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Illegal logging

Four years after SE Forest Rescue raised concerns about logging of rocky outcrops in Glenbog state forest, the Land and Environment court has found the Forestry Corporation guilty of the charge.

According to the Harvesting Plan, the Supervising Forestry Officer was supposed to be looking for rocky outcrops, but this didn’t occur. Rather, the Forestry Corporation developed and relied on an ” . . . operator select methodology whereby Wiltons Logging was briefed about the difficulty in marking-up the area and was told to use their discretion when harvesting. ” The Harvesting plan alludes to this situation indicating ” . . . # SFO/Contract coordinators will continue to conduct onground mark-up & searches and report back to foresters/ecologists any features requiring further investigation.”

In addition to rocky outcrops and cliffs, contract coordinators were also to be on the look out for rainforest, wetlands, heath and scrub, as well as the endangered ecological community, Montane peatlands and swamps. The Harvesting plan also indicates a koala record in one of the compartments. However, Forestry decided the record was invalid and didn’t implement the required searches.

On sentencing, one of the aggravating factors is ‘whether the offence was committed for commercial gain.’  Strangely, the judge indicated ” . . . I find that, although there may have been an element of ‘cost-saving’ in Forestry Corporation adopting the operator select method, there is no evidence that Forestry Corporation gained a commercial advantage by the commission of the offence.”

The notion that trees are cut down and Forestry gets no monetary reward seems to be logically inconsistent.

The judgement also indicates ” . . . The EPA submits that Forestry Corporation’s failure to search, record and mark-up the areas subject to the licence as required, is contrary to the aims of the licence, and has undermined the protective regulatory scheme contained in the Parks Act and impeded the achievement of ecologically sustainable development . . ”

It would be reassuring to know that native forest logging is consistent with ecologically sustainable development. Unfortunately,  there is no evidence the regulatory scheme works and evidence to prove the ecologically sustainable management of any public forest is sorely lacking. 

In that regard the judgement states ” . . . In relation to the harm caused, Forestry Corporation submits that while it is accepted that it will take hundreds of years for the area to recover, this is a product of the time it takes for trees to re-grow and ought not be overstated.”

The acknowledgement of ‘hundreds of years to recover’ relates to all forests, including those in National Parks, but proving it requires data on tree growth rates. Perhaps these matters will be the subject of future legal arguments.

Forestry was fined $10,000, with a 20% reduction because it pleaded guilty, ordered to pay the EPA’s costs ($65K) and required to put a notice in the Bega District News.

On a lighter note, the photo shows one out of two of this years local baby possums, they both look a bit like boys, but it’s hard to tell. We can be certain the mothers don’t get on very well.

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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.

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.

Today, the NSW Rural Fire Service, in collaboration with the Nature Conservation Council, OE&H and others, are running a ‘Hotspots’ fire workshop at Four Winds, south of Bermagui.

According to the blurb, the workshop is about ‘Supporting sustainable fire management for healthy landscapes’. Of course the immediate issue is whether one goes along with the Forestry Corporation’s original idea that fire creates healthy landscapes,  in non-grassy forest ecosystems. As the workshop organisers clearly support this claim, I wonder if they also support forestry’s associated theory, that making forests healthy with fire gets rid of koalas?

As a collaborative effort, OE&H, RFS and FCNSW have “ . . . developed 11 options for where to locate Strategic Fire Advantage Zones where fuel loads will be managed. “ From these options the ‘most cost effective’ (read cheapest) options have been adopted.

While the workshop is largely directed toward individual fire management plans, credible evidence to support the fire and healthy landscape claim is difficult to find. The single study referred to, titled ‘The effects of a low-intensity fire on small mammals and lizards in a logged, burnt forest’, indicates –

“ . . .  Our results, however, suggest that the biodiversity impacts of burning are complex and multidirectional, posing a significant challenge to conservation managers.”

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Another significant challenge, yet to be acknowledged by the aforementioned agencies is die-back, as indicated in the photo above, taken in the small area of rain-forest  on this property. In this case and since it was illegally logged and  burned back in 1981, all of the remaining large emergent eucalyptus (background of photo on left) in the rain-forest have succumbed to BMAD and died.

What has done well is some Australian red cedar (Toona australis), (foreground of photo on left) I planted in the open spaces back in 1992, two years before the Bell-miners appeared. Although well south of its natural range, north of Ulladulla, this tree, its base showing development of buttress roots in photo on the right, has attained 48cm DBH.

