Regional forest laws a dismal failure, report says

Australia’s Federal government has failed to protect State and regional forests aggravating the risks faced by endangered species and iconic trees, a report released today said.

The Environment Defenders Office (EDO) released the ‘One Stop Chop’ , a report containing an assessment how State governments failed to enforce effective environmental protection laws without Federal laws supporting them.

Friends of the Earth (FOE) said the report reveals environmental protection standards under state governments are far lower than under federal laws “and is a sombre warning for the fate of Australia’s wild places if plans to hand over federal environment powers are enacted.”

FOE Campaigns Coordinator Cam Walker said  the ‘One Stop Chop’ shows that “contracting forest management out to state governments is systematically failing our threatened species and iconic forests” adding that “Regional Forest Agreements (RFAs) are the living example of what transferring federal environment powers to the states  would look like for our environment.”

As a result of the federal government’s oversight, forests have suffered, along with threatened species like Victoria’s critically endangered Leadbeater’s Possum, Walker said.

The report has sought to address the fundamental question whether the State and regional forestry laws have delivered equivalent environment protection standards to those likely to be achieved if the Federal laws have been applied directly to forestry operations in States and regional areas.

The Federal law is embodied in The Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act of 1999 (EPBC Act). It  is the federal government’s key piece of environmental legislation which took effect 16 July 2000– while the State and regional forestry laws are embodied in the RTAs.

Photo: MyEnvironmentInc

‘One Stop Chop’ focuses on biodiversity, particularly those threatened species which are matters of national environmental significance.

The overall finding, however, shows that RTAs never delivered the benefits claimed for them “for a mix of political, economic, cultural and legal reasons.”

From a legal perspective, the main reason the RFAs have failed is that the States do not take the regulatory and legal actions required to adequately protect matters of national significance. The failure is fundamental to the concept of the RFAs and of devolving control of matters of national environmental significance from the Commonwealth to the States.

The EPBC Act provides guidelines to the conservation and protection of nine matters of national environmental significance (MNES). These include world heritage properties, national heritage places, wetlands of international importance, nationally threatened species and ecological communities, migratory species, Commonwealth marine areas, the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, nuclear actions (including uranium mining), water resource in relation to coal seam gas development and large coal mining development.

The RFAs have different focus. They are 20-year plans for the conservation and sustainable management of Australia’s native forests. The Federal and State governments signed the 10 RFAs between 1997 and 2001. These 10 are already put in place in four States including Western Australia, Victoria, Tasmania and New South Wales. The Agreements provide certainty for forest-based industries, forest-dependent communities and conservation.

The RFAs sets the guidelines, tasks and responsibilities for sustainable forest management; and they are ongoing. The forest debate ranges over a variety of topics, including regeneration and regrowth forest,  old-growth forests,  woodchips, management on and off reserves, private land, plantations, fire, forest operations and regulations, other land uses, and endangered, threatened, vulnerable and rare species and ecological communities.

Last year, the Council of Australian Governments agreed to reform environmental laws that seek to give States an autonomy over local environmental laws. The One Stop Chop report, however, opposes the prospect.

Relevant Links:

Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water,  Population, and Communities

Department of Agriculture and Fisheries

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Queensland’s Newman declares “war” on native forests

What’s hot this week? Here’s to re-post Queensland’s new forest controversy:

The South East region of Queensland is home to a vast reserve of native forest providing a sanctuary for various kinds of flora and fauna. It is a bioregion known for its significant number of rare, threatened, and endemic species– the highest numbers of all regions assessed around Australia under the Regional Forest Agreement (RFA) process.

QLD Premiere Campbell Newman (Photo: SBS)

The Queensland State Government has been highly commended for its conservation efforts marked by the historic South East Queensland (SEQ) Forestry Agreement signed  in 1999 to stop logging in protected areas. The pact protects an additional 425,000 hectares in the conservation reserve system. It also envisions that all logging activities on native forest on public land will cease by 2024. Within 25 years, the area of forest reserved in SEQ is expected to be more than one million hectares.

