Monday, 26 February 2007

Some real people's real experience of forestry operations

Bill Manning - Forest Whistleblower, from The Age
Read this story. Think about why anyone bothered to cut down those trees. Here's the Forestry Tasmania District Forest Management Plan Report, including on page 7 acknowledgement of "non-conformance", or a breach of the Forestry Practices Plan. Seems like no action was taken though, it just got written up in a report. Below it there's another table with corrective actions. I assume this means there was no corrective action on coupe CF017A. Further reading that would also tend to suggest there's a major problem can be found here, and here. The second one has a pretty clear indication of John Gay's understanding of what's going on, right at the end of the transcript.

Sunday, 25 February 2007

How much timber?

I was looking for something else on the Gunns Pulp Mill site, when I came across this statement.
Against the question: "How much wood will be processed in the proposed pulp mill?"
They provide the answer: "The pulp mill will not require additional intensification of forestry operations. It will instead divert resource that otherwise would have been exported in chip form to the pulp mill for value-added processing. In the initial stages of operation, about 3.2 million green tonnes of pulp wood per year will be processed."(My emphasis).
I thought this had been shown to be false last year, and that the huge increase in harvesting had been acknowledged by Gunns. Haven't they made it clear that the export woodchip trade is going to fund the building of the mill? Why does the government pretend to be surprised when people don't believe them? No doubt there are some clever semantics around the conflicting statements, so that nobody's actually "lying", but perhaps we could refer to them as "disingenuous" or maybe even "misleading". Of course, they'd see it as being in a good cause, theirs.

Saturday, 24 February 2007

FEA upset | Forestry boss not quite so convivial

FEA have responded on page 27 of The Mercury today to Sue Neales (Chief political reporter at the Mercury) for suggesting they were merely a "warehouse" for Gunns. OK, so at least they've responded. Now we can sit back and watch them spend $50M building their new sawmill, hopefully employing the odd Tasmanian while they do so, and then try to work out where Gunns are going to get 280,000 tonnes of softwood each year to add into the hardwood for the pulpmill.
Beautiful Bob Gordon - From The MercuryThe shine came off the "olive branch" from Forestry Tas to protesters today. The offer from Bob Gordon to meet with the Wilderness Society was in an email about truck washing from one of his foresters, not in any formal communication from Bob himself. Wonder how the story was broken? You'd have to think there had been an attempt at looking conciliatory in the last few days. On Thursday Mr Gordon said he was not trying to stifle free speech or the right to protest. He looks like the democratic, caring and sharing sort, do you think? To quote Monty Python, "He used ta buy his muvva flowers 'n' that".

Wielangta - it's OK, our threatened species are "protected" now

Paul and Erica from The MercuryAll is well, Bob Brown's been going on about nothing. The Tasmanian Government, ably assisted by Erica Betts and presumably a few bureaucrats, have sorted out the problem of biodiversity. In a miraculous move, they have managed to ensure the "protection" of endangered species, probably across the whole of Australia. You want to know how they've achieved this don't you? Easy! They've jointly redefined their efforts in the RFA as "protection". Yes, brilliant isn't it. This extract from the media release gives the flavour:
  • "Clauses 68 and 96 - addressing the effect of the Judge's interpretation of the meaning of the word "Protect"...The new clauses clearly state the intention of the parties to establish the reserve system and ecologically-sustainable forest management system and agree that this does protect threatened species and communities." (My emphasis.)

So all you silly conservationists can go home now. After all your effort, it really was as simple as a few words in a document (PDF, 84KB). Mmmm...

And I note in the reader comments for The Mercury's Wielangta story today that Erica was on Stateline last night, and he continues to spout disingenuous numbers. I would have expected better of Erica, but perhaps he really is just stoopid!

Mt Wellington - 24 Feb 2007

Hobart from Mt Wellington - 24 Feb 2007
Had a nice walk on the front of the mountain. Bit cloudy, but some good views over the city with dramatic lighting through the clouds and off the river.

Friday, 23 February 2007

A new attitude?

