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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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As reported in the Bega District News this week, a koala was sighted early in the morning and captured on video, as it ran down the Tathra-Bermagui road. The observer, Michael Clarke, stopped his truck and took the video as the critter scrambled up an embankment and climbed the nearest small tree, a black forest oak. While Mr Clarke’s sighting made his day, describing the experience as ‘awesome’, he also expressed concern about the threat posed by foxes and suggested corridors to ‘allow safe travel across roads’.

ABC radio interviewed the NPWS’s Chris Allen who thought the animal could be a male, but appeared to be young and healthy. Lucky for it, because the last koala found on this road was a bit groggy, taken to a vet and subsequently released kilometers from where it was found.

What Allen didn’t mention was the potential that this young koala has been kicked out of its mothers home-range and is looking for somewhere suitable to live. The issue being, unless an older animal has died, finding somewhere suitable may be difficult. Mr Allen did mention the koala surveys have been ongoing for ten years, but nothing about publicly releasing any results. This lack of accountability seems to contrast with his frequently repeated talk about how important these koalas are.

However, one of the reasons for the lack of information could relate to the proposed roll-over of the Regional Forest Agreements. One outcome from the flora reserve decision being the increased uncertainty about timber supplies and the data required to reduce this uncertainty.

The map below provides the locations of timber inventory plots (red dots) undertaken on a regularised  grid for the Southern RFA  and locations of the first koala plots (light green dots), in the Eden RFA region. Those of greatest interest are on the Murrah Soil landscape (orange). Clearly re-measuring the plots in the Southern region would provide more certainty about timber supplies. Similarly, the release of data from the second round of federally funded koala surveys in the Eden region, would be desirable.


While the chances of either the state or federal governments releasing these data may be low. It would seem sensible for the conservation movement to demand both the release of the second koala survey data and data from the re-measurement of the Southern timber inventory plots.

While the major issue is what grows back after logging and the RFAs are supposed to be based on the National Forest Policy Statement. Among several interesting research articles, recently published in Functional Ecology, is one titled ‘Rewilded mammal assemblages reveal the missing ecological functions of granivores’. Previous arid land research, undertaken where most of the mammals were functionally extinct, had concluded ants were the major predator of plant seeds.

However, this recent research was undertaken in fenced areas, at Scotia wildlife sanctuary and the Arid recovery reserve, where native animals have been re-introduced. In brief the researchers found animals are the major seed predators and “. . . hypothesize that the loss of omnivorous mammals may be a factor that has facilitated shrub encroachment in arid Australia.”

Coastal forests are facing a similar situation and the increasing proportion of non-eucalyptus trees, like black forest oak, may reflect the loss of species critical for forest health. While these matters may not rate highly in the NSW government, it would be unfair to accuse organisations like the NPWS of doing nothing. Regrettably, the new road signs in the photo below suggest an odd set of priorities and doing nothing would have been cheaper.

 

 

As reported on the ABC, the Victorian government has finally bought the Heyfield timber mill for $40 million. If one were looking for a true sign of the state government’s commitment to an unsustainable industry, this action ranks highly.

The previous owners were faced with a significant reduction in resource, from 150,000 cm down to 80,000 cm and decided the business was no longer financially viable.The reduction has been put down to fire damage to much of the Mountain Ash forests and the Leadbeater’s Possum protection zones

Coincidentally, the Regional Forest Agreement for the area, the central highlands, was signed in the same year as the Eden RFA. Both regions have similar timber supply issues.

Of course in NSW the state and federal governments are keen to simply roll-over all of the RFAs, Eden, Northeast and Southern, but the timeline is stretching. According to the scoping agreement, a joint working group was to prepare a report and an independent reviewer was supposed to be appointed by the end of last year. This was to be followed by an eight week public consultation phase, starting in March 2017.


Perhaps slowing the process, in addition to the limited timber supply and threatened species, is the forest health issue. In that regard the Forestry Corporation’s views are well known and summed below, from its website.

” . . .  In striving to achieve positive outcomes for forest health and biodiversity, Forestry Corporation is cognisant of the practical limits of what can be achieved. In particular with regard to invasive weeds and bell-miner associated dieback, the scale of the problem in some areas is significant. Further research and a co-ordinated approach with other land management agencies is required.
Research has shown that intentional, frequent, low-intensity fire regimes result in a spatial and temporal mosaic of burnt and unburnt areas and that many fire sensitive plants are protected by their position in the landscape. In some situations, frequent, low-intensity fires can be used to mitigate dieback and Forestry Corporation will use low intensity prescribed burning to protect forest health, economic assets and people.”

Regrettably, Forestry make  no reference to extensive canopy die-back associated with dry weather and drought, as experienced broadly in coastal forests of the Eden and Southern RFA regions. With the weather remaining dry, the Brushtail possum in the photo may signal a start the negative impacts on native species, due to the lack of water.

While historically tree leaves have provided much of the water both koalas and possums need, many, if not all of the small ponds in the upper catchment have filled with sediment. So when the leaves start to dry out, animals have to travel several kilometres for water, rather than several hundred metres. After an absence of several weeks, what appears to be the same possum returned to same location twice in four days, after finding the water.

Spring has definitely sprung, although 30 degrees with a strong north-westerly wind does seem more consistent with an early summer. Perhaps more important is that this month, the eleventh day to be precise, is supposed to end to the six year regional federal and state funded koala projects.

