Forest Media 2 October 2020
While the fires diminished wildlife and timber the Nationals over rid plans to protect unburnt habitat and insisted on logging regardless. Feds visit Brandy Hill quarry where 52 ha Koala Habitat is to be cleared, meanwhile 5,500 ha was approved for clearing in Queensland. The Coaltion has done a secret deal on gutting the Koala SEPP, though it doesn’t seem that different to what had been agreed before the Nats dummy spit – the maps are gone and it appears that mapped core Koala habitat won’t be protected from landclearing (for farming) or logging. In Tasmania the Government has agreed not to log breeding habitat of Swift Parrots for a while rather than fight an injunction. In Western Australia nannas are upsetting loggers. In Victoria they are actually planning to transition to plantations, while they reseed burnt alpine forests. There are claims that despite rampant landclearing we are each gaining 8 ‘standard’ trees a year, though the world’s forests continue to decline as wilderness disappears. Some think we should plan a greener future in pandemic recovery, and others advocate dreaming the future we expect. Though with forests being devastated by jumping worms, ghost forests and zombie fires, reality is becoming a nightmare. Fears of the Amazon passing a tipping point and collapsing within decades are growing. Though some have not given up on hope and are pursuing massive restoration and tree planting, with many world leaders signing on to a pledge for nature aimed at stopping biodiversity loss and restoring 30% of the world for nature – though while Scotty from marketing likes feisty Koalas he of course hasn’t signed the pledge on our behalf.
The Nationals demand logging of unburnt forests:
Deputy Premier John Barilaro ignored pleas from the environmental watchdog to curb logging in a core koala habitat hit hard by last season’s fires, instead demanding the state firm meet its contracts.
Documents reveal the Environment Protection Authority sought a voluntary halt to logging in the Lower Bucca and other state forests from March onwards. After initially supporting such a move, Forestry Corp rejected the request after intervention by Mr Barilaro, the papers show.
Lower Bucca, near Coffs Harbour, “has a high proportion of high-value koala habitat; it contains a koala hub, and is an important koala refugium in bushfire recovery”, EPA document written as advice to Environment Minister Matt Kean in early April shows.
“The Coastal IFOA does not contemplate the degree of impacts on the environment caused by the fires,” the document labelled “sensitive” said.
“Amending the Coastal IFOA to provide the EPA power to stop logging unburnt forests would require a 28-day public consultation period and concurrence with the Deputy Premier,” it added.
Forestry Corp initially agreed to a plan to avoid logging unburnt state forests and to replan logging in burnt ones.
However, the loss-making firm later changed tack, saying “the unburnt forests are needed to deliver on their wood supply agreements (to access blackbutt timber for [construction company] Boral)”, the advice said. Forestry Corp also rejected a plea for extra “site-specific conditions” to protect koalas.
The EPA report stated Forestry Corp logging continued “because their Minister [John Barilaro] asked them to deliver on contractual obligations”.
Brandy Hill Koalas gaining momentum:
Federal Environment Minister Sussan Ley has visited the controversial Brandy Hill quarry site as the battle to save 52 hectares of core koala habitat intensifies with celebrities, politicians and community groups lending their support to the ever growing ‘Save Port Stephens Koalas‘ campaign.
With less than two weeks to go before Ms Ley is expected to hand down her decision on the proposed expansion of the Brandy Hill rock quarry by Hanson, opponents to the quarry have rolled out the big guns. Public support has come from the likes of Olivia Newton-John, Magda Szubanski, Jimmy Barnes, The Greens and the Nature Conservation Council – and the list is growing by the day.
No piddly quarries for Queensland:
Construction on a billion-dollar coal mine in central Queensland is set to begin after mining leases were handed over by the Palaszczuk government on Tuesday.
The Olive Downs project has been given approval by state and federal governments to clear 5500 hectares of koala and glider habitat …
The federal government signed off on the mine in May, on the condition the mining company contributed $1 million “to improving long-term conservation of koalas and greater gliders in the Bowen Basin”.
Other environmental conditions placed on the mine included a 34,000-hectare offset property to relocate wildlife and “a comprehensive monitoring and management program” to ensure the project did not affect groundwater-dependent ecosystems.
