Wednesday, 15 September 2021

CONTINUING PROBLEMS WITH INTENSIVE HORTICULTURE IN NSW

How much environmental damage will it take before the intensive horticultural industry is properly regulated?

If I want a swimming pool, I have to lodge a development application. However, berry growers can transform forests into a ‘sea’ of plastic with little or no approval needed. Certainly, no environmental impact assessment is required.

Just this week, I received an email from a distressed Corindi resident, claiming: “In the past year there has been an alarming rate of land clearing between Coffs Harbour and Grafton. We are talking about clear felling of established trees with the ground scraped bare. The fallen trees are then burned, destroying whatever else may have been harbouring in them.  

Almost invariably this is done before blueberries are established and covered with nets, resulting in total habitat destruction.

The advent of these farms seems to coincide with an almost complete disappearance of bees, both exotic and native species, that I am used to have visiting my garden, I used to have scores of tetragonulas, several peacock carpenter and carpenter bees, and resin bees visiting and nesting but this season despite an abundance of flowers, both native and exotics, they have all but disappeared.

I am very saddened and concerned about this, but have no idea how to address this or who to talk to”.

How do we respond to this cry for help? The Clarence Environment Centre, and others, have called for the horticultural industry to be regulated for almost 20 years.

We have continually lobbied authorities, and Ministers, to no avail. One Minister even responded saying he was not in favour of regulation because it "encouraged non-compliance". How's that for pathetic?

Scandals like the discovery of excessive nutrients in Coffs waterways, and illegal migrant workers as well as the revelation that over 80% of growers investigated were non-compliant with water regulations (i.e. stealing water), and the latest pollution of Woolgoolga Lake, have all failed to bring change. Instead, the government simply throws more money on advisory committees, and grants to help growers follow "best practice".

- John Edwards

 Published in the "Voices for the Earth" column in The Clarence Valley Independent , September 9,, 2021

 

Wednesday, 8 September 2021

NEFA CALLS FOR END TO LOGGING OF NSW PUBLIC NATIVE FORESTS

NEFA Media Release 8 September 2021

NEFA is calling upon the NSW Government to follow the leads of Western Australia and Victoria by immediately adopting a plan to phase out logging of public native forests because of their vital roles in taking up and storing carbon and providing homes for so many of our threatened species.

West Australian Premier Mark McGowan today announced that logging of public native forests will be phased out by 2024, stating "Protecting this vital asset is critical in the fight against climate change."

This visionary decision is in stark contrast to the announcement by NSW Environment Minister Matt Kean on Tuesday that he will increase protection for 4% of existing national parks, said NEFA spokesperson Dailan Pugh.

“This is the best that Matt Kean can offer at a time when logging of north-east NSW’s public forests is set to be ramped up to extract millions of tonnes of woodchips to replace coal in electricity generation, and while existing protections for threatened species, including Koalas, are weakened on State Forests and private lands.

We are in the midst of climate and species-extinction crises that need to be urgently addressed, said NEFA spokesperson Susie Russell.

“The simplest and most effective action we can take to buy us time to reduce emissions and replant forests, is to stop logging those we have left so they can regain their lost carbon and habitat values.

”Most Wood Supply Agreements expire in 2023, so this would be an appropriate time to end logging of public native forests in NSW”  Ms Russell said.

The Victorian Government has already announced that they will phase out logging of public native forests by 2030.

The Queensland Government is still debating whether to honour the 1999 South-East Queensland Forests Agreement (SEQFA) commitment to phase out logging of public native forests by 2024.

The West Australian Government has committed $50 million for a Just Transition Plan to support affected workers, businesses and local economies, and $350 million boost to planting of softwoods as an alternative resource.

“We need to follow West Australia’s lead and provide support to affected workers, businesses and local economies as part of the necessary transition to a cleaner and greener future.

“If we want to improve the lives of our grandkids we must act urgently to stop all logging of public native forests” Mr Pugh said.

https://www.mediastatements.wa.gov.au/Pages/McGowan/2021/09/McGowan-Governments-historic-move-to-protect-native-forests.aspx

 

Tuesday, 31 August 2021

LEGAL CHALLENGE TO FOREST MANAGEMENT IN NSW

The Environmental Defenders Office (EDO) is challenging the NSW Regional Forest Agreement (RFA) in the Federal Court on behalf of the North East Forests Alliance (NEFA),    The North East RFA, which covers logging in the coastal area from Sydney to the Queensland border, was renewed in 2018 for a further 20 years with rolling extensions that could continue indefinitely.

There are ten RFAs around Australia with three in NSW - the North East, the Southern and Eden.