Bob Gordon, Forestry Tasmania (from The Mercury)With Gunns agreeing to the RPDC timetable, and now Bob Gordon inviting the Wilderness Society to have a chat with him (!!), you have to wonder what happened. It's such a switch it just can't be true. I think they've probably worked out that as long as Paul Lennon can ram the mill through parliament in spite of any adverse outcome in the RPDC, they really ought to back off and make themselves look more professional and statesmanlike. They're really just the school bullies, but maybe they've got some good advisors, whose advice they occasionally follow. An important question to consider is whether Malcolm Turnbull will be thinking along the same lines as Ian Campbell when the RPDC decision becomes know, or whether he'll even still be in government.
And just in passing, here's the list of members of the Forest Industries Association of Tasmania, who came out in support of the agreement to sell logs to FEA yesterday. They might be right, but given that FEA are a member, and Auspine ain't, I'm not clear why they're buying into it. They're hardly an independent arbiter.

Thursday, 22 February 2007

Mr Wright couldn't join Mr Lennon's Conga Line

When John Gay threatened to pull his pulpmill, Mr Lennon scurried northwards, while on holiday, to beg forgiveness for the evil activity of the RPDC. By so doing, he showed himself as eminently suitable to join that Conga Line so derided by Mark Latham. Christopher Wright, new chair of the RPDC panel assessing the pulpmill, has so far shown himself to be of a different mettle. Mr Gay demanded a meeting with Mr Wright, refused to provide data to the RPDC and demanded that the RPDC get on and approve his pulpmill by June.
In response, Mr Wright has refused to meet with Mr Gay, said it will take until at least November, pointed out that there are still flaws in Gunns' paperwork and made it clear that the delay is Mr Gay's fault. Stick that where it fits! Now, is Mr Lennon scurrying back to his Congamaster's side as I write? I don't think he'd dare, but time will tell. (Latest RPDC stuff here)

Tuesday, 20 February 2007

The view from California, Scottsdale, anywhere...

The whole world is watching, as the Greens once pointed out. This bloke from California thinks we're stoopid. And maybe he's right.

And here's an ABC News report on the view from Scottsdale [PDF, 227KB]. They have their point of view, and the loss of jobs should give us pause. But not our Pauly. Now, if it turns out that the northeast is paying the price for the pulp mill, I think we'd have to say there's been a conspiracy. I know conspiracy theorists get ridiculed, but in this political climate, it starts to seem less far-fetched. Who can we trust?

And a quote from Tasmania Police in The Australian in relation to the protesters walking along a road in the Weld;

"Anyone acting illegally will be dealt with according to the law."

Unless of course they happen to a GBE.

And finally, here's a link to a sad page that makes you wonder how the poor sod who produces honey is supposed to fight these people. It makes you want to find a more aggressive way of stopping the stoopidity and injustice, but of course I wouldn't, would I? Your leatherwood honey reading guide (unedited!).

Monday, 19 February 2007

The view from Kansas

Here's an interesting story from the Kansas City Star. If you read down a little way under the heading "Unnatural wonders", you'll see that our forestry practices made an impression on these visitors, and they've reported it to their readers. Apparently the guidebooks advise visitors to avoid the subject. Mmmm...better stay off that topic, many Tasmanians don't react well to people who disagree with them.
And, a joke:

A study in the teaching of math over the years:

Teaching Math in 1950s: A logger sells a truckload of lumber for $100. His cost of production is 4/5 of the price. What is his profit?

Teaching Math in 1960s: A logger sells a truckload of lumber for $100. His cost of production is 4/5 of the price, or $80. What is his profit?

Teaching Math in 1970s: A logger exchanges a set "L" of lumber for a set "M" of money. The cardinality of set "M" is 100. Each element is worth one dollar. The set "C", the cost of production contains 20 fewer points than set What is the cardinality of the set "P" of profits?

Teaching Math in 1980s: A logger sells a truckload of lumber for $100. His cost of production is $80 and his profit is $20. Your assignment: Underline the number 20.

Teaching Math in 1990s: By cutting down beautiful forest trees, the logger makes $20. What do you think of this way of making a living? Topic for class participation after answering the question: How did the forest birds and squirrels feel as the logger cut down the trees? There
are no wrong answers.