There has been a ceasefire from forest wars over the past 14 years. The forest remains undisturbed by commercial activities– until recently the Campbell Newman government stirred the hornet’s nest.
This week, conservationists uncovered a clandestine document (credits to Indymedia.org.au) signed by Agriculture Minister John Mc Veigh to re-open the protected areas for logging.

Greens Senator Larissa Waters warns logging will destroy koala habitat. (Photo: SMH)

Greens Senator Larissa Waters lambasted a leaked letter from Agriculture Department Director-General Jack Noye to National Parks Department Director-General John Glaister that says Agriculture Minister John McVeigh has approved the logging. The letter also notes that the proposed logging would be conducted without Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service approval for codes or harvest plans.

Green peace is under threat and if logging resumes, it will affect southeast Queensland, the western hardwoods area, cypress regions in the west, central Queensland and north Queensland—all habitats of threatened species.

The Glossy Black Cockatoo is now listed as “vulnerable” in SEQ. (Photo: Supplied)

A report from Daniel Burdon both published in the Sunshine Coast Daily and Gympie Times said McVeigh had offered new 25-year contracts to 14 licensed timber companies to log cypress forests across state forests in southern and central Queensland.

Rod McInnes, Timber Queensland CEO (sic), said the renewal of the sales permits was essentially guaranteeing a longer contract for companies which already have an allocated licence to log such areas.

“Anyone who’s already got a Crown Wood Allocation now simply has a 25-year sale guarantee for their allocation,” he said.

“That doesn’t actually change how much timber is logged in the cypress forests each year, just how long the contracts are.

“What I’d be expecting in the next few years, are that rather than each of the 14 companies keeping their contracts, they might sell them now they are long-term, and four or five bigger commercial operators will take those allocations on, through amalgamations.”

Greens Senator Larissa Waters blasted Queensland Premier Campbell Newman for orchestrating the move which she said was tantamount to initiating forest destruction. She noted the forests as an important habitat for vanishing species.

A survey of endangered species in the SEQ bioregion

Wilderness Society denounces the move

Wilderness Society National Director Lyndon Schneiders denounced the move saying, “This is a short-sighted and counterproductive decision by the Queensland Government that undermines past agreements between conservation groups and the timber industry.”

He called on the Newman Government to stop sending chainsaws into up to two million hectares of high conservation value forests throughout Queensland.

A timber industry spokesperson said the forest was used to be harvested for sustainable logging and shutting it down all these years had hurt badly the timber industry. The spokesperson added that the state needs to create more jobs.

The Wilderness Society said, “Timber imports and the high dollar are challenging enough for the industry without stoking a conflict that was resolved a decade ago.

“If logging occurs in these areas, Queensland timber will become synonymous with forest destruction. The market has little taste for wood sourced from native forest destruction, and the Queensland timber industry will lose markets.

“We understand access to existing hardwood plantations is a key issue. The Wilderness Society will work with key stakeholders, including SEQFA signatory Timber Queensland, to convince the Queensland Government to abandon this foolhardy path.”

Houn Valley Environment Centre decries forest destruction

Green activists denounces Ta Ann’s involvement in “forest destruction. (Photo: The Observer Tree)

Meanwhile, the Houn Valley Environment Centre continues to decry Tasmania’s “forest destruction.” The Centre expressed fears over the State Government’s permission to allow logging operations in a World Heritage nominated site to supply wood exports. The Centre has been contentious about the logging operation of Forestry Tasmania who supplies wood to Malaysian-based Ta Ann Group.

Centre spokesperson Jenny Weber said, “Ta Ann asserting that they won’t receive timber from the World Heritage nominated forests is one thing, but a commitment by Forestry Tasmania that they will not deliver wood from these coupes has not been officially announced. Until the guarantee that the timber from the proposed logging areas in the Huon district is given by Forestry Tasmania, the assertion by Ta Ann cannot be verified.”