The RFAs signed between the State and Commonwealth exempt native forest logging from federal biodiversity and approval requirements under the federal Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation (EPBC) Act. 

NEFA has for years been concerned about the impact that the RFA has had on vulnerable and endangered species such as Koalas, Greater Gliders, Regent Honeyeaters and Rufous Scrub-birds in our region’s native forests.  This impact has been made worse following the devastating North Coast fires of 2019-20 which killed so many native animals and damaged so much habitat. 

David Morris, EDO Chief Executive Officer said, “We are challenging the Federal Government over its failure to assess how another 20-plus years of logging, against a background of a changing climate, will impact our forest ecosystems, endangered species and old growth forests.

“The Commonwealth didn’t want to incur the costs of conducting a proper assessment, waving through a 20-year extension of native forest logging without proper scrutiny.

“Under the current system, if a population of koalas is being threatened by a new development, the project needs to be assessed at the Federal level.  But if the same population of koalas is being threatened by a logging project, it’s been rubber stamped on the basis of 20-year-old environmental assessments.”

Mr Morris emphasised the importance of agreements such as the RFAs being founded on the latest scientific knowledge on both climate and the state of our forest ecosystems.

Conservationists hope that historical case will lead to positive change in the management of our state forests and protection of the important native species which rely on them as habitat.

            - Leonie Blain

Published in the "Voices for the Earth" column in The Clarence Valley Independent , August 11,, 2021

Saturday, 21 August 2021

MY "HEART PLACE" - MT CLUNIE NATIONAL PARK

 


A spark, a puff of smoke, and the tinder dry eucalypt forest erupts into flames. The ‘Beast’ has risen.

 Eighteen months ago a fire gains momentum, there’s no attempt to stop the Beast as it begins to consume the bush, state forest and all in its path.

 

For over two weeks the Beast burns out of control. Burning through forests, threatening the town of Woodenbong and even burning on top of Mt Lindsay as it continues on its all consuming path toward National Park and rainforest.

 

After prolonged drought and surging temperatures the rainforest is alarmingly dry. Mount Clunie, a World Heritage National Park of considerable ecological significance lay in its path, a tasty morsel for the raging Beast.

 

By this time the Beast begins to devour its way up the side of Mount Clunie. Locals and RFS (NSW Regional Fire Service) buzz into action, a National Parks Ranger urged on by our friend Don, landowner Jim and mates climb into the rainforest with leaf blowers in hope of saving the giant stinging tree and the surrounding forest giants.

 

After two weeks of near non-action the powers at be finally (but much too late), decide it’s time to act. 

 

Time to quiet the Beast. 

 

Water bombers, fire retardant planes and bulldozers are called into action.

 

Mount Clunie road is bulldozed along both sides, with sandpaper figs, cunjevoi, hoop pines, palm lilies and a myriad of young rainforest species bulldozed off the side of the road and pushed down into the rainforest gullies below.

 

Forest Corp (in their wisdom) carve a 2 lane highway across the side of Mount Clunie. RFS proceed to back burn. Then, they leave. The back burn is left to its own devices and unleashes a new Beast that burns up the rainforest ridges to the top of the mountain . . .

 

This is my ‘heart place’. The devastation is immense, not only from the Beast, but from the poorly managed actions of the RFS and Forest Corp - the road they bulldozed across the rainforest has literally torn the heart out of Mount Clunie. 

 

Forest giants attacked by the Beast can still occasionally be heard crashing to the forest floor.

 

On my first visit to Mount Clunie since the Beast unleashed its fury I was devastated, burnt and black, far worse than I expected. The flooded gum forest bordering the rainforest left with little leaf cover and the ground black and charred. My favourite section of rainforest with walking stick palms, palm lilies and bangalow palms bulldozed into oblivion, some with their charred remains trying valiantly to cling to life.

 


A flora and fauna study undertaken following the fire at Mount Clunie estimated it would take 300-400 years to regenerate, and that doesn’t take into consideration the effects of climate change.

 

There is now some initial regrowth of pioneer species in the bulldozed areas but the inundation of weeds where the canopy no longer exists is mind blowing. The biggest concern being invasive weed vines which spring up in profusion. 

 

On my last visit heavy rains had brought life to the unburnt forest where the ferns and mosses were a welcome sight almost glowing with vivid greeness. Young trees were sprouting from the forest floor. A few walking stick palms, still charred, showed signs of new growth. I gently touched one and said “come on you know you can do it.” The fabulous giant stinging tree and surrounding forest giants, thankfully, survived the Beast.

 


Water the lifeblood of the rainforest always bringing forth new life.

