Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Woodchips and water do not mix




Sign stating Armstrong Creek catchment is protected

I visited the Armstrong Creek water catchment near Cambarville on the road from Warbuton to Marysville in February this year to go for a short walk in the uninhabited Mountain Ash forest.

A sign on the gate leading into the catchment read “Designated Water Supply Catchment Area, Entry Prohibited, Offenders Prosecuted”. A representative from Melbourne Water sitting in a car behind the locked gate informed me that I was not allowed to enter. I asked him why access was denied to me when further down the track loggers with their trucks, bulldozers and chainsaws were busy clear felling forest within the catchment . He refused to answer my question.

Few people in Melbourne realise that their water catchments are being logged. When they find out they are surprised and concerned, especially when they learn that this logging is decreasing both the quality and quantity of water they provide to Melbourne.

Around 12% of the Melbourne's total forest catchment is available for logging and 340 hectares can be harvested each year. Clear felling occurs in five catchments which supply approximately 40% of Melbourne’s water needs.

It is a paradox that we can be arrested and fined for entering our closed water catchments but loggers have free rein to clear fell sections of them.

In May 2002, the Victorian Government released the “21st Century Melbourne: a WaterSmart City” report. The vast majority of public submissions for this study favoured stopping logging in all water supply catchment areas. The report contained a recommendation to “conduct a detailed and comprehensive investigation into the feasibility of establishing plantations to allow for the phasing out of logging in Melbourne’s water supply catchments”. The report further stated that “if plantation alternatives are confirmed feasible, an implementation plan to phase out logging from within the catchments should be prepared”.

Potential water savings from the gradual phasing out of logging in the Thomson catchment alone by 2020 were estimated in the report to provide an additional 20 gigalitres (20,000 ML) per year of water in 2050.

In June 2004, the government released another report titled “Securing Our Water Future Together” which stated that “Melbourne’s original water catchments are closed catchments, are managed as national parks and that logging will continue to be banned in those catchment areas”. This report also found that “improved water yields within catchments supplying water to Melbourne are important in securing Melbourne’s water supplies”. Actions identified for government included developing options to phase out logging in the water catchment areas, transition the wood supply to plantations, and assess the social and environmental benefits and costs of these options.

Fast forward to 2008 and our water catchments are still being logged, even though Melbourne's rainfall and dam levels have declined to historically low levels. Climate change has reduced autumn rainfall into water catchments by 40% across Victoria since 1950.

Logging in Armstrong Creek catchment, visible from Reefton Spur Rd

In April this year, after four years of delays and inaction, the government finally commenced meetings with stakeholders as part of the government’s Wood and Water Sustainability Assessment Project, which is supposed to address the actions identified in the 2002 and 2004 reports. I attended the first stakeholder meeting representing Environment East Gippsland.

However, during the meeting it became apparent that the government has no real intention of stopping logging in water catchments. The promised government reports on timber substitution and water studies were not available to us, even though they were specified as key inputs for the “sustainability assessment”.

Then the following bombshells were dropped:

  • The assessment was constrained to “work within existing government policy and ensure that current government log supply commitments are met from the catchments”.
  • Phasing out of logging was redefined as “phasing down logging”
  • None of the nine options presented to us included ending logging by 2010
  • The best option they could come up with to cease logging by 2030, by which time there will be original forest within the catchment areas left to log. Much of the Thompson catchment has been logged already.
  • The assessment or carbon storage was quite inadequate - only tree trunks would be counted, while the under story, tree roots, sub-soil life and humus were to be ignored.
All the environment groups present, including the Wilderness Society, the Australian Conservation Foundation and the Central Highlands Alliance, stressed that community expectations were for logging in Melbourne's water catchments to cease by 2010. In support of this, twelve councils in greater Melbourne have now passed motions to stop logging in our water catchments.

However, we were informed that the 2010 exit option would be "assessed but not presented to government". I stated that this option must be properly considered as it would be the best outcome for our water supplies, and that we were not prepared to further participate in the consultation process with it excluded.

Unfortunately, the government has refused to act on our requests for the process to be improved in line with community expectations, so all environment groups except for one have now withdrawn from the Stakeholder Reference Group in protest.

We are greatly concerned that the government continues to favour sections of the logging and woodchip industry over protecting water supplies for Melbourne residents, even though over 80 per cent of the forest logged ends up as wood chips.

It appears the government is preparing to make an announcement in the run up to the next Victorian election that it will “protect our water catchments”, but only after the remaining high quality forests in them have been logged, and Melbourne's water supplies further reduced.

