Congratulations go to the Nature Conservation Council, on its successful legal challenge, earlier this month, to the NSW government’s land clearing laws. Although it does seems likely the government will come back with something similarly appalling.

In that regard, pro-logging Rob de Fegely, currently Chair of Sustainable Timber Tasmania, Co-chair of the Commonwealth Government’s Forest Industry Advisory Council and a member of the Far South Coast Regional Advisory Committee for NSW National Parks, recently spoke about his preferred approach to south east forests.

According to Rob ‘it’s time people step up, be brave, put politics aside, and re-engage in what has been a divisive and emotionally charged issue’. He went on to ask “ . . . As a private landholder I am likely to improve habitat for lyrebirds, koalas, bandicoots, and potoroos, but where is the direction to do that? . . . And how do we build that across the landscape to link in with National Parks, the Forestry Corporation, Crown Lands and others to develop a system across the South East where we would end up with a landscape we are all proud of?”

Co-coinciding with Robs questions has been the release of twenty spotted quolls into federal land, Booderee National Park at Jervis Bay. This follows the previous apparently successful release of bettongs, bandicoots and potoroos, the latter from forests around Eden.

Having stepped up and submitted some brief comments on the RFA rollover, largely a rehash of the flora reserve comments. It is difficult to escape the conclusion that the greatest impediment to any positive change is the Forestry Corporation.  This seems particularly the case given its general disregard for forests and threatened species.  On the other hand my recent meeting with the NPWS, in the Flora reserve, was at least amicable, although who knows what will come of it.

I was advised that some sort of report will be produced on the 30 odd submissions received about the reserve draft plan, prior to the release of final plan. The final plan for the Flora reserves is similar to the clearing laws, because it too requires the agreement of the NSW environment Minister and the primary industries Minister. While hoping for a positive outcome, It seems likely the latter Minister will have a significant influence.


Forestry Corporation has released its proposed logging schedule for the financial year. Included in the list are two compartments, 2069 and 2003, in Bermagui State Forest. Of particular interest is 2069 that was last logged back in 2011/12.

At the time and as indicated in the Harvesting Plan map below, I though it was generous that logging was constrained to the east and west of the compartment. This left an intact strip in the center, connecting north to south.

Now not many years on, the intention is to trash all of it and the last intact connection between koalas in the Flora reserve and Kooraban National Park.As reported in the Narooma News, neighbours around Compartment 3058 of Corunna State Forest are concerned about it also being scheduled for logging. Corunna State Forest is about 20km north of the Bermagui compartments and there are koala records in and around both locations.

While forestry has acknowledged the potential presence of koalas, any notion that its arguably unAustalian approach translates to caring about any native species is unrealistic.

Assuming it happens, tomorrow I’m to meet with Kane, the Director – South Coast Branch NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service and Alan, the NPWS Manager Eurobodalla Area.

The purpose of the meeting is so Kane and Alan can inspect the fence.I’m not exactly sure what this involves, although I guess many fences don’t have wombat gates and overhead access points. So this fence is a little different to others.

Of course it’s possible that like Forestry, the NPWS may prefer to get rid of the fence. Should that be the case, I probably won’t be much help.

The Regional Forest Agreement drop in sessions featured on radio and in print this week. What hadn’t been previously revealed was ” two invitation-only meetings for industry and environmental stakeholders”.  While several conservation groups had suggested they would be boycotting the sessions. It seems some did attend the invitation only meetings, although none have to up their hands to confirm attendance, so far.

Local ABC radio interviewed a few people at the Eden meeting including former BVSC Greens councilor Keith Hughes. Keith suggested the RFA renewal is largely based on supporting the large financial investment, associated with logging. This suggestion was confirmed in a Narooma News story quoting NSW Department of Primary Industry representative Nick Milham – “We’ve heard from industry that the long-term security that the RFAs provide for them is absolutely critical because it provides them with that longer-term security to enable them to invest in what are significantly capital-intensive industries,”.

Of course if one is going to invest in cutting down trees, it’s a good idea to have the trees to cut down.

In that regard, it seems the Koala surveys did not return to the original plots, so a plot to plot comparison is not possible. However, as reducing soil fertility is a general trend, broader comparisons should identify associated changes to species composition. The following chart, featuring Silvertop Ash and Black forest oak ranked by diameter classes, is based on data from trees (n = 17,670), recorded during the 2006-2008 surveys.

At the time Silvertop ash accounted for 9.9% of all trees above 150mm DBH. Black she- oak accounted for 11.1% of the trees.

