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Pic: Alan Lesheim, The Habitat Advocate, HERE

THE Australian native forest logging industry is in dire straits. The international crash in demand for native forest woodchips has the industry desperately scrambling for replacement markets.

While the native-forest sawlog sector will continue, the industrial logging model that has driven environmental destruction and public conflict is in rapid decline. The industry’s Plan B is the economically suspect and public relations nightmare of ‘‘dead koala power’’ - large-scale power stations run on native forest woodchips. This is a clear sign of desperation.

Promoters of native forest biomass energy argue that logging produces ‘‘waste residue’‘, conjuring images of a few leftover branches being picked up from the forest floor. The reality is fundamentally different.

With existing industrial logging methods such as clear-felling, vast quantities of standing forests unsuitable for sawlog production are woodchipped. In the majestic tall eucalypt forests this often amounts to 85 per cent of the timber cut being for woodchips.

In the 1960s and ‘70s, ports were established to allow these ‘‘waste residues’’ to be exported as value-adding. Export woodchipping then became the main driver of industrial logging, destroying ancient giants, wild valleys and wildlife habitat.

Markets and society have rejected this environmentally damaging business model. The industrial native forest industry is on life support. Woodchip exports have collapsed in Tasmania, while jobs are being shed in Victoria and logging intensified in New South Wales.

While biomass energy production from other feedstocks may have a bright future in Australia, native forests should not be a part of the picture. While some sources of biomass can provide cost-effective renewable energy, native forest proposals are underpinned by subsidised public forest woodchipping, unsustainable wood supplies, and the destruction of highly valued forests.

Advocates also paint a misleadingly simplistic picture that native forest biomass reduces carbon emissions. This is based on the flawed assumption that replanted trees take up all the carbon released when a forest is logged.

Australia has the most carbon-dense forests in the world. When these forests are logged and burnt, that carbon is released into the atmosphere and only a portion is reabsorbed over several decades when trees regrow. This results in large carbon pollution emissions.

Recent research on biomass-specific native-forest harvesting in North America in the journal Nature Climate Change showed that, after assessing all harvest and energy generation emissions, bioenergy was worse for the climate than fossil fuel generation in 80 per cent of the regions studied.

In addition to climate pollution, logging for biomass will be an environmental disaster for forest ecosystems that are already heavily impacted by logging, climate change, increased fires and feral pests.

The native forest industry relies on government regulation, such as regional forest agreements and forest practices codes, to claim environmental sustainability. There is also an increasing marketplace reliance on the heavily flawed Australian Forestry Standard certification system.

These mechanisms have proven grossly inadequate in protecting the environment.

Despite these systems being in place, forest giants are clear-felled every day in the wilderness valleys of Tasmania, native forest logging is pushing the Leadbeater’s possum to extinction in Victoria, and koala habitat continues to be destroyed in NSW.

When conflicts emerge between forestry contracts and environmental regulation, laws are changed or bent to allow logging to continue. For example, after several successful court cases by conservationists, the Victorian government has proposed changes that will allow loggers to ignore legislation to protect threatened species legislation, virtually signing the death warrant of the remaining 500 or so Leadbeater’s possums, the state’s animal emblem.

Past experience does not augur well for native forest biomass. Despite the existence of soon-to-be-repealed Howard-era renewable energy incentives, failed projects are found across Australia. Over the past two decades, energy retailer rejection, community and conservationist opposition, poor economics and environmental regulation have ensured projects have not left the drawing board.

The push for a native forest biomass industry that relies on failed regulation and drives the destruction of precious remaining ancient forests will be vigorously opposed by conservation groups such as the Wilderness Society and, judging from experience, by broad sections of the community.

Warrick Jordan is national forest campaigner for the Wilderness Society.

First published in the SMH, HERE

• Advocate: Hampshire mill might re-open
BY SEAN FORD
29 Dec, 2011 01:00 AM
THE Hampshire woodchip mill may re-open in 2012, in potential good jobs news for the region and bad news for the Gunns Limited pulp mill plan.

If it re-opens, it would be expected to use the very same plantation feedstock earmarked for the troubled pulp mill project.