Protecting our water catchments from logging, combined with measures such as installing household water tanks and more recycling, could even negate the need for the proposed expensive and energy-hungry desalination plant and the pipeline from the water-starved Goulburn river.

Peter Campbell
Spokesperson for Environment East Gippsland

Links

11 comments:

RVB said...

He refused to answer my question.

He could very well be my dentist. Another stinking Labor Neanderthal.

Anonymous said...

This post is quite out-of-date given that the final research results of the Wood and Water project have been available on the OurWater website since about June.
Indeed, contrary to what you are saying, some of the preliminary studies on water modelling and plantation substitution have been freely available from the DSE website since 2006.
Basically, stopping logging could give a small increase in water provided there are no bushfires (which is a big ask). This potential increase is dwarfed by the potential negative effects of bushfire, and the likely negative effects of moderate climate change. Adjusting the timber production regime could itself increase water almost to the same extent as stopping logging.The plantation option is not really feasible due to constraints on equivalent land availability - would need 20,000 ha planted and this would itself have an affect on stream flow (although not in Melbourne's catchments). Overview is that  harvesting within just the available 12% of the catchments has a pretty insignificant effect on Melbourne's water.

Peter Campbell said...

Anonymous, your comments are much the same as those put around by the government and the logging/woodchip industries apologists.

I don't think many people in Melbourne agree with your opinions. Water is simply worth much more than the woodchips produced.

Bushfire really has nothing to do with it - and logging actually increases the bushfire risk by replacing cool temperate forest with drier single species regrowth.

Your comment that "adjusting the timber production regime could increase the production of water" is complete nonsense and a lie. The science, conducted by the government, proves otherwise. No amount of industry spin will change this.

30 gigalitres of water lost due to logging is actually very significant - its 1/5 of the water the energy guzzling desal plant is supposed to produce!

Anonymous said...

Peter - You have such a skewed view on this that I really urge you to look at the final research findings on the OurWater website.

You carry on as though your concern is about water when clearly for the environmental movement this issue has always been primarily about stopping the great 'demon' of timber production. That's why it won't go away even when the research says it is only a minor factor in Melbourne's water supply.

For the record, I am a forester - I don't have to be an 'apologist' for an industry because the facts speak for themselves. All I am doing is conveying information about things which I understand a whole lot better than people like you.

Your ignorance is illustrated by your view that 'bushfire has nothing to do with it.' How do you think those forests got there? They rely on periodic bushfire for their renewal. Something like 40% of the catchment is regrowth from the 1939 bushfires. Your whole arguement about saving water by stopping logging relies on their being no fires - so it is hardly irrelevent.

Who's doing the spinning Peter? What about admitting that the harvesting produces high value sawn timber as well as woodchips. You say all the high quality forests will be logged soon - what about admitting that there is tens of thousands of hectares of high quality forests in huge swathes of the catchments that have never been logged - such as the Upper Yarra catchment. You say 30GL is being lost due to logging - this is double the amount stated in the research as the maximum possible saving. Who's spinning Peter.

Peter Campbell said...

Anonymous logger - your last post is just trolling. Attacking me personally does not address the issues or the facts in my post.

Vicforests figures state 2% of what is logged from catchments ends up as furniture grade timber - and over 80% as woodchips. All the timber can be sourced from existing plantations elsewhere.

No demons here - just bad economics, bad catchment management, bad water management and bad politics.

It is really very simple - logging in our catchments is costing the people of Melbourne scarce and valuable water - and benefits only very few. It needs to stop immediately. This is what the people of Melbourne want - as represented by 14 councils representing over 1.5 million people.

Anonymous said...

