There is a new threat to our public native forests: an extreme clear fell logging proposal.
The new logging licences currently being negotiated by the Forestry Corporation and the Environment Protection Authority, known at the IFOA or Integrated Forestry Operations Approval, are a major step backwards for our forests. They want to zone 150,000 hectares of public forests from Grafton to Taree into an intensive logging zone where clear felling is the norm. North of Grafton and south of Taree the plan is for a massive intensification of logging.
Only a few trees will be required to be protected. This would turn these public native forests into pseudo-plantations, drying up streams and devastating wildlife habitat. The koala and 32 other animal species that are threatened with extinction will be seriously affected.
In the Clarence and Richmond catchments the proposed new rules will see thousands of hectares of stream side forest and threatened species habitat become available for logging.
Dailan Pugh has done a detailed analysis of the impacts. The full report can be found here:
We now need to spread the word about this. Standby for campaign actions and be ready to write submissions opposing it when the new IFOA is put on public exhibition.
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We have long recognised that our iconic Koalas are in danger of extinction on the far north coast of NSW and, despite having laws in place for over 20 years to redress their decline, our Governments collude to hasten it. Governments of all persuasions have proven that they are willing to have rules and regulations to protect Koala habitat as long as they are ineffective.
Stable breeding aggregations of Koalas are comprised of individuals with overlapping home ranges of around 5 ha. Koalas show strong fidelity for their home ranges throughout their lives, which may be 8-10 years. The size and viability of a Koala’s home range is dependent on the availability of resources within it.
On the north coast Koalas preferentially select larger (over 30cm diameter) individuals of Tallowwood, Grey Gum, Grey Box, Forest Red Gum and Swamp Mahogany for feeding, though also utilise other species. These are the same trees targeted by the loggers.
For Koalas the logging codes variously require the retention of 5 to15 feed trees per hectare (for public and private lands respectively) when Koalas are found in preferred forest types. They also require the establishment of 20 metre exclusion areas around Koala high use trees if they are found. Koala high use trees are taken to be those with at least 20 Koala scats (faecal pellets) beneath them. It is this later requirement that has the theoretical potential to provide protection for parts of core Koala breeding habitat.
For public lands the Forestry Corporation are required to thoroughly search for Koala scats ahead of logging to identify and protect Koala High Use Areas (HUAs). It wasn’t until NEFA caught the Forestry Corporation logging Koala HUAs in Royal Camp State Forest (near Casino) in 2012 that their ongoing refusal to properly search for Koala scats and identify Koala HUA’s was publicly exposed after 15 years of avoiding this requirement (see Doing Surveys).
For private lands loggers are required to protect Koala high use trees, though are not required to look for them (or any threatened species) and therefore they are not usually protected. This wasn’t publicly exposed until the local community and NEFA intervened in 2013 to identify Koala high use trees on a private property being logged by the Forestry Corporation at Whian Whian (north of Lismore). Where the Forestry Corporation had identified 2 such trees, the community identified 26 along with core Koala breeding habitat. Undaunted the Forestry Corporation continued to road and log the core habitat.
It is evident that the Forestry Corporation can not be trusted to provide the required protection for core Koala habitat and have instead been routinely logging it. In order to provide Koalas with the protection they need the National Parks Association have recently proposed the Great Koala National Park and a series of smaller Koala Parks throughout north east NSW. (see A Blueprint for a Comprehensive Reserve System for Koalas on the North Coast of NSW).
Forests are the lungs of the earth. They play a vital role in sequestering and storing carbon. Carbon storage has been significantly diminished in vast areas of NSW’s forests due to logging. As trees grow their carbon storage increases. By simply stopping logging of regrowth forests will allow trees to mature and increase their carbon storage. (See: Sequestering and Storing Carbon in Forests)
Protecting degraded forests is part of the solution to climate change, continued logging is part of the problem. Allowing regrowth forests to mature will avoid significant releases of CO2 and allow carbon to be sequestered and stored in the tree trunks and soils of the regenerating forests. The regenerating forests will continue to store carbon in ever increasing volumes as they mature over decades and centuries.
Climate change represents a significant environmental, economic and social cost to the people of NSW. Increasing carbon storage in forests and avoiding emissions represents a significant economic benefit to all people in NSW.
State Forests are part of the public estate effectively controlled by the will of the people of NSW.. Along with National Parks, Nature Reserves and State Conservation Areas, and numerous schools, hospitals, sporting, camping and recreation areas, State forests are Crown lands. State forests are public lands that have been allocated for timber production under the control of the Forestry Corporation.
