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Logging

Coinciding with the National koala conference this weekend, the ABC has unearthed documents indicating logging prescriptions will be relaxed in NSW. So “… For koalas in north-east NSW, Forestry Corporation proposes a “reduced survey effort” and the dropping of a longstanding rule applying 20 metre buffers to “high-use” areas.” In reality this translates to – if we see a koala up a tree, we may not cut the tree down.

Several other constraints will also be relaxed to ensure unsustainable native forest logging can continue, until the trees run out. This outcome would not be so bad, if native forests and catchments weren’t declining across the state, but they are.

While forest decline is seemingly not directly on the agenda at the koala conference, there is one speaker talking about climate change. However, as Eleanor Stalenberg pointed out in her thesis ‘Nutritional ecology of the Mumbulla koala‘ – ” . . . human-induced climate change could have long-term negative effects on the suitability of leaves for koalas.”

In the short term, an increase in the number of very hot days is likely, along with a reduced availability of leaves with sufficient water and nutrient content. So it was interesting to read about research at Gunnedah, finding koalas are regularly coming down from the trees to drink water from artificial water stations.

According to the article, ” . . . Researchers think the koalas’ newfound thirst is because the leaves that used to keep them hydrated are drying out as Gunnedah gets hotter and drier. The leaves used to provide enough water for the koalas that they didn’t need to drink in addition. In fact, prior research suggests that koalas reject leaves with water contents less than 55 to 65 percent.”

The only issue is that the research was undertaken during winter. To me this suggests, if leaf water content is the main factor, other factors, rather than the weather, may be influencing its availability, as in these forests.

Tragically, getting NSW government agencies to acknowledge these issues is difficult, to say the least. So I was a little surprised to receive the flyer below, from Bega Valley Shire Council. I’m pretty confident that groups like the OE&H’s koala recovery team wouldn’t invite Professor Tim Flannery to attend one of its meetings.

The NSW Environment Protection Authority has released some more information about its forestry compliance checks, on the far south coast. According to EPA director of forestry, Michael Hood, “Our aim is to target high risk operations where there are important values to be protected, such as rivers and streams, or threatened ecological communities or species, such as koalas.”

In the first instance the Bega District News reported on logging in Tantawangalo State forest, where koalas are extinct. However, the EPA is still attempting to improve Forestry’s ability to identify and protect rocky outcrops. 

The second compliance issue, reported in the Narooma News, was in Cpt 3027 of Bodalla State Forest, west of Narooma. In this case and among other issues, local residents were concerned about logging in a ‘visual amenity buffer zone’. Exactly why they have such zones is unclear, because logging is allowed in them. So the EPA have sent a letter to Forestry, encouraging it to ‘engage with the local community’.

Like Tantawangalo, koalas are likely to be extinct in this part of Bodalla State Forest. However, the EPA, like the rest of the NSW government, is yet is acknowledge the changes to vegetation associated with the decline and loss of koalas.

Bell-miner associated die-back and Viney scrub – Murrah Flora Reserve

 

In the case of Compartment 3027, vegetation mapping undertaken for the Regional Forest Agreement found there was no Viney scrub in the area. Eighteen years later, Forestry Corporation estimates indicate more than 50 hectares of the compartment is now Viney scrub. This rapid and arguably permanent change to native forests has many adverse repercussions, but, like the threat posed to native arboreal species including koalas, these changes are completely ignored. Then there are the negative impacts on water quality, recently identified in coastal catchments in the Bega Shire.

While some believe these matters are important, over the past few weeks I’ve been attempting get some relatively simple information from the die-back deniers in the Office of Environment and Heritage. To date these attempts have not been successful. So, rather than wasting time with those employed allegedly to help koalas, the next attempts will be through the relevant NSW government ministers, along with federal and state parliamentarians.

It does seem to me that public servants who will not respond to the community, should either be required to do their job, resign or be dismissed from their positions.

The federal government has decided to extend the east Gippsland Regional Forestry Agreement for a year. An ABC report quotes federal Agriculture Minister Anne Ruston, indicating the extension had been granted to give the Victorian Government time to review the mess.

