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Sending Leadbeater’s Possum down the road to extinction

We have studied the effects of current widespread clear-felling in Victoria’s Mountain ash forests for almost three decades. Clear-felling now loses large amounts of money for the state of Victoria, degrades…

If Victoria keeps logging the way it is, the Leadbeater’s Possum is doomed. ccdoh1/flickr

We have studied the effects of current widespread clear-felling in Victoria’s Mountain ash forests for almost three decades. Clear-felling now loses large amounts of money for the state of Victoria, degrades the forest, erodes water catchment yields, increases fire risks, and is driving Leadbeater’s Possum - the state’s faunal emblem - to extinction.

An alternative pathway is to reform (and significantly reduce) the loss-making pulpwood and timber industries, capitalise on the massive financial carbon values of these forests, maintain and then improve the water catchment values for Melbourne, and, in doing so, protect the globally endangered Leadbeater’s Possum.

It’s our choice.

Thirty years of work in Victorian ash forests

I first began working in Victorian Mountain Ash forests in mid-1983. Nearly 30 years later, my research team and I still work in these stunningly beautiful forests – located just two hours from the MCG.

One of the target species of our work is Leadbeater’s Possum, one of Victoria’s two faunal emblems. (The other - the Helmeted Honeyeater - is also highly endangered.) We have worked on this highly endangered possum and its habitat, especially the effects of fire and logging on the dynamics and structure of the forest in which it lives.

These forests are the tallest flowering plants on earth (some trees approach 100 metres tall and even taller specimens have been documented). Mountain Ash forests are also the world’s most carbon-dense forests and produce most of the water for the city of Melbourne.

Our research has clearly demonstrated that a key part of the habitat of Leadbeater’s Possum is access to large old trees. They are typically 190 years old (and often much older).

Recent articles in Science and PLOS One have shown there is a rapid and catastrophic decline in populations of large old trees throughout Mountain Ash forests. This is occurring because of past recurrent logging, fire, post-fire salvage logging; and logged and regenerated forests are more fire prone for about 70+ years after harvesting.

These drivers are creating a severe shortage of suitable nesting and denning sites; a shortage that will last until 2067 – the time when the existing 73-year forest will first begin to develop hollows for use by arboreal marsupials.

Around 42% of Leadbeater’s Possum’s habitat was burned in the 2009 wildfires and our repeated surveys at long-term sites since then have indicated that the species does not occur on burned sites – even those subject to moderate or low severity fire. Large areas of intact forest are critically important for the survival of Leadbeater’s Possum.

Logging and Leadbeater’s Possum

Logging is a major form of human disturbance. It is damaging the habitat of Leadbeater’s Possum and leading to the rapid demise of the species.

Victoria’s faunal emblem, the Leadbeater’s Possum. David Lindenmayer

Logging has a range of detrimental effects. Clear-felling is the conventional form of logging in Mountain Ash forests. Under the Victorian Government’s Timber Release Plan, 412 coupes- or 17,640 ha of Mountain Ash - will be logged to 2016. This is out of around 38,000 ha of 1939-regrowth-aged Mountain Ash forest that is available for logging.

Clear-felled areas do not support viable populations of large old trees. These trees are typically destroyed in logging operations or, if retained, they die or collapse soon after logging. Logging areas therefore do not support habitat for Leadbeater’s Possum.

Based on work we published in 1993, we have found that changes in landscapes arising from a series of closely juxtaposed logged areas renders such landscapes unsuitable for Leadbeater’s Possum.

Third, and very importantly, logging changes fire regimes in wet forests such as Mountain Ash forests. It makes them both more fire prone) and more likely to burn at high severity. Such changes, in turn, have devastating effects, both directly on Leadbeater’s Possum (the species is absent from burned sites) and on populations of large old trees on which the species depends.

Leadbeater’s Possum as a test of ecologically sustainable forest management

Forest management practices cannot be claimed to ecologically sustainable unless there are viable populations of Leadbeater’s Possum maintained in the wild and in perpetuity.