Regrettably, there are still no reports for the ‘Foundations for River Recovery and Return of Koalas to the Bega Valley‘ project. Similarly there is still only one ,arguably irrelevant report for ‘Corridors and core habitat for koalas on the NSW Far South Coast’ project.

Of course time moves on and now, with the conservation movement calling for adaptive management, a reasonable question could ask about the degree to which our understanding of koalas and their habitat, has improved during this time. In addition, whether a similar sum ($13 million)could provide for more positive outcomes, given what has been learned.

 

The map above comes from the original for ‘Corridors and core habitat for koalas on the NSW Far South Coast’ project application.  It shows the areas defined as ‘core koala habitat’, aka logging exclusion areas. Areas proposed for revegetation with primary koala feed trees and theoretical corridors. Added to the map is the orange ellipse, indicating core habitat, recently burned.

One of the NSW government’s concerns was that a previously federally funded koala project, in an area it proposed for revegetation, had planted the trees incorrectly. Hence it had to be done again.
This suggestion forms the basis for the the NSW government’s general understanding of the environment. In essence that soil fertility never reduces, irrespective of how the land is managed. Of course this position may have changed since 2011, but to date, there is no evidence to prove it.

Next Wednesday, 30 August, the Great Southern Forest steering group will present, to Bega Shire Council, its proposal to ending native forest logging. Coinciding with the end of the Regional Forest Agreements, ‘… The plan is to change management of public State Forests from timber extraction to climate stabilisation and carbon sequestration.”

The new management of State Forests is proposed to be based on adaptive management, in particular the approach outlined in ‘CLIMATE CHANGE AND FORESTS OF THE FUTURE: MANAGING IN THE FACE OF UNCERTAINTY’ (Millar et al, 2007)  

Of course public forest management under the RFA’s was intended to take an adaptive approach, ‘with an aim to reducing uncertainty over time via system monitoring.’ We can be fairly certain that such an approach is not consistent with the State government’s preferences.

Regrettably and like the proposed great koala national park on the north coast, there is no mention of die-back in the Great Southern Forest media brief. Nor is their reference to die-back in the groups document about carbon, perhaps due to a lack of system data.

On koalas the brief suggests ” . . . The unique Southern Koalas once roamed the region yet now only highly endangered small isolated colonies remain on the far south coast.19 The EPBC Act does not protect them in State Forests.20 Koalas prefer deep-rooted, tall specific eucalypts and logging compromises their ability to disperse and breed with other populations in the southern highlands, north-eastern Monaro and the far south coast.

Depending on one’s interpretation, the possibility that koalas have been translocated from Victoria to the Bega Shire, despite the expert advice, remains open.

Apart from the koala and a swamp wallaby passing by, an antechinus and the crimson rosellas in photo above, are the only creatures snapped drinking from the frying pan to date. The area, located at a higher elevation in the catchment, is arguably mostly devoid of life, apart from the trees.

As reported in the Bega District News last week, the general secretary of Public Service Association (PSA), Stewart Little ” . . . has hit out at state government cuts to NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service jobs”. Describing the cuts as a ‘kick in the teeth’, Mr Little suggested there had been a lack of consultation and ” . . .the restructure is occurring in the lead up to the bushfire season, “when experienced planning should be in full swing”, and may impact the safety of visitors.”

The report also indicated ” . . . A May letter from Environment Minister Gabrielle Upton to Tanja’s Rod Llewelyn confirmed three Enhanced Bushfire Management Program Field Officers had been relocated to Eden in January to “enhance delivery of the program”, and improve “preparation for hazard reduction burns, maintenance of fire management trails”, and to make sure equipment is accessible.”

Regrettably, the Enhanced Bushfire Management Program is all about burning National Parks, at least once every 20 years. Along with being a threat to koalas and their habitat, the program has no scientific basis and doesn’t provide leverage over wildfire in this bio-region. That said, it would appear that the most recent large burns in the Flora Reserve didn’t require additional staff.
Rod Llewelyn also indicated “ . . . If there is a fire between Tathra and Bermagui, it will take them an hour to get there, let alone prepare. The basic principle of firefighting is the quicker you get to it, the easier it is to manage.”

Couldn’t agree more, although creating full time employment in the local area, so trained staff were on hand to help cover any emergencies, may be the best approach.


The details for the yet to be sighted flora reserves working plan are supposed to be based on the requirements of the Forestry Act (2012). According to the act (Part 3, Section 5 [6]) ” . . . A working plan may contain provisions authorising a local council in whose area a flora reserve is situated to participate to the extent specified in the working plan in the management of the reserve or in carrying out any of the operations authorised by the working plan on or in relation to the reserve. In any such case, the council concerned may expend out of its consolidated fund any money necessary to meet the costs and expenses of exercising the authority conferred on it by the working plan.”

The map above shows the roading in and around the flora reserves, coming in at just over 200 kilometres. Based on a conservative volume estimate, the over abundant woody biomass contributing to the wildfire hazard, in an area 20 metres either side of these roads, is likely to exceed 8,000 tonnes.

So it may be an opportune time to test the water with Bega Shire Council, to ascertain interest or otherwise in a different approach. Something along the lines of the pilot bio-char demonstration facility, developed by Pacific Pyrolysis and described below, would fit the bill.

” . . . The pilot demonstration facility has a capacity of approximately 300kg/hr (dry basis) of biomass material and is capable of powering a 200 kW electrical generator which is integrated on site. The PyroChar 300 facility has been used to produce quantities of Agrichar™ soil amendment for research programs since 2006 and has a fully documented set of run logs dating back to this time.”

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.

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