What is the Koala SEPP all about:
It’s not every day that SEPPs make headline news, let alone threaten the stability of the NSW Government. So it was with interest that we followed the political controversy that unfolded this month surrounding the recent State Environmental Planning Policy (Koala Habitat Protection) 2019 (the Koala SEPP).
Absent in the media was any real discussion of how the Koala SEPP actually operates. We thought it timely to provide this little explainer.
Like the State Environmental Planning Policy (SEPP) 44, the new SEPP doesn’t prevent the clearing of any koala habitat, says Associate Professor Amelia Thorpe in Law at UNSW Sydney.
“It just requires approval, and even then, there are lots of exceptions,” she says.
With the new SEPP, approval is required for developments determined by councils, but approval is not required for major projects (state significant development and state significant infrastructure), activities assessed under Part 5 of the EPA Act (activities by public authorities) and land clearing requiring approvals under other legislation.
“It also excludes development on land less than one hectare,” says A/Prof. Thorpe.
Koala Plans of Management are still voluntary and since the old SEPP commenced in 1995 only five have been made by councils.
In its media statement, the National Party says: “We must protect property rights, traditional farming practices, private native forestry and the ability for landholders to conduct minor developmental changes without being mired in layers of green tape.”
A/Prof. Thorpe says this is based on an understanding of property rights that has never been correct.
“Property rights have always been constrained by the rights of other property owners – no-one ever has absolute control over their land because what we do affects the land around us,” she says.
… and while they have gutted the SEPP to the National’s satisfaction we don’t yet know the details (sounds like landclearing and forestry will be exempt):
The New South Wales premier says the Liberal and National parties have reached a peace deal over planning laws to protect koala habitat after the issue almost split the Coalition government a month ago.
On Friday, the Liberal premier, Gladys Berejiklian, said the parties had reached an agreement over the policy ahead of a cabinet meeting scheduled for Tuesday.
The full details of the new policy won’t be released until after next week’s cabinet meeting …
Toole on Friday spruiked changes to the policy that would mean core farmland would be exempt from the new policy.
Agriculture Minister Adam Marshall said it was a “huge win” for agriculture, farms and the environment.
He said the deal will ensure agriculture and farming will continue to be regulated by existing land management codes and private native forestry will still be regulated under the existing code arrangements.
Scotty from marketing knows what’s best:
The prime minister has revealed his favourite animal, and the curious reason behind it.
‘I am a big fan of koalas, I’ve got to say, I love koalas,’ he told Adelaide radio 5AA on Thursday.
‘And I like it when they get the ‘irrits’ a bit, too. I find that quite funny.’
First round to Bob Brown in renewed RFA legal battle:
Critically endangered Tasmanian parrots will be able to breed in peace over the coming months after loggers agreed to postpone activities in native habitat.
Former Greens leader Bob Brown had flagged plans for an urgent injunction on logging activities in old growth forests to protect the swift parrot.
State-owned logging group Sustainable Timber Tasmania was due to undertake logging activities in parrot habitat, but Mr Brown’s lawyer Ron Merkel QC told the Federal Court that it could disrupt the bird’s breeding season from September to January.
STT has agreed to hold off on logging until the case can be heard by the full court, which is not expected to meet again until February.
An STT spokesperson said the decision to postpone logging in 19 coupes was made solely to avoid costly and time-consuming injunction arguments.
The foundation is arguing Tasmania’s regional forest agreement is invalid because it doesn’t include a legally enforceable requirement for the state to protect threatened species.
Guy Barnett,Minister for Resources
The Tasmanian Government has full confidence in our comprehensive Regional Forest Agreement (RFA) and is fully prepared to fight its legality in court in order to protect Tasmanian businesses, jobs and communities.
I am advised that Sustainable Timber Tasmania are taking the proactive step, following consultation with industry, to suspend operations in a limited number of coupes.
This will allow the case against the legality of the RFA by the Bob Brown Foundation to be brought forward and resolved sooner, to provide certainty for Tasmanian workers.
Western Australian nannas aggravate loggers:
Forest industry workers have panned Tuesday’s mass protest by anti-logging grandmother activists as an illegal publicity stunt.
After seven elderly Margaret River women staged a similar protest at McCorkhill Forest last month, a group of about 40 self-described “grannies” blocked roads and Forest Products Association operations at Helms Forest this week.
Ms Haslam said family-owned logging contractors were forced to stop for three hours because of illegal road closures for the sake of “a shameful publicity stunt”.