The next chart also features Silvertop Ash and Black forest oak ranked by diameter classes, is based on data from trees (n = 9,360), recorded during the 2016-2017 surveys.
Silvertop ash now account for 14.1 % of all trees above 150mm DBH. Black she-oak accounts for 18.2% of the trees.

Earlier this week, on ABC radio, Eurobodalla conservationist Mike Thompson spoke about the flora reserves and koalas. It seems Mike was responding to my most recent letter to the editor titled ‘Koala extinction plan on track’. Like most of the conservation movement on the south coast, Mike didn’t refer to dying forests.

Rather and among other things, he mentioned our local state parliament member, Andrew Constance. In particular Andrew’s statement that the flora reserves could be logged, in the future.

Mike suggested the best option for koalas is turning the reserves into National Park. If this happened, the management boards for Gulaga and Biamanga NPs may have an influence. Unfortunately, the boards don’t appear to have much influence over management in current National Parks.

What’s arguably more important, in the short term, are the details of the final working plan for the reserves. These may provide the leverage to modify the Regional Forest Agreements, given the federal koala listing. Naturally, there is no certainty and it will require going where the majority of the conservation prefer not to go. Particularly the dieback issue in National Parks and the associated inadequacy of state government forest regulations and management.


As reported in the Bega District News, on Thursday a workshop was held in an effort to re-introduce Aboriginal cultural burning. It brought together tablelands and coastal Aboriginals and there was a strong turnout of NSW government agencies. These included Local Land Services, Rural Fire Service, NSW Parks and Wildlife and the Forestry corporation.

Three sites have been selected at Wallagoot, Bermagui and Narooma, with the burns planned over four days in autumn.

While supportive of burning in grassy ecosystems, because there is evidence it increases the diversity of native grasses and herbaceous species. The article refers to observations indicating the ‘ bush is dense with native invasive species’ and burning will be undertaken in ‘different vegetation types’.

My concern is that the most influential of the agencies, Forestry Corp, believes burning is the cure for all forest health issues in all forest types. So it would be a shame if true cultural burning was somehow co-opted, to fit forestry’s single aim, further degrading all forests.

Similarly it would be a shame if such an outcome led to another falling out between Aboriginals. Apparently depicted in the painting above, is a battle back in 1825 at Barrabaroo (Yuin Aboriginal for ‘Fighting Ground’) Creek near Cobargo. Early settlers counted 70 bodies left on the grassy flood plains, after the battle between tablelands and coastal Aborigines.

As reported by Sue Arnold in the Independent, the NSW Scientific Committee has rejected a nomination to list koalas around Port Stephens as an endangered population.
According to Sue ” . . . The Turnbull Government is overseeing a thoughtless extinction plan, dressed up as conservation, in which the koala will not survive.

While the Scientific committee’s determination acknowledges the population fits the criteria for listing as an endangered population. Under a previously unpublicised intergovernmental MOU this is now not possible, as per the following quote from the determination.

” . . . 18.Under clause 2.2 of the Intergovernmental memorandum of understanding relating to the agreement on a common assessment method for listing of threatened species and threatened ecological communities (CAM MOU 2015), a population of a species is not eligible to be listed as threatened if the species is separately listed as a threatened species under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999.”

Probably not co-incidentally, the NSW and Federal governments are now seeking ” feedback on five-yearly implementation reviews of RFAs and how to extend them for an additional 20-year term.”
The website goes on to suggest ” . . . Consultation will enable a full appraisal of the current RFAs covering the Eden, North East and Southern regions of NSW. It will also drive optimal implementation of new agreements, including what we can learn from our experience over the past 20 years.”

Regrettably, personal experience suggests forests managers have learned very little at a regional scale and this appears to be the situation throughout NSW.

For koalas in the Murrah Flora Reserves, the major issue should be trying to keep trees alive. Unfortunately , along with the rest of the NSW government the OE&H and FCNSW have a blockage when it comes to what trees grow in – soils.

What they rely on is the less than current information, some of which is in the table above, from a paper, Forestry’s holy grail,  titled Nutrient inputs from rainfall in NSW (Turner, Lambert and Knott, 1986). The fundamental argument in this paper is that virtually all the nutrients eucalyptus forests require fall with rain from the sky. So the loss of soil from erosion and dispersion won’t be an issue for hundreds of years.

Regrettably, this argument doesn’t really hold water, pardon the pun. The Calcium inputs from Mogo (4.2 kg haˉ¹ yrˉ¹), the closest station to the Murrah flora reserves, suggests 168 kgs of the nutrient would be deposited over a 40 year logging rotation. However a simple calculation for compartments logged in 1994, to be included in the reserve management plan comments, found around 1.4 tonnes of Calcium per hectare were likely to be removed or burned.

