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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 Greens held a forum at Bellingen recently, to talk about the proposed Great Koala National Park on the Mid North Coast. Not surprisingly, the main focus is eliminating logging.
In addition and according to the Maclay Argus ‘more importantly‘, the National Parks Association CEO Kevin Evans and Senior Scientific Officer, Oisin Sweeney talked to Bellingen Shire Council about the proposal.

Responding to the publicity was the Nationals member for state seat of Oxley, Melinda Pavey MP, saying ” . . . the answer to concerns about mid north coast koalas does not involve converting more State Forest to National Park.” Rather ” . . . Mrs Pavey said that landholders know the National Park Estate is under-managed for key threatening processes of wild dogs, wildfire, scrub invasion and eucalypt decline – all causing koala habitat degradation.” And ‘ . . . Mrs Pavey said the community must look at the actual performance of the conservation estate in achieving real outcomes – just enlarging it does not automatically deliver good conservation outcomes.”

Mrs Pavey finished her PR with “ . . . I really do think it’s time for a mature, factual, science-based and constructive discussion about forestry, our forest estate and koalas – not just more land tenure changes.”

The NPA rejected Mrs Pavey’s suggestion that more national parks will not help koalas and called on the NSW Government to honor her call for  ‘a mature, factual, science-based discussion about forestry our forest estate and koalas’.

For those that do not support the state government’s management of public forests, irrespective of whom is managing it, any talk about facts and science is welcome, being better late than never.

Regrettably, It seems that both the conservation movement and the government still have some way to go.

 

Following up on the koala I spotted, it has now visited the same tree three times in as many weeks. Based on the pellet size it seems to be a youngish male, that appears to have taken over the home-range of an older male.Consequently, it seems likely that a female still occupies the area, broadly delineated within the black ellipse on the map above and she is the focus of the boy’s attention.

If one were to assume that each of the modeled koala activity areas on the map represented a koala, the number of koalas could be over estimated. So it is possible that most of the activity areas reflect just one male koala and 3 or 4 resident females.

 

Following up on the National Koala Conference, with thanks to Cheryl for providing the link, a detailed blog post has been written titled ‘Koalas are being driven towards extinction’.

While convincing me that the Federal government’s listing should have applied to all koalas. I am also supportive of the suggestion that ” . . . for koalas to survive, protection of their habitat has to be the top priority.”

The only problem being, understanding what is happening to koala habitat is not straight forward, even when it’s supposedly protected.

For example, at Gunnedah, where 25% of koalas died during a heatwave in 2009, researchers have been providing water to koalas, from ‘blinky drinkers’, designed by a local farmer.
They have found koalas are regularly drinking water during winter, when the research began. This departure from the general perception, that koalas get all their water from leaves, could reflect a reduction in soil fertility, including Soil Water Holding capacity.

Another threat to this population is the proposed Shenhua Watermark Coal mine. The NSW government has recently bought back the rights to 51% of the coal exploration area. Unfortunately, this area is largely cropping land and the areas occupied by koalas remain under threat.

Also speaking at the conference was James Fitzgerald, about the growing koala population on the southern tablelands and their bark chewing. According to James koalas are drawn to particular trees that have a higher sodium content in the bark. Hence, they are raking around the base of these trees to protect them from fuel reduction burns.

Another approach, given trees can only lose so much bark before they die, would be to provide ‘salt licks’ for koalas. These are readily available at any stock feed outlet and could help both koalas and trees.

There isn’t reference to the talk about south coast koalas in the article. Although with regard to fuel reduction burning, the timber in the photo below is from dead Silver-top ash, the main eucalyptus regrowth after integrated logging. All of this biomass, taken from a 10 x 10 metre plot, would be consumed in a fuel reduction burn.

The next shot is shows the timber from particular live and dead Allocasuarina littoralis trees, in the same plot. Most of these trees would die in a fuel reduction burn, largely cancelling any benefit from the burning.

The benefits from removing some of the trees include, actually lowering the potential impact of wildfire on live eucalyptus, maintaining soil cover and habitat for ground dwelling species, along with providing woody biomass for other more useful and less polluting purposes.

All up, just over 1 cubic metre of of woody biomass, equating to something above 100 tonnes per hectare, has been removed from the plot. If this growth had all gone into eucalyptus trees, the Forestry Corporation could rightly claim its management works. Shame about that.

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 NPWS is continuing its inane broad-acre burning, blotting out the sun and polluting the atmosphere for the past two weeks. Most recent is a 260 hectare burn in the Wapengo catchment, also in an area with recent koala records.

The subtle but perhaps important difference on this occasion, is that the records come from surveys funded by the federal government. According to the interim working plan for the flora reserves, the federally funded surveys found black she-oak (Allocasuarina littoralis), is one of the most abundant species. The reason for this outcome probably stems from the decision to increase the diameter of trees measured in the koala plots,from 100 mm to 150 mm. If 100 mm minimum had been retained, it seems likely the surveys would confirm black she-oak are the most abundant species in most of the reserve. 

While credible science tells us burning does not provide leverage over wildfire in this bio-region. The data employed is from eucalyptus forests, as opposed to the generally heavily logged and burned forests in the reserve. Accordingly the volume of fuel is reported as 16.4 tonnes per hectare, with fine fuels making up about 2 tonnes per hectare or 200 grams per square metre.

