Category Archives: Forests

Impact of selective logging on native fauna in southern Queensland

Aila Keto & Keith Scott

There is a number of studies showing the impacts of selective logging on arboreal marsupials in southern Queensland. This paper presents a review of those studies. The purpose of the paper is principally to address the issue of 40 cm diameter limit harvesting (40 cm+) and its expected impacts on fauna. Hence, there is a focus on logging intensity. Overall, the paper focuses on impacts of logging on the Greater Glider (Petauroides volans) which in 2022 was declared endangered in Queensland and nationally. However, the Greater Glider has been identified as an indicator species of forest disturbance (Kavanagh and Stanton 2005) and if it is being impacted by 40 cm+ logging it is likely that other species are also impacted. A recent global assessment by a large number of herpetologists, including nine Australians, found logging to be high among the main threats to forest-dwelling reptiles (Cox et al. 2022).

Some history

In the final stages of negotiations that led to the 1999 South East Queensland Forest Agreement (SEQFA), Australian Rainforest Conservation Society (ARCS) put forward a proposal to phase out native forest harvesting in the area and transition to hardwood plantations over a 20-year period. The timber industry indicated a preparedness to accept the proposal but on the condition that the phase out occur over 25 years. It had been established that there was sufficient timber outside the proposed immediate additions to the protected area estate to supply the industry for 20 years under the standard harvesting regime current at the time. 

       In order to extend supply for a further five years, forestry officers proposed that 40 cm+ harvesting be applied to certain areas. Conservation representatives accepted the proposal on the grounds that the more intense logging would be over a limited area and the areas would never be logged again. A clause in the SEQFA defines Part A areas, high conservation value forests, where the standard logging regime would be applied.[1]

       It would appear that the SEQFA was effectively abandoned by the Liberal National Party (LNP) government which was elected in 2012. We understand that shortly after taking office, the LNP government applied 40 cm+ logging across the region as standard practice, including in the Part A areas which were excluded from 40 cm+ logging in the SEQFA.

       When Labor returned to office in 2012, it did not reverse the LNP decision but continued to apply the more intensive 40 cm+ harvesting regime across the south-east Queensland supply zone including the Part A areas. Further, an even more intensive 30 cm diameter limit harvesting regime has apparently been used in some areas. ARCS has submitted a Right to Information request to try to establish when and why this regime was introduced and where it has been applied.

The Code of practice

Native forest logging in Queensland is subject to the Code of practice for native forest timber production on Queensland’s State forest estate 2020 (the Code). The Code requires retention of six live habitat trees and two recruitment habitat trees within the range of the Greater Glider and four live habitat trees and one recruitment habitat tree per hectare in hardwood forests outside the Greater Glider range.

       The Code refers to Species Management Profiles (SMP) as being designed to meet statutory requirements. The SMP for the Greater Glider does not provide any management provisions beyond those within the Code itself and notes that the Code “requires an increased retention and protection of large hollow-bearing trees as habitat and selective harvesting regime that retains structure and species mix of forest”. Whereas the Objective of the Code is to “ensure the forest can, in time, recover its pre-harvesting species composition, structure and function”, there is no specific provision to retain forest structure and species mix.

       We note that the SMP for the Greater Glider was prepared by the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries, presumably by Forest Products unit.

Statutory obligations

The Nature Conservation (Animals) Regulation 2020 (the Regulation) defines the management intent for endangered wildlife which includes (Schedule 1, section 26(i)) “to protect the critical habitat, or the areas of major interest, for the animal”. 

       The term ‘critical habitat’ is defined in the Nature Conservation Act 1992 as “habitat that is essential for the conservation of a viable population of protected wildlife” which can include areas where the wildlife is not currently present. An ‘area of major interest’ is defined as “an area that contains natural resources of significant nature conservation value”.

       The Queensland Herbarium has mapped modelled Greater Glider habitat in Queensland (Eyre et al. 2022). The map in Appendix 1 was prepared by ARCS from data provided by Queensland Herbarium and shows a significant area of habitat occurs within State Forests in southern Queensland.

       The Regulation (section 26(j)) also proposes the following requirement:

  • to monitor and review environmental impact procedures to ensure they —
    • accurately assess the extent of the impact, on the animal, of the activities to which the procedures relate; and
    • provide for effective measures to mitigate any adverse impact of the activities on the animal; and
    • o if there is an adverse impact of the activities on an area in which the animal normally lives, provide for the enhancement of other areas where the animal normally lives.

It is not clear that 40 cm+ harvesting meets the statutory obligations. This is discussed later in this paper.

Impacts of logging on Greater Glider habitat in southern Queensland

A range of studies has shown Greater Glider occupancy to be influenced by logging disturbance, particularly because of a reduction in hollow-bearing trees and the loss of old-growth forest e.g., Lunney et al. (1987) and Lindenmayer et al. (1990). Incoll et al. (2001) showed the abundance of greater gliders in the montane forests of the Victorian Central Highlands was significantly related to the overstorey basal area, a parameter that, in turn, relates to the intensity of logging.

       Eyre (2006) studied habitat selection of the Greater Glider in southern Queensland, specifically the South East Queensland and Brigalow Belt Bioregions. Eyre modelled Greater Glider habitat based on glider numbers and habitat attributes recorded at 428 sites across the study area. The most significant feature in habitat selection by greater gliders was found to be the number of live hollow-bearing trees. The model predicted that three hollow-bearing trees per hectare were required to maintain one glider per 3 hectares. However, the study found the mean number of live hollow-bearing trees in glider habitat types in southern Queensland was 2.2 ± 0.1. Eyre noted the difficulty in locating the number of hollow-bearing trees required by the Code to be retained during harvesting.

       The model predicted a negative response of greater gliders to more intensive logging. It also predicted that Corymbia citriodora (Spotted Gum) and Eucalyptus tereticornis (Queensland Blue Gum) were important in glider habitat selection. Both are favoured timber species.

       This study also concluded that at least 85% of the original basal area needs to be retained to maintain at least one glider per 3 hectares. We are not aware of the basal area retention limit currently applied under 40 cm+ harvesting but the Code envisages removal of greater than 50% of basal area.

       As a summary statement, Eyre concluded “The introduction of a new, more intensive harvesting regime in areas of greater glider habitat in south-east Queensland will therefore have a significant impact on glider populations, unless current habitat tree prescriptions are adjusted to specify the retention of large C. citriodora and E. tereticornis trees, and species that rapidly form hollows.”

Impacts of logging on Greater Glider habitat in the Western Hardwoods area

Eyre et al. (2010) studied the impacts of forest management on forest structure in the Brigalow Belt South Bioregion. This region includes the major part of the Western Hardwoods Area (Western Hardwoods Supply Zone). The study aimed to determine the response of a range of habitat features to variation in disturbance history and intensity at the stand scale. Timber harvesting was one disturbance considered. A total of 120 sites was studied.

       The mean number of live trees with hollows across the study area was 4.0 ± 0.4 per hectare. For harvesting in this area, the Code requires retention of six live habitat trees and two recruitment habitat trees per hectare.

       The study found that live trees of the five most common species were more likely to have hollows if the diameter at breast height (DBH) was greater than 60 cm.

       Disturbance variables selected for the study included time since logging and logging intensity. The latter was determined as the ratio of basal area removed (stumps) to total basal area (live trees plus stumps). Data from the sampled sites were used to model the response of habitat features to the disturbance variables. With respect to impacts of timber harvesting, logging intensity was the most important variable affecting the abundance of hollow bearing trees and large living trees. Time since logging was a very poor predictor of the abundance of the relevant habitat features. This can be explained by the extremely slow recovery of habitat features as a result of the slow growth rates in the region because of the low rainfall compared to coastal areas.

       The results of this study raise serious concerns about the impacts of 40 cm+ logging, and especially 30 cm+ logging, on habitat quality for the Greater Glider in the Western Hardwoods Area in particular but also in South East Queensland where 40 cm+ logging is being practised.

       It is noted that the Federal Government’s recently released 2022–2032 Threatened Species Action Plan Towards zero extinctions includes Brigalow country, Queensland as a Priority Place.

Queensland Herbarium recommendations regarding habitat for the Greater Glider

In 2022 Queensland Herbarium published a report Guide to greater glider habitat in Queensland (Eyre et al. 2022)(the Guide) which was prepared for the federal Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment.

