Gunbower Wetlands (K Stockwell)

This page deals with a number of environmental issues facing northern Victoria and the southern Riverina.

Many environmental problems face us today. Some species are facing extinction. The build up of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere appears to be affecting climate and weather, with more extreme events like wildfires, hurricanes, wind storms, prolonged droughts, reduced rainfall, floods and temperature extremes. Bushland is still being lost to development. Weeds are proliferating. Pest species are of increasing concern.

This site aims to help us better understand the environment of northern Victoria and southern NSW. Armed with better knowledge, we are better able to assess the problems and make better decisions. A lot of good work is being done to redress some of the environmental damage. One aim is to highlight some of the great work being done by individuals, groups and governments.

There are sections on birding, indigenous plants, bushwalking, parks and reserves and more. This page mentions recent developments. It is linked to a blog page which addresses various issues.

Issues
Should the Barmah-Millewa forest be a national park?

Should we protect locusts?

Global warming: should we turn to nuclear energy?

Does Australia need more people?

Does wattle cause hay fever?

Attacking whistle-blowers

War on weeds

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Conservation and environment
news, issues and links
northern Victoria and the Southern Riverina

Moama WetlandsMoama Wetlands by Keith Stockwell

Conservation Issues

Projects, policies, problems and other issues

Introduction

Climate Change

Opinions expressed on this page are those of the webmeister, K.W. Stockwell, and are not necessarily the views of any organisation which he may be a member or supporter of.

Introduction

This page contains news items relating to northern Victoria and the southern Riverina. Emphasis is given to Echuca-Moama, Cohuna, Mathoura, Deniliquin, Bendigo, Barmah-Millewa Forest, Gunbower-Perricoota Forest and surrounding areas. This page is one of several in Section One of the Northern Victoria and Southern Riverina Conservation and Environment Site. There are several other sections to this site, covering bushwalking, birding, indigenous plants, landscapes and indigenous animals.

One hot topic at the moment is the announcements that much of the Barmah-Millewa Forest is likely to become a cross-border national park. There is much opposition from those likely to be impacted upon by the creation of a large national park. Some fear that they will lose their job and many fear that their way of life will be impacted upon.

Opponents make some good points. If the park is created ~ and legislation has already passed through the Victorian parliament ~ then good management is needed. At least some of the managers/rangers must have a good knowledge of the forest and its hydrology.

Furthermore, adequate supplies of environmental water are needed to prevent Red Gums from dying. Much of the environmental water released into the forest, which is like a bucket with holes, eventually finds its way back into the river system where it can be reused downstream. DSE estimates the percentage of water draining back into the system to be as high as 96% whereas other scientists claim it to be over 80%.

In order to temporarily close the holes in the bucket and in order to deliver environmental water effectively and efficiently, additional engineering works are necessary. Adequate funding is needed for these works.

Adjustment packages will be needed to help workers, industries and towns adjust to change.

Most people dislike most changes. It is often hard to cope with change. So the anger and concerns of national park opponents are understandable.

If the proposed cross-border park comes into being, those impacted upon should make the best of the situation, adapt to the change and try to make the most of it. Opportunities will arise and these should be grasped with both hands.

Over time, opponents to change often come to be supporters of the new order.

There was opposition to the creation of many national parks, including The Grampians and Wilsons Promontory. Local communities have benefited from the creation of these parks. Hopefully Mathoura and other localities will benefit in the long run.

Should cattle grazing be allowed in Red Gum wetlands?

For many years prior to 2010, the Victorian National Parks Association, the NSW National Parks Association and other conservation bodies campaigned for the Barmah-Millewa Forest, the Perricoota-Gunbower Forest and other riverside red gum forests to become national parks. But many individuals and organisations were opposed to the idea, arguing that the forests were well-managed, that job losses would occur should public land along and near the Murray River become national park or conservation reserve and that cattle grazing is essential to reduce the risk of fire in Red Gum wetlands.

The Victorian Government asked the Victorian Environmental Assessment Council to investigate red gum wetlands in Victoria along the Murray River (and lower reaches of its tributaries) between Hume Weir and the South Australian border; the enquiry does not embrace red gum wetlands on the NSW side of the Murray River. VEAC produced a discussions paper and, in mid 2007, made some draft recommendations in its investigative report. Following consultation, it released its final recommendations. Because of intense opposition from some individuals and organisations, the Victorian government appointed a Ministerial Panel to review VEAC's recommendations. The panel modified some of the recommendations and late in 2009 the Victorian parliament subsequently passed legislation creating some new national parks, including Barmah National Park, and reserves.

