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Forest restoration

The NSW government has released its draft Coastal Integrated Forestry Operations Approval (IFOA) , being the protocols and conditions for coastal public forest logging, over the next 20 years.  While there is a public consultation period, until 5pm 29 June 2018. I expect the draft is pretty well set in stone.

As I understand it the government believes it has a good understanding of koalas on the north coast. However on the south coast koalas are a ” . . . Threatened species requiring the development of site specific biodiversity conditions.” Of course the notion that conditions have to be developed is far too complex for Forestry Corporation, so surveys for koalas are only required in Glenbog and Glen Allen state forests in the Eden region. Both of these forests are on the tablelands and both are pretty well completely trashed.

In the Southern region, koalas surveys are required in Tallaganda, Badja, Dampier, Moruya, Wandella and Bodalla State Forests. As previously reported Dampier and Moruya state forests are where FCNSW has recently burned several thousand hectares. A request for detail ( compartment numbers) on the areas burned has been sent to Forestry, but there is, as yet, no response.

 

Researchers down in Victoria have been looking into the thermal qualities of man made and natural hollows used by native species.

The man made ones, generally constructed out of plywood, have been found to have poor thermal capacities. That is they get too cold in winter and too hot in summer. On the other hand, hollows in trees are far less variable, staying warmer in winter and cooler in summer. The researcher made some prototypes using a chainsaw.

So I had a try at making a little one, as indicated in the photo, from part of a smallish tree trunk that recently fell on the road.  In essence it is a section of trunk cut length ways and a cavity is then cut into its center. A 3.5cm diameter hole provides access to the cavity, when the two pieces are screwed together. It is a relatively simple process, although best for those experienced in using a chainsaw.

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It is now just over three months since comments were closed on draft flora reserve management plan. While it’s disappointing that the public are yet to be informed about any outcome, perhaps more disappointing is the lack of any sign of forest management that isn’t locked into the unsustainable past.

Looking north from the Murrah the sky is grey with smoke, from the thousands of hectares of forest that have been deliberately burned. One of these fires, lit by the NPWS, has apparently spread to adjacent forest in National Park and on private land, so far degrading another 300 ha.

To the south the NPWS lit up 120 ha in Bournda NP, within the black circle on FCNSW’s predisposition to dieback map below. The particular area is referred to as the ‘Sandy Creek Strategic Fire Advantage Zone’ and was last burned in 2005-06. On this occasion the very lame justification for the burn is to ‘reduce the spread of wildfire’. There appears to be no consideration of the animals, the ongoing dry weather or the fact that without substantive rainfall, most forests will again turn brown, within a few weeks.

Meanwhile down in Victoria, Friends of the Leadbeaters Possum (FOTLP), have successfully applied for an interlocutory application, to stop Vicforests logging several coupes in the central highlands.
FOTLPs application was based on the failure to undertake the required reviews of the relevant Regional Forest Agreement. A trial on the matter will commence on 25 February 2019, for a period of three weeks.

Things are a little different up here, where the flora reserve management plan has to be consistent with the Forestry Act (2012). In particular part 25 clause 2 that requires ” . . .The object of any such scheme is to be the preservation of native flora on the flora reserve.”

It seems an appropriate time to investigate the potential to challenge the plan/scheme, given the different views on the management required to preserve native flora.

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.

Following up on his book ‘Firestick Ecology’, former forester Vic Jurskis has written a paper, accepted for publication in Wildlife Research, titled ‘Ecological history of the koala and implications for management.’

According to Mr Jurskis, the decline in koala populations is not a crisis, rather koala numbers are returning to a pre-European state. The ‘eruptions’ in koala numbers, here 120 years ago and those of translocated island koalas in Victoria, is put down to poor management, particularly a lack of frequent burning.

In one press report he describes the creation of the Murrah Flora reserve as a perverse outcome for a species that was not recorded in the area at the time of European settlement. Exactly how he knows this and how this theory fits with his previous estimate of 800 to 1600 koalas in the Eden region isn’t clear.

I do recall the first time I met Vic, back in the 1990’s, not long after the 8 radio collared koalas had died. I informed him of koala pellets I located in Nullica State Forest, where two of the aforementioned koalas were tracked. His response was to say the two koalas, Robert and Roberta, were the only koalas in Nullica SF.