       Six tree species were identified as dominant or co-dominant in habitat of the Greater Glider — Corymbia citriodora(Spotted Gum), Eucalyptus moluccana (Gum-topped Box), E. tereticornis (Queensland Blue Gum or Forest Red Gum). E. crebra (Narrow-leaved Ironbark), C. intermedia (Pink Bloodwood) and E. portuensis (White Mahogany). All of these species are used for timber with Spotted Gum representing around 70% of hardwood log timber produced from State-owned forests (State of Queensland 2016).

       The Guide notes that trees preferentially selected by greater gliders for foraging are generally greater than 30 cm DBH and greater than 50 cm DBH for denning.

       Whereas hollow-bearing trees are an essential habitat feature for greater gliders, a review of the literature (Eyre et al. 2022) found there is high variability and low reliability in ground-based detection of tree hollows. In studies carried out in European forests, Cosyns et al. (2020) illustrated bias among observers. The researchers compared habitat tree selection by a group of foresters with that by a group of conservationists. Foresters typically chose smaller trees with low commercial value while conservationists chose large trees with high commercial value.

       It is now generally considered that tree size is a better indicator of habitat and the authors conclude that retention of an adequate resource of appropriately large sized trees is critical for maintaining populations of the Greater Glider. The authors note that the number of hollow-bearing trees is no longer accepted as an attribute in condition assessments in Queensland. This is also the case in New South Wales where the attribute ‘number of trees with hollows’ has been replaced by the attribute ‘number of large trees’ in determining native vegetation integrity benchmarks (Office of Environment and Heritage 2017).

       The Guide determined thresholds and benchmarks for large trees based on data for regional ecosystems considered to be habitat for the Greater Glider. Data for southern Queensland were considered adequate to determine thresholds and benchmarks. In South East Queensland, Brigalow and New England Tableland bioregions, the DBH threshold for large trees averaged around 46 cm, ranging from 35 to 61 cm. The average density of large trees varied between bioregions, being 32 per hectare in South East Queensland and 15 per hectare in the Brigalow Belt.

       The Guide provides a number of recommendations, two of which have implications for timber harvesting regimes:

  • densities of hollow-bearing trees should not be used to define whether an area is greater glider habitat or not habitat,
  • improve reliability for indicating greater glider habitat or potential habitat by measuring densities of ‘large trees’.

Victorian Supreme Court decision

Environment East Gippsland Inc and Kinglake Friends of the Forest Inc sought declarations and permanent injunctions in the Supreme Court of Victoria to enforce VicForests to identify and protect greater gliders and yellow-bellied gliders in State forests in East Gippsland and Central Highlands. On 4 November 2022, Justice Richards handed down her judgment based on the expert ecological evidence presented in the hearings. The judgment, which can be downloaded at,  can be summarised as follows:

  • VicForests must carry out surveys to detect the presence of the gliders in any coupe proposed for logging,
  • harvesting operations must exclude from logging an area equivalent to the home range of the species (~3 ha) around the point of detection, and
  • harvesting operations must retain at least 60% of the basal area of eucalypts in the harvested area.

Climate change

The Conservation Advice (Department of Climate Change, Energy, the Environment and Water 2022) considers climate change as a major threat to the Greater Glider. The species is vulnerable to high temperatures and low water availability (Rübsamen et al. 1984). The sensitivity of greater gliders to heat may explain the species preference for higher elevations (Moore et al. 2004).

       This sensitivity to heat and preference for higher elevations indicates the importance of areas such as Bigge, Expedition, Dawson and Coominglah Ranges and the State forests that occur on those ranges (Presho, Theodore, Belington Hut, Mt Nicholson, Expedition, Shotover, Arthurs Bluff, Dawson Range, Coominglah (northern part) and Grevillea State forests). All these areas are mapped, at least in part, as greater than 80% greater glider habitat (Eyre et al. 2022 and Appendix 1). These areas in the Western Hardwoods supply zone may have been subject to 30 cm+ logging.

The Precautionary Principle

The Precautionary Principle has been the subject of numerous discussions. The Queensland Planning Act 2016 defines the Precautionary Principle thus: “the lack of full scientific certainty is not a reason for delaying taking a measure to prevent degradation of the environment if there are threats of serious or irreversible environmental damage”.

       Regarding the impacts of 40 cm+ logging on the endangered Greater Glider, it may be debated as to whether there is “full scientific certainty”. However, the evidence considered here clearly indicates a threat of serious damage to greater glider habitat. Whereas that damage may not be irreversible in the longer term, it is likely to persist for decades. Application of the Precautionary Principle requires measures to be taken to prevent further habitat degradation.

       The Precautionary Principle featured prominently in the Victorian Supreme Court case cited above. Justice Richards made the following judgment:

In order to apply the precautionary principle to the conservation of greater gliders and yellow-bellied gliders, VicForests must survey the whole of any coupe proposed for harvest which may contain glider habitat. It must do so using a survey method that is likely to detect any gliders that may be present in the coupe, so as to locate the gliders’ home ranges wherever practicable. This is necessary in order that their essential habitat can be excluded from timber harvesting operations, as the precautionary principle requires.

In contrast to the procedures now required to be followed by VicForests, in Queensland neither the Code nor the SMP for the Greater Glider require any assessment of the presence of the species prior to logging.

       It should be noted that VicForests has replaced clear-fell harvesting with variable retention harvesting which aims to retain key elements of stand structure in islands and patches. Justice Richards concluded that the available evidence is that variable retention harvesting is of no short- or medium-term benefit to the gliders.


It is well established that the Greater Glider is sensitive to logging (Lunney 1987, Lindenmayer et al. 1990, Incoll et al. 2001). The Conservation Advice that led to uplisting of the Greater Glider to endangered status defines timber harvesting as a major threat (Department of Climate Change, Energy, the Environment and Water 2022).

       The studies reviewed here have findings directly relevant to the impact of 40 cm+ logging on habitat for the Greater Glider:

  • in southern Queensland there is a deficit in hollow-bearing trees which are an essential habitat attribute for the Greater Glider,
  • even where sufficient hollow-bearing trees can be retained to meet the Code requirements, 40 cm+ logging will deplete the resource of larger trees required to develop hollows in the future,
  • greater gliders respond negatively to more intense logging,
  • tree species that are important in habitat selection by greater gliders, particularly species favoured for foraging, are species sought by the timber industry,
  • the Code does not include any specific provisions designed to maintain species mix,
  • greater gliders preferentially select trees greater than 30 cm DBH for foraging,
  • the foraging resource will be depleted by 40 cm+ logging (and especially by 30 cm+ logging).

The Guide makes a number of recommendations relevant to the issues being considered here. Whereas these recommendations are not directly related to logging, they define the habitat attributes that are necessary to maintain an area of forest as habitat for the Greater Glider.

       It can reasonably be concluded from available evidence that 40 cm+ logging in many areas will lead to a loss of essential habitat attributes for the Greater Glider and the species will no longer be able to occupy the logged forest.

       The recommendations in the Guide also have significant implications for the Code. It depends on assessment of tree hollows from the ground. Such assessment is shown to be unreliable and should not be used in assessing habitat attributes. Instead, the density of large trees (>46 cm DBH in southern Queensland) should be used. Given that 40 cm+ logging aims to remove all merchantable trees 40 cm DBH or larger (apart from the required number of habitat and recruitment trees), it is clear that the provisions of the Code will not maintain habitat for the Greater Glider where 40 cm+ logging occurs.

       Given that available evidence supports the conclusion that 40 cm+ logging is negatively impacting greater glider habitat, it can reasonably be considered that the Queensland Government is not meeting its statutory obligation regarding the management intent for endangered wildlife as defined in the Regulation (Schedule 1, section 26(i)), namely, “to protect the critical habitat, or the areas of major interest, for the animal”.


It is clear from the considerable volume of evidence available from studies in southern Queensland and elsewhere that 40 cm+ logging will have significant negative impacts on habitat of the endangered Greater Glider and the species is likely to become locally extinct in a significant part of its range in the Brigalow Belt South and South East Queensland bioregions.

       The evidence-based recommendations from the Queensland Herbarium require an urgent review of the Code of practice.

       The available evidence indicates that the State of Queensland is not meeting the statutory requirement “to protect the critical habitat, or the areas of major interest” in respect to the endangered Greater Glider.


