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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.

The cause of the fire that destroyed 65 homes in and around Tathra is being put down to a tree falling on power lines, along Reedy creek road. To date there has been no mention of the Flora reserve, although the fire started near the south west corner of the Tanja section.

As indicted on blurry map below, showing recent koala records and the Forestry Corporation’s incomplete logging history, the fire traveled straight down the Bega River. Aided by 38 degree heat and strong north westerly winds, it jumped the river and took off toward Tathra.

Under these conditions there is nothing fire fighters can do to stop a fire so the town was mostly evacuated. I say mostly because many stayed behind, successfully defending their homes and no-one was killed or seriously injured.

Unfortunately roads into Tanja forest remain closed, while more trees are cut down for safety reasons. However, it is clear that locations where koalas were active, back in 2012, were burnt. While trusting there will be some effort to ascertain their fate, the fire has led to the inevitable concerns about the ‘bush’ and the threat it poses.

A coronal inquiry will be examining aspects of the fire, although whether its scope will be adequate remains unclear. For example, when Europeans invaded this country, there was tall open forest, not bush. This new bush generally has a contiguous fuel load from the ground to the tree tops. Consequently, it seems likely that convection currents and the capacity to both produce and more rapidly spread burning embers is increased.

Clearly the major reason for this threatening bush is decades of mismanagement. However, there will be the inevitable calls for more broad acre burning, even though it won’t help.
Similarly, I’m anticipating, should no evidence of koalas be found, that post fire salvage logging will be proposed, so the timber isn’t wasted.

On a positive note the ABC reported on the Federal government concerns that renewing the RFAs may lead to a legal challenge, because the information is old. From another perspective the information was old when the RFAs were agreed and nothing has changed since then.

The Regional Forest Agreement drop in sessions featured on radio and in print this week. What hadn’t been previously revealed was ” two invitation-only meetings for industry and environmental stakeholders”.  While several conservation groups had suggested they would be boycotting the sessions. It seems some did attend the invitation only meetings, although none have to up their hands to confirm attendance, so far.

Local ABC radio interviewed a few people at the Eden meeting including former BVSC Greens councilor Keith Hughes. Keith suggested the RFA renewal is largely based on supporting the large financial investment, associated with logging. This suggestion was confirmed in a Narooma News story quoting NSW Department of Primary Industry representative Nick Milham – “We’ve heard from industry that the long-term security that the RFAs provide for them is absolutely critical because it provides them with that longer-term security to enable them to invest in what are significantly capital-intensive industries,”.

Of course if one is going to invest in cutting down trees, it’s a good idea to have the trees to cut down.

In that regard, it seems the Koala surveys did not return to the original plots, so a plot to plot comparison is not possible. However, as reducing soil fertility is a general trend, broader comparisons should identify associated changes to species composition. The following chart, featuring Silvertop Ash and Black forest oak ranked by diameter classes, is based on data from trees (n = 17,670), recorded during the 2006-2008 surveys.

At the time Silvertop ash accounted for 9.9% of all trees above 150mm DBH. Black she- oak accounted for 11.1% of the trees.

The next chart also features Silvertop Ash and Black forest oak ranked by diameter classes, is based on data from trees (n = 9,360), recorded during the 2016-2017 surveys.
Silvertop ash now account for 14.1 % of all trees above 150mm DBH. Black she-oak accounts for 18.2% of the trees.

Following up my information request, back on December 22, the OE&H has actually provided a link  to a database (Access 2007-56Mb), with the most recent information from the koala surveys.  

I’m not sure if the link was just a one off thing, but if there’s anyone interested in looking at the data base and the link doesn’t work, drop me a line and I’ll pass on a copy.

While certainly no expert, the data base appears to have been put together from another larger database. So there is data, in the form of tables and queries, for the tablelands, Tantawanglo, Yurammie and Kooraban NP. Unfortunately the plots numbers have been changed since the first survey back in 2007-09. However, when the plot locations in the respective data sets are linked, they will provide the largest and probably only, data on tree growth on the far south coast.

In the interim, the chart below shows data from the two time periods including the number of plots, the active plots where koala fecal pellets were found and the percentage active plots. As indicated the percentage of active plots marginally increased during 2016-2017, although the total number of plots almost halved.

