Friday, 23 December 2011

A Koala Speaks

 Wednesday, 14 December 2011, 5.15am. Mulligan Drive, Waterview Heights…
In the early morning we become aware of two distinctive sounds – a deep grunting and a gentle squeal. A male and female koala are out there, in the little forest we have planted and encouraged over the years.
When there is sufficient light we go looking for our welcome visitors, and as usual they are difficult to locate. This time, however, the female gives a call and directs our attention to where she is. The male is sitting close at hand, seemingly fast asleep.
I take some photographs to add to our collection of pictures taken on our land and nearby - evidence of just how important this Waterview Heights area is for koala habitat. I become conscious of the female koala gazing down at me. Our eyes meet.
If she could speak, and if she had a human consciousness of the past and of the future, what might she say to each of us?
“If we are such important members of our Earth Community, as you readily proclaim to the world, why do you allow a subdivision of 29 lots in our territory, to increase the pressure on us?
“This development is only a short distance from this tree where I am resting. Our movements will be through its blocks, and across its roads.
“Will we be able to avoid all the extra cars that will come into our area? Will my joey’s future be determined by dog attacks?
“Yes, I am sure your developer will say to us: ‘You have no need to worry, we will put measures in place to protect you.’ But I have seen the speeding cars on Mulligan Drive, despite your koala signs. I have struggled to reach the nearest tree, often at a distance, to be safe from a freely roaming dog. And I have rested in giant trees that have later been removed, because they may put untidy sticks and leaves down on manicured lawns.
“All this makes me wonder about the integrity and long-term policing of your ‘measures’.
“If you truly care about our survival, will you still allow this human intrusion into our precious territory?”
S Mussared

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

Forest Destruction at Glenugie near Grafton

One can hardly fail to appreciate the irony of the claim made on a new sign, erected beside the recently opened Glenugie section of the Pacific Highway, which states that “Your forests are in safe hands”. The very area where the sign now stands was an operating forest just two years ago. In fact, the seven kilometre upgrade saw some 80 hectares of the publicly owned Glenugie State Forest cleared to bare earth to construct the motorway, and more will go before that section is completed.

Photo: J Edwards

And that is just the start of the destruction. Another 500 hectares of forest, much of it publicly owned, will be destroyed across the Clarence Valley alone as this motorway progresses. Huge areas of forest will also be lost to the south and north of the Clarence Valley.

When we realise that the distance between the outside of the concrete drains on either side of the motorway is only 38 metres, we have to question why a corridor upwards of 100 metres wide needs to be cleared of vegetation, some of which took hundreds of years to grow.

The environmental failures at Glenugie do not stop there. Despite wildlife underpasses being praised at the opening a few weeks ago, we find mesh fences directing wildlife into standard concrete box culverts, which are unlikely to attract more than the occasional goanna.

The fences themselves are the worst feature, with a barbed wire topped death trap for owls, gliders and flying-foxes. Standing less than 1.5 metre high, which an adult kangaroo could clear from a standing start, the lower mesh section will bar the way of most other terrestrial wildlife, including the kangaroo's joey which will be parted from its mother while she dodges the traffic, putting motorists at risk.

When we consider the assurances made during the consultation process, about how concerned the Roads and Traffic Authority (RTA) is about protecting iconic species such as the endangered coastal emus, this latest evidence to the contrary is extremely disappointing. Our native wildlife deserve much better.

- J Edwards

 The text of this post was originally published in the "Voices for the Earth" column in
The Daily Examiner on 12th December 2011.