Cox, N., Young, B. E., Bowles, P., Fernandez, M., Marin, J., Rapacciuolo, G., Böhm, M., Brooks, T. M., Hedges, S. B., Hilton-Taylor, C., Hoffmann, M., Jenkins, R. K. B., Tognelli, M. F., Alexander, G. J., Allison, A., Ananjeva, N. B., Auliya, M., Avila, L. J., Chapple, D. G., Cisneros-Heredia, D.F., Cogger, H.G., Colli, G.R., de Silva, A., Eisemberg, C.C., Els, J., Fong G, A., Grant, T.D., Hitchmough, R.A., Iskandar, D.T., Kidera, N., Martins, M., Meiri, S., Mitchell, N.J., Molur, S., Nogueira, C. de C., Ortiz, J.C., Penner, J., Rhodin, A.G.J., Rivas, G.A., Rödel, M.O., Roll, U., Sanders, K.L., Santos-Barrera, G., Shea, G., Spawls, S., Stuart, B.L., Tolley, K.L., Trape, J-F., Vidal, M.A., Wagner, P., Wallace, B.P. and Xie, Y. 2022. A global reptile assessment highlights shared conservation needs of tetrapods. Nature 605, 285–290.

Cosyns, H., Joa, B., Mikoleit, R., Krumm, F., Schuck, A., Winkel G., and Schulz, T. 2020. Resolving the trade-off between production and biodiversity conservation in integrated forest management: comparing tree selection practices of foresters and conservationists. Biodiversity and Conservation 29, 3717–3737.

Cosyns, H., Kraus, D., Krumm, F., Schulz, T. and Pyttel, P. 2018. Reconciling the tradeoff between economic and ecological objectives in habitat-tree selection: a comparison between students, foresters, and forestry trainers. Forest Science 65, 223-234

Department of Climate Change, Energy, the Environment and Water 2022. Conservation Advice for Petauroides volans (greater glider (southern and central)).

Eyre, T.J. 2006. Regional habitat selection of large gliding possums at forest stand and landscape scales in southern Queensland, Australia I. Greater glider (Petauroides volans). Forest Ecology and Management 235, 270–282.

Eyre, T.J., Butler, D.W., Kelly, A.L. and Wang, J. 2010. Effects of forest management on structural features important for biodiversity in mixed-age hardwood forests in Australia’s subtropics. Forest Ecology and Management 259, 534–546.

Eyre, T.J., Smith, G.C., Venz, M.F., Mathieson, M.T., Hogan, L.D., Starr, C., Winter, J. and McDonald, K. 2022, Guide to greater glider habitat in Queensland, report prepared for the Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment, Canberra. Department of Environment and Science, Queensland Government, Brisbane. CC BY 4.0. Available at

Incoll, R.D., Loyn, R.H., Ward, S.J., Cunningham, R.B., Donnelly, C.F. 2001. The occurrence of gliding possums in old-growth forest patches of mountain ash (Eucalyptus regnans) in the Central Highlands of Victoria. Biological Conservation 98, 77–88.

Kavanagh, R.P. and Stanton, M.A., 2005. Vertebrate species assemblages and species sensitivity to logging in the forests of north-eastern New South Wales. Forest Ecology Management 209, 309–341.

Lindenmayer, D.B., Cunningham, R.B., Tanton, M.T., Smith, A.P., Nix, H.A. 1990. Habitat requirements of the mountain brushtail possum and the greater glider in the Montane Ash-type eucalypt forests of the Central Highlands of Victoria. Australian Wildlife Research 17, 467–478.

Lunney, D. 1987. Effects of logging, fire and drought on possums and gliders in the coastal forests near Bega, NSW. Australian Wildlife Research 14, 263–274.

Moore, B.D., Wallis, I.R., Marsh, K.J. and Foley, W.J. 2004. The role of nutrition in the conservation of the marsupial folivores of eucalypt forests, in D. Lunney (ed) Conservation of Australia’s Forest Fauna. Second edition. pp 549–575.

Office of Environment and Heritage 2017. Native Vegetation Integrity Benchmarks: An information sheet.

Rübsamen, K., Hume, I.D., Foley, W.J. and Rübsamen, U. 1984. Implications of the large surface area to body mass ratio on the heat balance of the greater glider Petauroides volans. Journal of Comparative Physiology, B-Biochemical, Systemic, and Environmental Physiology 154, 105–111.

State of Queensland 2016. Queensland Forest and Timber Industry. An overview.

Smith, G.C., Mathieson, M. and Hogan, L. 2007. Home range and habitat use of a low-density population of greater gliders, Petauroides volans (Pseudocheridae: Marsupialia), in a hollow-limiting environment. Wildlife Research 34, 472–483.

Appendix 1

[1] Part A areas were initially considered for inclusion in the protected area additions. Conservation representatives accepted their exclusion given the ‘safeguards’ incorporated in the Agreement including the first-right-of-refusal for the State to buy out sawmills that came up for sale and a ‘logging as a last resort’ condition.

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Save Cooloola — a letter to Hon Meaghan Scanlon MP

Dear Minister Scanlon,

I am an 85-year old scientist and conservationist but I write to you simply as a lover of nature.

In the 1960s, I climbed Federation Peak in Tasmania’s south west. From the top of the peak, looking across the Western Arthur Ranges, I saw a beautiful deep blue lake hemmed by a beach of pure white sand, nestled in a valley surrounded by rugged rocky peaks — Lake Pedder. When I returned to Hobart I learned the Hydro Electricity Commission planned to build a dam to flood the lake. That was when I became involved in conservation, joining the campaign to save Lake Pedder. In 1972, the dam was built and that strikingly beautiful vista was destroyed. Gone forever.

On returning to Queensland, I became involved in the campaign, led by poet Judith Wright, to stop the Bjelke-Petersen government approving sand mining at Cooloola. The campaign was successful and declaration of the area as Cooloola National Park followed. The dunes, the lakes, the forests and heaths were to be protected forever.

Many times, I walked into Lake Poona. The most recent was with my wife, six months pregnant at the time. We walked through the forest to Lake Poona, camped on the beach and swam naked in the lake. It was — and at this time still is — a truly pristine landscape, a real wilderness experience.

Minister, I understand that you are considering approval for private, commercial accommodation, a group of 10 cabins, being built in the forest on the slope just above the lake. The whole experience of Lake Poona will change —  lost! Memories of Lake Pedder flood back and I am filled with sadness and despair.

In 1969, Kathleen McArthur and Judith Wright initiated the first ‘postcard campaign’ in Australia to protect Cooloola. It is sad, indeed, that fifty-three years later, another postcard campaign has to be waged to again try to protect Cooloola.

Apart from Judith and Kathleen, there were others who worked tirelessly for decades to protect Cooloola — the late Dr Arthur Harrold, Bill Huxley and Mavis Huxley. The national park would not exist in its present form were it not for the selfless devotion of those beautiful people. And there were many others. The national park was not the initiative of the Queensland Government. It was the result of the sustained efforts of conservationists over decades. It saddens me deeply to think that the vision of Judith, Kathleen, Arthur, Bill and Mavis of a protected wilderness — the legacy they left for the people of Queensland — could be desecrated for private profit, luxury accommodation for a wealthy few and a little government revenue. Is that what Queensland has come to?

Minister Scanlon, you will go down in history as the one who destroyed the unforgettable wilderness experience of Lake Poona, who destroyed the vision of those devoted conservationists who were responsible for the national park as it is today, who destroyed the vision of Cooloola held by Judith Wright, arguably Australia’s greatest poet.

Please don’t do it!

Yours very sincerely,

Dr Keith Scott

And you
with sharks in your eyes
contracts in your hands
and balance sheets
that have to keep climbing

and you saying I know
but you can’t expect us
to do anything about it

Judith Wright

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Native forest logging adds to the climate-biodiversity crisis

Industry advocates commonly refer to statements in reports of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) that sustainable forest management for timber can contribute to mitigation of Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions. Those statements are based on misleading accounting. It is only a matter of time before the new accounting standard formally accepted by the UN SEEA-EA in March 2021 is adopted in IPCC reports and hence the accounting standard for Nationally Determined Commitments (NDCs). It is clearly important to have credible, transparent statistics for the Global Stocktake (GST), a process for taking progressive stock of the world’s collective progress towards achieving the purpose of the Paris Agreement and its short- and long-term goals . It is also important to note that IPCC reports are conservative representing compromises resulting from (a) heavy lobbying from vested interests, (b) various necessary assumptions and (c) simplifications due to the complexity of issues considered.