Included in the review is VicForests ” . . . new assessments of its remaining logging coupes.” Consequently, as reported in the Gippsland Times, the largest hardwood timber mill in the region, Heyfield’s Australian Sustainable Hardwoods (ASH), has had its quota slashed from 150,000 cubic metres, down to 80,000 cubic metres next year and 60,000 cubic metres for the following two years.

This reduction is proposed despite ASH signing a contract with Vic Forests in 2014, to supply logs until 2034. The owners are now proposing to close the mill, when they run out of logs in September.

vic-koalasPart of the documentation for the east Gippsland Regional Forestry Agreement states –

” . . . Ecologically Sustainable Forest Management (ESFM) is the management of forest on all land tenures to maintain the overall capacity of forests to provide goods, protect
biodiversity and protect the full suite of forest values at the regional level. One of the key objectives of each Regional Forest Agreement is to ensure that forests
on and off reserves are sustainably managed.”

Clearly the overall capacity of forests to provide sawlogs is on the wane. On biodiversity, the map above, from Victoria’s Koala Management Strategy (2004), shows koala records since 1970, as well as koala translocation areas and source populations. It is possible that in 1970 there was still a connection between koalas on the NSW south coast and their genetically similar cousins in the Strezlecki Ranges.

it seems unlikely this connection could ever be re-established, particularly given koalas aren’t considered vulnerable in Victoria. What isn’t clear is how many of the translocated koalas actually survived at the release sites. Currently the only known survivors are those at Mallacoota, in the far east of the state. There is little information about the fate of koalas released at the other twenty or so locations in east Gippsland.

Perhaps there will be more information stemming from the RFA  review. In the meantime the OE&H will be holding its koala information session in Bega on Tuesday. So I’m thinking of going along, in the hope (neurotic though it may be), that someone may be able to provide answers to some questions.

I’ve recently come across the project business plan for the Murrah Flora reserves. As it turns out the Forestry Corporation received just over $2.5m from the Environmental Trust. In addition, the DPI provided $385k to the OE&H. While the OE&H provides $70k per annum as an in kind contribution, over the four years of the project.

In theory this brings the annual management budget to just over $96k, essentially to do very little. Perhaps more interesting is the indicative (needs more work) communication strategy.  Under frequency, the only ongoing meetings/correspondence are with Blue Ridge Hardwoods and South East Fibre Exporters. Every other ‘stakeholder’ is a one off.

However, there are a range of conservation groups referred to, including the Nature Conservation Council, National Parks Association and the South East Region Conservation Alliance. So it must be assumed they are all on board.

One of the statements in the plan indicates ” . . . The relative health of this population is due to the higher productivity of the soils, their proximity to river flat red gum forests and the absence of disturbance to the area for a significant period.”  While the relevance of  ‘proximity to river flat red gum forests’, is unclear. The reference to soils could infer a role for the Environment Protection Authority, but it is not involved.

So it seems clear the aim is to maintain the status quo, with regard to reserve management. It also seems likely the NSW government will continue its attempts to translocate koalas, so logging can proceed in the future.

koala-sos

 

In that regard, it’s now a few years since the federal listing for koalas in NSW and Queensland. During that time, some flaws have come to light that appear not to be consistent with the initial reasoning behind the federal listing.

For example, the map above provides a broad indication of the main areas where koala records have been reported this decade. In total there are 1,000 records over this time frame, on the OE&H’s wildlife atlas.

However, as indicated on the map, the two blue ellipses are the only confirmed native populations. Those being the Blue Mountains population and the population down here. The red ellipses cover areas of either introduced or ‘bottle-neck’ populations, while the pink one remains a little uncertain.

This situation would seem to raise questions regarding the federal listing, given the majority of koalas south of Sydney, may have originally come from over-abundant Victorian koalas.

Given the many issues around the management of over-abundant koalas, particularly disease and over-browsing, it’s difficult to believe koalas aren’t threatened across their historic range.

Arguably one of most positive developments this year, on forestry issues, is the High Court challenge against Tasmania’s ‘draconian anti-protest laws’. The challenge, from former Greens leader Bob Brown and Jessica Hoyt, stems from their arrests earlier this year, at a forestry protest. While the charges were eventually dropped, the need for such laws at a state level, tends to confirm how unsustainable native forest logging is.