In the photo below is a black plastic bag filled with one square metre of fine fuel from under black she-oaks. Minus the bag it weighs 5660 grams, just over 28 times the weight of fine fuel in eucalyptus dominated forest. Not surprisingly this level of fuel greatly adds to the smoke and the CO2 produced from the fire. In this case, rather than the notional 32.8 tonnes of CO2 per hectare, the fire is likely to produce 142 tonnes of CO2 per hectare. NSW annual emissions per capita are around 19 tonnes CO2. So every 100 hectares burned equates to the annual CO2 output from 747.4 people.

Yesterday I received a response from Minister Upton, pasted below, regarding my request for NPWS contact details about the fence and catchments. While it’s expected that the NPWS would readily accept the Forestry Corporation’s version of events. I can’t find any reference to illegal encroachments, fences or investigations in the flora reserve working plan. So I wonder if there may be another non community version of the plan, circulating in state government departments

As for the Bega Valley Shire Council being the most appropriate contact about catchment issues. Mike Saxon is also the contact for a recently advertised OE&H position for a ‘Senior Team Leader – Water, flood plains and coast’, for the far south coast. So it possible that the NPWS and the OE&H are yet to employ someone that does catchments.

Only because I found the job description interesting, details for the position are at iworkfor.nsw.gov.au, job reference- 000057WJ, and applications close Monday 15 May 2017 11.59 pm.

 

Dear Mr Bertram

I refer to your email to the Minister for the Environment, the Hon Gabrielle Upton MP about your biodiversity reconstruction project on the NSW far south coast. Your email was referred to the Office of Environment and Heritage (OEH) and I have been asked to reply.

Thank you for your interest in the biodiversity of the far south coast. Before your proposal to trial biodiversity reconstruction can be considered for endorsement, there is an issue with the location of the fence that needs to be resolved. The National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) have advised that the Forestry Corporation of NSW did not approve the construction of the portion of the fence on State Forest that is now part of the Murrah Flora Reserves. As part of the handover of the management of the flora reserves from Forestry Corporation to NPWS, the fence was identified as an illegal encroachment onto the Reserve. In the Murrah Flora Reserves Interim Working Plan the fence is identified for investigation. In the first instance, the Director South Coast Region (NPWS), Kane Weeks would be the most appropriate person to contact regarding the status of the fence and to consider your proposal to use the area for fauna reintroductions. The most appropriate contact about catchment issues is Bega Valley Shire Council.

The Murrah Flora Reserves Interim Working Plan can be found at http://www.forestrycorporation.com.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0005/669281/Interim-working-plan-for-Murrah-flora-reserves.pdf

If you have any further questions about this issue, please contact Kane Weeks, Director South Coast Region, Park Operations on 02 4423 2170 or at Kane.Weeks@environment.nsw.gov.au.

MICHAEL SAXON

Director

South East Branch

No doubt making the most of over-time rates, this morning (Sunday) the NPWS lit up six hundred hectares in the Murrah Flora Reserve. According to the Rural Fire Service it is not a planned burn and the ‘Fires near me” map  suggests the fire is in the Mumbulla section of the reserve. However, the 50 kilometer smoke plume is actually emanating from an area some 15 kilometers north of the RFS location, in the Cuttagee catchment.

As indicated in the photo below, at a corner of Murrah River road, it is difficult to describe the burn ‘patchy’.  Rather, it appears to be quite a hot burn, consuming all ground cover in this location. While a visit in a few days will be required, I expect the fire will kill many of the forest oaks in the area and scorch the canopies of eucalyptus, particularly regrowth trees.

While some of us have become accustomed to forest mismanagement, the fact that this burn comes so soon after the report on Cuttagee catchment, is a little disturbing. Is this the NPWS’s management response to the dozens of erosion points identified in the catchment report? If so, where is the scientific evidence confirming burning will not exacerbate these erosion problems?

Then there is the so-called Murrah Reserve steering committee, allegedly established to facilitate community consultation and draw up another interim management plan. There has been no information from this committee, but if it agrees with the burn, it seems reasonable to assume ESFM is clearly not a consideration.

 

If one were looking for advice on forest management, the tablelands, where 2,000 square kilometers of eucalyptus woodland has died, may be a better option.  In particular a document titled  ‘Introducing some key management principles for restoring Box Gum Grassy Woodlands’ (Stol, J., 2016).

A quote from the paper indicates ” . . . Australia has largest truffle diversity of any continent with approx.1,500 – 2,000 species of an estimated 5000 spp
worldwide
 Eucalypts and many other members of the Myrtaceae are highly dependent on mycorrhiza formation for survival and growth.
 Mycorrhizal fungi assist plants to repel parasitic organisms, obtain limiting soil nutrients, and ameliorate adverse soil conditions and severe climatic conditions by improving water relations
 sites that have been cleared for grazing or degraded may be depleted of these important fungi.

The paper raises the question  – “Truffle presence was found by Stol and Trappe (2010) to be negligible in paddock trees. Are high nutrient levels, damage to the network of fine roots near surface and resulting lack of truffles one of the less recognised background issues contributing to dieback?

In addition ‘Truffles need good soil moisture and leaf litter (ie. ‘mulch’)’  and logically the native species to spread their spores. If we are to believe the NPWS forests don’t need truffles or animals.

Both of them can’t be right.

 

 

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.

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