Native forest logging in Queensland

In Queensland, it is likely that only around 50% of the wood harvested in a native forest operation finds its way to a sawmill . In the harvesting process, only around 40% of the log is recovered as sawn timber. Hence, no more than 20% of the carbon removed from the forest in a native forest logging operation ends up in anything that could be called long-term storage. Up to 80% of the harvested carbon will contribute to GHG emissions and will not be recovered through future growth for many decades. As discussed in the climate change article on pages 1 and 2, reduction in emissions has to occur urgently. Added to the direct emissions are those produced by harvesting machinery, transport and sawmilling. Native forest logging is a direct contributor to Queensland’s GHG emissions. In 2018 Queensland’s GHG emissions were by far the highest of any state or territory in the country. In the same year, Tasmania’s total emissions were negative which represents a 111.2% reduction compared to the year 2005. That reduction is recognised as being the result of reductions in native forest harvesting. In 2018, all states and territories except Queensland and Northern Territory had negative emissions from the Land Use, Land Use Change and Forestry (LULUCF) sector.

State and Territory Greenhouse Gas Inventories 2018, Australian Government
Department of Industry, Science, Energy and Resources

Biodiversity impacts

The Koala and Greater Glider are now listed as ‘Endangered’ in Queensland and nationally. The south-east subspecies of the Yellow-bellied Glider has been listed as ‘Vulnerable’. The Conservation Advice provided in relation to the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation (EPBC) Act specifies logging as a ‘Severe’ threat to the Greater Glider. All three species occur in State Forests subject to logging. The ‘Code of practice for native forest timber production on Queensland’s State forest estate 2020’ includes requirements for retention of habitat trees for Greater Gliders (and other hollow-dependent species) and feed trees for Yellow-bellied Gliders but otherwise makes no provision for these threatened species. The Koala is not mentioned in the Code. 

Greater Glider — Photo: Esther Beaton

The climate-biodiversity crisis

It is now clear that the climate crisis cannot be solved without solving the biodiversity crisis . They are linked as part of complex adaptive systems which requires systems thinking rather than traditional linear thinking. 

Biodiversity loss is projected to be one of the largest environmental crises of all times and will collapse economies and societies. Swiss Re, the insurance group, estimated the global value of biodiversity at $33 trillion a year, close to the combined GDP of the US and China, with more than half of global GDP dependent on biodiversity and ecosystem services. Urgent and unprecedented transformational change is required across all sectors of society including governance.

Native forest logging must stop

The required transformational change involves considering the future of all activities that are currently contributing to climate change and biodiversity loss. One such activity is native forest logging. As a result of negotiations between the timber industry and the Queensland Government, the ‘Native timber action plan’ was announced in November 2019. The plan aims to provide a sustainable future for the native timber industry. It is inappropriate and unfair to workers in the industry to be giving false hope of security by promoting the objective of a long-term sustainable future for a declining industry fraught with uncertainty. Now is the time to plan for alternative opportunities for both businesses and workers. A key feature of complex adaptive systems is uncertainty and the potential for hard-to-predict, likely irreversible, phase shifts or “tipping points”. For example, populations of common species, even whole ecosystems can suddenly collapse if positive, reinforcing feedback mechanisms become dominant including through management interventions such as logging. 

Keith Scott & Aila Keto 

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Federal Court overturns ruling against logging in Victoria’s Central Highlands

In Rainforest News 68, we reported the decision of the Federal Court that logging in the Central Highlands of Victoria required approval of the Federal Minister for Environment. The decision was handed down in May 2020.

The agency responsible for management and sale of timber resources in Victoria, VicForests, appealed the decision. On 10 May 2021, the Full Bench of the Federal Court handed down its decision upholding VicForests’ appeal ruling that forestry operations in the Central Highlands did not require Federal approval.

Central to the issues are (1) the fact that logging is being carried out under the Central Highlands Regional Forest Agreement (CH RFA), and (2) the impact of logging on the Greater Glider and Leadbeater’s Possum. The Greater Glider is listed as ‘vulnerable’ and Leadbeater’s Possum as ‘critically endangered’ under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act).

The figure below illustrates the decline in the populations of Greater Glider in the Central Highlands.

Source: Lindenmayer & Sato (2018)

Section 38(1) of the EPBC Act requires that forestry operations must be undertaken “in accordance with an RFA” in order to be exempt from the provisions of the Act requiring approval by the Minister, including Section 18 which relates to listed threatened species and endangered ecological communities. In the original court proceeding, the parties agreed to consider the question whether forestry operations in the Central Highlands were being carried out “in accordance” with the CH RFA and therefore were exempt from Section 38 of the EPBC Act.

The CH RFA states “The Parties agree that State Forest outside the CAR Reserve System is available for timber harvesting in accordance with the Central Highlands Management Plan and the Code of Forest Practices for Timber Production.”

The Federal Court action was taken against VicForests by Friends of Leadbeater’s Possum. In her decision, Justice Debra Mortimer SC found that “in accordance with an RFA” as required by Section 38(1) of the EPBC Act included conforming with the Forest Management Plan and the Code of Forest Practices for Timber Production which are accredited by the Commonwealth under the RFA. Clause of the Code, which is a Mandatory Action under the Code, refers to application of the precautionary principle:

The precautionary principle must be applied to the conservation of biodiversity values. The application of the precautionary principle will be consistent with relevant monitoring and research that has improved the understanding of the effects of forest management on forest ecology and conservation values.

Greater Glider © Esther Beaton

Judge Mortimer considered that VicForests should have, but did not, apply the precautionary principle with respect to the impact of logging on the Greater Glider and Leadbeater’s Possum. Hence, she concluded that the forestry operations were not carried out in accordance with the RFA and therefore were not exempt from Section 38(1) of the EPBC Act.

The judges determined that the words “in accordance with” were meant to be descriptive of the forestry operations and that as long as the forestry operations were carried out within the RFA area they would be “in accordance with an RFA”.

That is to say, a contravention of a condition of permissibility of the conduct of the forestry operation does not mean that the operation is prohibited by the RFA. Again, the focus of the statutory text is on the geographical area on which the RFA permits forestry operations and not the restrictions, limits, prescriptions, or contents of the Code or an RFA.

In light of these reasons, the primary judge’s finding (Separate Question reasons at [155]) that the actual conduct of forestry operations (being an action for the purposes of the EPBC Act) must be undertaken in accordance with the contents of the CH RFA – that is, in accordance with any restrictions, limits, prescriptions, or contents of the Code – in order to secure the benefit of the exemption in s 38(1) cannot be sustained.

The Court noted the Objects of the EPBC Act are, inter alia, “to provide for the protection of the environment, especially those aspects of the environment that are matters of environmental significance” and recognised that the Greater Glider and Leadbeater’s Possum are “matters of national environmental significance”. These species therefore should be protected by provisions of the EPBC Act. However, the Court noted another of the Objects of the Act is to “to assist in the co-operative implementation of Australia’s international environmental responsibilities”. They argue that it is the responsibility of the Victorian Government to ensure that it complies with the expectations of the Commonwealth. The conclusion is that compliance with the Code of Forest Practices is not a matter for the Federal Court.

Friends of Leadbeater’s Possum are considering appeal to the High Court.

Prior to the decision of the Full Bench, Senator Bridget Mackenzie introduced a Bill into the Senate which proposes to remove the words “in accordance with an RFA” from both the EPBC Act and the Regional Forests Agreements Act (2002).

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Federal Court rules logging in Victoria’s Central Highlands requires Federal approval

 On 27 May, the Federal Court handed down a decision that could have very significant implications for native forest logging in Australia. The case was brought by Friends of Leadbeater’s Possum against VicForests, the agency responsible for management and sale of timber resources in Victorian State Forests. 

The legal action related to the impact of forestry operations on the Greater Glider and Leadbeater’s Possum in 66 coupes in the Central Highlands. The Greater Glider is listed as ‘vulnerable’ and Leadbeater’s Possum as ‘critically endangered’ under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (Cth). 