The NSW government asked the Natural Resources Commission to assess River Red Gum Forests and Woodland Forests in the Riverina Bioregion. Late in 2009 the Commission issued two documents: its 'Final Assessment Report' and its 'Recommendations'. Before the reports were distributed, the then Premier of NSW announced that the Millewa group of forests would become a national park.

As a result of these investigations, it seems inevitable that there will be a jointly-managed cross-border iconic national park which embraces most of Barmah-Millewa Forest.

Some forests in the region will remain multi-use forests in much of which lumbering will continue to be allowed but on a less-intensive basis.

Some argue that cattle grazing should be allowed to continue. But should it?

* * * *

Except for ecological reasons, cattle grazing will not be allowed in the proposed Barmah-Millewa National Park. Some fear that the removal of cattle may increase the fire risk.

According to research evidence, to help control weeds and to promote the growth of indigenous grasses, grazing is best done between Easter and late July provided, however, the soil is dry. Cattle should not be present over spring and summer when indigenous grasses are flowering and setting seed. At Terrick Terrick National Park, sheep are used as an ecological control to reduce weeds and to maintain suitable conditions for the endangered Plains-wanderer.

Some argue that the cattle reduce the "fuel" on the forest floor and lessen the danger of fires. Others argue that cattle increase the fire risk by spreading weeds and by promoting the spread of woody weeds and less palatable, flammable plants such as Giant Rush (Juncus ingens).

A nasty fire in the Top End in December 2006 occurred in an area where cattle had grazed the less-flammable indigenous grasses but avoided the less-palatable, more flammable Giant Rush. According to fire fighters, the intensity of the fire in the rushes was virtually beyond belief, even in beds that were flooded to help control the fire. Someone should have told the cattle to et the inflammable rushes and leave the less flammable grasses! So bang goes that argument.

Cattle_in_top_end
A cow grazing in the Top End after the 2006 fire (K Stockwell)

Prolonged drought conditions may have contributed to the severity of recent fires, the causes of which appear suspicious. An unattended camp fire may have been to blame or the campers may have deliberately ignited the fire referred to above. Camp fires (using solid fuel such as wood) are banned in the NSW side of the forest over summer and the VEAC report recommended they also be banned on the Victorian side of the Murray River. However, this recommendation has not yet been accepted by the Victorian government and camp fires will be allowed except on days of Total Fire Ban.

There are other ways of reducing the fire risk, e.g. cold burns in winter.

At Kinnairds Wetland, weeds are cut before they flower and are baled for hay. Perhaps, in places, this could be done in parts of Barmah-Millewa Forest.

Because of community fears of a wild fire engulfing houses in Barmah, DSE has conducted fuel-reduction burns near Barmah Town.

There is no doubt that cattle grazing reduces plant diversity. When cattle are removed from an area, plants which have not been common may become more common. At Terrick Terrick, some old trees and shrubs not common in the park grow near the cemetery. Since cattle grazing ceased, many young specimens of these plants have appeared and are growing well. There are no specimens of intermediate age: in all probability, the cattle ate them. Since cattle were removed from the Reed Beds near Mathoura and the Moira Lake area, some plants that were uncommon have become more common.

Cattle cause major damage on sand ridges where they not only prevent the regeneration of banksias, hop bushes and wattles but may destroy the nesting tunnels of Rainbow Bee-eaters.

They also cause problems in reed bed swamps, pugging the soil and reducing the vegetation cover.

If cattle are allowed to graze when the soil is wet, pugging occurs.

Some argue that 'pugging' (marks made in mud by cattle hooves) helps provide suitable habitat for certain indigenous plants. Others disagree.

pugging_damageThe accompanying photo by Eris O'Brien shows native annuals and exotic annuals in a lignum wetland on the Patho Plains. Eris writes:
'The left side of the photo, shows where cattle trampled the soil crust in the previous summer, while the wetland was in the drying phase. This photograph was taken the following winter season showing that the trampled section is dominated by introduced annual Medicago spp. The right side was not walked on and has 100% native annual cover of Aphanes australiana, Annual Native Epilobium and Annual Native Veronica species, growing amongst native moss. The seed bank for native and exotic species would have been identical at this site, but soil surface conditions due to "pugging" disturbance in a single season dictated which annuals grew. This re-enforces the view that spraying of such annual weeds is pointless, because the seed bank of weed seeds is not the real issue. The pugging needs to be eliminated and the weeds will disappear.

