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Ferals

Hearing news of the alleged illegal interstate waste dumping, aired on Four Corners last Monday, was a bit of a blast from the past. As it transpired the EPA’s director of waste management, Steve Beaman, was one of the first EPA employees I encountered back in the early 1990’s.

At the time the issue was logging in the Murrah catchment and concerns about the adequacy of what was then Forestry’s Environment Pollution Licence. One of the concerns was soil erosion and how the volume (tonnes) of soil lost after logging was being calculated.

Forestry relied on the broad map of geology, reproduced below, but a bit blurry. However the geology in the ellipse, where four compartments were being logged, wasn’t consistent with the map. After visiting the site and taking samples, Steve Beaman agreed the geology was not consistent with the leucogranite and sandstone indicated on the map.

However, Mr Beaman couldn’t say what sort of rocks they were because he had never seen them before. In one of these compartments, after the first large rainfall event, the majority of soil disappeared, leaving behind a course grained white quartz.

It was a couple of years after this that the EPA dropped the geology thing and allowed forestry to determine if soils were dispersible, rather than use the published soils data.
While one trusts the Independent Commission Against Corruption puts an end to the waste rort, the land degradation and pollution from logging is arguably just as corrupt. Two of the compartments, including the white one, were later put into Biamanga National Park.

Arguably the greatest advance in feral animal control over recent times has been the feral cat grooming trap or ‘felixer’. According the the information brochure “. . . Feral cats are the greatest threat to native wildlife in Australia. They have been implicated in at least 27 mammal extinctions across Australia and currently threaten more than 100 native species, including mammals, lizards and ground nesting birds. ”

To address this situation ” . . . The Ecological Horizons grooming trap uses sensors to detect the presence of a feral cat and sprays a lethal dose of toxic gel onto its fur from up to 4 metres away as it is walking past. The feral cat instinctively grooms the gel and in doing so ingests the lethal dose of the poison and dies.”

While looking forward to the deployment of these units at a bio-regional scale, the technology may have other useful applications. In particular closing a gate when a cat or fox is detected.
Such a device would enable one or more entrances in a fence to be kept open, for much of the time. Hence other species like kangaroos and wallabies could get into and out of fenced areas. The same applies to reintroduced species, should they breed up.

Earlier this week I set up an open container, with 5 litres of water in it, at a location where previously, the home ranges of a female and male koala overlapped. There were some possum scats at the base of the tree, but when setting up the camera, I came across some recent koala pellets.

The following day I went to check the camera and found a fresh koala pellet beside the tripod. Putting one and one together, I looked up the tree and there was a koala. It seems the beast had seen me first and was moving slowly toward the top of the tree. So I departed and came back a few hours later. Just visible in the photo below, the koala had moved back down the tree and appeared to be asleep, with one large and very furry ear pointing skywards.

 

It was gone the next day, with no indication it had an interest in the water. However, what I came across on the way was a pair of foxes, copulating on the road. The car appearing lead to a rapid decoupling and they both dashed into the bush.

The location of this sighting is about 50 metres from one of the NPWS’s 1080 bait stations. In this case, there was no sign that the bait had been dug up. The NPWS made a small change to Forestry’s baiting, moving the bait locations some metres back from the road. While there is no information to suggest this minor change may have reduced the number of foxes finding the baits. It does raise again, the issue of how effective the baiting program is and how it could be improved.

On the shotgun issue, Bega Shire Council has advised that the Bermagui Shotgun club are attempting to double the number of days they shoot at the Murrah range. Currently they are constrained to 12 days a years and a previous Council rejected an attempt to increase the number of shooting days.

While there has never been much support for the club in the local community, there is no certainty about which way the new Council will go. Rather it may be a question of how many councilors agree with the suggestion’s, particularly the one about koalas, on the shotgun clubs website, pasted below.

