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Following up on the National Koala Conference, with thanks to Cheryl for providing the link, a detailed blog post has been written titled ‘Koalas are being driven towards extinction’.

While convincing me that the Federal government’s listing should have applied to all koalas. I am also supportive of the suggestion that ” . . . for koalas to survive, protection of their habitat has to be the top priority.”

The only problem being, understanding what is happening to koala habitat is not straight forward, even when it’s supposedly protected.

For example, at Gunnedah, where 25% of koalas died during a heatwave in 2009, researchers have been providing water to koalas, from ‘blinky drinkers’, designed by a local farmer.
They have found koalas are regularly drinking water during winter, when the research began. This departure from the general perception, that koalas get all their water from leaves, could reflect a reduction in soil fertility, including Soil Water Holding capacity.

Another threat to this population is the proposed Shenhua Watermark Coal mine. The NSW government has recently bought back the rights to 51% of the coal exploration area. Unfortunately, this area is largely cropping land and the areas occupied by koalas remain under threat.

Also speaking at the conference was James Fitzgerald, about the growing koala population on the southern tablelands and their bark chewing. According to James koalas are drawn to particular trees that have a higher sodium content in the bark. Hence, they are raking around the base of these trees to protect them from fuel reduction burns.

Another approach, given trees can only lose so much bark before they die, would be to provide ‘salt licks’ for koalas. These are readily available at any stock feed outlet and could help both koalas and trees.

There isn’t reference to the talk about south coast koalas in the article. Although with regard to fuel reduction burning, the timber in the photo below is from dead Silver-top ash, the main eucalyptus regrowth after integrated logging. All of this biomass, taken from a 10 x 10 metre plot, would be consumed in a fuel reduction burn.

The next shot is shows the timber from particular live and dead Allocasuarina littoralis trees, in the same plot. Most of these trees would die in a fuel reduction burn, largely cancelling any benefit from the burning.

The benefits from removing some of the trees include, actually lowering the potential impact of wildfire on live eucalyptus, maintaining soil cover and habitat for ground dwelling species, along with providing woody biomass for other more useful and less polluting purposes.

All up, just over 1 cubic metre of of woody biomass, equating to something above 100 tonnes per hectare, has been removed from the plot. If this growth had all gone into eucalyptus trees, the Forestry Corporation could rightly claim its management works. Shame about that.

As reported on the ABC this week, the Clean Energy Finance Corporation (CEFC)” . . . has asked political leaders to actively consider using organic matter as fuel as an option to bolster the baseload energy supply.” CEFC chief executive, Paul McCartey, stressed that “forests or plantations used for the biomass had to be certified under a recognised brand as sustainable.”

Of course this includes all native forests certified under the less than adequate Australian Forestry Standard. So there was a less than supportive response from the conservation movement.

While open to the use of biomass from plantations, Greens’ forestry spokeswoman, Janet Rice said ” . . . There are just far too many potential holes in the legislation which would allow wood from native forests to be able to be used.” NCC chief executive Kate Smolski said ” . . . Instead of considering feeding what remains of our forests into power plants, all public native forests should be protected following the expiry of the RFAs and the industry transitioned to 100 per cent plantation.”

While this sounds all very well, the notion that native forests are protected under NPWS management is a tad unrealistic. Indeed, based on current information the volume of CO2 pumped annually into the atmosphere, from the NPWS’s counter-conservation burning, must be very close to forestry’s contribution. From that perspective and given the negative impacts most fire has on forests, alternative management methods are required.

In particular, reducing the wildfire hazard in regrowth forests through low impact biomass removal. So the biomass can be used for gasification and power production while the carbon, in the form of charcoal, can be sequestered in the soil. The regrowth forest management issue was raised at the recent forest forum, both by myself and a representative from East Gippland. So the message may get through, eventually.

Home-sized biomass gasification unit

Last week the NSW Environment Minister Gabrielle Upton announced more funding for koalas indicating ” . . .This $10 million investment is in addition to the $2.5 million allocated for the creation in March 2016 of flora reserves totalling 120 square kilometres on the South Coast, run by the National Parks and Wildlife Service, to protect the last known local koala population.”

Last month NSW Legislative Council Greens member, Ms Dawn Walker asked the questions on notice pasted below, with answers due by 28 June. While the distribution of the $2.5 million logging subsidy is of interest. The NSW government’s response to the last question may be more useful.

1592 LANDS AND FORESTRY—MURRAH FLORA RESERVE—Ms Walker to ask the Minister for Primary Industries, Minister for Regional Water, Minister for Trade and Industry representing the
Minister for Lands and Forestry, and Minister for Racing—
(1) In relation to the $2.5 million allocated from the NSW Environmental Trust to Forestry Corporation of NSW for a haulage subsidy to source alternative logs following the declaration of the Murrah Flora Reserves:
(a) how much haulage subsidy was allocated in 2015-16?
(b) how much haulage subsidy was allocated in 2016-17?
(2) Does the Commonwealth Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 apply in State Forest flora reserves such as the Murrah Flora Reserves?

Early next month the Port Macquarie Koala Hospital will be hosting the second national koala conference. Among the 30 or so speakers at the conference is OE&H employee Chris Allen, giving a talk titled ‘Fire & habitat rehabilitation in the SE forests of NSW’.

While I expect the talk will focus on the OE&H’s claims it is protecting koalas from fire and planting trees on cleared land will help them. I also expect there will be no disagreement with these claims. On the fire issue, it is now a few weeks since the first burn was ignited in the Cuttagee catchment. During that time the scorched leaves on eucalyptus have turned brown as indicated below.


Also during this time the scorched needles on forest oaks have fully cured and also turned brown. Apart from some remaining large trees with black trunks, the whole area is now brown.

Prior to the fire, 30 years of litter, mostly from the oaks, provided soil cover that formed a thick mat, partially welded together through the actions of various fungi. Post the fire, the greatly reduced litter layer will be dry and loose. Coupled with the dead oaks, the outcome, come next summer, would seem to be ideal conditions for a rapidly moving wildfire.

Added to all this, yesterday and last night we received 100mm of rain, a large proportion of which was high intensity rainfall. While this issue could be taken up with local government, getting the OE&H to be a bit more accountable would help.

Sometime in the not too distant past, OE&H supporter the South East Region Conservation Alliance announced that its website will not be updated. No reasons are provided, but it’s safe to say that SERCA has not been an effective agent for change.

So it was interesting to receive the message below, recently posted on a local mailing list.

———————————————————————–
In 2019 the Regional Forest Agreement (RFA), which underpins the native forest industry in our region, expires. We understand that government preference is for an automatic rollover with no public consultation. We consider this to be unacceptable.
On Sunday June 11 at the Tathra hall, we will be holding a forest forum which is an initial step in promoting the message that there are better uses for our native forests than woodchipping. Local environmentalists have been developing alternative forest strategies and the time has come for wider community involvement.
You will receive a more detailed notice of June 11 proceedings closer to the day. In the meantime, we ask that you flag the date and mention it to friends.
David Gallan
Tim Taysom
President Vice-President
National Parks Association (Far South Coast Branch)

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

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.

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