Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Like trying to mix woodchips and water

In April 2008, I represented Environment East Gippsland (EEG) at a ‘Stakeholder Reference Group’ meeting, as part of the government’s “Wood and Water Sustainability Assessment Project”. Having been to many of these set-ups in the past, we didn’t have high hopes this one would achieve anything, other than legitimising what the DSE plans to do anyway.

The stakeholder group has been formed to look at options to address water loss due to logging in catchments. This links back to commitments in the 2004 Victorian Government report "Securing our Water Future Together". It included studies and investigations that have still not been officially completed.

EEG’s concerns about the process include:

1. Inputs not available

The following three inputs are now well overdue for release:
  • Timber substitution studies
  • Hydrological studies
  • Water quality review
The process cannot continue until all of these are available. We were informed that they were "very close to being released". But this was also the case last year. The process should not continue without them.

2. Inappropriate criteria for options

The following criteria were listed, saying that they were not up for discussion:

Criteria (1): All management regimes in regards to State forest within Melbourne catchments should:
  • aim to improve water yield;
  • work within existing government policy; and
  • ensure that current government log supply commitments are met.
These are at huge odds; increasing water yield while destroying key habitat and over logging is just not possible.

Criteria (2) — Logging in Melbourne’s catchment’s should include assessing:
  • phasing out of logging;
  • a reduction of the net area of logging following the expiration of current legal obligations; (ie reduce logging once the best areas have been trashed)
  • substitution of native forest logs with plantation logs;
  • substitution of forest logs inside the water catchment with forest logs outside the catchment;
  • thinning; (ie ‘manage native forests intensively as if they were monoculture plantations’)
  • various logging rotation lengths (halve the rotation down to 30 years or less?)
The government feels obliged to honour its promise of logs to Maryvale’s woodchip mill for years to come, thereby protecting commercial interests. However, the error in promising those log volumes in the first place should be reassessed so that water catchments are protected.

3. Inappropriate options for Forest Management Regimes

Various logging options were tabled, but none suggested ending logging by 2010. I stated that this option was essential due to growing community concern over loss of water and expectations raised by stated government commitments in their 2002 and 2004 reports on water.

We were told that the 2010 option would be "assessed but not presented to government". I reiterated that it must be.

In addition, a "Key Words" sheet was circulated that redefined "Phasing out logging" to 'phase down of logging'. I objected to this. This were really just weasel words.

4. Carbon storage in forests is under estimated

The consideration of "carbon storage in forests" as an environmental impact only related to tree trunk biomass. Once again I pointed out that carbon storage in forests included understorey, soil and other organic matter such as leaf litter.

Some gems from industry people at the meeting:
  • ‘Let’s consider 30 year rotation options’ (currently 50-80 yrs)
  • ‘Fixing leaky taps in Melbourne would save more water’ (!)
  • ‘Plantations can’t provide enough pulpwood (they can, immediately)
  • ‘50% of timber from catchments is used for furniture’ (in fact it’s about 2%)

Where to from here

A letter has been sent to DSE outlining EEG’s concerns and that we will not participate further if an option for stopping logging in catchments by 2010 is not included. TWS, The Central Highlands Alliance (TCHA) and the ACF are likely to also boycott this seemingly pre-determined process.

Logging in catchments is bad because:
  • water is lost at about a litre a second but only 15% of the wood is used for timber (2% for high value products) and 85% is woodchipped
  • it is feeding the ‘need’ for the desalination plant (which will cost $9,000 per ML) as well as the controversial north-south pipeline (diverting from the Murray Darling system to Melbourne)
  • endangered Leadbeater’s Possum habitat is being destroyed
  • the government is not honouring its ‘02 and ‘04 commitments
  • there is a stealthy conversion of forests into plantations
  • the government is ignoring the public and doing deals with industry.
Protecting forests to increase water yields is essential in all Victorian catchments including East Gippsland, Central Highlands and the Murray Darling basin.

If they don't include the 2010 deadline for logging option and release the long-overdue promised reports, EEG will have ‘input’ from ‘outside’ - via community campaigns. The process really just seems to be focussed on keeping the logging industry happy.

A Victorian logging industry presentation mirrors almost exactly the current government position on why logging in catchments is justified and what might be considered in any review. A coincidence? Have a look for yourself [here] (a 3mb PDF download)

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