Australia to Reverse Ban on Native Forest Incineration

Australia to Reverse Ban on Native Forest Incineration

- by Jenny Weber, Huon Valley Environment Centre  

[[{"type":"media","view_mode":"media_large","fid":"105","attributes":{"alt":"","class":"media-image","height":"480","style":"width: 300px; height: 400px; float: left; margin-left: 7px; margin-right: 7px;","title":"Photo: NSW Wires","width":"360"}}]]Australia’s New South Wales (NSW) state government has announced plans to allow native forests to be logged and burnt for electricity generation. Removing a ban on burning native forest wood for electricity would give a green light for the construction of electricity plants powered by native forests, proposals that attempt to prop up the collapsing export wood chipping market. 

The NSW Government has opened a submission period through the Environment Protection Authority for comment on this plan to amend the regulation that currently prohibits use of native forests for bio-energy. The Protection of the Environment Operations (General) Regulation 2009 currently prohibits the use of “native forest bio-materials” to generate electricity. 

The O’Farrell government is proposing to amend this regulation to enable the following vegetation on public or private land to be burnt for electricity generation: areas approved for logging for pulp products; vegetation that has been approved for clearing; offcuts and ‘waste’ from the timber industry. 

This amendment would increase logging and devastate NSW’s remaining native forests. Far-reaching damaging impacts on native wildlife survival, the health of communities and the state’s carbon emissions are likely consequences of the logging industry based in burning native forests for bio-energy.

NSW forests are home to treasured native plants and animals, feed streams and rivers, and are storehouses for carbon — an important part of the solution to climate change.

The proposal will target trees that are currently used for wood chipping and species that are too hard or too red to be used in the paper and pulp production. This includes prime koala habitat such as the forests of red gum, iron bark, bloodwood, grey box and wollybutt.

The logging industry calls it a “common sense move” and claims “that sawmills will be able to use offcuts and woodchips that would otherwise have been left to lie on the ground.” However, these were the same claims that wood chipping was established on decades ago, and subsequently was the driver of wholesale destruction of forests across NSW.

Like other proposals in Australia for trashing native forests for bio-energy that have not reached this level of Government intervention, this proposal is about creating a new market for native forest wood products. It is a desperate attempt the allow ongoing logging of native forests as the collapsing wood chip industry is providing governments with a need to address the failed model they fund with taxpayer subsidies across Australia.

In NSW, despite receiving massive government subsidies, the Eden woodchip mill in far south NSW is currently running at a $2.6 million a year loss. In June 2013, Boral Timber sold its plant and equipment in the mid north coast of NSW, and closed its woodchip export business.

Intensive logging of the ecologically diverse forests on the south east and north coast of NSW has accelerated the loss of important intact native forest ecosystems. These forests provide habitats for koalas, possums, sugar gliders and powerful owls. As the forests are logged, wildlife is killed or displaced, destroyed habitats do not fully recover for hundreds of years — a timeline our global community in this age of climate change does not have to rely on.

The misguided and deceptive approach that surrounds proponents of burning native forests for electricity that it is clean green energy, the NSW Environmental Protection Authority claims that this proposal is consistent with the government’s plans to increase renewable energy generation to 20%.

Greenhouse gas emissions from burning native forest for electricity generation can be as much as 6.4 times greater than the equivalent-sized coal-fired power station.