'In this same wetland, prior to the late 90's there were large open areas surrounded by Lignum. These open areas were favoured by the Brolgas which nested at the site. The open areas created habitat complexity that was important for the ecology of this wetland. Due to the pugging effects of the cattle in the late 1990's, lignum shrubs established throughout the natural "pans" in this wetland because the cattle pugs created establishment places for lignum seedlings. This one pugging even in the late 1990's has caused the open areas to close up with lignum and destroyed the habitat for the Brolga. Possibly cattle pugging is also increasing the density of Red Gum seedling or other higher stratum species in the Barmah lakes (which is also a negative outcome).' (End of statement by Eris).

Whilst the above observations were made on the Patho Plain, it is reasonable to assume that similar observations could be made on the wetlands of the Barmah Forest.

In short, pugging compacts the soil and damages the environment.

pugging_and_cracking
Cracking soil may be good but pugging is not (K Stockwell)

Although many argue that pugging is bad, almost everyone agrees that a wetland should sometimes dry out, allowing the soil to crack. But a wetland depends on periodic flooding and long periods without adequate fresh water are not good.

pugging
Pugging at the edge of Hut Lake (K Stockwell)

Alongside Gulpa Creek at Mathoura, reeds line the town side of the creek which is not grazed. On the forest side of the creek, reeds are mostly absent and creek bank erosion is more obvious. Cattle like eating reeds (Phragmites australis). The have little or no appetite for rushes. The spread of Giant Rush (Juncus ingens) is becoming a problem.

In places, cattle damage the banks of waterways. There is a growing realisation that cattle should be excluded from such areas and, in places, fencing has been erected to protect sensitive areas, e.g. on sandy areas along Picnic Point Road, along Millewa (Aratula) Road, along Tea Tree Road and along Langmans Road in Gulpa Island. Recently, the Reed Beds and Moira Lake have been fenced off and, despite prolonged dry conditions, species diversity appears to have increased. The number of cattle which can be grazed under lease has been reduced significantly over recent years and more power given to land managers.

Cattle_in_Barmah
Cattle alongside the Murray River in Barmah Forest (K Stockwell)

The removal of branches that are close to the ground (and fallen timber) is bad news for birds such as robins which feed low in the forest. These birds need cover and perches close to the ground. But the cattle tend to eat the lower branches of saplings and break off many of the twigs which would otherwise serve as perches.

Some argue that a cost-benefit analysis should be undertaken, comparing the benefits from grazing (income from license fees, weed control, etc) with the costs (increase in non-palatable grasses, reduction in incidence of palatable species, reduction in the diversity of vegetation, pugging, administrative costs, damage to river banks, spread of weeds, etc).

In NSW State Forests, cattle grazing has been managed, it is claimed, with an eye to weed control. At a time when weeds are about to flower, many cattle may graze the area. When indigenous grasses are thriving and about to bloom and set seed (hopefully from August over summer to Easter), cattle are removed. An aim is to promote indigenous grasses, including everlastings, whilst controlling weeds. Cattle licenses have been valid for six months for a certain area; the area is then rested for six months.

On balance, cattle may do more harm than good. Excluding them from forest reserves is probably a good thing environmentally. Nonetheless, there may be times and areas where grazing is desirable, e.g. to help control weeds.

Because authorities have decided to create a cross-border national park to cover most of the Barmah-Millewa Forest in which cattle grazing will not normally be permitted, it will be interesting, and easier, to compare and contrast ungrazed and grazed Red Gum forests over the forthcoming decades.

 

Logging of local forests

Are present logging practices sustainable and environmentally sound?

VEAC and the Natural Resources Commission have both proposed that commercial logging cease in the proposed Barmah and Millewa National Parks.

Both, however, have recommended that some forest areas be set aside for logging ~ including part of Gunbower Island and most of both Perricoota-Koondrook and Campbells Island State Forests ~ partly because of the importance of the industry to Barham-Koondrook and some other towns.

The Natural Resources Commission investigation found that present forestry practices may be unsustainable, especially in light of climate change, with drought and increased temperatures impacting upon the vegetation. A reappraisal of forestry practices is recommended.

Present Policy in NSW State Forests where logging is allowed
On the NSW side of the border, where an area is selected for logging or thinning, two habitat trees and two replacement habitat trees have been left, as are dead trees (unless they pose a substantial danger). Ignoring environmental thinning, around 20% of the trees in a coup have been logged once every 20 years. Logging is not permitted within a certain distance of streams, on sandhills or in exclosures. Ring barking of trees which are considered unsuitable for timber is no longer practiced. In reality, however, some areas have been over-logged.