The areas in question are covered by the Central Highlands Regional Forest Agreement (RFA). 

 Background to RFAs 

There are 10 RFAs around Australia, five in Victoria, three in New South Wales, one each in Tasmania and Western Australia. They are agreements between the Commonwealth and the State Governments and were signed between 1997 and 2001. There was an RFA process for South East Queensland but it did not end in an agreement— conservation groups led by ARCS rejected the Federal Government’s proposal and persuaded the Beattie Government to develop a State agreement which eventuated as the South East Queensland Stakeholder/Government Forests Agreement. 

The RFAs came out of the National Forest Policy which was agreed between the Commonwealth and the States in 1992. The 1980s and 90s were the times of the “forest wars”. In 1995, a convoy of logging trucks blockaded Parliament House.

Prime Minister Paul Keating was determined to get the Commonwealth out of the picture and instituted the RFA process. The intention was that these agreements would put an end to the “forest wars”. That was not to be. 

The EPBC Act 

A contentious component of the agreements was that forestry operations carried out under an RFA would be exempt from provisions of the Federal Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act) including provisions relating to the protection of threatened species. Such species were supposedly to be protected by provisions within the RFAs. These matters were central to the Federal Court’s deliberations. 

 The decision 

Presiding over the Federal Court case was Hon. Justice Debra Mortimer SC. The case involved numerous hearings and stages. In 2018, Judge Mortimer set up a “Separate Question” which was whether VicForests’ forestry operations had the benefit of the exemption in section 38(1) of the EPBC Act. Under the RFA, the Commonwealth accredits the forest management system which includes the Forest Management Plan and the systems and processes established by the Code of Forest Practices for Timber Production. This is the basis for the exemption from section 38(1) of the EPBC Act. 


Central Highlands logging Photo: Chris Taylor

In relation to the Separate Question, Friends of Leadbeater’s Possum argued that the five-yearly reviews required by the RFA had not been carried out and therefore the exemption did not apply. VicForests argued that as long as forestry operations are conducted within the RFA region the exemption of s 38(1) applies. 

Judge Mortimer rejected both arguments noting in regard to VicForests’ argument that, for the exemption to apply, forestry operations must be undertaken in conformity with the systems of forest management accredited by the RFA. 

A significant focus of the court proceedings was the Code of Practice for Timber Production. Clause of the Code states “The precautionary principle must be applied to the conservation of biodiversity values.” 

For the purposes of the court process, the 66 coupes were divided into Logged Coupes and Scheduled Coupes. Judge Mortimer made the following decision: 

In undertaking forestry operations in the Logged Glider Coupes, VicForests did not apply the precautionary principle to the conservation of biodiversity values in those coupes, as it was required to do by cl of the Code of Practice for Timber Production 2014. Specifically, on the applicant’s case, VicForests did not apply the precautionary principle to the conservation of the Greater Glider as a threatened species present in, and using, the forest in thosecoupes. Accordingly, in relation to the forestry operations undertaken by VicForests in the Logged Glider Coupes, its conduct was not covered by the exemption in s 38(1) of the EPBC Act.


Judge Mortimer made a similar decision regarding the Scheduled Coupes arguing that VicForests “is unlikely to apply the precautionary principle to the conservation of biodiversity values in those coupes”. 

Based on those arguments, Judge Mortimer concluded that each forestry operation in each of the 66 coupes is an “action” under the EPBC Act. That means that the forestry operations require the approval of the Federal Minister for Environment, presently Hon. Sussan Ley MP. 

Judge Mortimer has given the parties an opportunity to agree on the appropriate orders the court should make. If there is no agreement, the parties may make short submissions and the court will decide on the final orders. 

Other observations by the Judge 

Judge Mortimer made some general observations that illustrate common issues with native forest logging. At the risk of boring readers with details, they are reproduced below. 

First, what the evidence in this proceeding has demonstrated is that the protection and conservation of biodiversity values – in this case relevantly the two listed threatened species in issue – is essentially a practical matter. Although policies and planning are important precursors and elements in protection and conservation, what happens on the ground in the native forest which supports and encompasses those values is how protection and conservation are achieved. Relevantly to the issues in this proceeding (rather than the wider biodiversity values protected by other aspects of the EPBC Act), understanding a native forest as a living, changing, finely balanced and often vulnerable ecosystem, and understanding the way in which all flora and fauna species in fact (rather than theory) use and depend on that native forest, are what best informs protection and conservation of, and the avoidance of adverse impacts on, those species. The evidence demonstrates the need for this approach is acute when dealing with listed threatened species. 

The second observation addressed the argument put by VicForests that their decisions had “struck a balance between conservation measures and those that relate to the commercial use and exploitation of forest resources in State Forests” and that where there were “value judgments” to be made about that balance, those judgments were the “province of the legislature or the executive rather than the judiciary”. The judge responded arguing that 

the Court’s function is to determine, on the evidence, whether the applicant has proven, on the facts and on the law as applied to those facts, its allegations against VicForests …. Contrary to VicForests’ submissions, there is a significant factual aspect to the applicant’s allegations, which as a trial court, the Court must decide. It necessarily involves examining the competing evidence (including expert opinion evidence) about topics which are the product of wider policies and practices, and factual topics of more general application. In performing its task, the Court acts on the evidence before it, taking account of the submissions made. Where the legal and statutory framework which the Court must consider, by reason of the parties’ respective cases, includes matters of degree, or has some qualitative or evaluative element, the determination of those matters is part of the exercise of judicial power, and not outside it. 

The third observation related to the inherent contradiction in the role of VicForests — and all other forestry agencies. 

On the one hand, it is required to conduct forestry operations in Victoria’s native forest, rather than only in plantations. That native forest is identified as an available timber resource, indeed a principal available timber resource in Victoria, for VicForests to perform its commercial forestry function, as conferred by statute. On the other hand, VicForests is required by law to conduct those forestry operations in a way which avoids and mitigates adverse impacts on a wide range of biodiversity values, a range that is much wider than listed threatened flora and fauna species, but includes them. As I explain later in these reasons and as both VicForests and various reviewing bodies have recognised, for listed threatened species which are highly dependent on the very native forest which is to be subject to forestry operations, and for whom recovery out of the status of being a threatened species is expressed to be an objective, the avoidance of adverse impacts in a real world sense (rather than just an aspiration) inevitably involves compromising available commercial timber resources. Hence the conflict, which may explain (but not necessarily justify) why the actual conduct of forestry operations on the ground often cannot meet the conservation and protection obligations imposed by law.” 

Broader implications of the decision 

Implications for forestry operations in other RFA areas in Victoria, New South Wales, Tasmania and Western Australia arise from the finding that where forestry operations do not conform with management prescriptions included in the RFA, they could be found to be “actions” under the EPBC Act and require approval of the Federal Minister, Sussan Ley. 

According to The Guardian, a spokesman for Minister Ley said the Department would “carefully consider the Federal Court’s 450 page judgment, noting that formal orders are yet to be made” and that the findings “will require detailed consideration before the department can discuss possible implications”. 


Toolangi State Forest, Central Highlands     Photo: Peter Campbell

Keith Scott

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Vale Norman Myers

NormanMyersOne of the world’s leading conservation scientists, Dr Norman Myers, died on 20 October 2019 from dementia.

Norman Myers’ most well known scientific contribution was developing the concept of “biodiversity hotspots”. Hotspots were defined as (a) areas with exceptional concentrations of species with high levels of endemism, and (b) areas experiencing exceptional levels of threat. Protecting such areas offered a very effective means of conserving biodiversity.

Norman was born in Lancashire in 1934 to a poor family on a sheep farm but Norman’s mother ensured he had an education and after graduating from grammar school he studied modern languages at Oxford University.

Norman has described developing a great interest in African wildlife as a result of reading Rider Haggard as a boy. In 1958, during the last days of the British Empire, he joined the Colonial Service and took up a post in Kenya. After two or three years, Kenya became independent and Norman lost his job. He became a high school teacher and later a professional wildlife photographer. It was while photographing African wildlife that Norman became interested in species generally.

His studies on cheetah and leopard populations in Kenya earned him a PhD from University of California Berkeley in 1973.