However, all existing data gathered over the past four to five years clearly indicates that Leadbeater’s Possum is heading for extinction. Some urgent and radical reforms must take place in Mountain Ash forests:

  • Set aside an expanded national park that incorporates additional large and intact areas of forest. Why not give this new park an evocative name like the Giant Trees National Park? Make the world’s tallest flowering plants something that all Victorians, Australians, and overseas travellers want to come and see.

  • Reduce sustained yield of pulpwood and timber logged from Victorian ash forests by 50-75%. Despite the loss of tens of thousands of hectares of forest in the 2009 fires, sustained yields have not been re-assessed. This means the reduced area of green forest is being cut much faster than it was before the fire! This industry reform must be socially just.

  • Stop logging all areas of 1939-regrowth that support some large, living trees. These areas have considerable current and future habitat value and logging such places significantly increases the risk that critically important large trees will die and collapse.

  • If logging continues, retain islands on logged coupes. In partnership with the Department of Sustainability and Environment and VicForests, we have trialled Variable Retention Harvesting Systems and shown they can work. Yet, the approach has not been implemented in Victorian ash forests. Notably, Variable Retention Harvesting Systems are now widely adopted across Tasmania – leaving Victoria well behind on issues to do with the ecologically sustainable management of its forests.

Logging is likely to increase the severity of fires, destroying Leadbeater’s habitat. David Lindenmayer

Worth more standing up

The Victorian Government must recognise the carbon value of its native forests and the truly massive financial benefits that can be generated – just as has happened in the peace deal for Tasmanian forests.

Mountain Ash forests are the most carbon-dense in the world. The carbon offset value is worth tens of billions of dollars to Victorians – if Mountain Ash and Alpine Ash forests remain unlogged.

Right now, millions of dollars are being lost annually through forest logging in Victoria – there is effectively a government loss-making subsidy to cut down forest. Imagine how the Victorian Government could use such new sources of funds to fix problems with shortages of doctors, nurses, hospital beds, teachers, school infrastructure, transport systems and so on.

This approach will require people in the forest to manage this important resource. And maintaining and increasing the carbon storage value of forest will be compatible with other values like water production and biodiversity conservation (including the conservation of Leadbeater’s Possum).

Public natural resources should always be managed for the maximum public benefit. The current loss-making approach clearly fails where an alternative carbon value approach can succeed.

The future pathways are clear in Victoria. We can chose a 1950s pathway: clear fell forests in ways that lose large amounts of money, degrade the forest, erode water catchment yields, increase fire risks, and drive the state’s faunal emblem to extinction.

Or we can reform (and significantly reduce) the loss-making pulpwood and timber industries, capitalise on the massive financial values of maintaining carbon in these forests, improve the water catchment values for Melbourne and protect the globally endangered Leadbeater’s Possum.

If Leadbeater’s Possum goes extinct, it will not be because we did not have the science. It will be because we chose the wrong path.

Join the conversation

49 Comments sorted by

  1. Fred Pribac

    logged in via email @internode.on.net

    How resiliant are these forests to the predicted regional climate change - or are they doomed?

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  2. Michael McCarthy

    ARC Future Fellow at University of Melbourne

    Thanks David. That is a great summary of some of your three decades of high class research in these forests.

    The failure to plan for unplanned fires is potentially a large part of the problem. It means unsustainable timber and pulp yields are likely to be set, and the area of forest with large old trees will be overestimated. It only takes some simple maths to get a handle on the scale of the problem:

    http://mathsofplanetearth.org.au/using-mathematics-to-help-manage-forests/

    These ideas have also be around for decades.

    It is time that the managers of these forests started taking note of the long-standing research. It is hard to see how the Victorian government's plans to spend another year or two on surveys of endangered species across the state will change anything that has been learned over the last few decades.