 

One story from the apocalyptic fires of 2019/20, only one of so many. So many creatures and biodiversity lost. Lost from our lifetime. I have to admit I was heartbroken. I wasn’t prepared to see the devastation to ‘my heart place’. 

 

If we are to protect our precious National Parks and special places, managing fire, protecting threatened species, increased staffing and sound environmental legislation must be given top priority. As we face ‘the new normal’, we must continue our fight to save the beauty and diversity of planet earth, even though it can be heart wrenching.

 

I urge you to read a book written by Jonica Newby: Beyond Climate Grief.

 

Jonica, a science reporter, tells her story of finding courage when climate change overwhelmed her.

 

“It reminds us of the love, beauty and wonder in the world, even amidst disaster. And how we all have a touch of epic hero inside.”

 

- Lynette Eggins  (Written early in 2021)

 

Friday, 13 August 2021

LESSON ON TOXIC MINING WASTE

If anyone still has lingering doubts about whether mining should be allowed in the Clarence Valley, I suggest they consider the news emerging from western Tasmania.

That story involves a copper, zinc and lead mine that has been operating for 80 years, producing toxic waste in the process which is currently stored in two very large tailings dams on the edge of the world renowned Tarkine forest.

Those existing dams will reach capacity within three years, and the owner, MMG, wants to construct a third dam inside the Tarkine, with a massive 285-hectare footprint. Naturally, this has drawn condemnation from concerned citizens and protests have already erupted leading to more than 40 arrests to date.

MMG argues that without the third dam, the mine would be forced to close, which appears to be a clear admission that cleaning up these toxic waste storage dams isn’t possible. After all, to a layman at least, the obvious solution would be to clean out one of the existing dams, dispose of the waste safely, so it could be refilled, thus avoiding the environmentally destructive consequences of building the third dam.

Mining companies are supposedly obligated to eventually rehabilitate the site when a mine is closed down. How will this occur in the Tasmanian case? If history is any indication, it probably won’t!

The well-respected Australia Institute, in its report “The dark side of the Boom” (2017) reported that over 60,000 mines had been abandoned across Australia, and found evidence of barely more than 20 that had been closed and relinquished. In fact, their researchers could only find evidence of a handful of mines that had been successfully rehabilitated.

The report points out that “rehabilitating a single mine can cost millions or even billions of dollars”, which probably explains why, in more recent times, so many mines are “moth-balled”, rather than closed permanently, thus avoiding the required rehabilitation.

 If copper mining gets the go ahead in the Clarence, a similar toxic time-bomb could be the legacy facing the valley’s residents in the future.

            - John Edwards

Published in the "Voices for the Earth" column in The Clarence Valley Independent , July 28,, 2021

More information on MMG Mine near  Rosebery in the Tarkine :  https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2021/jun/06/where-mining-meets-rainforest-the-battle-for-tasmanias-tarkine

 

 

Thursday, 22 July 2021

THE GREAT BARRIER REEF IN DANGER

The health of the World Heritage listed Great Barrier Reef is often in the news.  For years there has been recognition that its health is threatened by declining water quality as a result of land-clearing, agricultural run-off and the construction of large ports along the coastline as well as the spread of pests such as the crown of thorns starfish.

While water quality continues to be a major issue despite attempts to remediate the problem, climate change has now been recognised as the major threat to the Reef’s existence.

Researcher Ove Hoegh-Guldberg established the link between coral bleaching and climate change in the late 1990s.  When the water gets too hot, the corals expel the microscopic algae that give them colour (zooxanthellae) and bleach.  Eventually they will die.

While this link was disputed vigorously by climate denialists as well as fossil fuel interests opposed to effective action on climate change, the increasingly frequent bleaching events in recent years have shown just how sensitive corals are to temperature rises.

While the Federal Government claims to be taking the threat of climate to the Reef more seriously, it is still failing to take effective action on climate change.

Last month Federal Environment Minister Sussan  Ley  learnt UNESCO had made a draft decision to put the Great Barrier Reef on the “in danger” list.  She claimed the government had been “blindsided”, that the draft decision was “a deviation from normal process” and that it had been based on a “desktop review”. 

Australian scientists refuted her assertions stating that the Government should not have been surprised by the UNESCO scientists’ draft decision which will go to a meeting of the World Heritage Committee in a few weeks. 

Professor Terry Hughes, a coral studies researcher at James Cook University, stated that the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, the scientific body which advises UNESCO, produced a report last year which listed the reef’s status as “critical”. 

The dire state of the reef is another indicator that the Federal Government should urgently adopt an effective climate policy.

            - Leonie Blain

Published in the "Voices for the Earth" column in The Clarence Valley Independent , July 14, 2021.