Norman did not have a typical background to being a scientist and never held an academic appointment. Despite that, his scientific contributions have been outstandingly significant. But his contributions were not initially recognised. His first paper on ‘hotspots’ was rejected by mainstream ecology journals but was eventually published in 1988. He developed the concept further and his major paper, Biodiversity hotspots for conservation priorities, published with colleagues in Nature in 2000, has been cited more than 13,000 times.

In that paper, Myers et al. noted that 44% of all species of vascular plants and 35% of all species in four vertebrate groups are confined to 25 hotspots comprising only 1.4% of the land surface of the Earth.

Norman Myers was particularly interested in tropical forests. His paper, Threatened biotas: “hot spots” in tropical rainforests, published in Environmentalist 8 in 1988, noted that tropical forests contain at least half of all Earth’s species but are being depleted faster than any other biome. In that paper he refers to the tropical rainforests of Queensland as an example of a hot spot area in a developed country, citing ARCS publications on their conservation significance and noting that “despite the scientific value of the area, it continues to be logged, with support from the Queensland Government in the form of abundant subsidies.”

Norman Myers was among the first scientists to draw attention to the increasing rate of species extinctions. In 1979, he published a book The Sinking Ark, A New Look at the Problem of Disappearing Species. At the time, it was general considered that the rate of species extinction was one a year. Myers determined that it was more like one a day. For that he was attacked by the scientific community but was later proved to be right. Leading conservation scientist, Dr Peter Raven of Missouri Botanic Gardens and a friend of ARCS, told science writer Tim Radford “I don’t think Norman’s been seriously wrong on anything.”

Norman Myers produced a ground-breaking and highly influential report in 1980 on the loss of tropical rainforests for the National Research Council, National Academy of Sciences.

Norman Myers was a consultant to the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) and advised FAO on the loss of tropical forests noting the impacts of the “displaced peasant or landless farmer” on deforestation. In 2008, Myers told FAO “What we do – or don’t do – in the next few decades, will determine the future of our planet for at least the next five million years”.

In 1987, ARCS arranged for Norman Myers to visit Brisbane and he gave a talk at an ARCS meeting to a capacity audience in Brisbane City Hall. This event was a peak in our public campaign to protect the rainforests of Northeast Queensland — the Wet Tropics.

Over his lifetime. Norman Myers received many honours. He was appointed foreign member of the US National Academy of Sciences, named by Time magazine as one of its Heroes of the Environment and made a Companion of the Order of St Michael and St George by the British Government. In 1992, he shared the prestigious Volvo Environment Prize with Peter Raven. He was also appointed distinguished or visiting professor at numerous universities around the world.

His contribution to biodiversity conservation will be sorely missed. He will forever live in our own hearts as a good friend and unstinting supporter.

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Vale Peter Hitchcock AM

PeterHitchcock_John Benson_croppedInternationally recognised conservationist, Peter Hitchcock AM, died on 20 May 2019.

In 1988, Peter Hitchcock was appointed Executive Director of the interim body that later became the Wet Tropics Management Authority (WTMA). Peter had a close association with ARCS through President Aila Keto who was a member of the interim body and later the WTMA Board.

World Heritage listing of the Wet Tropics of Queensland followed years of campaigning and negotiation and was strongly opposed by the Queensland Government led by Joh Bjelke-Petersen. Peter recorded being told by the then State Environment Minister that he had no chance of success and that no-one in North Queensland wanted the World Heritage Area. “It was like walking into an ants’ nest that had been stirred up.” But Peter started talking to local landholders and found the mood to be quite different.

Peter began his career as a forester in the NSW government in the 1960s. When he became more interested in conserving forests rather than logging them, he moved to the NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service where he rose to the position of Deputy Director (Policy and Wildlife). Over his years in the NPWS, Peter was responsible for the establishment of numerous national parks many of which are now part of the Gondwana Rainforests of Australia World Heritage Area. Peter worked closely with the Wran Government and would have had a significant influence on the 1982 decision by Neville Wran to protect rainforests in northeast NSW.

In 1987, Peter was seconded by the federal government led by Bob Hawke to serve on the Commonwealth Commission of Inquiry into the Lemonthyme and Southern Forests of Tasmania to inquire into the possible World Heritage values of the areas and how they could be protected. Peter produced a dissenting report recommending protection of the forests and World Heritage nomination. Most of Peter’s recommendations were accepted by the Commonwealth and in 1989 the areas were added to the Western Tasmanian Wilderness National Parks World Heritage Area created in 1982 to become the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area (TWWHA).

Peter was also instrumental in achieving additions to TWWHA in 2013.

In 2014, the Australian Government led by Tony Abbott put a proposal to the World Heritage Committee to de-list 74,000 hectares of the TWWHA in order to allow logging. The Committee took less than 10 minutes in making a decision to reject the proposal. ARCS was officially represented at the meeting by a delegation headed by Alec Marr, Director of ARCS International World Heritage Programme, and including Peter Hitchcock.

When Peter left WTMA, he established a consultancy practice in Cairns with a focus on natural heritage.

Peter’s contribution to World Heritage was recognised in a tribute by IUCN: “With decades of contributions, both internationally and in his native country of Australia, Peter Hitchcock served over many years as a senior advisor on World Heritage for IUCN. During this time, he undertook numerous missions throughout the globe to monitor the state of conservation of World Heritage sites and evaluate sites nominated for the World Heritage List. He continued to contribute to the reviews of potential new sites up to this very year.”

Peter received a range of awards including Member of the Order of Australia (AM) in 1990, the IBM Award for Environmental Excellence in 1993 and the IUCN Packard International Parks Merit Award in 1996.

Peter will be sorely missed around the world.


Australian delegation at the World Heritage Committee meeting in Doha, Qatar, June 2015.
Left to right: Peter Hitchcock, Lincoln Siliakus, Alec Marr, Jenny Weber.

Keith Scott

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The Climate Crisis

Governments must acknowledge that ‘Business as Usual’ is unacceptable

The IPCC Special Report

In October 2018, the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released a Special Report (SR15) on the impacts of global warming of 1.5°C. Human activities are estimated to have caused approximately 1.0°C of global warming above preindustrial levels. Global warming is likely to reach 1.5°C between 2030 and 2052 if it continues to increase at the current rate.

In 2016, more than 160 parties to the Paris Agreement reaffirmed “the goal of limiting global temperature increase to well below 2 degrees Celsius, while pursuing efforts to limit the increase to 1.5 degrees”. The IPCC report provides assessments of the difference in impacts likely to occur between 1.5°C and 2°C temperature rise. For example,

  • global sea level rise by 2100 would be 10 cm lower at 1.5°C compared with 2°C,
  • the likelihood of the Arctic Ocean free of sea ice in summer would be once a century at 1.5°C compared with at least once per decade at 2°C,
  • coral reefs would decline by 70–90 per cent at 1.5°C compared with greater than 90 per cent at 2°C,
  • of 105,000 species studied, 6 per cent of insects, 8 per cent of plants and 4 per cent of vertebrates are projected to lose over half of their climatically determined geographic range for global warming of 1.5°C, compared with 18 per cent of insects, 16 per cent of plants and 8 per cent of vertebrates for global warming of 2°C.

The graph below illustrates the impacts on a range of natural, managed and human systems.


In order to limit global warming to 1.5°C, CO2 emissions will need to be reduced by 45 per cent from 2010 levels by 2030 and reach net zero by 2050. The IPCC report emphasises the need for essentially drastic change: “Limiting global warming to 1.5ºC would require rapid, far-reaching and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society” and “rapid and far-reaching transitions in land, energy, industry, buildings, transport and cities”. It has been increasingly recognised over recent years that natural systems such as forests will play an essential role in achieving a reduction in Greenhouse Gas Emissions.

Native forests, especially primary (undisturbed) forests, need to be left alone to allow them to continue absorbing CO2. Trees remove CO2 from the atmosphere, accumulate carbon and store it for up to hundreds of years. In the light of the likely impacts of climate change, logging and clearing native forests is simply irresponsible.

ARCS is a partner in the Griffith University project, Information, Policy and Onground Action for Primary Forest Protection. The project is led by Professor Brendan Mackey who is Co-ordinating Lead Author for a chapter in the next IPCC report.

Planting trees, such as the Federal Government’s “20 Million Trees Program”, while helpful in the long-term, will not have an impact within the required timeframe. We have just 11 years to halve net CO2 emissions. It is essential that existing carbon stores in our native forests be protected and allowed to increase. It will not be possible to meet the 1.5°C target without the protection of existing primary forests. And that protection must start now.