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    1. Mark Poynter

      Forester

      In reply to Michael McCarthy

      Michael
      I looked at your linked paper and find it interesting, but have to take issue with this sentence:

      "Given the vast majority of mountain ash forest has been exposed to timber harvesting in the last century, it should come as no surprise that only about one per cent of this forest is now old growth"

      I'm not sure what you base this upon, but you are effectively saying that timber harvesting is primarily responsible for the current lack of old growth mountain ash forest - which is untrue…

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    2. Michael McCarthy

      ARC Future Fellow at University of Melbourne

      In reply to Michael McCarthy

      Mark,

      You are not the first to take issue with that sentence! It conflates areas not set aside for conservation with areas that have been logged, which is not correct. The point I was trying to make was that we have set aside an area of forest for conservation that contains a large fraction of the old growth estate. We should only expect a small fraction of that to remain old growth in the long term because of fire.

      The other point, that timber harvesting is an added disturbance that further reduces tree age still stands. If it also increases fire risk, then it has a compounding effect.

      Mind you, the structure of the 1939 regrowth was also influenced by an unknown (as far as I know) amount of salvage logging, but it was extensive as far as I am aware. That salvage logging probably removed many trees that would have otherwise survived, as well as standing dead trees.

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  3. Comment removed by moderator.

  4. Chris Owens

    Professional

    This period is so sad for anyone who cares about our wildlife and our forests, with environmental vandals who have no regard for nature in control of the levers and seemingly intent on wiping out what’s left.

    The thing that really grates is that the money obsessed Baillieu govt authorise destruction of these forests and their compliment of wildlife at a financial loss to the taxpayer. The sort of corrupt action you would expect in a third world country. You could almost understand how these things could occur 50 years ago, but now they know better. Its just that they don't care.

    In the future no one will remember whether the budget was in surplus, what the unemployment rate was, or whether industry lobby groups were rewarded for campaign support, but they will look back on the backward redneck policies of the “Liberal” Baillieu govt with contempt and disgust.

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    1. Mark Poynter

      Forester

      In reply to Chris Owens

      Chris
      I think you need to start doing some serious research on these topics before you start writing rather than just relying on Wilderness Society media releases.

      Your talk of "environmental vandals intent on wiping out what's left" is simply idiotic when it is recognised that timber harvesting in Victoria is restricted to less than 10% of the state's public forests. This restriction is legislated in the form of public land tenures and there is no intention by anyone to overturn these to allow…

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  5. aligatorhardt

    logged in via Twitter

    The use of strip harvesting instead of such wide areas of clear cut would be a compromise that leaves some undisturbed habitat in place. A lessor yield and longer harvest cycles needs to be adopted. The maximum monetary return has been given excessive priority.

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  6. Bernie Masters

    environmental consultant at FIA Technology Pty Ltd, B K Masters and Associates

    In the opening paragraph, David states his possum-related objections to logging as follows:
    1. clear-felling now loses large amounts of money for the state of Victoria - how does this loss of money influence the likely extinction of the possum?
    2. degrades the forest - not sure what this refers to (I assume it's a comment on biodiversity loss) but ditto
    3. erodes water catchment yields - ditto
    4. increases fire risks - OK, I accept that this is a major threat to the possum and
    5. is driving…

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    1. Michael McCarthy

      ARC Future Fellow at University of Melbourne

      In reply to Bernie Masters

      There has been a bit of research on the economics of using nest boxes. David Lindenmayer has done a bit on this, which shows that it is less costly (in the long term) to limit timber production rather than install nest boxes. Some more recent work by Danny Spring suggests that nest boxes, if they are used by the possums, can be a cost-effective conservation option in the short term while waiting for hollows to develop:

      http://www.fs.fed.us/rm/pubs_other/rmrs_2001_bevers_m001.pdf

      Other issues about nest boxes need to be considered. Breakage of tree branches that fall on the boxes and break them is relatively common (some of David Lindenmayer's research demonstrates this). If a family of possums is in a nest box when it breaks, large mortality of the possums would be expected.