Peter - just who is personally attacking who here? You have so far implied that I am an 'industry apologist', a 'spin doctor', and now a 'logger' - which in your eyes is a term of derision. All I have done is suggest that an IT consultant - even one with a passion for forests - cannot hope to know as much about them as those who have academic forest science qualifications (5 years of tertiary education in my case) and long careers working in this field. I wouldn't be arrogant enough to tell you anything about IT, but you obviously have no such qualms.An example of lack of understanding is your claim that the concept of increasing water yield by adjusting forest management is 'just nonsense and a lie.' I'd like to see you say that to the many hydrologists who have conducted research on this in Melbourne's catchments for almost 30 years - but of course you wouldn't know about that.It has been said many times, but I will say it again - native forest harvesting is about producing solid wood products of which furniture grade is just one type. Woodchips are a by-product that occurs in admittedly high volumes because of the nature of the growth of Australian eucalypts, the size and quality specifications of logs suitable for sawing, and the wastage implicit in turning something round into something rectangular.This high ratio of waste by-product to target product is common to many natural resources such as minerals, and even beef. The production of offal, bone, and fat from slaughtering cattle dwarfs the production of meat for human consumption which is the target product of the beef cattle industry.You say all the timber can be sourced from plantations elsewhere - perhaps you can tell me the location of the eucalypt  plantations which can supply the same solid hardwood product that is being obtained from the catchments. If such plantations existed, why was a plantation substitution study undertaken? There are some ash plantations in the Strezleckis that were planted in the 1960's, but these are in the process of being turned into national park after years of anti-logging campaigning. In the mean time, the demand for sawn hardwood is being increasingly met by Asian rainforest imports. Is that a good environmental outcome? You say logging benefits only a very few, but evertone uses paper, packaging and hardwood products of all kinds - perhaps you've got a nice timber floor or benches. It benefits all of us.Oh yes, 14 inner city councils (it was 12 in your original post) who have been presented one skewed and emotionally-based side of the story, want catchment harvesting to stop. I'm not surprised, I'd be convinced too if I knew nothing and was not presented with the alternate scientific view. It is drawing a long bow to say most Melbournites agree with your stance - most probably are too busy coping with mortgage stress to care.

Peter Campbell said...

Anonymous (brave person), most of what you have to say is off topic and contains more attacks . . . to which I won't bother responding.

The local councils who have researched this topic independently and consulted with their shires on this include: Yarra Ranges, Bayside City, Moreland City, City of Port Phillip, Whitehorse City, Knox City, Yarra City, City of Kingston, Melbourne City , Maroondah City, City of Boroondara, Nillumbik Shire, Frankston City and the City of Maribyrnong.

Read the Boroondara Council Officer's report - it is quite illuminating. I have added a link t it to the post.

Most Melbournites are also coping with water stress for their gardens and personal use - with reservoirs still very low - lower than they were this time last year. If you ask around, I am sure you will find this out for yourself.

The Brumby government will find out at the next election too.

Anonymous said...

Peter - I am Anonymous because that is easier than creating a Google Account and whatever else is required. I suppose I could have gone through the rigamerole and assigned myself a little moniker - like 'rvb'- would that have made me any less anonymous (and more brave)??

More than most bloggers I have stated my qualifications and experience in a field where you have none.

I have asked you many questions which you have ignored because you cannot answer.

I agree that many Melbournites are suffering because of the drought, but your insistence that this can be substantially alleviated by simply stopping logging is just fanciful. As you know timber harvesting is limited to 0.002 of the total catchment area each year within just a 12% portion where it is permitted. So 88% of the catchment will never be logged. What we need is rain and it is becoming more and more obvious (unfortunately) that a desal plant is necessary.

I understand that you want to save the planet from the comfort of your home office. But attacking forestry which effectively manages our only renewable resource is hardly the way to do it. Indeed, in view of the associated wider environmental implications (including overseas)this blinkered course you are taking is sadly counter-productive.

Peter Campbell said...

Anonymous, you can put your name in with your comment.

Please stop making personal attacks. Last warning or your comments get deleted henceforth. Presumably you sit in your home and office too when you are not out in the bush . . . big deal!

Your qualifications and experience are meaningless without a name.

The simple fact of that matter is that logging in our catchments is decreasing out water supplies - as proven by science. So it needs to stop. I don't agree with your claims it is not signficant - every bit of water counts.

You seem to be quite confused about what I am saying - I am not attacking forestry as you claim - which has an important role in safeguarding our forests if done properly.

I think we should stop logging our catchments to secure our water supplies - a view shared by the vast majority of Melbournians. I understand you disagree, but we need to make decisions in the best interest of our community, not interests that compromise our water supplies for little public gain.

RVB said...

"I suppose I could have gone through the rigmarole and assigned myself a little moniker - like 'rvb."

I would suggest a name like 'nitwit', but that might infuriate you - so I'll live it up to you.

Recent ANU research, anonymous, has independently concluded that logging is detrimental to environmental health. The fact that the logging industry is so tenaciously clinking to an inward, backwards-looking industry is so they can make money - like every industry. Now that we've woken up to climate change, the logging industry will have to resort to high amounts of spin - the likes of which are synonymous with your own.

Furthermore, getting data from the DSE on logging issues would be tantamount to getting data from the National Rifle Association of America on school shootings.

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