” . . . Protesters continued with personal attacks; claims of damage to habitat of non existent koalas and sooty owls; ingestion of lead by wildlife and stock; claims that 11.5 tonnes of lead would be washed into the Murrah River 1km away. “

 

Forestry Corporation has announced it plans to burn up to 20,000 hectares on the south coast this year, claiming it is ‘critical to our capacity to manage wildfires over summer.’ The burns will also include areas that have recently been logged to ‘create a rich seed bed that promotes forest regrowth’.

Of course there is no evidence to support these claims, rather there is much evidence to disprove them. The problem is that many are prepared to believe it, apparently assuming Forestry Corporation know and can rationally explain, what they are doing.

For its part, it is now eight months since the OE&H announced the composition, twelve men and one woman, of its gender unequal flora reserve working group. Despite the passage of time, there has not been one announcement from this group. Similarly, the OE&H are yet to respond to my relatively straight forward request for contact details.

In the hope, neurotic though it may be, of getting some movement. I’ve sent the request, along with some background information, to the NSW Environment Minister, the Hon. Gabrielle Upton, inviting her to respond.

According to the Ministers website, the response time can be up to 20 working days, depending on the complexity of the request.

Last month a new Korean strain of the rabbit calicivirus was released at 1000 sites across the nation. The impact on rabbits is not expected to be as great as the original release of the virus, or the first release of Myxomatosis, back in 1950.

At that time, the national population of rabbits was reduced from an estimated 600 million, down to 100 million. Not surprisingly this reduction would have had a significant negative impact on rabbit predators, particularly foxes.

One probable outcome is increased fox predation on native species and as experienced in most coastal forests, a reduction or extinction of native species necessary to maintain soil fertility and forest health.

Moving forward to the 1960’s, the Forestry Commission observes a general reduction in forest growth. Consequently, Forestry forms the belief that the downturn is due to many years of selective logging. So it moves toward integrated logging, opening up the canopy to ‘create a rich seed bed that promotes forest regrowth’.

Luckily Forestry doesn’t need everyone to believe its claims, just its regulators, the OE&H and the EPA.

The NSW government has released its Chief Scientist and Engineers report on koalas.  Apparently forming the basis of a revised approach, the report makes 11 recommendations ‘to inform the development of a NSW koala strategy’.

The first recommendation is “That Government adopt a whole-of-government koala strategy for NSW with the objective of stabilising and then starting to increase koala numbers.” Unfortunately,  some significant issues around notions of ‘whole-of-government’ approach, given the differing opinions about how the environment and forest actually work. However, number six is “That Government investigate models for guiding and incentivising collaborative best practice for development and ongoing land use occurring in areas of known koala populations across tenures, industries and land users.”

Theoretically, such an approach could have some significant positive outcomes. Regrettably the major hurdle would seem to be the notion that the OE&H’s past and current do nothing approach will stabilize and increase koala numbers. Nothing could be further from the truth and it seems unlikely there will be much change, while a scientific understanding about forest decline continues to be minimised or ignored.

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Over the past couple of weeks South East Forest Rescue has halted illegal logging in compartment 2433 of Tantawangalo State Forest on two occasions. The major issue was the protection, or lack of it, for rocky outcrops. The Harvesting Plan indicates Cpt 2433 is one of nine contiguous compartments, approved for logging late last year. The location of the compartments is immediately above the area of National Park where the government had intended to translocate koalas from Victoria.

There are two koala records in the compartments, although perhaps not surprisingly, there is no indication FCNSW followed the prescriptions required for koalas. However, the map above is from a complaint SEFE lodged with the OE&H back in 2011. In this case koalas were located and the four blue circles are alleged to be the areas where logging didn’t proceed during the operation.

Number seven of the Chief Scientists recommendations indicates ” That Government agencies identify priority areas of land across tenures to target for koala conservation management and threat mitigation.”  So it seems worthwhile, early in the new year, to take a trip to the area, just to see whether the prescriptions were implements, effective and koalas still exist.

Life is littered with ironies, so while Forestry Corporation received a South Coast tourism award last week, for general tourism services. In the same week a fire started at Blue Ridge hardwoods sawmill at Eden, putting the operation out of action for an unspecified period.