      From memory, I seem to remember reading about the thermal properties of nest boxes being a concern, and their susceptibility to damage during fires.

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  7. Mark Poynter

    Forester

    There is so much wrong with this article that it is impossible to fit it all into a brief comment. I would urge anyone with a strong interest in this topic to look at a more balanced article published on Online Opinion recently: http://www.onlineopinion.com.au/view.asp?article=14285 - by Mark Poynter, it can be found via the author's tab on the OLO website if this link doesn't work.

    Just a few salient points - only about one-third of Victoria's ash forests are available for timber production…

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    1. Michael McCarthy

      ARC Future Fellow at University of Melbourne

      In reply to Mark Poynter

      If a fire of sufficient intensity occurs, it will kill mountain ash trees and stop them becoming large enough to support hollows. Timber harvesting also stops trees becoming large enough to support hollows. The combined effect is that in the presence of timber harvesting, mountain ash forests will have fewer large trees than they would otherwise have. That seems to be an indisputable fact. And fewer large trees with hollows will contribute to the decline of hollow-dependent fauna.

      This effect…

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    2. Murray Webster

      Forestry-Ecology Consultant/Contractor

      In reply to Mark Poynter

      Michael,
      I agree with your comment regarding keeping the discussion on a scientific basis, rather than personal attacks.
      With regard to you first paragraph. If a fire (or logging) of sufficient intensity does NOT occur then, over time, Leadbeaters habtitat will also be lost. The argument that most foresters would mount is that by having access to the forest for machinery and a workforce skilled at using it, we can do several important tasks that would afford protection to wildlife generally and…

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    3. Michael McCarthy

      ARC Future Fellow at University of Melbourne

      In reply to Mark Poynter

      Murray,

      If the problem were mountain ash getting too old, there is an easy and rapid fix - harvest or burn the forest to bring on regeneration. Humans have that one worked out - we can create young forest very readily. Our problem is at the other end though - we are not good at maintaining old forest.

      I'd like to see figures on the level of scientific research on wildlife that has been supported by timber harvesting operations versus other sources of funds. But I'd guess that the vast majority…

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    4. Murray Webster

      Forestry-Ecology Consultant/Contractor

      In reply to Mark Poynter

      Michael, I am in agreement with most of your comments.
      However, we can't just put novices into logging native forest. If we shut down the industry the knowledge and skills are also lost.
      "Your implication that timber harvesting helps to reduce risks of fire has little evidence to support it." Do you have references for this? I am genuinely interested.
      The Canberra fires are an example where forestry was able to put out the fires and the conservation reserve was not, and the damage caused by…

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    5. Mark Poynter

      Forester

      In reply to Mark Poynter

      Michael
      This is a response to one of your responses under this comment, because there doesn't seem to be a mechanism for directly responding to you.

      You make the point that: "But I'd guess that the vast majority of research in scientific journals on the wildlife of mountain ash forests was not funded from timber harvesting or associated monitoring"

      I'm not sure that you're right about that. Lindenmayer's research has been, as far as I'm aware, extensively funded by Victorian Gov't forest management…

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    6. Michael McCarthy

      ARC Future Fellow at University of Melbourne

      In reply to Mark Poynter

      Murray,

      When I say "There is little evidence...", I'm not saying you are certainly wrong, just that you didn't provide much evidence. The account of the Canberra fires is anecdote. I'm not aware of the details, but the areas are likely to differ in all sorts of ways (possibly topography, vegetation, weather conditions at the time of the fire, etc). Land tenure is confounded with other factors, making it difficult to be sure of the reasons.

      We should avoid arguing about anecdotes - we could…

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    7. Michael McCarthy

      ARC Future Fellow at University of Melbourne

      In reply to Mark Poynter

      Mark,

      Yes, this new comment system with limited nesting of comments does seem to hamper "the conversation" - it is hard to respond to specific comments. We should add that one to the list of requests for the website.