The community has the right and responsibility to ensure that State forests are managed in the community’s best interests. The community has repeatedly identified that they place a very high value on native forests for wildlife, beauty, water and recreation, compared to a relatively low value for logging, mining and shooting. For example the Community Attitude survey for the Upper North East Comprehensive Regional Assessment (McGregor et. al. 1997a) established that the priorities respondents gave to “various activities with relation to public forests” were;
protecting native plants and animals (100%),
maintaining sites of natural beauty (99%),
maintaining water quality (96%),
aboriginal sites (89%),
protecting wilderness (87%),
camping (79%), and
Exploitative uses of public lands received a lot less support (timber production 24%, woodchipping 7% and mining 13%), with the highest opposition being to mining (72%), hunting (70%) and woodchipping (65%).
In response to the question “what is it about forests that you value?”, those values ranked highest were aesthetic (80%), conservation reasons (46%), spiritual (25%), intergenerational equity (14%) and recreation (10%) as compared to relatively low values for economic/employment (6%) and economic goods and use (5%).
While State Forests have been allocated for timber production, the Forestry Act 2012 requires that they be managed in compliance with the principles of ecologically sustainable development, with timber supply environmentally sustainable, and with regard to the interests of the community.
Large areas of State Forests are still required to be added to the reserve system to satisfy the national reserve targets and protect viable fauna populations (see CAR Reserves), logging is being undertaken at an unsustainable rate (see Over-logging ), and they are not being managed in an ecologically sustainable manner (see Bell Miner Associated Dieback), (Logging Prescriptions). NEFA therefore maintains that they are not being managed in the community’s best interests.
McGregor, A., Gibson, C., Miller, F. and Sharma, K. (1997a) Thinking About Forests, community attitudes towards forests in the Upper North East CRA region. Unpublished report prepared Department of Geography, University of Sydney, for the NSW CRA/RFA process.
Forests are key components of the earth's water cycle. Forests do not just respond to rainfall, they actively generate their own. They recycle water from the soil back into the atmosphere by transpiration, create the updrafts that facilitate condensation as the warm air rises and cools, create pressure gradients that draw moist air in from afar, and, just to be sure, release the atmospheric particles which are the nuclei around which raindrops form.
Forests have been described as 'biotic pumps' driving regional rainfall because their high rates of transpiration return large volumes of moisture to the atmosphere and suck in moisture laden air from afar.
While most of our rain originates from evaporation of the oceans, it is estimated that 40% of the rain that falls on land comes from evaporation from the land and, most importantly, from transpiration by vegetation. Recycled water vapour becomes increasingly important for inland rainfall.
Having created and attracted the water vapour, the plants then make it rain. Plants emit volatile organic compounds (VOCs), such as plant scents and the blue haze characteristic of eucalypt forests. They play an important role in communication between plants, and messages from plants to animals, and also between plants and moisture-laden air. They oxidise in the air to form the cloud condensation nuclei around which waterdrops form.
The transpiration of vegetation also results in evaporative cooling whereby the surface heat is transferred to the atmosphere in water vapour. The resultant clouds also help shade and cool the surface.
Forests store water in their tissues, in the soil amongst their roots and in the protected microclimate beneath their canopies, releasing it over time to the atmosphere by evapotranspiration and to streams through the groundwater system. Forests are a vital component of our hydrological cycle and due to their roles in attracting and recycling rainfall, reducing temperatures and regulating runoff they provide immense economic benefits to human societies. Their importance will become increasingly significant as climate change results in more erratic rainfalls and intense dry periods.
There is abundant scientific evidence that deforestation and degradation of vegetation causes significant reductions in rainfall by:
reducing the recycling of rainfall to the atmosphere by transpiration
reducing the drawing in of moist coastal air
reducing updrafts of moist air
reducing rooting depth and the recycling of deep soil moisture
increasing loss of water from the land by runoff
reducing the organic aerosols necessary for the condensation of rain drops.
The overwhelming evidence from around the world is that land-clearing has directly caused a significant reduction in regional rainfalls and an increase in land temperatures (See: Clearing Our Rainfall Away). These impacts have been compounded through the release of stored CO2, with land clearing contributing around a third of our CO2 emissions in the past two centuries.
Across drier areas of Australia the removal of deep rooted forests and woodlands has caused water tables to rise, allowing long-buried saline ground-waters to rise towards the surface, with the resultant dryland salinity affecting millions of hectares.
