Sunday 24 May 2015


Photo: J Edwards

The ecological roles of logs in Australian forests and the potential impacts of harvesting intensification on log-using biota”, is the rather complex title of a 2002 report by scientists based at the Australian National University which, to put it simply, is a review of the ecological values of logs in Australian eucalypt forests. While more than 10 years old the report still has relevance with on-going timber industry lobbying to allow the burning of wood to generate electricity.

The ecological value of hollow logs, and standing dead trees is recognised in law, with the destruction of both deemed Key Threatening Processes under the Threatened Species Conservation (TSC) Act , and their destruction is identified as a threat to many high profile species such as Quoll, Glossy-black Cockatoo, Regent Parrot, Brush-tailed Phascogale, Large Forest Owls, and Squirrel and Yellow-bellied Gliders.

While this knowledge is generally well-known, it is just the tip of the ecological role provided by logs. The study identifies that they provide crucial functions throughout their life which could last many decades, even centuries, with those functions changing with mind-boggling complexity as they decompose over time.

Logs have critical functions for forest biodiversity, providing places for key social behaviour for an astonishing range of living creatures from reptiles to rodents, birds to bacteria; snails, beetles, borers, millipedes, worms, weevils and roaches.  The list is endless. In fact the report lists 57 reptile species alone in south eastern Australia that utilise logs for shelter, safe passage, foraging, hibernation, and even basking.

As they decompose, logs provide plant germination sites, providing substrates to promote growth of fungi, and refuge for living organisms during drought and fire, while also contributing to heterogeneity in the litter layer, and playing a significant role in nutrient cycling.

However, many see logs, particularly residue from logging operations, as unsightly waste needing to be removed or burned. While often claiming otherwise, usual forestry practice is to burn residues seeing them as obstacles to future operations, giving little thought to the crucial role they play in maintaining the amazing biodiversity which provides us humans with everything we need to survive.

-John Edwards

This post was originally published (without the photos) in the VOICES FOR THE EARTH column in The Daily Examiner on 4 May 2015.

Photo: J Edwards

Tuesday 19 May 2015


The North Coast Environment Council (NCEC) and the North East Forest Alliance (NEFA) have condemned the agreement on the Renewable Energy Target (RET) reached by the Liberal-National Party Federal Government and the Federal Opposition Labor Party because of the inclusion of biomass (timber) as an electricity source in the target.

The timber to be burnt for power is claimed to be forest "waste". However, the two conservation organisations believe that this decision will lead to further unsustainable logging and decimation of native forests.

"We know from nearly 50 years experience of woodchipping that the logging industry views everything except A Grade sawlogs as 'waste'.  So the likelihood of intensive damaging logging has just got worse," said NCEC spokesperson Susie Russell.

"The renewable industry didn't want this. They know that not only will it damage their brand, but that it steals from the limited funds available to kickstart renewable energy projects, as well as cheating and effectively lowering the Renewable Energy Target as energy created from this dirty, high emission and unsustainable source will be counted in our fight to decrease greenhouse gas pollution."

She  added that consumers would be likely to be reluctant to pay more for renewable energy "if they have a reasonable suspicion that it is koala homes that are going up in smoke."

NEFA spokesperson Dailan Pugh said, "Burning trees is not carbon neutral."

"Feeding trees into furnaces for power is just as polluting and environmentally damaging as coal.  This needs to be clearly ruled out as a substitute for genuinely renewable power such as solar and wind."

He also pointed out that as well as the increased carbon emissions the increased logging would result in damage to biodiversity, soil and water catchments.

Wednesday 13 May 2015


A recent study in Science by Associate Professor Mark Urban (University of Connecticut) claims that one in six species will face extinction as a result of climate change.  Most heavily impacted will be Australia, New Zealand and South America because of the number of endemic species in these areas.

The study shows that the rate of biodiversity loss is not just increasing with climate change but it is accelerating.