      As far as evidence of land tenure effects, see the article I linked to in the comment to Murray (http://www.plosone.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0029212). Several factors influenced house loss - land tenure was not one.

      I'm not privy to David Lindenmayer's…

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    8. Mark Poynter

      Forester

      In reply to Mark Poynter

      Michael

      This is a response to one of your earlier comments, but the site doesn't allow me to directly respond to you.

      You make the point that "we are not good at maintaining old forests"

      I don't disagree, but find it bemusing that those in society who see themselves as caring most about old forests - the ENGOs - are generally opposed or lack enthusiasm for doing more broadscale prescribed burning even though this is the only tool that can really help to mitigate the impacts of very severe bushfires on old forests.

      In this, they have been aided and abetted by elements of the academic community, particularly the ANU Fenner School, which published a series of papers with dubious conclusions designed to undermine support for the notion of doing more prescribed burning during the conduct of the 2009 Bushfires Royal Commision. These papers have angered bushfire research specialists and practictioners with far more credibility in this area.

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    9. Michael McCarthy

      ARC Future Fellow at University of Melbourne

      In reply to Mark Poynter

      Mark,

      I have no idea what to make of your attack on the Fenner School researchers. You need to be more specific about to whom you are referring, the particular papers, and the details of the concerns about those papers. Some counter evidence would be handy too.

      Again, you are making claims about people's motivations with no evidence, or even saying who they are in this case. Have you even asked these anonymous people about their motivations?

      You say that the research from the Fenner School…

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    10. Mark Poynter

      Forester

      In reply to Mark Poynter

      Michael

      Re my observations about the Fenner School and your response to that, most involved in Australian forest and fire management are acutely aware of the transformation of elements of the School to enviro-political activism. Professor Lindenmayer is the most obvious example, but there are others including some currently involved in the Tasmanian forest agreement dispute. It is interesting that this has coincided with the Fenner School's partnership with the Wilderness Society through the Wild…

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    11. Michael McCarthy

      ARC Future Fellow at University of Melbourne

      In reply to Mark Poynter

      Your proposition that there is a cosy relationship between the Fenner School and Wilderness Society, (suggesting that they might have coordinated press releases? Is that the sum of the alleged malpractice?) lacks persuasive evidence, so I'm not going to respond to that. I'll leave you to your speculation.

      The PLOS One article by researchers at the Fenner School clearly notes the literature on how prescribed fires can influence fire behaviour in less intense fires. They are not claiming it has…

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    12. Murray Webster

      Forestry-Ecology Consultant/Contractor

      In reply to Mark Poynter

      Deliberate burning of fire-prone native vegetation is about more than protecting human life and property.
      I recently quoted on a mapping project in world heritage National Parks, to map areas of forest that were affected or likely to be affected by eucalypt dieback (Bell-miner associated dieback). The client stated that they were having decreases in populations of common animals like kangaroos, wallabies and wombats (grass eaters) as the shrubby understorey expanded into what used to be more grassy…

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    13. Michael McCarthy

      ARC Future Fellow at University of Melbourne

      In reply to Mark Poynter

      Murray,

      For sure, there are many good reasons to burn vegetation that go beyond protection of humans and their property. For example, southern temperate grasslands should generally be burnt regularly (every couple of years) to maintain plant diversity. However, lots of grasslands are not burnt frequently enough. Heathland management (e.g., at Wilsons Prom) involves active use of fire to maintain plant diversity and manage invasive species. In other cases (e.g., in the mallee) too frequent burning…

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    14. Mark Poynter

      Forester

      In reply to Mark Poynter

      Michael

      I guess I'm not suprised by your unwillingness to consider active media promotion of a personal/political agenda by scientist/s studiously ignoring critical qualifying information as being a misuse of the gift of academic credibility. To me it somewhat highlights the gulf that exists between academia and practical land management.