The replacement time for this volume Calcium from rainfall is 333.33 years. Of course this is before accounting for Sodium inputs, that counter the positive influence of calcium.

As reported in the Bega District News, this week the Forestry corporation and the OE&H released their long awaited final draft working plan, for the Murrah flora reserves.
According to the plan ” . . . The aim is that with the cessation of forestry and some specific management actions, koala recovery in the Murrah Flora Reserves and adjacent forest can be realised over time. This will be tested in the long term by monitoring and evaluation within an adaptive management framework.”

Regrettably, the OE&H’s adaptive management framework has some significant limitations. In particular the need to maintain the illusion, when prescriptions are followed, it regulates a sustainable logging industry. Hence the only referenced sentence on soils is ” . . . The steeper slopes are susceptible to erosion if disturbed (Tulau 1997).”

On forest condition the plan indicates ” . . . Mid storey structure and composition varies across the reserves, with a key management issue being the extent of black she-oak regrowth and other disturbance-generated tree and shrub species. These contribute to increased vertical fuel loads and prevent germination and regeneration of preferred koala species, particularly woollybutt.”

Another issue that could prevent the germination and regeneration of preferred koala species is soil loss and the associated reduction in soil fertility. For example, the harvesting plan for compartments 2080 and 2081, in Mumbulla SF and dated 11-8-1994, estimated an average of about 9.5 c/m of sawlogs and 85 tonnes of pulplogs per hectare would be removed in the operation. However, the estimated soil loss from the operation, only provided for cpt 2180, was 132.8 tonnes per hectare.

I recently revisited the vast area burned in the Cuttagee catchment, to get some shots of brown and dry vertical fuel loads, now some months after the fire. Coincidentally, I came across two of the recently established research plots. As indicated in the photo above, this one is on relatively flat ground. Some silvertop-ash and all the black she-oak have been cut down and placed into piles. Retained trees are mostly silertop-ash, a couple of spindly stringy-barks and a hickory wattle.Walking around the plot it was clear that all of the silver-top ash have coppiced, with multiple stems growing from the stumps. In addition there are dozens of hickory wattle seedlings in the plot. Both of these outcomes will increase vertical fuel loads, although unlike forest around the plot, these fuel loads won’t be brown and dry.

In the second plot below, on a steep slope, three large woollybuts have been retained  during logging and it appears all of the regrowth trees were black-oak. These have been cut down and placed as one would make a bonfire. It appears attempts were made to burn the bonfire, although the timber was clearly too wet to burn. Hickory wattle seedling were also evident in this plot, although there were fewer than the first plot, perhaps due to erosion of the exposed soils. 

Forestry and the OE&H are accepting comments on the plan until January 31, 2018.

Last year the OE&H suggested they were going to release their management plan for the Murrah Flora Reserve, in the middle of this year. Now six months on and with the festive season looming, it seems unlikely the plan will appear this year. While there may be several reasons for the delay, it is possible one of these is connected to the restructure of the NPSW and the recommendations of a report titled ‘Management of public land in NSW.’

The report was produced by the General purpose standing committee No.5, for the NSW Legislative Council in 2013. It suggests ” . . . that reservation is not the only means to protect biodiversity and that conservation outcomes can be achieved alongside other land uses. The Committee therefore recommends that there be investigation into the wider application of the multiple land-use model in public land management in New South Wales (Recommendation 1.2) in recognition that public lands can be managed for a range of purposes while achieving the best conservation outcomes for that land.”

Of course apart from National Parks, logging is only other use for public forests.

The report also indicates ” . . . The Inquiry also heard evidence that effective conservation management and planning is best done with a tenure-blind approach, working to improve natural vegetation corridors and ecological health across the landscape.” It goes on to recommend starting a nil or blind tenure approach ” . . . beginning with fire, pests and weeds and conservation management, to ensure consistency and improved land management outcomes for both public and private land managers. ”

The only issue is whether the current approach, in a different and one assumes cheaper format, will lead to improved land management outcomes.

When it comes to koalas, all the evidence confirms past and present management is essentially aimed at deforestation and species extinction. So while I expect no change in the NSW government’s approach, the Regional Forest Agreements were supposed to usher in some accountability.

Forestry were supposed to have a forest inventory, but they haven’t. Similarly the NPWS should be required to demonstrate its broad acre burning leads to improved outcomes, as opposed to an increased threat of wildfire.

Apart from threatening humans, the cost associated with current fire management include the loss of many species, like the large stick insect (Ctenomorpha chronus) in the photo.

Thankfully this one survived physical thinning of forest oaks, although the outcome from burning would have been a barbecued stick insect, all other  insect and any koalas in the area.

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