Logging has the opposite effect, with increased transpiration by the regrowth lowering water tables. The generalised pattern following logging of an oldgrowth forest is for there to be an initial increase in runoff peaking after 1 or 2 years and persisting for a few years. Water yields then begin to decline below that of the oldgrowth as the regrowth can consume 50% more water than oldgrowth. Water yields are likely to reach a minimum after 20-30 years before slowly increasing towards pre-logging levels in line with forest maturity. It can take over 150 years to restore the original water yields. (See: How Forests Regulate Streamflows)
Reductions in water yields are dependent upon the rainfall and the amount of water used by the vegetation. When rainfall is low the regrowth can consume most of the water, leaving little surplus for streams. In areas experiencing high rainfalls regrowth has been found to depress annual water yields by some 50%, though with low rainfalls there may be little water left for streams surplus to the requirements of the regrowth.
With declining rainfalls due to clearing, the increased demand for water by the regrowth can dry catchments, cause water stress and kill trees.
Allowing regrowth forests to mature results in significantly increased water yields to surrounding streams and dams. Water yields will go on increasing for many decades. The increase in water yields from maturing forests represents a significant economic benefit to all downstream users, particularly during dry periods.
Fig. 1 from Speer et. al. (2011): Map of Australia highlighting the decline in annual rainfall (mm/10 years) around Australia from, 1950–2007.
The allocation of Crown land for conservation dates back to 1866 in NSW, with the first National Park created in 1879. Since then it has been a slow and tedious process to construct an effective reserve system in north-east NSW. NEFA was instrumental in achieving a doubling of reserves (See: A Short History of Reserves in North East NSW).
Reserves have been established for recreation, scenic qualities, heritage values, and flora and fauna conservation. It has been community agitation that has been primarily responsible for public land being set aside for conservation, with destructive uses such as logging, mining and grazing generally excluded.
Vested interests have led the fight against reservation of crown land for conservation. Historically they were successful in largely limiting reserves to the least productive areas with limited commercial potential.
In 1992 the National Forest Policy committed all Australian Governments to establishing Comprehensive, Adequate and Representative reserve systems for forests based on explicit national reserve targets (See: CAR Reserves). This was meant to be a way forward to ensure that reserves encompassed representative samples of all ecosystems and species while being of adequate size to maintain viable populations of flora and fauna into the future.
The process leading to the 2000 Regional Forest Agreement (RFA) for North East NSW did result in a significant increase in the reserve system in north-east NSW based on sound data and targets. Though unfortunately politicians once again bowed to pressure from vested interests and intervened to stop the promised CAR reserve system from being established (See: CAR Reserves).
Despite north east NSW’s forests being one of Australia’s and the world’s biodiversity hotspots, the reform process still left us with one of the worst forest reserve systems in Australia, and many of the national reserve targets unmet. There remains an urgent need to expand north east NSW’s reserve system to achieve the basic requirements of a CAR reserve system, particularly in light of the accelerating impacts of climate change.
Due to the conservation of more productive lands in recent decades, the vested interests are now campaigning to have reserves opened up for logging and grazing. The pretence is that they need to be logged for “ecologically thinning” and grazed for fire protection.
Public land is a highly valued resource, providing the only natural areas for recreation for many local residents. Natural environments are also important components of the recreation and tourism industry and contribute significantly to attracting tourists to north east NSW in order to experience their landscapes and wildlife. Nature-based outdoor recreation is increasingly in demand as urbanization continues around the world.
National Parks make a significant contribution to regional economies and to nearby towns through direct tourist expenditure. The direct expenditure also leads to indirect impacts resulting from purchases from other sectors and induced impacts when workers spend income on goods and services. If tourism is appropriately managed the economic returns generated can be maintained over a long period of time for the benefit of a broad range of local businesses and residents.
As at 2010 the visitation to National Parks and reserves in north east NSW was estimated from a variety of sources as 9.4-10.8 million visits per year. This is an increase of over 250% in visitation since the Forest Reform process started in 1997. Expenditure associated with this visitation has been conservatively assessed as generating a business turnover of some $416-476 million and some 2,642-3,026 direct and indirect jobs in the regional economy. (see: Identifying the Recreational Value of Reserves)
The benefits to visitors can be measured in terms of consumer surplus,. which is how much a visitor is willing to pay above the price currently determined by market forces The consumer surplus of north east NSW’s National Parks is estimated as some $348-399 million.
It is evident that the creation of reserves in the Forest Reform process has been of significant economic benefit to the residents of north-east NSW.