Sunday, 18 February 2007

Deceptive scientific assessment by the Hydro

Gordon DamThis story in the Sunday Tasmanian really comes as no surprise. The Hydro seem to have used dodgy science to get Basslink approved. It took three years of effort by a PhD student to demonstrate it though. How are we supposed to trust any science anyone does? Let's see the debate between peers commence now, it would be interesting to see who gets discredited in this. Someone should.

Judbury Fire

Judbury bushfire from Huonville Bridge - 1:42pm, 18 Feb 2007The fire continued to get larger. When I got this shot, there was a stiff breeze blowing from the north west. I could just imagine the fire racing across the top of Fletchers Hill (in the photo). This would be a nightmare to fight. Fire Service website updated.
Judbury bushfire from Huonville Bridge - 3:53pm, 18 Feb 2007And here's a photo from around 4pm.

Bushfire behind Judbury

A significant blaze is threatening the Huon Valley. Here are some pictures of the view from Huonville. The helicopter has just been refuelled on the footy oval, as the smoke intensifies in the background. The shot up the river is just a few minutes after the first. I understand this fire is burning in difficult-to-access country off Judds Creek Rd. From Huonville, it's difficult to tell which of the two fires in the vicinity might be causing the concern right now. There's a moderate northerly blowing, and this won't help.

Fire-fighting helicopter at Huonville oval, having refuelled. Judds Creek Rd fire seen in background - 18 Feb 2007

Judds Creek Rd fire from Huonville bridge - 18 Feb 2007

Saturday, 17 February 2007

280,000 tonnes of pine...

Sue Neales explores an interesting connection this morning in The Mercury. The pulp mill needs 280,000 tonnes of pine each year, which is remarkably close to the amount that FEA have secured from the people of Tasmania, via Rayonier. It's not quite that simple, as there is the question of the spare bits of tree that can't be sawn, and various ways we currently use this residue resource, but it's an interesting line to pursue. It was explored a little on Tasmanian Times some months ago.
Let's just try to follow the logic of this. This resource, sawmilled, directly employs 300 people in Scottsdale, and indirectly employs some other quite large number of people in the surrounding area, estimated by some as a total of up to 1000. The pulpmill, when built, is only going to employ 292 people. There will be some indirect jobs as well, we could even say 2000 (over 25 years!!), as the pulp mill taskforce does, but that’s probably as reliable as the 1000 for Scottsdale. You can argue about which bit of resource is used where, but at present the whole resource is used somehow, employing someone, except for those logs going overseas. Furthermore, surely some of the pulpmill jobs of course ought to be people previously employed producing and exporting woodchips, who move over into producing and exporting pulp. Now excuse me, but even if we don't take into account any intangibles, it seems that there's a high risk of the pulp mill being financially negative for Tasmania, even if positive for Gunns, if the jobs "created" are scavenging heavily from other existing industries. This story and pdf on Tasmanian Times looked at the issue a while ago. If we took account of lost opportunities, cost of water, road damage etc etc, potentially the only people winning would be Gunns’ shareholders.
Given that FEA have no sawmill yet, and a mill is "at least 14 months away", you'd have to say there could be some legs to this speculation. If FEA are indeed acting as a "warehouse" for the softwood required by Gunns' pulpmill, then we see the quite frightening connection of all the dots across all these individually disturbing stories. Now, what are the connections between Gunns and FEA?? Can the fearless reporters from the Examiner shed any light, can they glean any gems of evidence from the Launceston cocktail circuit? Or maybe if I get on the Net and do some more searching, it will all become clear?? Will Gunns now buy up FEA? Do they already have an agreement to get FEA's residue? What threats about the likelihood of Gunns dealing with Auspine in future could have been made? I do know that the FEA CEO used to work for Gunns, but then almost everyone in timber in Tasmania must have at some stage.
Bulldozed pines - photo from The Mercury, 17 Feb 2007This missive from Richard Flanagan is worth another read. And this story in the Mercury just further confirms the impression of ongoing mismanagement in Tasmania's forests. What a waste this is, see photo.

