Friday, January 27, 2023

Citizen scientists find 60 endangered gliders in forest slated for logging: Kinglake Friends of the Forest

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Kinglake Friends of the Forest, Media Release, 3 October 2022

On the night of October 2nd, 66 citizen scientists surveyed for endangered Greater Gliders in native forest across Victoria. The state government has either released these areas of forest for logging in the current Timber Release Plan or plans to release them under the proposed Timber Release Plan (TRP).

Surveys were carried out in six locations across the state: Toolangi, Black Range (near Taggerty), Warburton, Wombat, Alberton West, and Colquhuon forest, East Gippsland.

Sixty Greater Gliders were found across 12 coupes on either the current or proposed TRP.

Surveyors also encountered lyrebird mounds, giant earthworms, swamp wallabies, yellow bellied gliders, boobook owls, koalas, ringtail possums and micro bats.

President of Kinglake Friends of the Forest, Sue McKinnon, says: “The abundance of gliders found by citizen scientists last night is evidence of the disturbing reality: Greater Gliders and VicForests want the same forests, the few left with big, old trees.”

“This is a massive community effort to protect our native wildlife from extinction. It is shocking that this work is left up to community members. Making sure that endangered species habitat isn’t logged should be the job of government.”

The government does not conduct its own surveys for endangered species before approving a Proposed Timber Release Plan.

Once a TRP is confirmed, DEWLP surveys a certain number of coupes, but in the 2022/23 State Budget the Forest Survey pre-harvest program target was reduced from 80 per cent to 64 per cent of coupes. In these coupes, DELWP chose what to survey for; Greater Glider surveys are only carried out in a portion of these surveyed coupes. In all surveys only a portion of the coupe is surveyed.

Even if endangered species are found, most receive little or no protection from timber harvesting operations under state laws. Native forest logging is exempt from Federal Environment Laws under so-called “Regional Forest Agreements”.

Due to a current court case against state logging agency VicForests, run by community groups Kinglake Friends of the Forest, Environment East Gippsland, and Gippsland Environment Group, confirmed detections of Greater Gliders currently trigger the protection of the forest in which they are found.

The community groups allege that the government logging agency does not survey adequately for Greater Gliders or implement adequate protections for those identified.

Expert witness for the community groups, Professor Grant Wardell-Johnson stated in court that Greater Gliders in logging coupes are likely to be dead soon after the logging operation, in some cases from starvation or predation.1

CEO of VicForests argued in court that thorough surveying was a “serious risk to health and safety” despite OH&S experts from both sides agreeing that the surveying method recommended by the community groups could be performed safely.

In July the Greater Glider was uplisted to endangered. Logging of its habitat has been highlighted as a major contributor to an 80 per cent decline of Greater Glider populations over the last 20 years.

The Andrews’ government has made no moves to adapt logging practices in recognition of the recent uplisting.

Last month VicForests sought permission from the Supreme Court to log 4 areas of forest known to contain Greater Gliders. The court gave permission to log 3 of the 4 areas with 240m buffer zones established around each Greater Glider that had already been detected by citizen scientists. VicForests said it would not conduct its own surveys to ensure all Greater Gliders in the area were protected.

The state government has recently passed new laws that will see harsh penalties for people protesting logging operations as well as citizen scientists surveying in forests scheduled for logging.

Natalie Hogan, lawyer at Environmental Justice Australia, says:
“The new laws will not only affect forest protectors engaged in legitimate political expression; they also put the critical role of our citizen scientists in jeopardy as they too face harsh and disproportionate penalties for entering logging coupes to survey for wildlife.”

“Citizen scientists, conservationists, environment groups and members of the community who conduct wildlife surveys play a vital role in collating data for Victoria’s Biodiversity Atlas. The observations collated in the Atlas are crucial for government decision-making – showing where wildlife is now and how this has changed over time.”

“Our vital ecosystems are currently facing increasing threats from logging and climate change, all in the wake of devastating bushfires, and citizen science is more important than ever.”