 Sustainable Development Goals

In 2015, 129 countries signed a UN agreement on Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) with 17 goals being defined. The SDG Index, which ranks countries on each goal and overall on all goals, is published annually.

In the 2018 SDG Index, Australia’s overall performance was ranked at 37 out of 156 countries ranked. On the goal of Climate Action, Australia ranks last when exports (coal and gas) are included.

 Australia’s response to IPCC

Clearly, we are facing an extremely serious situation. Unfortunately — distressingly — the Australian Government, along with many other governments, notably USA, has not acknowledged the unavoidable disaster that will result from ‘Business as Usual’. In fact, government ministers have essentially rejected the scientific findings in the IPCC report.

When in October 2018 then Federal Environment Minister, Melissa Price, was questioned about the IPCC report, she questioned the conclusions reached by the 91 scientists involved. In response to the IPCC finding that coal needs to be phased out by 2050, Minister Price said “To say that it’s got to be phased out by 2050 is drawing a very long bow” and “That would be irresponsible of us to be able to commit to that.” She expressed confidence in technology being developed to allow ‘clean coal’. In July 2017, Queensland Labor Government committed to achieving net zero emissions by 2050. Federal Resources Minister, Matt Canavan, responded saying “Instead of trying to save the planet in 2050 the QLD labor should just concentrate on saving jobs today!”.

And Matt Canavan is leading the push for a new coal-burning power station in North Queensland.

Australia and Coal

Australia is the world’s largest exporter of coal. That coal is burnt somewhere in the world, contributing to climate change. But our commitment to the Paris Agreement does not include our contribution through our coal exports.

It is commonly argued that Australia produces only 1.3 per cent of global emissions and reducing our emissions will not make much difference. But Australia produces around 7 per cent of the world’s coal, all of which is burnt somewhere in the world. Australia is actually a significant contributor to global warming through our exports of coal and LNG. And Australian governments including the Queensland Government are hell-bent on increasing our exports of both coal and LNG.

In the lead up to the Conference of the Parties (COP21) in Paris in 2015, Anote Tong, President of the Pacific Island nation of Kiribati, wrote to world leaders seeking support for a global moratorium on new coal mines.

Just prior to the Paris meeting, President Tong was in Australia to promote the moratorium. In response, the then FederalResources Minister, Josh Frydenberg, said “Well we’re opening new mines where there’s the necessary investment because there’s global demand for it.”

Apart from the recently approved Adani Carmichael coal mine, there are several new coal mines being considered in the Galilee Basin and the Queensland Government is supportive.

Australia’s Paris Agreement commitments

Federal Government Ministers repeatedly claim that Australia will meet the 2030 target of 26–28% reduction in emissions. But the data produced by the Federal Department of Environment and Energy (released late on 7 June) show we are not at all on target. The graph provided by the Department is reproduced below.


When confronted with that fact, the Minister for Energy and Emissions Reduction, Angus Taylor, asserted that the government had developed a plan since the Department provided its forecast. In an interview on ABC RN Breakfast, Angus Taylor claimed that since December the Coalition had laid out a plan “to the last tonne” which would have Australia meeting its target. He specified a saving of 328 million tonnes but the Department’s data show a requirement for 695–762 million tonnes.

Whatever the situation is, our target is not only grossly inadequate but fails to address the much greater contribution of coal exports.

Burning wood from native forests is a double disaster

Burning wood from native forests to generate electricity is a threat to both biodiversity and climate.

Forests in southeast USA are being destroyed to produce pellets exported to Europe as fuel. And there is mounting pressure from the Australian timber industry to follow suit.

The European Union counts burning wood for electricity generation as carbon-neutral and fuel wood as a renewable source. These are myths which are being perpetuated around the world. The fact is that burning wood causes immediate release of carbon to the atmosphere but replacing that carbon through growth of trees will take decades. We don’t have decades.

Further, burning wood to produce electricity releases 50 per cent more CO2 than burning coal.

 What can we expect from our political leaders?

What can we expect from our political leaders? Based on current indications, very little! Implementation of the Paris Agreement, through development of the Rule Book, has not gone well. The outcomes of the Conference of the Parties in Poland in November were disappointing. We may well have to depend on voluntary market decisions based on investment outlook.

The planet is in dire straits.

Keith Scott


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The Biodiversity Crisis

1 Million species threatened with extinction

Last month the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) released a landmark new report IPBES Global Assessment Report on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services. The report begins with these headlines:

  • Nature’s dangerous decline ‘Unprecedented’
  • Species extinction rates ‘Accelerating’
  • ‘Transformative changes’ needed to restore and protect nature
  • Opposition from vested interests can be overcome by public good
  • 1,000,000 species threatened with extinction

Following several years of preliminary meetings, IPBES was ‘established’ in 2012. The IPBES report was produced in response to an invitation from the Conference of the Parties, Convention on Biological Diversity to prepare a global assessment on biodiversity and ecosystem services, “focusing on status and trends, the impact of biodiversity and ecosystem services on human well-being, and the effectiveness of responses, including the Strategic Plan and its Aichi Biodiversity Targets”. The 20 targets can be found at

The report finds that nature is deteriorating worldwide and biodiversity is declining faster than at any other time in human history.

It would be of no surprise to most people that nature across the globe has been significantly altered by human activities. Seventy- five per cent of the land surface is significantly altered, 66 per cent of the ocean area is experiencing increasing cumulative impacts, and over 85 per cent of the area of wetlands has been lost. Across much of the highly biodiverse tropics, 32 million hectares of primary or recovering forest were lost between 2010 and 2015.

The authors find that human actions threaten more species with global extinction now than ever before. They estimate that around 25 per cent of animal and plant species are threatened, indicating that around one million species already face extinction, many within decades, unless action is taken to reduce impacts. The authors conclude that without such action there will be a further acceleration in the global rate of species extinction, which is already at least tens to hundreds of times higher than it has averaged over the past 10 million years.

The report provides statistics to support their conclusion. More than 40 per cent of amphibian species, almost a third of reef-forming corals, sharks and shark relatives and over a third of marine mammals are currently threatened. The proportion of insect species threatened with extinction is a key uncertainty, but available evidence supports a tentative estimate of 10 per cent. Those proportions suggest that, of an estimated 8 million animal and plant species (75% of which are insects), around 1 million are threatened with extinction. A similar picture also emerges from an entirely separate line of evidence. Habitat loss and deterioration, largely caused by human actions, have reduced global terrestrial habitat integrity by 30 per cent relative to an unimpacted baseline; combining that with the longstanding relationship between habitat area and species numbers suggests that around 9 per cent of the world’s estimated 5.9 million terrestrial species – more than 500,000 species – have insufficient habitat for long-term survival, are committed to extinction, many within decades, unless their habitats are restored.

Ecosystem structure

A critical conclusion from the IPBES report is that goals for conserving and sustainably using nature and achieving sustainability cannot be met by current trajectories, and goals for 2030 and beyond may only be achieved through transformative changes across economic, social, political and technological factors.

Climate change is, and will continue to be, a significant contributor to biodiversity loss. As noted in the article on The Climate Crisis on page 2 of this newsletter, nature conservation and climate change are intrinsically linked. Mitigating climate change will help nature while nature-based measures are essential for mitigation of climate change. The IPBES report concludes that “nature-based solutions with safeguards are estimated to provide 37 per cent of climate change mitigation until 2030 needed to meet 2°C goals with likely co-benefits for biodiversity” and “land-use actions are indispensable, in addition to strong actions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuel use and other industrial and agricultural activities.”

However, the report includes a caution that “large-scale deployment of intensive bioenergy plantations, including monocultures, replacing natural forests and subsistence farmlands, will likely have negative impacts on biodiversity and can threaten food and water security as well as local livelihoods, including by intensifying social conflict”. The report emphasises the importance of strong legislation for the protection of threatened species. In this context, the Australian Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act (EPBC Act) is given as an example of “weaker laws” and “less rigorously implemented and enforced”, and therefore less likely to achieve recovery goals.

Australia’s own extinction crisis

Since European settlement, 28 mammals have been declared extinct in Australia, more than in any other country. In recent years, three mammal species — Christmas Island Forest Skink, Christmas Island Pipistrelle and Bramble Cay Melomys, a Great Barrier Reef endemic. The melomys is the first mammal extinction caused by climate change. Sea level rise destroyed the melomys and its habitat.