      In this, I am not referring to the PLOS One article which you keep mentioning. But in relation to that article, there are many who think that drawing a conclusion…

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    15. Michael McCarthy

      ARC Future Fellow at University of Melbourne

      In reply to Mark Poynter

      Mark,

      I fully accept that widespread FRB makes it easier to control fires during moderate conditions, thereby reducing the area burnt by unplanned fires. I've noted some of the research about that in previous comments. The authors of the PLOS One paper also note that research in their paper.

      The point they make in their paper is that IF THE AIM IS TO MINIMIZE HOUSE LOSS DURING HIGH INTENSITY FIRES, FRB has the greatest impact when conducted near houses, so that is where the effort should be…

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    16. Mark Poynter

      Forester

      In reply to Mark Poynter

      Michael

      Your continued reference to just one paper to defend the motivation of ANU researchers is admirable, but as I said earlier, I have never strongly criticised that particular paper largely because (unlike others) it was not rushed into publication to coincide with key events such the Bushfire RC's consideration of land management, including fuel reduction burning targets.

      You say I know nothing of the motivation of researchers, but I don't think you've ever stopped and considered why…

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  8. Bernie Masters

    environmental consultant at FIA Technology Pty Ltd, B K Masters and Associates

    Michael, thanks for the comment. Can you provide a source to back up the statement "it is less costly (in the long term) to limit timber production rather than install nest boxes". This strikes me as quite strange as a well designed and constructed nest box (and I've installed a few over the years) should last decades.
    I accept that nest boxes are sometimes damaged by fire and falling branches, etc, but so are trees with natural hollows, so I'd be interested in any research which shows that nest…

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    1. Michael McCarthy

      ARC Future Fellow at University of Melbourne

      In reply to Bernie Masters

      The paper I was thinking about is this one:

      McKenney, D.W., and Lindenmayer, D.B. 1994. An economic assessment of a nest-box strategy for the conservation of an endangered species. Can. J. For. Res. 24: 2012-2019.

      The website is here (paper is behind a pay wall):

      http://www.nrcresearchpress.com/doi/abs/10.1139/x94-258#.UM69l6zhcxE

      I think they compared logging and nest boxes versus retaining old growth forest. The article by Danny Spring suggests there are circumstances where nest boxes are valuable when dealing with regenerating forests (I'm operating from memory, so I might not have all of this 100% correct).

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  9. Tom Fairman

    PhD Student at University of Melbourne

    Great article David, though I always furrow-my-brow a little at the remarks on logging creating more fire prone ash forests.

    It's a interesting hypothesis however as far I'm aware the conclusion is largely drawn from the Mueck & Peacock report in 1992 - a report I'm familiar with thanks to a few former lecturers of mine talking about how they picked it apart in their honours projects, critiquing the methods and it's subsequent conclusions. Has there been subsequent evidence collected updating the 1992 work? Or can we say it was by and large conclusive?

    Sorry to be the jerk that picks out an extremely specific point but I do suppose we are all scientists and this is what we do, right...

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    1. Murray Webster

      Forestry-Ecology Consultant/Contractor

      In reply to Tom Fairman

      Well I am a little more critical of Prof Lindenmayers use of the Mueck & Peacock Report. It is used as the sole reference in the link above:
      http://soln.org/wp-content/uploads/2010/01/effects-of-logging-on-fire-regimes-in-moist-forests.pdf
      to justifly this statement:
      "Australia has shifted the vegetation composition toward one more characteristic of drier forests that tend to be more fire prone (Mueck & Peacock 1992)"

      A couple points.
      - it's not a peer reviewed paper, it is an internal report…

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    2. Mark Poynter

      Forester

      In reply to Tom Fairman

      Murray
      I totally agree with your comments re Lindenmayer's misuse of the Mueck and Peacock paper. There has been considerable criticism from bushfire specialists about Lindenmayer et al's recently published papers about fire which have tended to draw outlandish conclusions about Australia from referenced discussions about tropical forests. Again, this has been suggestive of an agenda.

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  10. Mark Poynter

    Forester

    As I stated in an earlier comment, the figures for supposed mountain ash harvesting up to 2016 somewhat exaggerate the reality.