1. Wardell-Johnson also noted: “logging severely exacerbates the impacts of extensive fires, such that in combination, it is to be expected that [Southern Greater Gliders] would be rendered locally extinct from compartments or forest blocks that have been both extensively burnt and logged. Further, the overwhelming weight of evidence supports the conclusion that previous intensive logging has made the 2019/20 Black Summer Fires worse by allowing bushfires to burn with greater severity than would otherwise have been the case”

Related story: Gliders back in court: Kinglake Friends of the Forest

Questions

Australian Rural & Regional News asked some questions of Kinglake Friends of the Forest.

ARR.News: If Victoria and Australia cannot provide for its timber needs – and it is not clear that plantations alone can provide all our timber needs, in the short, medium or longer term – Australia will need to import timber, possibly from countries with lower forestry and sustainability standards or at a far greater cost. 

Do you accept that preventing Victoria and Australia providing for its timber needs would be to encourage unsustainable forestry practices in other countries?

Kinglake Friends of the Forest: There’s a troubling assumption (that is actively perpetuated by the logging industry) that just because logging is happening in Australia it is somehow magically more “sustainable” than logging in other countries. Just last week the Victoria Auditor General’s office released a report outlining the failure of the Office of the Conservation Regulator to hold VicForests accountable to the law.

Native forest logging in Victoria is causing biodiversity decline and pushing species towards extinction. It is compromising our water security. It is contributing to climate breakdown by turning carbon dense forests into emissions and squandering their long term carbon storage potential. These are the effects of continuing to log native forests in Australia, in Indonesia, in America. It doesn’t matter where it’s happening, there’s no excuse for the government to subsidise this industry any longer because there are alternatives that can provide for our timber needs.

In the words of former forester and ANU Professor David Lindemayer, “Victoria grows 3.9 million tonnes of eucalypt pulp logs to make paper and woodchips every year. But then we go ahead and export three-quarters of that – 2.9 million tonnes goes to Japan and China. We could process just a quarter of that for our own needs, and you would have more jobs in the forest industry than you have now. For your sawn timber, 88% of all your sawn timber in Victoria already comes from plantations. We don’t need to log native forests to produce paper and woodchips because it can already come from plantations, and you don’t need to log native forests to produce timber products because almost all of it already comes from plantations.”2

Beyond plantations there are alternatives that would offer jobs and income across a diverse sector. Agroforestry is one of these. It is already established in parts of the state and beginning to receive wider attention and support. Agroforestry, or “farm forestry” is when trees are grown for timber within the agricultural landscape, often by private landowners or farmers. The agroforestry industry currently has to compete unfairly with subsidised native forest logging.

Then of course there are the countless alternatives for the specific products currently made from native forest timber. For instance, it is indefensible that hardwood timber from native forests is being made into shipping pallets when softwood and recycled plastic alternatives can do the same or even a better job.

As Loscam says on its website:

“Loscam radiata pine pallets meet the same standards as hardwood pallets (Australian Standard AS 4068) yet they weigh only 34kg – which is between 8kg and 10kg less than a typical hardwood pallet. On a 22-pallet load, this will reduce the weight by about 220kg, which translates into lower fuel and freight costs.

The Loscam ‘new-gen’ radiata pine pallets are made entirely from sustainable pine forests. A sustainable pine forest can produce thousands of new Loscam pallets in just 25 years, compared to 75 years for the same number of hardwood pallets.”3

These timber supply alternatives and others are currently undercut by the absurd scenario that VicForests is allowed to log for free forests that they didn’t grow (our state forests), and on top of that they receive massive state subsidies.

If at some point during the transition out of native forest logging Australia needs to temporarily import timber, there is absolutely no reason that this would support unsustainable forestry in other countries. It would be a matter of the Government regulating that all imported timber needs to be sourced from plantations or agroforestry.

2. https://cosmosmagazine.com/earth/sustainability/end-of-native-forest-logging/
3. https://www.loscam.com/en/products/wooden-pallets-australia-1165-x-1165mm-loscam

ARR.News: Is it not better to support the Australian forest and timber industries in developing more sustainable practices for the 21st century, including changes to current practices where necessary?

Kinglake Friends of the Forest: VicForests has tried and failed to obtain Forest Stewardship Certification (FSC) accreditation three times. This indicates that the native forest logging industry and conservation values are irreconcilable. Why risk the continued destruction of native forests and all the benefits they provide us (water, clean air, biodiversity, carbon storage, recreation) when there are alternatives?