Red cedar was virtually wiped out due to over-cutting and nowadays commands a high price, around $3,000 a cubic metre. It is possible that the growth of these trees is more consistent with the OE&H theory, that the loss of koalas is associated with climate change.

While looking forward to any NSW government movement toward forest restoration, this seems unlikely given the NCC and it local arm, SERCA, seem happy to work with the government. It is regrettable that this approach requires ignoring the issues and arguably, simply allows unsustainable forest management, including logging, to continue.

 

 

The Bega District news recently reported on the first hurdles faced by the recently appointed Murrah flora reserve management committee. According to committee member and former NPWS employee, Jamie Shaw , “ . . . The poor regrowth and logging has happened, so now, as a priority for ongoing management we need to get the money, know-how to protect the koalas and include the Aboriginal community at all times, that’s key for us. ”

Jamie lamented that “ . . . the  NSW government and Forestry Corporation had given NPWS only $110,000 a year to manage the reserve which would go to funding one Indigenous Australian field officer, one vehicle “and that’s it”.

He went on to suggest “ . . .  2000ha in the reserves were a “powder keg” for bushfires and extremely poor habitat for koalas due to dense regrowth of casuarinas and acacias in the under and mid storys after logging in the ’80s and ’90s.”

While the 2,000 hectare figure for the ‘powder keg’ seems a lot short, the know-how issue could depend on acknowledging the bleeding obvious.

As indicated on the new reserve sign firewood collection is not permitted. Forestry Corporation had a similar sign. However, every winter dozens of tonnes of firewood are removed from just around here. Across the whole reserve the figure is likely to be hundreds of tonnes.

So perhaps the committee may consider some community engagement, to get an estimate of firewood use. Rather than the annual loss of dead eucalyptus, the strategic use oaks and wattles could be considered,  given they are both good fuel woods. If the local community can be accommodated, with some organisation, actually policing the firewood prohibition may also be a consideration.

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Relevant to the committee’s deliberations, the BDN also reported on some recently published long term fire research titled, Biophysical Mechanistic Modelling Quantifies the Effects of Plant Traits on Fire Severity.

Undertaken through Wollongong University, leader of the research Dr Philip Zylstra said “ . . . controlled burning could be helpful under certain conditions though at other times it was counterproductive”.

He went on to say “ . . . Instead of assuming that burning will make the forest less fire prone, we can now look at that and say ‘if we burn this forest it kills these plants, but it germinates these other ones here’ and how will that then change the fire risk over the coming years and even decades,”

This is the situation in most of the reserves, where logging and burning have combined with ‘natural’ forest decline to produce a very thick mid-storey layer.

Perhaps not surprisingly, a spokesperson for the RFS said “. . . We are currently looking at this topic however given that his research is some way from operational application and due to the complexity of the models, it is not something we can readily adopt.” Does make me wonder what the majority of reserve committee members will readily adopt.

The National Parks Association and the Nature Conservation Council have recently released a report titled  ‘Regional Forest Agreements – have they achieved their aims’. Not surprisingly, the report focuses on how the RFA’s have failed to achieve their aims.  Consequently, the groups are ” . . . calling on the government to (stop) logging in our public native forests once and for all following the expiry of the RFAs from 2019.”

Regrettably, also this week and following a review, the Tasmanian and Commonwealth governments have indicted their intention to ‘roll-over’ the Tasmanian RFA, for another 20 years.

This outcome seems to indicate the conservation movement’s approach is less than effective. Take, for example, the argument in the report suggesting logging is the major factor behind the spread of BMAD, with a reference to a North East Forest Alliance paper on the issue. As I understand it the NEFA argue that logging leads to BMAD and the spread of lantana in north coast forests. The problem is, on the south coast,  BMAD can occur without logging and where there is no lantana.

Perhaps to avoid this complication the report suggests ” . . . BMAD has also been detected on the NSW Central Coast (Stone et al. 2008) and, because it can affect drier forests, close to Melbourne (Wardell-Johnson et al. 2006).” Hence there is no reference to BMAD on the south coast, or extensive canopy die-back and I expect this lapse satisfies local conservation groups, who don’t talk about such issues.