    The Timber Release Plan specifies gross areas, that are invariably around 30% less than the net harvested area once management constraints and Code of Practice requirements are met. It also includes contingencies to account for wet weather and other uncertainties and so overstates even the gross harvestable area.

    The number of coupes is also misleading because it includes…

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  11. Chris Owens

    Professional

    Mark Poynter, I would trust the Wilderness Society over vested interests and industry spin. You cannot dispute that VicForests is a non profit organisation that subsidies resource access to Japanese woodchip companies. Nor dispute VicForests lost $10M of taxpayer funds in the period 2009 – 2011.

    Your reference to a percentage of public forest accessible to loggers needs to be considered in light of the fact that two thirds of Victoria’s native vegetation has already been cleared: http://www.dse.vic.gov.au/land-management/land/native-vegetation-home/what-is-native-vegetation

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    1. Murray Webster

      Forestry-Ecology Consultant/Contractor

      In reply to Chris Owens

      Chris the stats on forest destruction are very disturbing, no doubt about it. However when we look at the break up of different vegetation types we find that some types have been extensively cleared and others largely still intact. Red Gum - Yellow Box woodland for example has been cleared down to 1% or so remaining. Most of the clearing happened in grassy woodlands and along the coastal and river flats. These are the areas that are most in need of rehabilitation and in my opinion were we should…

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    2. Mark Poynter

      Forester

      In reply to Chris Owens

      As I said earlier you need to look beyond ENGO press releases before airing your strong opinions about forestry.

      You mistake the Wilderness Society as somehow independent and untainted by financial self interest, which is at odds with their $15 million annual budget and reliance on anti-forestry campaigns to maintain the flow of donations that underpins their existence.

      You misrepresent VicForests somewhat as they have in fact generated an overall profit over their 8-years of existence, despite…

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  12. Bernie Masters

    environmental consultant at FIA Technology Pty Ltd, B K Masters and Associates

    Michael, you say "I am unconvinced that you know anything about the motivations of researchers." Well, without mentioning names:
    scientist A - after some years working for the voluntary conservation movement, this person in 1983 when the ALP won government here in WA became pro-development and allowed his environmental consulting business to write impact studies that would always find no environmental impacts. Other consulting groups were appalled at his reports but he had the ear (and financial…

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    1. Michael McCarthy

      ARC Future Fellow at University of Melbourne

      In reply to Bernie Masters

      Bernie,

      For sure, scientists are susceptible to bias. But cases of large scientific error (e.g., that lead to retraction of articles from journals) are very rare, and when they do occur they are rarely, as far as I am aware, due to political agendas. They are mostly due to human foibles of self-promotion. Other instances, such as some of the "science" that was conducted for the tobacco industry, had financial incentives. It is worth noting, however, that such cases are very rare (a fraction of…

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    2. Mark Poynter

      Forester

      In reply to Bernie Masters

      Bernie,

      Thoroughly agree with your comments on this, and Michael's response to you suggests that, with all due respect to him, he has his head firmly in the sand if he is incapable of seeing the bias of certain scientists against contemporary forest management.

      Often, it is not so much in their research papers, as in the simplistic conclusions they draw in promoting their findings, which often are not fully supported by their research. A good example mentioned above by Murray Webster, is the…

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    3. Mark Poynter

      Forester

      In reply to Bernie Masters

      Continued from above ...

      Recently, we've had another ANU luminary co-author an article on the unashamedly left-leaning Crikey weblog with a former Greens political adviser, advocating the closure of Tasmania's forest industry because it doesn't employ many people - it was subsequently revealed that they understated the true employment figure by two-thirds.