 

True to form, the NSW and Victorian governments have joined Tasmania, in the High Court, to protect their right to destroy forests.

For many years, forest management in Tasmania (clear-felling) has been based on the model developed for forests around Eden. It was in Eden that former Forestry Commission head, Dr Hans Drielsma began clear-felling, with the aim of improving forest productivity.

Drieslma, affectionately known as Dr Death, went on to head up forestry in Tasmania. While some constraints have been placed on NSW forestry since then, there has been little change in Tassie. However, they don’t always get their way, as the Tasmanian Ombudsman found, when dealing with then Forestry Tasmania’s truculence about a Freedom of Information dispute, back in 2007.

So best wishes to Bob and Jessica, for a positive High Court outcome. Given the Regional Forest Agreements are not legally enforceable, notions that state governments can legally enforce their unsustainable management, should be unexceptable.

 

reduced-koalas

 

I’ve recently been informed that the OE&H may be releasing details of the most recent RGB-SAT koala surveys, in the near future. While I have been privileged to view a map showing a part of the survey area, I decided not to put it with this blog post.

Rather the map above shows the outcomes from the first surveys. As indicated the koala activity areas, identified with arrows, appear to be missing from the latest survey map. So it must be assumed that recent OE&H claims of an increasing koala population, are in areas outside the map. The  ellipses, upper centre, broadly indicate areas where evidence of a known female (grey) and probable male (red) has also been sighted or found during this time.

While looking forward to a full account of the increasing koala numbers claim, it seems unlikely that the RGB-SAT surveys cannot readily account for areas of irregular use. For example, the last time I found koala faecal pellets, in northern areas of the grey ellipse, was about 2 years ago. Not that this is particularly unusual, because evidence of koalas in this area, somewhat lower topographically than southern areas of the ellipse,  generally only appears every couple of years. During the drought last decade, there was a four year gap. However, the RGB-SAT surveys have never found koala evidence in this area.

This particular aspect of habitat use may be associated with the general uncertainties around habitat availability, in forests subject to extensive canopy die-back. We can be pretty certain this is something both the federal and state government’s prefer to ignore.

 

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.

 

new-road

 

 

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.

As reported on the Let Tanja Forest live facebook page, the OE&H survey team recently sighted a koala. This is the first sighting by the team/s since the flora reserve announcement.

Speaking later on ABC radio, observer Rob Summers indicated he’d been involved in tree species preference surveys since 1997. He now works as a contractor for the OE&H and is also one of the community representatives on the flora reserve committee.

While this level of involvement could, at least for some, raise some issues. It may not be as important as the bias that propels the surveys forward. As OE&H koala survey person, Chris Allen reaffirmed, in a recent video for a commercial tourist group, he believes koala numbers are increasing.

However, if that were the case and a lack of logging was the reason, surely koalas in the Southeast NP would not be extinct and there would be more local sightings.

He goes on to suggest management over the next ten years will be really important for koalas, seemingly confirming his general denial about threats that may prevent koalas lasting that long.

cuttagee deg

 

On management issues, one of the works program priorities in the interim working plan for the reserves (Apppendix 4, 2) is ‘Habitat Restoration’. The idea is to “. . . Assess areas dominated by thick allocasuarina regrowth to determine habitat restoration options. Implement habitat restoration trials over a number of the sites. If successful these may be applied more broadly within the affected areas.”

There is no doubt the occurrence of black forest oak (Allocasuarina littoralis) has greatly increased over the past twenty years. The question is what sort of trials are being proposed and whether these will account for long term changes to soils.

Ideally, information from the recently released catchment management reports, would help inform management in that regard. As indicated in the graphic above, highlighting land degradation and probable poor regeneration, within the reserve in Cuttagee catchment.

The only issue would seem to be that while soil landscape mapping can be found in the reference list in both the interim reserve working plan and the catchment report. There appears to be no reference to soil landscape mapping in the main body of either document.

On a positive note, these omissions may confirm the EPA has an ongoing role in the koala issue, if only to keep logging going elsewhere.

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