ARR.News: There is much ongoing debate as to the impact of timber harvesting on bushfire risk (see the ARR.News ongoing debate page), indeed there are strong arguments that inadequate forest maintenance increases the risk of losing all habitat through catastrophic bushfires, and that when this happens, climate change is used a catch-all excuse even though proper maintenance could have reduced the risk.

What type and level of forest maintenance do you support?

Kinglake Friends of the Forest: First, logging is not management, it is a commercial operation.

The type of “forest management” we would support is to begin restoring forests that have been logged to their pre-logged state, thereby increasing the resilience of these forests to fire.

Some people may argue strongly that “inadequate forest maintenance increases the risk of losing all habitat through catastrophic bushfires”, but it is not clear that there is much, if any, solid science supporting this theory. Conversely, there is extensive up-to-date research from highly respected scientists like the world renowned forest ecologist, Professor David Lindenmayer and Dr Chris Taylor, demonstrating unequivocally that mature forest is a great deal less flammable than forest that has been logged in recent decades.4

In addition, scientists like Lindenmayer and Associate Adjunct Professor Philip Zylstra, specialist in wildfire dynamics and ecology, have shown that recently burned forest is three times as flammable as old, mature forest.5 This is supported by the findings reported in the International Journal of Wildland Fire (CSIRO publishing) under the heading A comparison of fuel hazard in recently burned and long-unburned forests and woodlands,6 which states in the abstract,

“Overall fuel hazard was higher in forests and woodlands burned 6–12 years previously than those unburned for at least 96 years.”

That logged forests burn at greater severity than intact forests may at first seem counter intuitive, but consider the facts:

“First, logging removes solid tree trunks but leaves behind branches, tree heads, bark and other debris. These remaining fine and medium fuels add to fire risk. Second, logging dries forest soils for up to 80 years after cutting. Third, important moisture-maintaining plants like tree ferns are almost completely lost from logged forest. Fourth, forests that are logged and regenerated are much hotter and subject to more extreme conditions than intact forests. Fifth, the dense understorey plants in young logged forest can create “ladder” fuels that drive surface fires into the canopy.”7

It may be attractive to feel that we need to “manage” forest systems but there’s just no evidence for it, unless we are repairing damage we have caused.

4. https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2020/may/06/compelling-evidence-logging-native-forests-has-worsened-australian-bushfires-scientists-warn
5. https://theconversation.com/coming-of-age-research-shows-old-forests-are-3-times-less-flammable-than-those-just-burned-179571
6. https://www.publish.csiro.au/WF/WF18037
7. https://www.theage.com.au/national/victoria/the-state-government-is-increasing-our-bushfire-risk-right-now-20220715-p5b1zu.html

Related stories:
Philip Zylstra continues the debate – self-thinning forest understoreys and wildfire risk;
Self-thinning forest understoreys and wildfire risk debate – Jack Bradshaw responds to Philip Zylstra;
‘Self thinning forest understoreys reduce wildfire risk, even in a warming climate’: Philip Zylstra responds to Jack Bradshaw;
Comment on ‘Self-thinning forest understoreys reduce wildfire risk, even in a warming climate’: Jack Bradshaw.

ARR.News: Would you support selective timber harvesting in a way that would allow for sustainable levels of forest dependent species?

Kinglake Friends of the Forest: The evidence suggests that native forest logging and conservation are inherently incompatible. We would be interested in any evidence to the contrary.

Australia is a global leader when it comes to extinction.8 Victoria has 84 species that are dependent on forests and are threatened with extinction.9 Victoria’s Mountain Ash ecosystem itself is at risk of collapse and as such is listed in the International Union for Conservation of Nature, IUCN, as critically endangered.10 How could logging a critically endangered ecosystem which is in itself the habitat of endangered species ever be assessed as sustainable? It is not surprising that logging native forest in Victoria has never attained FSC sustainability status and it is unlikely that it ever will.

8. https://www.abc.net.au/radio/programs/pm/australia-is-a-global-leader-in-species-extinctions/11088040
9. https://www.delwp.vic.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0026/414098/5-Threatened-species-factsheet-FINAL.pdf
10. https://assessments.iucnrle.org/assessments/16

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