According to Urban if humans follow their current business as usual trajectory, a temperature rise of 4.3 degrees celsius is predicted.  This would lead to a loss of one in six species. But  even this temperature rise may be under-estimated according to most experts.

Urban says that it is not too late to limit warming.  "We can still control our greenhouse gas emissions, work to predict those species most at risk, and design and implement conservation strategies that protect the most threatened species."

Friday 8 May 2015


In 1970 Bob and Lyn Irwin established what is now the multi-award winning Australia Zoo, which employs hundreds of people in a wide variety of jobs. Lyn's main dream though was to build a hospital dedicated solely to Australian native animals. In 2004, after Lyn's death, their famous son, Steve, with wife Terri, first opened the doors of the Australia Wildlife Hospital in a disused avocado packing shed behind the zoo.

Today Queensland's famous wildlife hospital employs veterinarians, vet nurses, staff and cleaners, and can take up to 100 emergency calls for injured wildlife daily. In its first 10 years 50,000 animals covering 500 different species, most victims of cars and domestic pets, had been treated at the hospital. From the largest kangaroo to the smallest newborn bat, the policy is that nothing is too big, too small, or too commonplace for specialist treatment and care.

With treatment of just one animal costing between $400 to over $1000, this alone shows the incredible effort going into helping our native wildlife. However the hospital is also involved in research into animal diseases, migratory patterns, quarantine and management of diseased animals, and specialises in koala care. With each koala costing up to $5000, and 70 koalas on average admitted monthly, this takes the value of this first class facility to an astonishing level. The fact that it relies heavily on the generosity of the public to keep operating only further seals its position as a true giant in wildlife care. 

Besides all this, a rescue unit based at the hospital works around the clock collecting sick, injured and orphaned native animals, further ensuring them quick and professional attention. And at the end of their time in care a series of beautiful rainforest enclosures makes sure each animal is well prepared for return to its natural environment. 

This hospital is indeed an amazing place. Any young person with a passion for animals is advised to keep on eye on their website, where lists of jobs and posts of positions vacant are regularly updated.
-          P Edwards

This post was originally published in the "Voices for the Earth" column in The Daily Examiner on April 27.

Saturday 2 May 2015


The renewable energy industry sector is still waiting on a Federal Government decision on the Renewable Energy Target (RET).  This is vital to the health of an industry which has been losing investment because of uncertainty about its future.

As the mining boom eases and unemployment increases, it would make sense for the Government to promote a clean industry which already employs many Australians and has the potential to employ many more if the right incentives are in place.  The fact that it seems determined to ignore both the employment and climate positives of an expanding renewables sector suggests a "dinosaur" ideological mindset.

Late in March John Hewson, former Liberal Party Leader, showed his concern about the situation of the Australian renewables industry. He delivered a stinging attack on Australia's three major power companies – Origin, Energy Australia and AGL.  

Hewson was concerned at the part these three, who control more than 70% of the energy retail market in Australia, are having in thwarting the development of renewable energy . He believes that these companies' influence encouraged the Federal Government's inquiry into the RET which was headed by climate sceptic Dick Warburton.   Unsurprisingly the inquiry recommended the cutting of the RET, something the Abbott Government has been determined to pursue despite its pre-election promise to keep the RET at 41,000GWh.

According to Mr Hewson the big three retailers claim to support renewable energy while they are lobbying to undermine it.  He is also concerned that they have been "getting away with screwing households by hitting customers with almost obscene profit margins as energy retailers."

He said, "But here's the good news.  The Australian public, the vast majority of us who support cleaner and cheaper power from renewable energy and are opposed to dirty coal and damaging coal seam gas, have the ability to reclaim control over our public policy.

"In order to stop vested interests like Origin, AGL and Energy Australia who have much to gain by halting the growth of renewable energy, all we need to do is switch our energy provider to a company backed by 100% renewable energy."
            - L Blain

This article was published in the "Voices for the Earth" column in The Daily Examiner on April 13.