Did You Know?
Old Growth Forests contain an enormous amount of retained carbon. This carbon is stored in the trees and other vegetation and in the top six inches of soil mulch found on the forest floor. When an old tree dies and begins to decay, the carbon in the tree is slowly released into the atmosphere, however the younger growing vegetation sucks up the carbon released from the older decaying trees making these forests effectively carbon neutral when left intact.
However when a forest is clearfelled, 20% of the standing carbon value is immediately released into the atmosphere. Sawn timber will remain inert for a considerable length of time but paper products made from pulp, release carbon into the atmosphere as soon as they break down. This is in addition to the enormous amount of carbon released through the industrial emissions of the pulping process.
Following clearfelling the Department disturbs the soil, supposedly to hasten the revegetation process. In East Gippsland this is done via napalm out of helicopters, while in other areas the soil is disturbed using mechanical means. These methods of soil disturbance also release an enormous amount of carbon through mineralisation or the process of mulch becoming soil or ash. In the case of burning, the carbon is released immediately into the atmosphere, whilst with mechanical disturbance the process is slower but just as certain as the disturbed mulch is exposed to the air and breaks down.
"Regeneration" burn in East Gippsland Forests
Forests for Fuel
If you thought that we had enough to contend with fighting multinational woodchipping companies, now it seems that a new threat to native forest is on the way. Burning forests for fuel is well under way in NSW, where there are proposals for a wood-fired silicon smelter in Gunnedah. Further plans are afoot for similar projects in other parts of NSW, and rumours are circulating that the next place will be East Gippsland.
In order to meet the pledge of an additional 2% of all electricity to come from renewable sources by 2010, the Federal Government introduced legislation to encourage the use of forest "waste" for fuel. Labor, although recognising that the legislation was flawed and expressing concern about increased extraction of biomass from forest, passed the legislation anyway due to their faith in the RFA to protect forests.
According to a submission from NEFA opposing the plant at Gunnedah, "approval of the project will be an approval for open slather on forests....Ecosystems dominated by ironbarks, likely to be one of the preferred species for charcoal, are particularly poorly protected". They state “there can be no doubting that oldgrowth trees of appropriate species will be the preferred resource (as explicitly recognised in the CSIRO report).”1
Energy Efficiency Victoria stated last year that a proposal to build a wood-fired power station in Orbost would not meet their criteria for "green power"2. However, Liberal and Labor think differently. By choosing to define burning forests as a renewable resource, both Liberal and Labor are undermining the real alternatives to electricity production, such as wind and solar energy. By passing this legislation, they have ensured that burning forests for fuel has the potential to be even more of a threat to our forests than woodchipping.
1Dailan Pugh “COMMENTS ON ASPECTS OF THE "EIS" FOR THE PROPOSED GUNNEDAH CHARCOAL PLANT FOR AUSTRALIAN SILICON PTY LTD” JULY 2000
2 Claire Miller, The Age, 24 July, 1999