The women set up a small camp site, knitting, reading, sketching, making tea, and writing letters to Premier Mark McGowan. They also demanded an in-person meeting with Forestry Minister Dave Kelly and Environment Minister Stephen Dawson.
Meanwhile Victoria is transitioning to plantations:
Victoria’s forestry transition will be supported with the creation of a new state-owned nursery in East Gippsland, which will also help local forests and economies recover from the devastating 2019-20 Victorian bushfires.
Establishment of the $10 million Victorian Forest Nursery will increase the eucalypt seedling supply chain and create up to 30 new jobs, most of which will be ongoing.
The Program is part of the Government’s $110 million investment in plantation timber. It supports the Victorian Forestry Plan and the timeline it sets to transition from harvesting native forests to a plantation-based sector.
Currently five-out-of-six trees harvested in Victoria are from plantations and the state has the largest area dedicated to timber plantations in Australia.
… and replanting disappearing alpine forests:
The Victorian Government is undertaking the largest forest restoration effort in the state’s history with a $7.7 million operation that airlifted tonnes of eucalypt seeds into areas of forest devastated by last summer’s fires.
Funding from Bushfire Recovery Victoria’s $110 million State Recovery Plan is helping recover thousands of hectares of burnt Mountain and Alpine Ash forest and enabling seed to be collected from healthy bushland to ensure the re-seeding work can be ongoing.
Between May and July more than 4.5 tonnes of eucalypt seed, 3 tonnes of which came from VicForests’ contingency reserves, was spread by helicopter across nearly 11,500 hectares of fire ravaged country, an area the equivalent of about 5,650 MCGs.
We each get 8 more trees a year:
we mapped changes in Australia’s tree cover in detail, using 30 years of satellite images. We published the results in a recent paper and made the data available for everyone in our new TreeChange web interactive.
On average, we’ve been gaining eight “standard trees” per year for every Australian.
In total, we found there is currently the equivalent of 1,000 standard trees for every Australian. But this doesn’t mean all our forests are doing well.
So we defined a “standard”: imagine a gum tree with a trunk 30 centimetres in diameter, standing about 15 metres tall…. Cut it down and let it dry out, and it will weigh about half a ton.
We found the total forest biomass across Australia holds the equivalent of about 24 billion standard trees.
By this definition, we gained a staggering 28 million hectares of forest over the last 30 years, plus another 24 million hectares of woodland.
… most of the trees were already there. They just grew larger and denser, and crossed the threshold of our definition of a forest, so were counted in.
By international standards our emissions are massive, equivalent to the carbon stored in 24 standard trees per person per year.
And additional carbon is stored on the forest floor in, for example, logs and branches, as well as under the surface as organic matter. This is worth, perhaps, several more trees of carbon. But it is not clear how safe those carbon deposits are from fire and drought.
While we found the total area and biomass of forests and woodlands has been rising, quality can be more important than quantity when it comes to our ecosystems.
Though its not all good:
A new study published in One Earth found that more than half of the world is under moderate or intense pressure due to humanity, and that between 2000 and 2013, about 1.9 million square kilometers (734,000 square miles) of intact land — about the size of Mexico — has been modified to the point of devastation.
Williams told Mongabay in an email. “A lot of biodiversity requires intact land for survival, and people rely on the services that intact ecosystems provide. Climate change mitigation efforts are also undermined by these losses because intact lands make crucial contributions to the terrestrial carbon sink, so it really is cause for concern.”
“Once those intact places have been degraded by human industry, they can never be returned, and that has huge consequences for biodiversity and climate agendas as well as the sustainable development goals.” On the other hand, the study showed that 42% of the terrestrial Earth was relatively “free of direct anthropogenic disturbance,” and that 25% of land could still be considered “wilderness” with very little human disturbance. The most intact biomes included tundras, boreal and taiga forests, deserts and xeric shrublands …
Is a fairer and greener Australia possible:
It’s only months since we were overwhelmed with the bushfire disaster. …The koalas screaming in agony were heard around the world. This was our global future burning before our eyes.
… But we should understand the virus as an ecological disaster, just like the climate emergency. They are not causally related. Rather, they are expressions of the same profound overburdening of the planet by anthropogenic excess.