Wednesday, 14 February 2007

Erica's dodgy claims exposed

Further to my note the other day, I see a letter to editor at The Age has pulled up young Erica for his claims the other day, which, with the greatest respect, still seem a tad disingenuous. Do you think he's just using figures the Premier gave him? They'd be reliable, wouldn't they? And pigs might fly. If politicians want us to trust them, they need to make sure of their data, and not peddle false information in this manner. I suspect they rely on enough of the electorate being unable to do simple maths, and maybe they can't either. That thought fills me with confidence, how about you?
And just a question here - how would it work if our pulp mill went to Victoria? Would we chop down our trees to export there? I don't know where that thought process goes.

Tuesday, 13 February 2007

Hartz Mountains - 12 February 2007

Planned to go to Mt Field on Monday, but the day was very grey. I just knew it'd get better, but it's a long way from my place if the weather is off, so I went to the Hartz for the afternoon. Nice wander, with plenty of sitting and looking at the view. Of course the weather got better. Lots!
NW view from Hartz Mountains, Mt Riveaux in front, Lots Wife on left skyline, Franchmans Cap, centre in far distance - 12 Feb 2007You can see Frenchmans from there. Here it is in the picture, the lump, centre of the photo, in the distant background. It looks much better when lit by the early morning sun, when you can see the white cliffs. That's Mt Riveaux in the foreground, with Lots Wife behind it and to the left. Mt Riveaux scores a peak point I believe, but I'm told it's a "oncer", really too scrubby to be bothered with.

Monday, 12 February 2007

Bob Loone weighs in

I see Bob Loone has written on the subject of forestry managed investment schemes as well. He thinks all the others are OK, but I'm not so sure. What have MISs done to the value of grapes in this country? Time will tell. Whatever, read yesterday's links, and think again before you put money in these things.

Sunday, 11 February 2007

Is this the truth about MIS investments?

I came across this article by "Jarvis Cocker" from last year on Tasmanian Times. I'd be interested to see if there's any long-term analysis of the effectiveness of timber plantation Managed Investment Schemes. This report (PDF 97KB) certainly raises some doubts. And I found this too.
It's interesting to see the same problem besetting the grape industry, as this report notes. One has to wonder what's going to happen to all the money invested in these schemes. Will it turn to dust? Can we estimate the returns on these schemes? If there is a permanent wine glut for instance, what value a vine, or the MIS that owns it? I think this demonstrates the potential danger in skewing the apparent value of investments with such a high incentive as the 100% tax deduction which can be available for investors in an MIS.
Rumour has it of course that Tasmania's pine plantations have been badly managed, and we know that a lot of logs have been exported unprocessed. Who lost what on that then? I wonder how long the exported logs would have kept 300 people employed at Scottsdale. And how many people will this pulp mill employ in the end anyway? And if the bottom falls out of the plantation market, how cheaply will Forestry Tasmania sell our native forests just to keep big business IN business. You should read this quite hard-nosed assessment of Tasmania's forestry business from the end of 2005.

Saturday, 10 February 2007

Walnuts or Woodchips + Erica Strikes Again

Walnuts or Woodchips With ongoing concern about the negative impact of tax breaks for timber plantation investors, we might have expected the federal government to be looking at reducing or removing such breaks. It has been argued that such tax breaks give timber plantations unfair advantages in competition with traditional farming types.
So what has the government done? It's moved in exactly the opposite direction. It removed the tax breaks on EVERYTHING EXCEPT TIMBER PLANTATIONS. Previously tax breaks had applied to a variety of traditional agricultural crops. No more! Those evil people who were planting walnut and stonefruit trees, using tax breaks, won't be able to get away with their travesty any more. At least everyone seems to be outraged about this [and here, or see the search].
I have to assume that this means that over time we will see timber plantations slowly take over even more former farmland. We all know the old Cree Indian saying about being unable to eat money.
Now, it's quite possible that timber plantations do require some assistance to make them attractive investments. It would seem however that the balance isn't right. Do we need plantation timber to be more attractive than growing food crops or pastoral agriculture? Perhaps the government should revisit the scale of the tax break, and do some careful analysis of the capacity for traditional agriculture to compete.
This article shows how grumpy some people are about this, and gives a better explanation of the schemes.
Erica Betts' understanding of where woodchips come from (Internet)Erica Strikes Again And lastly, can I just note this letter from Erica Betts seems to imply that we only make woodchips from the little bits of timber left over after cutting round logs into square boards. Actually the vast bulk of timber taken from our forests becomes woodchips, or is left to burn, rather than becoming sawlogs. Most trees just aren't suitable for sawlog production. The question is why we chop them down at all, and whether they might be worth more if we left them standing up. The letter from Erica is either disingenuous or thick, take your choice. I don't think he'd try to peddle this tripe in Tasmania, but maybe he thought he could get away with it in The Age.