“This is confirmation the pulp mill project is effectively dead,” Greens MHA Kim Booth said yesterday.

“In a desperate effort to repay the banks, Gunns are now cannibalising their few remaining assets.

“It inevitably adds to evidence there is no hope for the pulp mill.”

Gunns, which has been selling assets as it attempts to secure an equity partner for the Tamar Valley mill, confirmed yesterday Hampshire was not up for sale.

“Currently it’s on probably a temporary shutdown, basically care and maintenance, until and if we make a decision on what it’s going to be used for,” spokesman Matt Horan said.

With Gunns exiting the native forest sector, that would appear to leave plantation feedstock as the only option.

The mill has chipped plantation stock before.

No decision had been made, Mr Horan said.

The Hampshire mill’s closure was announced by Gunns in late 2010 - it cost more than 15 direct jobs.

At the time, then-Burnie mayor Alvwyn Boyd warned the closure would also cost indirect jobs.

“There are the truckies, the mechanics, the fuel suppliers.”

“It’s quite a tragic blow to the city and the Coast.”

Gunns recently revealed its projected underlying earnings before interest and tax had slumped to $30million.

A senior debt facility of $340million is due to mature on January 31, with Gunns aiming to pay off about $120million of that through the proceeds of asset sales and seek to re-finance $216million.

The pulp mill is forecast to be a $2.3billion project and to use 100% hardwood plantation fibre, mostly from Tasmania.

There is a woodchip mill at the proposed site.

Sean Ford in The Advocate HERE

And, via Anne:

For those who may not have been keeping a close eye on the share price recently Gunns closed today at 12.5 cents – so it doesn’t look like a white-hatted JVP is about to ride in any time soon.

This segment was on ABC’s RN Breakfast program yesterday (28th) & offers some useful insight into the global financial situation & why that JVP isn’t likely to come riding past Lindsay Street any time soon – if ever.

http://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/breakfast/2011-12-28/3749354

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Lara faces difficulties in 2012 (including those relating to a certain pulp mill)
http://www.skynews.com.au/politics/article.aspx?id=701365&vId=

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And the Brits aren’t happy
http://www.abc.net.au/news/2011-12-22/20111222-tasmanian-timber-products-boycotted-in-the-uk/3743214/?site=northtas&WT.svl=local0

• Bruce Mounster, Mercury: Ta Ann boss fears job cuts

TIMBER processor Ta Ann fears it will be abandoned by overseas customers if the forest peace deal is not settled.

Ta Ann’s Malaysian managing director Dato KH Wong, in Hobart this week to review the company’s Huon Valley and Smithton operation, said the situation was desperate.

Mr Wong hinted that Tasmania could lose the log peeling business, which created about 160 jobs.

A new February target for the Inter Governmental Agreement process, breaching the December 31 deadline, was unacceptable. “Quick action is required. Radical environment groups appear to be using the the delay in the verification process to harm our markets,” he said.

Mr Wong said the process needed to confirm which areas would be reserved, and from where Ta Ann would get its 20-70mm logs, provided by Forestry Tasmania.

The company last week lost a contract with International Plywood, he said.

The British Company which used Ta Ann’s product in flooring for a London Olympics stadium has been the target of a Green campaign.

“We are extremely disappointed,” Mr Wong said.

Forestry Tasmania managing director Bob Gordon yesterday echoed Ta Ann’s call for a quick resolution.

“I am concerned about the knock-on effects this uncertainty is having not only on Ta Ann but other processors as well,” Mr Gordon said.

Resources Minister Bryan Green said that he wanted industry certainty.

“It’s important for the independent verification group to take the time it needs to do this important task properly,” Mr Green said. “Importantly this agreement must stand the test of time and provide lasting security and certainty.”

Mr Green and Mr Wong said campaigners had ignored the fact that Ta Ann used regrowth, not old-growth timber.

Opposition Forestry spokesman Peter Gutwein said the IGA was a disaster.

“It hasn’t provided the promised peace and is hopelessly bogged down in arguments about exactly what forests are so-called high conservation value,” he said.

Mercury HERE