      Subsequently, the same scientist has been promoting a view through the media that Tassie could make billions of dollars in carbon credits…

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    4. Murray Webster

      Forestry-Ecology Consultant/Contractor

      In reply to Bernie Masters

      I made a point in a previous post that Prof Lindenmayer statement that logging causes a shift to species characteristic of dryer forests was supported by one non-peer reviewed report. Further to this point this link on the Bushfire Co-operative Research Centre:
      http://www.bushfirecrc.com/managed/resource/fri_penman.pdf
      refers to a randomised, replicated, controlled study conducted for well over 10 years in South-Eastern Australia (Eden, NSW). Treatments included combinations of logging and burning over as well as no treatment. Measurements were comprehensive.
      The overall summary from the paper states that there was very little difference in change in species for any treatment i.e. logging did not cause a shift to dryer species in comparison to doing nothing and/or burning. There was however change in understorey species across all the plots, independent of logging or burning.

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    5. Michael McCarthy

      ARC Future Fellow at University of Melbourne

      In reply to Bernie Masters

      Mark,

      You questioned David Lindenmayer's conclusions that he stated as: current clearfelling practices will lose "large amounts of money, degrade the forest, erode water catchment yields, increase fire risks, and drive the state’s faunal emblem to extinction."

      In particular you questioned whether timber harvesting reduces water yields, and state "there is no evidence of this in Victorian forests". However, there is evidence that timber harvesting reduces water yields in mountain ash forests…

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    6. Murray Webster

      Forestry-Ecology Consultant/Contractor

      In reply to Bernie Masters

      Hi Michael,

      Note I replied on your wordpress blog as well.

      What would happen to the model if for example fire regrowth stands were thinned to about 50% basal area, (or crown cover percent) at about 30 years old?

      Timber harvesting as it is carried out in Victories wet forests now, deliberately results in a patch-work of stands of different ages, which contrasts with the 10's or 100's of thousands of hectares all converted to regrowth simultaneously by fire. This patchwork includes reservation…

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    7. Michael McCarthy

      ARC Future Fellow at University of Melbourne

      In reply to Bernie Masters

      Hi Murray,

      Thanks for the comment. I responded on my wordpress blog. These effects are proportional to the area that is harvested (in the long-term, not annually). So, if 12.8% of the forest is harvested at some point, then the effects will be ~12.8% of that calculated. Mountain ash forests are water catchments for areas other than Melbourne. I remember hearing that about a third of mountain ash forests are harvested - that might be a more appropriate fraction to use if dealing with all stream…

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  13. Wil B

    B.Sc, GDipAppSci, MEnvSc, Environmental Planner

    Green Carbon ( http://epress.anu.edu.au/titles/green-carbon ) by Brendan Mackey, Heather Keith, Sandra L. Berry and David B. Lindenmayer (2008), .pdf available from that link above, read the acknowledgements on pg.41.

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    1. Mark Poynter

      Forester

      In reply to Wil B

      Will

      Yes, this is the paper I was referring to in an earlier comment where its findings were released at a Wilderness Society function held at the Bali Climate Change conference in November 2007, some 9 months before the paper was published in August 2008 (so presumably the peer-review process wasn't completed when its findings were being publicised).

      This appears to be a serious breakdown of academic protocol to meet the timing and agenda requirements of a financial backer which wanted to create powerful headlines about how locking-up forests from timber production could supposedly result in huge savings of carbon emissions.

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  14. Rob Caddell

    Retired Forester

    There is a great example of a crown fire being brought to ground and stopped by a young, regenerating Mountain Ash forest just above the Stevenson Falls that saved many hundreds of hectares of maturing forest from the devastating Black Saturday Fire. It shows the benefit of diversity within the forest that forestry can introduce, that locking forests up can't.
    The use of streamside reserves, wildlife corridors and the already substantial National Parks and other Reserves will in the absence of crown fire will provide habitat for Leadbeaters.
    Forestry is all about storing Carbon into trees and using the resulting timber on a sustainable basis.
    "Sustainable" Yield was being used by foresters long before sustainability became the new buzz word. But to practice forestry, one needs to know how much forest you have to work in and that has been impossible over my 40 years because the land base has been continually reduced.

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