Originally, there were fewer and larger red gum trees than there are now. It was, and is, common for many trees in an area to be of similar age. Smaller trees are sometimes the same age as larger, stronger trees.

As a result of logging, fire or interference, many young saplings may grow. In the past, the weaker ones gradually died, leaving only the more robust. To simulate this, in places, areas of forest may be thinned to allow larger trees to prosper. Smaller trees may be removed.

The highest quality timber is sought out for veneer production and indoor furniture. Good quality timber is used for decking, posts, garden furniture and the like. Essentially, poor quality timber and forest residues are used for firewood. Off cuts may be processed into garden chips. Sawdust is used for paths, especially on nearby dairy farms.

After about 25 years, the coupe is revisited. Again, dead trees, habitat trees and replacement habitat trees are identified and left. Logging or thinning then occurs.

Care is taken to protect the middle storey. If the understorey contains endangered species, the area should not be logged.

Logging is not permitted within about 50 metres of watercourses. In NSW, Callitris and box trees (all species) are no longer logged in the Perricoota, Koondrook or Millewa forests. Many sandhill areas have been restored or have been fenced with restoration work (e.g. direct seeding and weed control) under way. The Big Bonum Sandhill (Koondrook Forest) is an example of a relatively new sandhill restoration project whereas the Tea Tree Road exclosure (Gulpa Island) is an example of a restored sandhill area which has been fenced off for over a decade. The small Banksia Exclosure and the large Tea Tree Road Exclosure are possibly the only places in the forests where Banksia trees survive. Some young Banksias have been planted in the Langmans Road Exclosure but most have succumbed to the present prolonged drought. Some sandhill areas (e.g. Langmans Sandhill) have been fenced to protect the feeding grounds of Gilberts Whistler and other endangered species.

Royalties and other revenues from forestry operations have been used for such conservation measures, to meet salaries of forestry officers, to maintain forestry roads and so forth. One concern is that roads may not be maintained as well should the whole area become national park.

Some areas of the forest are in excellent condition, with a variety of understorey shrubs and a ground covered with everlastings and native grasses. e.g. the area near Kate Malone Bend, Perricoota Forest.

More work is needed to maintain bio-diversity and to help threatened species to survive. The endangered Bush Stone Curlew is one species which may benefit from keeping aside some box forest, provided it is kept free of foxes and feral cats.

link Barmah-Millewa Forest Page

 

Do locusts play an important ecological role?

A more-balanced view about locusts is called for

Eris O'Brien has a web site 'Save the Locust.com' . Many assume that locusts are bad news and should be sprayed before they reach plague proportions. Eris calls for a more-balanced view and has emailed the following:

Migrating locust swarms of Australian Plague Locust, are a natural cyclic event in semi-arid Australia. In the Riverina, Australian Plague Locust migrations historically occurred about once every five years. It is logical to presume that wildlife and ecosystem health and function are totally connected with this cycle.

The current control policies aim to eliminate this migration cycle with early preventative attacks on the permanent breeding areas in the Channel Country. The aim of these attacks is to reduce densities of locusts before migrating swarms can develop. This is a recent change in tactic (only since the mid 1970's) and we are yet to feel the worst effects of this in the decline in grassland ecosystem health and wildlife abundance. This will only get worse with new technology allowing more accurate detection and destruction of locusts in the channel country. Recent media hype has also boosted funding and resources for the Australian Plague Locust Commission.

Native Locusts prefer native grasslands, especially for breeding (just get hold of the DPI's locust egg bed map to see!). Locusts require a diverse diet, especially when young. Contrary to popular belief they do not like to feed on monoculture landscapes. Studies have shown that young locust which feed exclusively on lucerne are stunted and many die. This means that their density is highest in the most natural environments. So the spraying that targets nymph locusts, is most commonly done in the most natural parts of the landscape. It is only when green feed reserves run out that adult locusts may target irrigated crops and lucerne.

The broad-scale use of insecticides (including biological insecticides ~ like those used on Terrick Terrick NP) on isolated grassland reserves is completely inappropriate. Keep in mind what they are killing there are natural densities of native insects in nature reserves! Not only does it eliminate the beneficial effects of the locusts on the ecosystem, but it also kills non-target animals (especially invertebrates). In isolated grassland reserves where re-colonisation is difficult, this is particularly devastating. http://www.savethelocust.com/articles/frog-hopper.aspx

Wildlife are poisoned by the the chemicals used to control locusts. Non-target invertebrate populations are also decimated. The entire food chain suffers from this life destruction. I really recommend reading this article. Read pages 26-30 - environmental effects http://www.apvma.gov.au/chemrev/fenenv.pdf