Similarly, there is no reference to the evidence indicating BMAD is most closely associated with soil limitations, particularly sodicity and dispersion. While this evidence is clearly something the EPA and Forestry prefer to ignore. It is difficult to escape the perception that the conservation movement’s interest in improving forest management, is largely limited to declaring National Parks.

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The report also refers to the illegal logging in Mumbulla SF back in 2010 suggesting, ” . . . Local Koori elders led walks into the prohibited zone, and marches and public rallies were held in Bega in support of stopping the logging and protecting the forest on the mountain. This resulted in Forests NSW issuing an apology to the Chairman of the Biamanga Board of Management.”

This statement is not accurate, because within an within an hour of the OE&H being asked why it had approved logging in Biamanga Aboriginal Place, Forestry stopped logging. I know it was about an hour because it took that long to drive up there, the journey being prolonged by the need to remove all the barriers the NPWS had placed on the road, for its stupid burning. Forestry did apologise, but continued its legal action against protesters, until the prosecutions were thrown out of court.

On koalas, the report makes reference to the Murrah Flora Reserves, that logging and koalas don’t mix and the ” . . . $2.5 million grant from the NSW Environment Trust  . . . allocated to subsidise logging contractors.”

In that regard the chart above provides the Forestry Corporation’s response to a question about the additional costs to supply sawlogs from the Southern Region. As indicated, it was pretty cheap back in 2013, only $2.93 per cubic metre, although it’s not clear what grant was being accessed at the time. Since then, costs to Forestry have jumped to $34.78 per cubic metre, although there is no detail on how the costs were derived. So it is difficult to explain why the grant, for the years 2015-19, provides for $62.50 per cubic metre. According to Forestry, the total volume moved from Southern to Eden over the past 4 years is 16,979 cubic metres. This figure represents about 42% of the sawlogs Forestry now claim are in the flora reserves. Alternatively, the volume already supplied from the Southern Region, is about 92% of what Forestry claimed was in the reserves, for the RFA process.

While all this detail may be a clear as mud, perhaps more important is the other $15 million or so spent on regional koala recovery efforts. Particularly given the the grant to Forestry seems to be the only actual benefit for koalas, while they survive.

As reported in the BDN yesterday, the chair of the Biamanga board, Paul Stewart, is upset about not being consulted over the ‘Murrah flora reserves’. On the management issue Mr Stewart suggested“ . . .We already have a plan of management that covers the koalas and the logging so I don’t understand why they feel the need to reinvent the wheel.”
While ‘koala’ is referred to some 45 times in the Yuin mountain parks plan of management, consistent with the NSW government’s approach, there is no mention of die-back. Rather, burning is proposed to protect koalas. It is unfortunate that the Biamanga board is yet to disentangle its approach from forestry’s idea, that burning makes forest healthy and gets rid of koalas.
In response, NSW Environment Minister Mark Speakman said ” . . . the board was not advised due to commercial in confidence negotiations with the forestry industry”. In addition, the reserves will have a seperate management plan and the NPWS is yet to finalise its budget.”. Seemingly missing from the calculation are funds from the koala “corridors and core habitat” project. The budget and funding sources for this project, now apparently in its fifth year, is reprinted in the following table.

CCfundsHow these funds have and are being spent is anyone’s guess and indeed may never be known. However, it is certain that the Forestry Corporation’s role was finding replacement volume for the 2,800 hectares, originally proposed for protection from logging.

On the timber issue, ABCsoutheast  quotes a Forestry spokesperson  indicating ” . . .  they would have harvested 40,000 cubic metres of sawlog timber and 10,000 tonnes of pulpwood timber per year from the areas now gazetted as Flora Reserves.” These figures create some uncertainty because data from the Forest Resources and Management Systems database, as indicated in the graph below, provide a very different picture of timber resource in the reserves. Figures for Murrah include Bermagui and figures for Mumbulla include Tanja.

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However, Forestry also claim, for forests around Narooma and Batemans Bay ” . . over the last 10 years in that area there had been a cumulative undercut of 90,000 cubic metres of sawlog timber as measured against the RFA quota”. If this is really the case, exactly why Forestry put $320,000 into the ‘core and corridors project’ is unclear.

Finally, last week I made reference to a meeting at Tanja on the koala issue.  Clarifying the matter (thankyou Mark), I now understand two meetings were held, one at Tanja and a less well attended one at ‘the crossing’ near Bermagui. Both of these meetings were initiated by the OE&H/NPWS.

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