Vic’s simple theories have many holes, not least of these is the knowledge that the primary feed trees behind the ‘koala eruption’ in the Eden region are now endangered, because they don’t grow back. The evidence indicates secondary koala feed species are in the same boat.

So while I do agree with Vic, that forests need better management, that’s where the agreement ends. It is simply not possible to undertake low intensity burns in these forests, due to the previous and ongoing poor management.


However, I believe management aimed at reducing fuel loads would create employment, while providing some protection from wildfires and aid in funding real attempts to restore biodiversity. The photo shows the first of nine 10×10 metre plots, logged and burned in 1982, where the majority of forest oak have been removed. Apart from two retained trees, a Yellow stringy-bark and a Rough barked apple at the rear of the plot, only one very small and sick apple has regenerated in the plot.

The small dead trees in the plots, oak and silver-top ash, have mostly been converted to biochar, producing just over 500 litres or enough to spread half a litre per square metre. When the green wood dries, I’ll add another 50 litres to each plot.  In the bare areas I’ve begun planting Woollybutt seedlings and Yellow stringy- bark seed.

Unlike the OE&H’s approach, in the square metre around these plantings, I’m incorporating 350 grams of either dolomite or crushed sea-shells, with another litre of char and in some instances 250 grams of gypsum, into the first couple of inches of soil.

While there is uncertainty about whether they will grow, if they do it will be interesting to compare outcomes with the OE&H’s soils haven’t changed approach.

Now some months after the National Koala Conference, I happened to come across the OE&H’s power point presentation titled “Koalas, Fire Management & Habitat Rehabilitation in SE NSW”.  Not surprisingly for coastal koalas the two issues referred to are fire and getting preferred feed trees to germinate and grow.

The issue with fire was the Strategic Fire Advantage Zones (SFAZ) because they overlapped with areas occupied by koalas. The solution is to burn around known koalas and greatly increase the areas to be burned. Despite this approach the OE&H suggest there is room for the population to expand.

On the feed tree issue, some 28 locations have been chosen to trial regeneration techniques, as indicated in the table below.The treatment referred to as pruning appears to involve cutting down all the forest oaks and laying them across the slope. The approach would seem to confirm the OE&H is repeating the mistakes made trying to grow primary feed trees. In particular, a belief that the reduction of soil pH and associated decline in soil fertility, plays no part in tree germination, growth or koala survival.

The story is quite different in the northern hemisphere, where forest managers are concerned acid rain, in addition to logging has had similar negative impacts on forests. The USDA Forest Service for example, supports the Hubbard Brook Ecosystem Study in New Hampshire. One of the experiments involved a helicopter dropping 40 tons of wollastonite, a naturally occurring calcium silicate, onto a small ‘watershed’.

The outcomes have been very positive and arguably well worth a try in Australia, when forest managers are required to consider and act on science.

 

The NSW Department of Primary Industries has recently released a report titled  ‘North Coast Residues -A project undertaken as part of the 2023 North Coast Forestry Project ‘. The executive summary indicates ” The main purpose of this project was to determine the potential availability of forestry residues for bioenergy generation and other applications on the North Coast of NSW . . ”

With regard to residues from public native forests the authors suggest ” . . .The values assume that a substantial proportion of the biomass (typically at least 20% of the total biomass) is left in the forest after harvest. ” The DPI then provide estimated volumes of residue that are, in all cases, greater than 200% of the biomass removed during harvest.

There is also a section titled ‘Extraction of biomass for bioenergy from NSW North Coast regrowth native forests: impacts on nutrient availability’. Regrettably the authors indicate ” . . . However, this study does not constitute a full nutrient budget that would also take into account temporal and below-ground conversion dynamics, and natural nutrient inputs (e.g. via rainfall). ”

Such a short fall essentially renders the generally repetitious information useless. This is particularly the case given the proportions of nutrients found in leaves, bark, branches and wood are not considered in terms of the actual volumes exported from forests during logging. In addition four of the references are not to be found and the only reference to calcium (Marschner, H. 1986. Mineral nutrition in higher plants. Academic Press London), is unlikely to apply to the north coast or Australian forests generally. On a positive note the authors suggest a move away from post logging burns, so some of the nutrients can be retained.

Also on a positive note is the news that Friends of Leadbeaters possums have stopped logging 34 forests in the Victorian central highlands. The Federal court’s decision, on whether the EPBC act should apply to logging nationally endangered species habitat, may have implications for all Regional Forest Agreement areas.

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. “

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)

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