Saturday, 10 December 2011

Toilet Paper a Threat to Indonesian Rainforests

Joining Lego and Mattel, the Asia Pulp & Paper (APP) corporation's largest Australian customer, IGA, has decided not to source its toiletry tissue products from affiliates of this biggest destroyer of Indonesian rainforests

Gone are the days of recycling the Daily Mirror in the smallest room in the house, but sadly, going along with them, are Indonesia’s awesome rainforests and the magnificent Sumatran tiger. The total market estimate of Australian consumer demand for toiletry tissue products is 300,000 tonnes a year, with toilet paper by far the largest selling item in the range. APP has the capacity to produce 6.9 million tonnes of pulp, paper and packaging annually, so to feed its gargantuan appetite Indonesia is currently clearing over a million hectares of rainforests every year.

The giant Indonesian conglomerate Sinar Mas owns 100% of APP, and is now the second-largest global producer of palm oil. Hence, while the forests are being flushed down Australian sewers, palm oil plantations are expanding to ensure chocolate and a million other packaged food items maintain our lifestyle in the way to which we have become accustomed.

Someone did the maths and found that toilet paper sold through Woolworths in one year alone would have unrolled to the moon and back 15 times. Yet the same customer survey found that 76% of shoppers choose their toilet paper by appearance and texture. It is not surprising therefore that supermarkets continue to stock the favoured product. But considering its function, and the colossal demand, it hardly seems reasonable for any toilet-paper to be made from pristine bleached paper. Just liking the looks of a roll of white or print paper hanging beside the loo is a pitiful reason for supporting broad-scale rainforest clearing.

For the truly ethical loo-paper shopper, top environmental rated alternatives to buy are Bouquet, Earthwise,  Envirosoft and Save brands. Secondary acceptable brands are Naturale, Earthcare and Softex.

Only by making sensible choices can we, the consumer, follow the leadership of Lego, Mattel and IGA, and not buy products that have come about by massive rainforest destruction.

- P Edwards

Tuesday, 6 December 2011

Coal Seam Gas Threat to the Pilliga

The Pilliga, situated between Narrabri and Coonabarabran in the central west of NSW, is the largest temperate woodland in eastern Australia.

A wonderful natural area, with magnificent old ironbarks and cypress pines, it is an internationally recognised Important Bird Area and  likely habitat for up to 48 threatened species.  It contains the only known population of the Pilliga Mouse and is a core stronghold for the Barking Owl and the Greater Long-eared Bat. It contains the only NSW population of Black-striped Wallaby and the largest inland NSW population of Koala.
Pilliga Landscape 1       Photo: L Blain

It is also very important as the southern recharge area for the Great Artesian Basin.
A massive coal seam gas industry proposal for the Pilliga could see as many 7000 wells around Narrabri.  This will place at risk large areas of farmland and public land.

In the Pilliga woodland the proposal will involve clearing of 2,400 ha of bushland and  lead to fragmentation of 85,000 ha of bushland  -  having a devastating effect on local flora and fauna. The fragmentation and proliferation of tracks and pipelines will also lead to invasion by weeds and feral animals - further degrading the ecology of the area.

Up to 63 gigalitres of toxic water will be produced from this development each year. The proponents of the scheme have no solution for the disposal of the huge quantities of salt contained in this water.  Furthermore, there is a serious risk to the Great Artesian Basin – either through de-watering of the Basin or cross-contamination of Basin water with the toxic water produced from the gas wells.

Already, in the exploratory stage, the industry has been responsible for spillage and leakage of saline water which has resulted in vegetation destruction.  If this has been allowed to happen when the development is on a small scale, there have to be very serious concerns about the potential for massive impacts as the industry grows.

Another serious concern is the fire-prone nature of the Pilliga woodland. Major fire seasons where a larger area of the woodland is burnt have occurred on average once every decade.  Large-scale gas mining in such an area is likely to increase the risk of devastating fires.

Pilliga Landscape 2         Photo: L Blain

The risks to the Pilliga are too great for this mining proposal to go ahead.  The short-term profits of mining companies should not be allowed to over-ride the interests of the broader community and future generations of both humans and other life forms.

- L Blain

 Part of this post was published in the Voices for the Earth column in The Daily Examiner on 5 December, 2011.