Weber claimed Ta Ann had previously admitted that they have to take what Forestry Tasmania supplies them regardless where the wood products were sourced out.

Blog Link: Asian Correspondent

The Silent Victims of Bushfires

Australian summer is the peak season of bushfires. The CSIRO, a leading scientific body, said bushfire is a natural phenomenon no less than the sun and rain, and it occurs frequently all-year-round. When the mercury hits over 40 degrees Celsius (140 F), heat ignites wildfires that spread extensively engulfing farms, forests,  and communities,  including sanctuaries of wildlife. While many animals can survive, bushfires put pressure on many species to the verge of extinction. Plant and trees, however, have more power to regenerate.

A kangaroo hops through a burnt paddock in Melbourne West. (Photo: AAP)

Fire authorities across states have issued fire warnings , maps, and  precautions. Three states were under red alert early this week: Tasmania, New South Wales, and Victoria.  But temperatures dipped on Wednesday easing total the fire ban in threatened areas.

Fire brigades, community workers, and volunteers help in rescue operations while authorities assess the extent of damage.

Beyond the ashes are the silent victims of the catastrophe–  animals and endangered species.

The past bushfires had left many animals dead, their habitats destroyed. In Victoria, among the endangered species are the state bird emblem, the Helmeted Honeyeater and Leadbeaters Possums. According to Zoo Victoria, the Healesville Sanctuary is still reeling from the effects of Black Saturday in 2009. The Sanctuary itself was under threat and many animals were evacuated. The Vet team worked around the clock treating fire- affected animals in the wildlife hospital and in rescue centres in the community.

Threatened by bushfires (Photo: Supplied)

In Western Australia, many species of native animals and birds are feared to have been completely wiped out, according to Australian Geographic. Conservationists and animal carers note that populations of highly endangered possums, black cockatoos and other native species may now be locally extinct in the Margaret River, Nannup and Augusta regions. About 90 percent of wildlife in these areas are already presumed extinct.

Another endangered bird is the Red-tailed black cockatoo especially those the endangered Baudin’s red-tailed black cockatoos which are only found WA’s southwest. The number is estimated to be less than 10,000.

The ground parrot used to be a common bird seen in Australia, but the specie is disappearing. (Photo: Supplied)

The Wilderness Society has listed top five endangered species which could become extinct in the coming few years. These species are considered the most threatened by the fires: the Leadbeater’s Possum, Sooty Owl, Barred Galaxias, Ground Parrot. and Spotted Tree Frog.

Bushfires are wiping out the Spotted Tree Frog. (Photo: Supplied)

Koalas, kangaroos, sheep, and cattle are not spared from pain and suffering. The Department of Environment and Sustainability works with qualified and experienced wildlife care organisations and rehabilitators to assist with the recovery, treatment, rehabilitation and release of wildlife affected by fire.

This photo of CFA firefighter David Tree and Sam the koala became a bushfire icon of the Black Saturday in 2009. (Photo:Reuters)

Mobile animals, such as birds, kangaroos and wallabies, may be able to move out of burning areas to safer grounds. Other wildlife can take refuge underground, in tree hollows and logs, unburnt patches of vegetation, wet gullies, rocky areas and on leeward slopes.

Many perish in the fires while some badly burnt animals await DSE ‘s advice for their immediate ‘destuction’. Survivors are treated in vet clinics.

Plant species usually regenerate a few seasons after a bushfire. From the charred tree trunks and ashes from the earth, new life re-emerge–more resilent to face the evolutionary changes in the environment.

Many plant species resprout from protected buds, at or below ground level, and many others regenerate from soil-stored seed even if the adult plants were killed by the fires.

A wildfire near Deans Gap, New South Wales, Australia, crosses the Princes Highway. Pic: AP.

Links to Animal Rescue:

Department of Environment and Sustainability

Wildlife Victoria

Blog Link : Asian Correspondent