The EPBC Act is failing. University of Queensland researchers have concluded that up to 7.47 million hectares of threatened species habitat – an area larger than the state of Tasmania or 3.7 million Melbourne Cricket Grounds – has been destroyed since the operation of the EPBC Act (from 2000-2017).

The Senate Environment and Communications References Committee is currently undertaking an inquiry into Australia’s faunal extinction crisis. The scope of the inquiry includes the adequacy of environment laws.

Keith Scott


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Vale John Sinclair AO

John SinclairLeading conservationist, John Sinclair AO, died on 3 February 2019.

John Sinclair was born in Maryborough in 1939 and educated at Maryborough Boys State High School. He left school at age 15 but obtained a Diploma of Agriculture at Queensland Agricultural College (now University of Queensland Gatton Campus) in 1959. His first job was with the Department of Education and in 1967 he took a job in the Adult Education office in Maryborough.

John was introduced to Fraser Island when his parents, who had honeymooned on the island, took him on visits to the island in his youth. He fell in love with the island and in the late 1960s he was organising safaris to the island for members of the Maryborough and Bundaberg branches of Wildlife Preservation Society of Queensland (WPSQ). John was Honorary Secretary of the Maryborough Branch from its formation in 1967 until 1978. During the 1980s, he served as President and Senior Vice-President of WPSQ.

In 1969, John became aware of the campaign to save Cooloola, the mainland sandmass immediately to the south of Fraser Island, from sandmining. That campaign was led by Dr Arthur Harrold and Bill and Mavis Huxley who headed The Cooloola Committee though it was really instigated by wildflower artist Kathleen McArthur who, with her friend poet Judith Wright, had conceived the idea of a Cooloola National Park back in 1953. Judith and Kathleen had, with David Fleay and Brian Clouston, formed the Wildlife Preservation Society of Queensland in 1962.

As part of the Cooloola campaign, Kathleen devised the first significant conservation campaign postcard distribution with 100,000 postcards being widely distributed.

Cooloola postcard

At this time, Queensland was governed by the National Party led by Joh Blelke-Petersen. In December 1969, Bjelke-Petersen announced that areas of Cooloola would be declared national park but before that happened applications were made for sandmining leases. This led to an intense campaign to stop sandmining. Despite Bjelke-Petersen’s support, sandmining was eventually rejected by the Government essentially as a result of opposition from a “Ginger Group” of more progressive Liberal Party members.

The Cooloola campaign had given John Sinclair an insight into campaigning and focused his attention on sandmining on Fraser Island. The Queensland Government had granted Dillingham-Murphyores mining leases in the 1960s and mining was occurring on the southern end of the island. Murphyores applied for additional leases in 1971 and the Mining Warden granted the leases.

That year the Fraser Island Defence Organisation, FIDO, was formed with John as President. Arthur Harrold, barrister Lew Wyvill QC and solicitor Stephen Comino, both of whom had also played a major part in the Cooloola campaign, were influential in the early days of FIDO. John and FIDO successfully appealed the Mining Warden’s decision in the High Court which ruled that mining was not in the public interest, a matter that the Mining Warden was required to consider.

As a Queensland public servant, John was vulnerable to harassment by the government and Bjelke-Petersen publicly questioned John’s ability to do his job in adult education while campaigning against sandmining. John sued him for defamation. As a result his position in Maryborough was abolished. After successfully appealing, he was transferred to Ipswich College of TAFE. John initially won $500 damages and costs for the defamation case but Bjelke-Petersen won an appeal and John was ordered to pay costs.

In May 1975, the Federal Government, which would have been required to approve export of minerals from sandmining on Fraser Island, intervened. Prime Minister Gough Whitlam, who was also Minister for Environment at the time, commissioned the Fraser Island Environmental Inquiry, one of the first ever environmental impact inquiries in Australia. John was a principal witness to the Inquiry. In October 1976, the Inquiry published its findings recommending prohibiting export of minerals from Fraser Island. In the interim between May 1975 and October 1976, Gough Whitlam had been controversially dismissed by the Governor-General. Consequently, it was Whitlam’s successor, Malcolm Fraser, whose government banned mineral exports from the island.

Fraser Island IMG_5179

Photo: Mark Ash

So, sandmining had been stopped on Fraser Island but logging was still continuing. In the late 1980s, with the Bjelke-Petersen Government still in power, conservation groups began campaigning to stop logging on the island. The critical event was the election of the Labor Government led by Wayne Goss in 1989. In 1990, Goss appointed Tony Fitzgerald QC to head the Commission of Inquiry into the Conservation, Management and Use of Fraser Island and the Great Sandy Region. ARCS led the submission process for the Joint Conservation Groups and produced a major submission “The Ecological Impact of Logging Fraser Island Forests”. John Sinclair, of course, also made a number of submissions. Tony Fitzgerald was apparently convinced and recommended that logging cease and the island be nominated for World Heritage Listing.

The Goss Government implemented Fitzgerald’s recommendations and logging on Fraser Island ceased in 1991 after more than 120 years. The government also proceeded with World Heritage nomination and ARCS was commissioned to prepare the nomination as a result of the successful nomination prepared by ARCS for the Wet Tropics of Queensland. Fraser Island was inscribed on the World Heritage List in 1992.

Prior to the election of the Goss Government in 1989, a national campaign was running to protect the tropical rainforests of North Queensland from logging. ARCS led the campaign. The Federal Environment Minister in the Hawke Government, Barry Cohen, set up a Working Group on Rainforest Conservation. John and Aila Keto were the environment NGO representatives. The Working Group reported to Cohen in 1995 and that led to an allocation of $22.24 million which was applied to a range of rainforest-related projects (Queensland Forestry Department applied for funds to build a road with picnic areas through rainforest in the Conondale Range.).

John-Sinclair-RESIZED4In 1992 John was appointed to a special committee to advise the Queensland Government on the management of Fraser Island and the Great Sandy Bay Region. In 1993 he was awarded the prestigious $60,000 Goldman Environmental Foundation prize in recognition of 20 years work to save Fraser Island.

In 2014, John was made an Officer in the Order of Australia “For distinguished service to conservation and the environment, through advocacy and leadership roles with a range of organisations, and to natural resource management and protection”.

John Sinclair Hon DocJohn received a number of other awards including “The Australian” newspaper’s Australian of the Year in 1976, the Global 500 Roll of Honour in 1990, and in September 2017 he was awarded an Honorary Doctorate by University of Sunshine Coast.

John Sinclair’s conservation interests went well beyond Fraser Island. He was a member of the Council of the Australian Conservation Foundation from 1975 to 1989 and served as Vice-President from 1977 to 1985. John was a member of the IUCN’s Commission for Environmental Planning from 1978 and attended the 15th meeting of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN) in Christchurch, NZ in 1981 and the World Parks Conference in Bali in 1982. He was President of the Australian Committee of the IUCN in 1982-1983.

In 1993, John was engaged as a consultant to the South African ‘Campaign for St Lucia’ group to advise on measures to protect the St Lucia region of northern Natal and the most biologically important estuary on the African continent.

In 1998, John instituted “Go Bush Safaris” taking people to numerous places of conservation interest especially World Heritage Areas in Australia and in other countries.

I first met John around 1971 when FIDO was being formed. Subsequently, in the early 1980s, John encouraged Aila Keto and myself to form the Rainforest Conservation Society and made the newly acquired premises of WPSQ at Petrie Terrace in Brisbane available to us for meetings.

John Sinclair at climate march IMG_0683

John & the author at the Climate March in Brisbane in November 2015. Photo: Aila Keto

John will be remembered for his absolute and often selfless dedication to conservation. Some mistook his fierce determination and emphatic expression as arrogant and dogmatic. We knew him as passionate about wanting a better world for nature, as caring and considerate and actually quite humble, prepared to listen and adjust his thinking. John was stoical and to his last days, suffering pain caused by his cancer, he never complained.

Up to his death, John was working on his autobiography which will be published in the future.

Few people have lived a life so devoted to protecting nature and working tirelessly to try to ensure its future. We have fond and lasting memories of John in action. And who could forget his booming voice? We miss you John.

Keith Scott


Filed under Forests, Sadness, World Heritage