowing ‘environmental vandalism’. According to NEFA spokesperson Dialan Pugh, ” . . . the State Government is trying to re-zone 143 thousand hectares of native forest on the north coast for intensive clear-fell logging.”

The EPA expressed its disappointment with NEFA’s comments, a spokeswoman suggesting they ‘have attempted to engage conservation groups about the reform process’.

Tragically the NSW government’s attempts to prop up an unsustainable industry fall short on many levels, including locally.

An example is in the photo above, taken a day or two after FCNSW recently placed some dirt a 1080 bait . Although a bit difficult to decipher, a wombat noticed the disturbance and had a scratch in the pink circle.

Around the same time a smaller animal, perhaps a bush rat or antichinus, dug a hole, indicated at pink arrow head, down to the chooks head bait and ate some of it.

While the fate of this animal is unknown, the next explorer was a blowfly that, no doubt laid some maggots.

Such matters aren’t the focus of the IFOA reform process, although there is an argument to suggest that along with unsustainable logging, they should be.

 

The NSW government has released three reports associated with its remake of the Coastal Integrated Forestry Operations Approvals (IFOA). The reports provide details of ‘key themes’ from community information sessions, dated April 2014.

A summary of submissions to the IFOA remake discussion paper and a progress report on the so-called ‘multi-scale landscape’ approach for threatened species.

Of course the reasons for the the IFOA remake are essentially that timber supplies are unsustainable, FCNSW timber estimates are a joke and they are broke. Such matters are not being considered, although reference is made to the buy-back of ‘approximately 50,000 cubic metres of timber allocations on the NSW north coast annually for the next nine years’. Thus ensuring ‘the long-term sustainable supply of timber from the forests in this region’.  Although the NSW government set the timber volumes in contradiction to the RFA requirements, any changes to supply allowances will be part of the RFA reviews, in the next few years.

The short term reliance on FCNSW’s expertise also extends to BMAD with the government suggesting ” . . . The IFOA will require FCNSW to assess and reduce the risks to achieving forest regeneration. This will include consideration of BMAD risks where appropriate and effective measures to reduce these risks.”

AS FCNSW have recently stated it sees BMAD as a strategic issue and like the rest of the government, has no effective measures to assess or reduce its spread, this would seem to be another government cop out. A draft of the ‘new coastal IFOA’ will be released for public comment later in the year.

waste timber
Closer to home the Bega District News ran another report on the inclusion of native forest waste into the renewable energy target. South East Fibre Export’s Peter Mitchell reiterated they have no plans to produce electricity, perhaps because the regulation doesn’t seem to provide for integrated logging. However, he did indicate that the wood pellet plant they set up a few years back and subsequently moth-balled, will be leased this year and resume production.

The pellet plant can produce 250 kilograms per hour and when burned in a suitable unit, the pellets are far more efficient than burning solid wood. Hence the technology is supportable but the source of the biomass isn’t.

The shot above is waste timber at the Bermagui tip, part of the Bega Shire. There is another pile of less woody biomass that accumulates a similar volume every month at the tip. These piles are wood chipped and used as mulch.

An alternative use, that includes an element of cost recovery is arguably more appropriate for this biomass. Regrettably the Bega Greens, led by Greens councilor Keith Hughes, are totally opposed to such ideas, even though it could help reduce the number of trees FCNSW cuts down for fire wood.

Speaking of Bega Shire Council, last week they were kind enough to grade just over a kilometer of road Sindals road in Mumbulla State Forest. FCNSW haven’t maintained it for many years and the large quantities of soil and sediment it produces go almost directly into Wapengo lake. This may have been a reason for Council’s intervention, but of greater  interest is the quite different and arguably more environmentally friendly methods employed by Council’s gravel road maintenance team. Relative to FCNSW’s less friendly methods, approved by the EPA.

%d bloggers like this: