Australia’s wildlife is on death row.
An incentive to increase the destruction of the ecosystems it inhabits will almost certainly be voted on by the senate this week. Only the speeches of eight independent senators can earn a stay of execution. If homes, food, breeding sites are further cut for furnaces, much forest wildlife will cease to exist.
‘Over 5 million parrots, honeyeaters, robins and other land birds are killed each year by land clearing. For every 100 hectares of bush destroyed, between 1,000 and 2,000 birds die from exposure, starvation and stress. Half of Australia’s terrestrial bird species may become extinct this century unless habitat destruction is rapidly controlled. Nearly half our mammal species, including some wombats, wallabies and bandicoots, are either extinct or threatened with extinction as a result of land clearing, habitat destruction and other threats. Australia has lost more plants and mammals to extinction than any other country and has more threatened animals than 98% of the world’s countries.’
— From the Bush Heritage Australia website.
Australia’s alarming and accelerating extinction rate is being ignored by those who should be working hardest to preserve it. Political futures might depend on the passing of The Renewable Energy (Electricity) Amendment Bill 2015 to go before the Senate within a week. The LNP promised industry to change legislation to legitimise biomass power generated from native forest ecosystem material burnt in furnaces as a ‘renewable’. Per unit of power generated by the native forest biomass, a renewable energy certificate is issued – an REC – tradable in the marketplace for cash. As the RECs available are limited by the renewable energy target (RET), burnt native forest ecosystem power will compete directly for RECs with wind, solar, etc.
The future of forest dwelling creatures on the brink of extinction hangs on this decision that can be made in the Senate as early as June 15. Australians who give a damn need to share the significance of this bill with others and ask them, also, to phone and email one or more of the eight independent senators in a position to say: “No. In Australia, at this point in history, we won’t burn native forests to make energy.”
The LNP and Industry claim only ‘waste’ from logging operations is destined for the furnaces. This is not true. Explained earlier in Wild, the devil is in the definition. To make this profitable, industry needs to burn whole trees; in some cases the ‘biomass power’ could conceivably consume entire forests. It has been recently exposed that ‘waste’ is not the aim.
Even if we were to pretend the LNP/industry ‘waste only’ claim were true, that industry only wants the sticks, the branches, the bulldozed understorey, the hollow limbs fallen from the smashed canopies. This, in itself, would seriously disturb forests already degraded by industrial logging. John Corkill, who has been awarded an OAM for services to forest conservation in north-eastern NSW, refutes the LNP/industry rhetoric:
“So far there’s been a naked attempt by ‘pro-burners’ to promote a false dichotomy … a favourite debating tactic. It’s either we use native forest ‘waste’ as fuel OR….‘it will rot there doing nuthin’ (a la Barnaby Joyce, ABC Radio). Much of the non-growing biomass in native forests is not ‘waste’, but is busy performing important ecological functions: that is, standing ‘stags’, fallen dead trees, storm damaged vegetation, (and yes, even tree crowns post-logging), provide vital habitat for a diverse suite of native fauna – including a number of threatened species – dependent on hollows, on fallen logs, on suitable perches, and or ground cover. It (logs, fallen limbs, branches, leaf litter) provides further essential ecological functions in trapping and retaining sediment, protecting water quality, stabilising soils and valley slopes in high intensity rainfall events, and over the longer term, in building soil profile and hence fertility. The false dichotomy of ‘fuel OR waste’ displays a total absence of understanding of forest ecology and the vital and highly valuable functions non-growing wood plays in the native forest environment.”
— John Corkill OAM.
This bill is not about utilisation of waste. It is a prop to a failing sector, (one of the few ‘entitled’ industries in the country) and a precursor to the last LNP promise to industry: access to large swathes of the Australian forest resource, almost in perpetuity. Should “evergreen rolling extensions” by way of contracted access to the Australian forest resource be granted to industry as an LNP pre-election promise? Just say biomass was internationally ruled out in the next five years due to united action against climate change and carbon sequestration value ruled in? Who would profit; those with the “evergreen extensions” that “roll over” almost automatically when due to expire every 20 years?
Profit aside, if this bill passes, it locks in industrialised logging of native forest ecosystems and the certain destruction of creatures already advanced along the horrible path of no return.
Scientists, ecologists and citizens alarmed already at the impact of industrialised logging on forests have been on red alert about this bill. In 2012, Rob Oakeshott, an independent, admitted to having been lobbied by Industry before he introduced a parliamentary motion to legislate deeming native forest biomass power a renewable to be subsidised. Meanwhile, scientists implored him not to. The ban on native forest biomass as a renewable was upheld. Sadly, just one vote protected our forests then. As the LNP now try to overturn this ban, scientists have again been speaking out – loudly. One internationally acclaimed Australian scientist describing it as “bio-perversity in the extreme”.
For those unaware of the impact of industrialised logging, I tried to do a snapshot of what’s happening across much of Australia, entitling the draft: Australian Logging and the End of Species. Published under a less dramatic but equally accurate title Australia: World Leader in Deforestation and Species Extinction it shows how both of these – deforestation and species extinction – are well underway, without adding a financial incentive for each unit of biomass power generated by burning native forest ecosystems. Forest agencies have been running at multimillion dollar losses even when propped up by woodchipping. They’ve overcut and under-supplied.
Native forest logging by state agencies is not needed anymore.So industry plans to rort the carbon trading economy. What does this mean for our forests? It means more logging, of anything. Immediately our forest dwelling creatures lose – habitat, homes, their food, their breeding sites, their lives. I have an utterly rational fear that the passing of this bill would mean rapid and mass extinction of native species, more than occurring already, and we are a world leader in that
Native forests are the home and refuge of endangered wildlife and buffers to national parks. They are integral to vegetation connectivity across the continent. Nature reserves and national parks need native forests to remain biologically viable. Connectivity of habitat is stressed again and again by ecologists as the critical factor for the survival of creatures at any time. It is especially so when climate change forces movement in response to fluctuations in temperature with all the adjustments that compels. The gene pool of vulnerable wildlife and the flora of the continent flows through these interdependent systems. Remove one, the other collapses. Any Australian who wants a forest to remain a forest, (i.e. a place with plants of different ages, types, structure, that is inhabited by marsupials, birds, reptiles, amphibians, fungi, microbes, beetles and butterflies) needs to take careful note of this – and act. The independent senators must be convinced not to support a bill that promotes and rewards wholesale clearance of the national forest estate.
Our forests, already suffering intense degradation from industrial logging, will become dead zones – landscapes of immature sticks for furnaces. And don’t forget the fish and crustaceans that inhabit forest streams, from the most remote drainage lines to the sea. These sources of our coastal river networks will be silt laden, shaded no longer, flowing no longer, as forest vegetation around them is removed and they evaporate.
Much Has Been Lost Already
Beyond economics or politics right now, the right to life of forest dwelling creatures has to be asserted. I want to paint a picture for you of what takes place nowadays in a forest compartment. The LNP and industry claim it’s ‘world’s best practice sustainable logging’. You be the judge.
The forestry department might or might not make a map and a harvest plan. It might or might not be available for the public to see. With pressing supply arrangements and regional managers saying ‘cut to the road’, the thin veneer of trees to disguise the damage is now sometimes being dispensed with. Before the harvesting comes the roading: networks of tracks are cut through the forest causing immediate fragmentation and loss of cover. These provide for immediate entry and the spread of weeds by machinery. They leave an easy access route for feral animals that come in and ‘clean up’ as the vulnerable wildlife are left stranded having lost their trees and hollows. They have nowhere to escape to. A giant loader arrives with huge harvesting machines, the wheels of which are taller than a man. Imagine the crushing weight and impact of the entire apparatus as these machines effectively bulldoze whatever lies before them, whether threatened species habitat or not. Studies exist on the impacts of their weight alone, on soils, root systems, microbial life forms, photosynthesis, plant physiology, ecosystem disruption.
The film ‘World’s Best Practice Koala Killing’ conveys the inability of the industrialised logging machine to prevent collateral damage to wildlife. That’s the direct impact. The indirect impacts are starvation once food sources are removed and colonies of wildlife disrupted; nest and roosts and dens destroyed. The season doesn’t get in the way, breeding or otherwise the machines grind on.
It’s not just collateral damage, i.e. direct slaughter, while the ‘harvest’ occurs. Deliberate long term ‘adjustments’ are being perpetuated on forests. These include leaving only seed trees of one species as forests are manipulated to grow only (or much more of) the (currently) commercially valued species. A post harvest burn takes place, promoting species that germinate well in fire at the expense of the further existence of others that once belonged. The harvests are occurring at increasingly frequent rotations. Terrible timber supply deals with corporations are driving this. The process is called conversion yet the forest agencies won’t admit to it, using jargon to conceal the reality. I call it conversion to ‘pseudo’ plantations, to be re-cut in twenty, ten, even five year rotations (as this forest worker admits). Locals know. Yet 80-100 years is needed before structural features like hollows can re-form, essential to shelter marsupials and bird life already on death row.
There is also a deliberate floristic sterilisation taking place. Here are just two examples from parts of south-east Australia:
The koala is now declared at a national level, vulnerable to extinction. Its preferred food source here is tallowood. The forest agency instructs harvest plans to remove anything getting in the way of blackbutt regrowth. So mature tallowood – the lot – goes. Immature tallowood is uprooted, roots left to die, baking in the sun. blackbutt only is wanted, so the koala’s preferred food tree is gone.
Here also, the nationally endangered glossy black cockatoo relies on Casuarina torulosa to survive. Only if 40 chewed cones are located in a pre-harvest survey under a tree, will that tree be allowed to remain. The rest will be pushed over with roots left baking in the sun, to die.
I’ve seen compartments of over 200 hectares formerly full of C. torulosa with one only marked for retention. If an ecologist, with six hours or so to find every threatened species in approximately 200 hectares doesn’t find 40 cones under a C. torulosa, none are preserved (oh, and NSW forestry is in the process of dispensing with the pre-harvest surveys).
Despite expensive ‘recovery’ plans administered by ‘environment departments’ to restore habitat, the state forest agency systematically smashes food trees of nationally threatened species. Literally destroying food trees by the hundreds of thousands across coastal NSW. Maybe the forestry doesn’t know that even if a glossy black cockatoo does feed off a tree one year, it doesn’t necessarily return to that one the next. The nutrient level and other factors have to be right. One of those factors might include the bird actually being able to see the forest they once fed in. That is, if it isn’t standing, the bird might miss the now isolated food tree. They might not recognise the backdrop of bare earth.
For harvest plans stipulating promotion of blackbutt regrowth also stipulate: remove non merchantable, maximise soil disturbance. And what of the other species not listed as endangered? They are routinely left with nothing.
Native forest conversion/sterilisation is occurring in all states with joint Commonwealth state regional forest agreements, i.e.: publicly logged forests. The processes are horribly similar, but the species differ. Entire old growth ecosystems are still being clear-felled. Where the high conservation values of old growth survive in remnants, these are being destroyed by stealth. Widespread and intense over cutting prevents full rejuvenation; they are burnt or degraded in the frequent and routine post log fires. And the machinery of logging moves in again, far too soon as industry resource demand takes precedence over biological imperatives for ecosystem survival.
Conversion and Conflagration
There is another and terrifying danger with intensification of logging that is certain if this bill passes. Already a National Bushfire Trap is being set up across the continent as logging intensity has been destroying high dense canopy shade and drying out forest understorey. The evidence is in that frequent and intense logging and routine post log burns only make forests more fire prone. The trees and saplings that will supply furnaces with native forests as a biomass fuel in ever shortening logging rotations will result in ever drier forests, more intense and more frequent forest fire conflagrations.
Conversion leads to stands of young forests with all trees of the same age. None are being allowed to grow to full maturity. The hollows on which marsupials depend are lost with the removal of large old trees. These are not replaced when forests are not given time to mature. That takes a minimum of 80-100 years, in some cases 250. It’s not enough to leave one or two habitat trees if they happen to be found before logging. The other trees must mature to replenish the hollows that are naturally lost. The dependence on forest creatures for not just one, but many of hollows in a forest landscape is well explained in this film of a critically endangered forest ecosystem in Victoria.
There is a disturbing plethora of evidence from scientists not funded by government/industry forestry partnerships proving Australian species in extreme danger from what this government insists is ‘world’s best practice sustainable logging’. Providing a financial incentive to go and take more for furnaces will spell extinction for the many species already on death row. When one goes it has consequences for another. It’s a web of life. This bill will see that already fragile web utterly torn.
Industry and LNP heavyweights woo and/or possibly subtly threaten eight crossbench senators to fulfill this LNP promise, a provision for profit from burning native forests for power. Labor have held firm against native forest biomass as a ‘renewable’ and have pledged to do so again. Their environment spokesperson has drafted another bill against using native forests for biomass power. How that would play out if this bill is passed we’re yet to see.
As the LNP are emphatically ‘for profit’ from native forest biomass power, it’s up to the gang of eight: the independent senators. They hold a huge responsibility with the power to pass or decline this bill. The public need to use democracy right now for the sake of our creatures. Our voice on behalf of the living creatures of our continent has to be louder than the LNP/industry machine. It’s up to us to communicate en masse with the independent senators for the survival of our wildlife. We just ring and email and say: “In Australia, at this point in history, we do not burn native forests.” We tell them it’s not on.
Those eight senators’ names, numbers and email addresses are at nativesrule.org. I hope you take the time to spread the message and ask these people to make a positive decision for our environment.