The climate emergency has not abated with the pandemic. Extreme weather is everywhere on the planet. Syria is gripped by its worst drought in 900 years. Locusts are swarming over East Africa. We are warned the climatic sweet spot of the Holocene that has made complex societies possible for the last 6,000 years is coming to an end, to be replaced by unbearable heat in some of the world’s most populous places.
Not only the year of COVID, 2020 will be the year, according to the World Food Programme, of the greatest food shortages since 1945. And the global economic collapse, if we are not both brave and careful, will morph into a depression longer and deeper than that of the 1930s.
We need national reconstruction again: to transition to renewable energy, to restore fairness and security to our economy, to rebuild our rural and regional sectors that are beset by poverty, environmental stress and long-time marginalisation.Climate change imperils our food security as it does our natural environment and wildlife. If we are to reconstruct Australia as a sustainable economy and society, then perhaps 60% of that effort needs to be in the bush.
We need to imagine the future we want:
As we argue in our recent paper, our imaginations allow us to engage with emotions that motivate action, such as hope, fear and grief. Can we imagine a future with no koalas or orange-bellied parrots or wollemi pines? Or of bushfires that destroy the natural wonders of our childhoods?
Storytelling can help in this task. In the following vignettes, we’ve imagined three possible futures for Australia.
Though reality is becoming a nightmare, in America jumping worms are destroying forests:
What could be more 2020 than an ongoing invasion of jumping worms?
These earthworms are wriggling their way across the United States, voraciously devouring protective forest leaf litter and leaving behind bare, denuded soil. They displace other earthworms, centipedes, salamanders and ground-nesting birds, and disrupt forest food chains. They can invade more than five hectares in a single year, changing soil chemistry and microbial communities as they go, new research shows. And they don’t even need mates to reproduce.
Jumping worms are often sold as compost worms or fishing bait. And that, says soil ecologist Nick Henshue of the University at Buffalo in New York, is partially how they’re spreading
… while ghost forests are spreading:
A new study found the spread of ghost forests across a coastal region of North Carolina may have implications for global warming. Ghost forests are areas where rising seas have killed off freshwater-dependent trees, leaving dead or dying white snags standing in marsh.
They found that on unmanaged, or natural, land such as publicly owned wildlife areas, ghost forests spread across 15 percent of the area between 2001 and 2014.
“Two severe droughts within the study period produced larger-than-typical wildfires and facilitated salinization of normally freshwater ecosystems,” said study co-author Paul Taillie, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Florida and former graduate student at N.C. State. “Thus the combination of rising sea level and future drought would be expected to cause a large net loss in biomass.”
… and zombie fires refuse to die:
“These are underground fires — zombie fires,” said Kuksin, the 40-year-old head of Greenpeace’s wildfire unit in Russia.
Lying dormant one metre (three feet) beneath the earth’s surface, the fire has survived biting Siberian winters because of low groundwater levels — a result of regular droughts
After winter — when summer temperatures soar — the fires can return from the dead, igniting dry grass on the surface and spreading over large areas.
He said it was a vicious circle where fires made worse by climate change release gases that in turn exacerbate climate change.
“We are fighting both against the result of climate change and the very thing that causes it,” he said.
The Nature website has recently reported an alarming increase in the frequency of peatland fires in the Arctic zones, both in North America and Russia.
While I may outlive the Great Barrier Reef, the good news is that the Amazon may outlive me, but not by much:
LONDON, 30 September, 2020 – Within one human lifetime, Amazon collapse could have turned the rainforest into open savannah.
The combined devastation of human-induced global warming, rapidly increasing degradation or destruction of the forest, natural climate cycles and catastrophic wildfires could be enough to bring the world’s biggest, richest and most vital forest to a tipping point: towards a new kind of habitat.
“The risk that our generation will preside over the irreversible collapse of Amazonian and Andean biodiversity is huge, literally existential,” warns Mark Bush of the Florida Institute of Technology, in the latest Annals of the Missouri Botanical Garden.
His warning may sound apocalyptic. In fact, he is only saying out loud what has been implicit in research and reporting from the region for years.
Drought and fire present a kind of double jeopardy to any forest. Drought and fire could, researchers have repeatedly warned, turn the Amazon from an absorber of carbon to a source of greenhouse gases, to make global heating even worse.