So one would have to be confident that an impression of increased habitat use, wasn’t due to an inappropriate interpretation of the data.  On the positive side it is possible that koala numbers haven’t reduced, within the 10,000 hectares allotted to them.

What may be reducing, again, are the Giant honey-myrtles, skirting the southern edge of Wapengo Lake in Cuttagee catchment. The first time this occurred was in 2014, when about half of the trees died. It will take a while to confirm or otherwise, but the remaining trees all looked decidely yellowish the other day. 

Dieback in this species is generally associated with prolonged periods of inundation, when the lake isn’t open to the ocean. While the lake wasn’t open during the first event or now, the water levels were quite low, as they are now. Perhaps there is another explanation.

After spending too much time on them, my comments on the  Murrah flora reserves final draft working plan, have been dutifully submitted. Based on experience, there is no certainty that anyone in the OE&H will read them. Should they be read, there is somewhat less certainty anyone in the OE&H will understand them and some what less certainty they will be acted on.

While it would be reassuring to think the proposal for adaptive management in the working plan actually meant something. The impediment to adaptive management, as pointed out in ‘Options forestry-acting on uncertainty’ (Bormann & Kiester 2004) is clearly associated with ‘spurious certitude’.

That is, the NSW government agencies all believe they know what ecologically sustainable forest management is and that’s what they do, so there is no need to learn from experience or change anything. Then there is the native forest logging industry, that, from the governments perspective, has to be supported at any societal or environmental cost.
For those who feel this approach is reckless, at best. The ultimate outcome could be disastrous.

Recently published in the journal Nature is paper titled “Europe’s lost forests: a pollen-based synthesis for the last 11,000 years“. According to the paper Europe’s forests reached their maximum extent between 8000 and 6000 years ago and then began to reduce. However, sometime after 4000 years ago the rate at which the area of forest reduced, greatly increased.

The reduction was greatest in southern Europe and an example given is Lake Dojran, between Macedonia and Greece. Here, pollen retrieved from the lake pointed to a large erosion event some 3200 years ago. At the time people had been clearing the temperate forests for agriculture and there was an increasing demand for timber, to build boats. Soils had been depleting for some time, but the large erosion event topped it off.

In a Sydney Morning Herald article one of the paper’s authors, Mr Rothacker indicated  ” . . . the link between soil health and agricultural output would have shown up rapidly.”
He went on to add – “Without soil, you basically lack the key component in the eco-system to grow food,” he said. “If you don’t have mature soils any more, you can’t grow that food and you can’t supply a large population.”

The OE&H has released its koala recovery proposals for the period 21017-2021. Topping the 12 issues proposed to be addressed is ” Loss, modification and fragmentation of habitat In areas of known koala significance”. Actions proposed include – Existing degraded koala habitat restored and better connected – New koala habitat established and maintained and Permanent landholder agreements established for private land containing occupied koala habitat.

Regrettably, only the first of these is relevant to this area, because attempts to establish new habitat failed miserably and this failure confirmed why there aren’t many koalas on private land. So the disagreement is about how one restores modified and fragmented habitat, including whether there is any benefit dropping and monitoring Woollybut seed-balls.

Another threat the OE&H have cottoned onto is ” Intense prescribed burns or wildfires that scorch or burn the tree canopy”. Given this admission, with luck future NPWS intense prescribed burns may not be in areas with koalas.

Thankfully the threat of a brown forest and associated increased wildfire potential has temporarily passed given recent soaking rainfall. Although far less rainfall was recorded south of Bega, seemingly consistent with the findings in Lunney etal. – ‘Extinction in Eden identifying the role of climate change in the decline of the koala in south-eastern NSW’.

While addressing climate change is a low OE&H priority, I understand the current NSW Environment Minister would like to see a whole of government approach to the koala issue. The problem being that business as usual is still perceived as being consistent with helping koalas. For example and as indicated in the photo above, Bega Valley Shire Council has recently shredded a large number of trees along Benny-Gowings road, where it passes through the Murrah Flora reserve.

This is the first time Council has shredded vegetation along this road and it seems unfortunate that preferred koala feed trees, like the Woollybut, reduced to the large stump in the middle of the shot, were not retained. Of course the same goes for all the other feed trees council shredded, in this area of known koala significance.

While it is difficult to see how this loss of habitat sits with the state government’s proposals, it highlights – again – the difficulty achieving any sort of change to forest management in south-eastern NSW.

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