Thursday, 8 February 2007

Tasmanian Exports...

Logs and Chips, with Seagulls - Burnie 7 Feb 2007Not sure where these come from, nor which sawmill they might be headed for, nor which people they might be about to employ. But I bet they don't live anywhere near you! This my still-life contribution today, "Logs and Chips, with Seagulls - Burnie 7 Feb 2007".

Tuesday, 6 February 2007

Another subsidy to the forest industry

Here's another group looking for government handouts to help them stay in the business of harvesting Tasmania's forests. No doubt it's difficult for them, and they've probably been hung out to dry by their erstwhile guardians, big business. However if we took into account all the assistance and subsidy that government provides, as well as the opportunity costs of our harvested forests, and all the other costs, are we sure that cutting down Tasmania's forests is even economically defensible? No doubt Erica will be looking to help them, if he can. Then again, it could be yet another opportunity to publicly stick it up the Labor state government, and may I just say, they undoubtedly deserve it anyway.
What we really need is for someone to be allowed to independently assess all the costs, benefits and risks associated with forestry in Tasmania. I did speak to someone in the mid-90s who had given up trying to do a PhD on the subject, because their employer (and PhD sponsor) wouldn't cooperate in allowing any intangibles to be considered, like opportunity costs of Tourism. Have a look at some of the issues canvassed here. Is there a long term cost of not having food crop farms for instance? Bear in mind that tree farming is subsidised via the tax system.

Whatever the detailed, mathematical truth, the continued difficulties for Tasmanian forestry contractors, their struggle to survive on subsistence income and the continued loss of jobs must give us pause to question who or what big business is actually interested in. The people of Tasmania? Their contractors? Forests? Wedge-tailed eagles? Shareholders? Their own enrichment?

There's clearly something wrong at Forestry Tasmania. Their financial reports tend to be chock full of excuses for poor returns, and they make either losses or small profits. They were sprung borrowing more than they earned a few years ago to stay afloat, yet still claimed to have made a small profit. The truth is they don't charge high enough royaltys for our forests. As a result, we barely cover the costs of forestry. If you take into account other indirect costs, we clearly subsidise forestry heavily. And all the time we damage our own environment. Check this story by Tom Ellison in the Examiner. (The Examiner!!) And the follow up comment on Tasmanian Times.

Monday, 5 February 2007

Gentle Annie Falls - 5 Feb 2007

Water channel at Gentle Annie Falls - 5 Feb 2007Not a very adventurous walk, but good for some exercise on the way home from work. Gentle Annie Falls run steeply downhill from the Pipeline Track to the Upper Reservoir at Waterworks Reserve. Basically here there is a channel cut into the sandstone, down which the water used to flow off Mt Wellington. Here you can see the huge amount of work that went into the construction of Hobart's water supply. There are steps cut much of the way up the side of the "Falls". The water hasn't flowed down here since 1940 apparently, so the "Falls" are now dry. Here's a picture of water flowing down the falls from about 1915.

Sunday, 4 February 2007

Those oily puddles in National Parks

Iron oxide scum on puddle, Hartz Mountains - 3 Feb 2007You'll often see an oily film on puddles in the Tasmanian bush. You'd be forgiven for thinking they mean there's some source of pollution nearby. In fact the film is caused by iron from the dolerite rock. This excerpt from "The Rock which makes Tasmania" by David Leaman (Leaman Geophysics, 2002, p139).

"Many springs or seepages from dolerite display what appears to be an oil scum. FeIII oxide phases (haematite, limonite) dissolve in near neutral water under reducing conditions produced by organic environments (soils). When these waters interact with the atmosphere FeII iron is also oxidised at the surface and the films are a mixture of iron types. Fe bacteria may form part of these processes and the films can thicken to look like rust if nutrient resources are sufficient...Oil has been observed to seep through dolerite...and it is important to identify the nature of any films. Metal oxide films break into irregular plates if stirred with a stick, whereas oils will swirl on a thinner intact film. Most occurrences are oxide films."

