BAER Kilmore South Final Report

This is the FINAL cumulative report for the Kilmore South. 

This summary of a government report prepared after February 7, Black Saturday Fires, reveals that the state government pro-actively ignored the advice provided by the BAER team for the survival of fire affected endangered species in favour of logging.  The fires of Black Saturday changed the lives of everyone and everything that lived in the Central Highlands of Victoria except the logging industry. VicForest have posted a creative profit this financial year, endangered species however will court extinction with little hope for return.

This review of the Burned Area Emergency Response (BAER) report reveals that the response by Government may have committed at least 3 key species to an extinction trajectory and risked Melbourne’s current and future drinking water. 

Background:

There were 60 scientists in the BAER team - they arrived in Victoria for a series of Rapid Assessments over 35 days in the hardest hit area’s of Black Saturday’s forests.  Each team was made up of a variety of specialists such as soil scientists, hydrologists, geologists, biologists, geographic information system specialists, archeologist, botanist, silviculturist, research engineer, and civil engineer. The BAER teams are very experienced specialists that are highly effective in conducting rapid assessments and analyses.

 Some of their initial environmental findings included; 

420,000 square kilometres of forest and farms burned.

2,600 kilometres of fire breaks were dozed

820 kilometres of rivers, streams were burned and  affected by the fires

According to a presentation by Ewen Waller;  ‘extensive use of the BAER team approach would take place’

The BAER report was developed in conjunction with the State of Victoria Department of Sustainability and Environment, Vic Forests, Parks Victoria, Vic Roads, Department of Primary Industry, Country Fire Authority (CFA), State Emergency Services (SES), Melbourne Water, Goulburn-Murray CMA, Goulburn-Broken CMA, Heritage Victoria, New South Wales State Forest, and the United States Burned Area Emergency Response (BAER) Team.  

The report urged conservation action on species at risk, warned against salvage logging in catchment areas and threatened species habitat and stated that no more than 236 hectares of fire affected forest should be salvage logged (Page 64)- the Victorian government ordered 10 times the amount to be cut across habitat imperative to the survival of the same species BAER listed as threatened.

 In addition to concerns regarding the gross loss of habitat quality for many species due to fire, the temporal and spatial arrangement of the remaining habitat needed to be considered in future recovery, so salvage, green timber harvesting and fire pre-suppression activities must be enacted with great caution, warned the report.

One of the major issues of concern due to the fire is the loss of habitat connectivity which will have negative affects on many species of fauna. An action to link green and low intensity burned forests was reccomended by the BAER team, but to no avail - these area's are and have been logged since Black Saturday.

This BAER report stated that no more than 236 hectares of forest should be logged. To date, 2000 hectres of salvage logging in burned forests took place from Kinglake to Marysville. Additionally, Green logging never stopped despite public claims by  VicForests that they had. Key habitat for the Leadbeaters Possum, Powerful and Sooty Owl, Barred Galaxias and other listed threatened species has now been logged. 

The new Timber release Plan has been released with even more logging in sites containing threatened species. During the  public consultation process, groups and individuals submitting on the TRP’s amendments called for important environmental audits to be provided to the public in order to make adequate assessments on the status of the health of our ecosystems and whether logging could take place sustainably. These cries were ignored by the government and logging was approved. No record of the BAER reports exists for the public despite the cost to tax payers and legitimate role the reports play in landscape management and planning for logging sustainability.

The population sustainability of the IUCN red listed, critically endangered Barred Galaxias and Leadbeaters Possum is now in question in terms of it capacity to naturally survive.  Whilst nestboxes have been used as a short term solution for challenged possum populations, the long term viability of these boxes is expensive and unstable. The nestboxes are not resistant to fire, are often infested by the European honeybee and fall off the tree’s on average of every 6 months (Lindenmayer 2009) 

Removing the Maquarie Perch and Barred Galaxias fish to ‘save’ in refrigeration units before they can be re-introduced is not sustainable. To log the rivers and then hope to re-introduce the fish is costly and unsustainable.

The 2008 State of the Forests Report, published AFTER Black Saturday listed data deficiency for nearly two thirds of the report and further decline to 23 forest dependant species with 43 new species being added to the threatened list - this DID NOT consider the effects of the fires. We will not have any idea about the affects of Black saturday on threatened species now until 2013. Other than the BAER work.

There are major costs to Victorian tax payers for the DSE to artificially support and monitor species suffering because of logging decisions.  The monitoring, whilst important to learn population and distribution is merely reaffirming, in report after report, that these species require multi aged, intact, area’s of Ash forest. The same resource VicForests sell for woodchip, the same forest badly disturbed by Black Saturday.

The salvage logging was hurried through before an assessment for it’s safety could be prepared. Subsidies for the logging can be traced back to the treasurer (at the time VicForests’ boss) - John Lenders, who approved the salvage operation before BAER even had a chance to complete their very expensive report. There were 165 log trucks and men brought into the forests from as far as Eden, in addition to the permanent crews, to cut as much as possible, as soon as possible - 24/7. No regard for species survival. And we, as fire communities, we assured it was all about 'local employment'.

The BAER report recommended 'that resource volumes reflect the reduction in resource for commercial purpose AND Habitat' - to date a further 116 coupes have been awarded to VicForests, with 65 featuring in the Central Forest Management Area - the forests of Marysville, Toolangi and Kinglake.

In 2009/2010, 2/3rds of all of Victoria’s total sawlog and pulp log yield was cut in Central forest management area. This means, in addition to the damage by the fires, more than 2000 hectares of forest has been cut back to zero in age class and with coupes as large as 120 ha each, made untenable for the survival of hollow dependant species. 

 The cover-up of these essential reports should prompt a parliamentary inquiry into the management of VicForests and the DSE. Which ministers ordered these reports to be dismissed, why and at what cost to our native species.

The key question is; How can a major ecological report on the worst fires in living memory, that has committed the entire population of Leadbeaters Possum (Vic's faunal emblem) into near extinction, be simply 'sat on' or ignored? 60 highly paid scientists, 12 government agencies and a report that cost millions has been ignored to allow for the broad scale logging of forests that provide several million people with drinking water, habitat for our most endangered forested species and stand as the richest forested carbon banks on earth. We asked for this work, we were told it didn't exist so we could not include it in our timber submissions, now we are told it's irrelevant becuse it was written by Americans and now we keep funding VicForests to cut our precious forests into a debt we foot.

What will it take to change your vote this year? 

Next time a politician says that logging in foreign countries is far worse than logging here because it's ilegal and they are killing endangered species - take a long, hard look at the legality of our logging.

We currently have 12 breaches under official regulatory investigation with many more on the way. 

At the writing of this summary, our offices are recording 12 log trucks per hour - 1 truck of 30 tonnes every 5 minutes being transported to Japan - Nippon. 

Sarah Rees

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