The tourism award was apparently for providing things like the Bodalla rest area, last logged in 2014. Of course this was not your standard selective logging operation, because they had to clean the place up afterwards.

The costs associated with the clean up, chipping heads and branches of trees on site, grinding tree stumps, repairing other damage and the like, would have been quite substantial. Of course this was prior to forestry realising it had additional 40,000 cm³ around Batemans Bay to keep Blue Ridge going, given the temporary loss of resource in the flora reserves.

 

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Also last week, ABC radio had an interview with Dr George Wilson, based at the ANU, about the need for more private input into species conservation. In an ANU press release Dr Wilson says ” . . . Business as usual for threatened species is not working – lists are getting longer and threats from predators and habitat loss are getting worse.The private sector can help but it is shut out by government legislation that maintains control over both operations and ownership.”

He proposes incentives for landholders to lease animals, so they can “ . . .  acquire and breed threatened species in extensive predator-free facilities,”

I couldn’t agree more, but to finish this predator free facility, the new concrete strip access road, form work for which is pictured above, has to be completed. This road will replace the environmentally undesirable side cut road, within the fenced area. Just need the workers, the concrete truck and the weather to come together, at the same time.

On broader management issues, I hear the NPWS/OE&H will be releasing their management proposals for the flora reserves in the next week or so. One can only trust that it at least considers issues beyond business as usual.

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.

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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.

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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.

Last week the federal government launched its ‘Living safe together’ campaign. The campaign has attracted some publicity, criticism and derision in social media.  Attracting the most criticism is a booklet  titled ‘Preventing violent extremism and radicalisation in Australia’ , in particular a fictitious case study about ‘Karen’.

According to the booklet, Karen’s issues began when she left home to go to university, where she gets involved in the alternative music scene, student politics and left-wing activism. After a while she dropped out of Uni and joined a ‘forest camp’. The goal of the forest camp was to disrupt logging activities through barricades, spiking trees, sabotaging machinery etc. No one was hurt but Karen was becoming more removed from proper non caring society. Eventually she decides to go back to uni and now works  ‘towards developing a sustainable solution using the legal system’.

Exactly how one can use the legal system to achieve sustainable solution isn’t specified, because the Regional Forest Agreements exclude third party rights to legal redress.

Receiving  somewhat less publicity, a coalition of conservation groups attended the NSW parliament last Thursday week to present their ‘New deal for nature’ proposal. The aim being to encourage the NSW government to incorporate the 10 components of the proposal into the new Biodiversity Conservation Act. While the event was apparently well attended, the only apparent  publicity was in the Sydney Morning Herald last Thursday, indicating ChipBusters Noel Plumb had been denied entry, due to his radical ‘save our south coast koala’ t-shirt.

The conservation coalition has proposed returning democratic rights in the’ new deal for nature’ proposal, but I expect it will be a bit like Noel’s t shirt for the government,  a bit radical.

rad wombat

Back in south east NSW the ABC reported on a review of wild dog/dingo management for the Local Land Services(LLS). The review was undertaken by  National Parks and Wildlife Service manager Tim Shepherd who has ’15 years experience battling the region’s wild dog problem’. The review was prompted by concerns that the move to the LLS had reduced the effectiveness of wild dog control.Some may recall Mr Shepherd put himself offside a bit by undertaking a fuel reduction burn on a day of total fire ban some years back.

According to Mr Shepherd ” . . . We had a successful planning process in place which was nil tenure which was supported by the rural community”. His proposal is to reinstate a “wild dog coordinator in order to better deliver wild dog management to landholders.”

The ‘nil tenure’ idea is what the OE&H, FCNSW and EPA  proposed for the 1080 fox/ dog baiting program but it hasn’t occurred. If successful planning was in place dogs, foxes and cats would be treated as separate management issues and the aforementioned agencies would be required to work with local landholders, rather than each doing their own, ineffective thing.

As for the wombat, it too was a bit radical,having torn the fence apart on several occasions at one location, some 20 metres away from the gate in the photo. Thankfully it has seen the light, because the log that I eventually put down to discourage it, is too big for it to move.

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