So when you see an oily scum on the surface of a puddle, stir it with a stick. If it breaks into plates, the water isn't polluted with oil, and is ok except perhaps for those iron-eating bacteria!

Hartz Peak - 3 February 2007

NE view from the Hartz Plateau, early morning - 3 Feb 2007Alex on Hartz Peak, with Emily Tarn behind - 3 Feb 2007Alex and I walked up Hartz Peak quite early yesterday morning. Cloudy to start with, and it stayed cloudy as we got to the peak, but with the clouds swirling around in the early morning sun, it was quite spectacular. Good views down to Emily and Arthur Tarn, but no view to the west from the peak for us today. It cleared as we made our way down, and the tourists going up probably got a good view of SW Tas.

Hartz Pass - 3 Feb 2007

Hartz Lake - 3 Feb 2007Hartz Lake with clearfell - 3 Feb 2007
We did get a good view of Hartz Lake as we descended. The light was very interesting at times, very pastel in nature, but I haven't quite captured it in the photos. I'll see what I can do with the RAW files though, the photos here are from the jpegs. I think the light would have come out very well on Kodakchrome, but I haven't used any for years. That clearfell high up on Mt Picton makes an appalling backdrop to this beautiful lake, don't you think?

Olearia ledifolia (left) and Orites revoluta, I think! - 3 Feb 2007I think I've cleared up which plant is what, because I think I've got a shot of both Olearia ledifolia and Orites revoluta next to each other. Which means the prostrate "tree" is an Orites. They're both supposed to flower about now, but there was no sign of this. Possibly these plants are sterile?

The visitor shelter continues apace. Looking forward to seeing this when it's finished. It'll be good for those freezing windy days.

Friday, 2 February 2007

The Mercury misses the whole story...

Tasmanian Times had the latest RPDC story from The Australian, which provided different information to the Mercury story. Maybe they have different lawyers, they're both part of News Ltd. Matthew Denholm often has some things to say that don't get aired in Tassie.
Bill Bale now appears to be on the wrong side of the Premier too, having let the cat out of the bag - The Mercury reports that he has said the Premier directed him to negotiate Julian Green's $140,000 payout. Can the Premier survive this? Probably.
Tasmanian Times have obviously lost patience. This comment is worth a read for a pessimistic view, which fits the facts, and may turn out to be sadly accurate. See the statement from Warwick Raverty in there. Mmmm...

The result of poor governance

The Mercury today carries a couple of stories which show what lies ahead for Tasmania if our governance isn't improved dramatically.
1. On the front page, Bob Gordon told Julian Green to "Get Lost". Bob's a good mate of Paul Lennon apparently, and told Julian this. Sounds like he's about as clever as our great buffoon of a Premier too. If your powerful mate's going to nobble the independent umpire on your behalf, it's really not very clever to tell the chairman of that committee about it, with witnesses! John Gay must be wondering what a bunch of chumps he's got "helping" him build a pulp mill. Maybe we should breathe easy, the Premier and his "mates" all semm to be too stoopid to get anything done.
2. On page 13 is a short story (I can't find the story on the website yet [here tis] - here's one from the Examiner the other day) about the Meander dam, suggesting the economics of the project aren't all the government had expected. Perhaps the government should go and pull out the Treasury recommendations on the project. It's pretty well known that Treasury repeatedly recommended against the project on the basis that the dam couldn't pay for itself (as reported regularly in the Customs House Hotel). The government has known this for years, but chose the politically expedient route of pork-barrelling in the Deloraine area. Craig Woodfield from the Tasmanian Conservation Trust had this to say:

"The only way that farmers can afford the water is if they are sold it at a less then commercial rate".

Looks like so far the farmers literally "don't buy it" though. This is just another Bacon-Lennon fiasco.

Seriously though, our state is becoming a banana republic. Our premier is too ignorant to understand that good governance is the basis for economic success. The feudal system Paul Lennon is trying to operate is what kept Europe in poverty during medieval times. The rule of law has to operate predictably for all, not just the Barons.