“The immense biodiversity of the rainforest is at risk from fire,” said Professor Bush. “Warming alone could induce the tipping point by mid-century, but if the present policies that turn a blind eye to forest destruction aren’t stopped, we could reach the tipping point much sooner.”
He warned: “Beyond the loss of wildlife, the cascading effects of losing Amazonian rainforest would alter rainfall across the hemisphere. This is not a remote problem, but one of global importance and critical significance to food security that should concern us all.” – Climate News Network
The fires in the Amazon region in 2019 were unprecedented in their destruction. Thousands of fires had burned more than 7,600 square kilometres by October that year. In 2020, things are no better and, in all likelihood, may be worse.
According to the Global Fire Emissions Database project run by NASA, fires in the Amazon in 2020 surpassed those of 2019. In fact, 2020’s fires have been the worst since at least 2012, when the satellite was first operated. The number of fires burning the Brazilian Amazon increased 28 per cent in July 2020 over the previous year, and the fires in the first week of September are double those in 2019, according to INPE, Brazil’s national research space agency.
As the rainforest bleeds biomass through deforestation, it loses its ability to capture carbon from the atmosphere and releases carbon through combustion. If the annual fires burning the Amazon are not curtailed, one of the world’s largest carbon sinks will progressively devolve into a carbon faucet, releasing more carbon dioxide than it sequesters.
Many researchers predict that deforestation is propelling the Amazon towards a tipping point, beyond which it will gradually transform into a semi-arid savanna. If the deforestation of the rainforest continues past a threshold of 20-25 per cent total deforestation, multiple positive feedback loops will spark the desertification of the Amazon Basin.
The present pandemic may well have had an environmental genesis. Maintaining the Amazon’s current high level of biodiversity is vital, both for the health of the global ecosystem and because, otherwise, the Amazon could become a future hotspot of emerging diseases. When we protect the global ecosystem, we also protect ourselves from emerging zoonotic diseases.
… the edge effect makes it worse:
Forests thick with trees stash away CO2, lightening the load of the greenhouse gas. But the effect is dramatically reduced at the edges of the rainforest. There, clear-cutting projects of industries like lumber and palm oil weaken the forest’s integrity.
From 2001 to 2015, the Amazon forest lost 947 million tons of carbon storage along its edges, a new study finds. That’s one-third the quantity of carbon lost due to all deforestation in the same time period.
“Forest fragmentation, a resulting feature of the deforestation process, promotes indirect carbon losses induced by edge effect.”
… One study, conducted in Malaysian Borneo, found that reduced carbon storage at the edge of the forest extends more than 300 feet into the forest.
There is still hope:
- At Davos 2020, the World Economic Forum launched 1t.org, the platform to serve a global movement to conserve, restore and grow 1 trillion trees by 2030.
- In July 2020, 1t.org’s Trillion Trees Challenge went live on UpLink, and led to the selection of the first cohort of Trillion Trees champions and innovators.
- Innovations from 5 continents tackle a range of roadblocks, including mass mobilisation, reaching scale, greening cities, building a forest economy, and Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) technologies for trees.
Forests are critical to the health of the planet. Conserving existing forests, restoring forest ecosystems and reforesting suitable lands is essential if we are to transition to a sustainable pathway for our economies and societies at the required speed and scale.
World leaders step up, but Australia is missing in action:
In the midst of a planetary biodiversity crisis, 71 world leaders have endorsed the Leaders’ Pledge for Nature to reverse biodiversity loss by 2030.
Jacinda Ardern, Boris Johnson, Emmanuel Macron, Angela Merkel, and Justin Trudeau, are among those who endorsed the pledge, stating the world is in a “state of planetary emergency: the interdependent crises of biodiversity loss and ecosystem degradation and climate change” and that this emergency requires “urgent and immediate global action.”
News of the leaders’ participation, announced Sept. 28, comes ahead of the United Nations Summit on Biodiversity this week. It builds upon mounting support for a science-based target: to protect 30% of the planet by 2030, which is included in the most recent draft of the U.N.’s Convention on Biological Diversity as one of its 20 post-2020 strategies. Borris Johnson, for instance, promised to increase UK protected areas to 30% by 2030.
The pledge addresses sustainable food systems and supply chains, eliminating unregulated fishing, reducing air pollution, integrating a “One-Health” approach, and “shifting land use and agricultural policies away from environmentally harmful practices for land and marine ecosystems.”