Spraying locusts in some situations prolongs the "plague", by dispersing the swarms and discouraging migration. Locust swarms naturally come and go quite quickly. Dispersed, lower density populations (caused by spraying campaigns) are much less likely to migrate, causing prolonged problems for agriculture. This may mean that locusts are present in some areas for a number of years, rather than a number of weeks. Spraying also disrupts natural locust predators, such as parasitic wasps. This is also likely to prolong the "plague". Parasitic wasps, or flies are believed to have brought and end to many of the locust swarms throughout the last 100 years. http://www.publish.csiro.au/paper/ZO9530070.htm http://www.savethelocust.com/articles/article4.aspx

Repellents and barriers are the key to avoiding damage to high value agriculture crops. In many situations crops need only be protected for a matter of days until the swarm passes. In other situations, restoration of tree belts in formerly-treed landscapes or surrounding intensive agriculture developments will discourage locusts from breeding in the area. http://www.publish.csiro.au/paper/AR9500064.htm

Locusts can, and should be, utilized as a highly nutritious food source for humans. http://www.sunstar.com.ph/static/gen/2006/01/02/news/locust.eating.binge.to.hamper.control.efforts.html The effects of the recent migrating swarm of Locusts on Agriculture in Victoria was exaggerated.

The DPI received no evidence from farmers on actual dollar losses due to locusts. Their overall impact on dry-land and irrigated pastures was insignificant when compared to other seasonal variables. Cereal crops were mostly not affected at all (despite SBS news reports of the states crops being decimated!). Many times this swarm was referred to as the worst plague in 50 years. Yet, despite this, Victoria recorded an almost record cereal crop harvest. ~ Eris O'Brien.

linkSave the Locust web site

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Climate Change

Global warming is a problem which should be addressed.
Should we turn to nuclear energy?

Since this section was first posted on this site several years ago, a CSIRO report outlining some dire consequences of climate change, The Garnaut Report, Al Gore's film, 'An Inconvenient Truth', the UK Stern report, Tim Flannery's appointment as Australian of the Year and a UN report on global warming have combined to raise awareness of the dangers posed by greenhouse gas emissions. More and more people are accepting that climate change is occurring and that we all need to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions. Despite measures that we take over the next few years, some climate change is built-in and we will have to try to adapt to this.


illustration summarising a report on the NOOA site: click here for notes on the indicators shown in this diagram

Worst-case predictions made by climatologists about ten years ago have come about. Average global temperatures have risen by 0.8 degrees Celsius over recent years. In Australia, winter rainfall is contracting south of the continent. According to a spokesperson for Insurance Australia Group Ltd, 19 of the top 20 insurance claim events over the past 40 years have been weather-related. The past decade was one of the hottest on record.

Much of the increase in greenhouse gas emissions can be attributed to the clearing and burning of forests, and to emissions from coal-burning power stations.

China and India are growing economies and are still constructing coal-burning power stations. Australia is a major exporter of coal. About 40 per cent of the world's population live in China and India. Although China has had a one child per family policy for around 20 years, the Indian birth rate is still very high indeed. Both countries produce far less greenhouse gases per head than the more advanced countries like Australia do. China is taking measures to curtail its emissions, and making more of an effort than are most other countries.

There is a call to develop cleaner coal technologies. Others argue that coal-burning power stations should be closed as soon as possible. Some argue that nuclear power stations might take the place of coal-burning stations. Others argue that we should rely solely on renewables and, perhaps, natural gas. Renewable sources include hot rocks (geothermal), ocean currents, tidal movements, ocean waves, gases from waste water treatment facilities (e.g. a new poser station has been built at the Tatura facility), waste gases from tips, solar (new and better panels are being developed), water (hydro) and wind.

Chinese scientists and officials are blaming global warming for a number of China's recent disasters: longer and more devastating typhoons and floods in some areas and prolonged droughts in other areas.

The government of China is becoming increasingly aware of the problem. A large percentage of the population lives on land which is only a few metres above sea level. As sea levels rise, vast areas could be inundated and rendered unproductive. If present warming trends continue, China will only be able to produce about half as much rice as it currently does. China has announced that it will endeavour to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions per unit of GNP but that it will continue to pursue a policy of economic growth.

One is even more pessimistic about the increasing amount of atmospheric pollution produced in India.

Some meteorologist believe that increased monsoonal rainfall in northern Australia may be associated with the increase of air pollution originating in Asia, including China and India.

There are fears that global disputes about water and arable land may intensify over coming years. Climate change may mean an increase in the number of 'refugees'.

Early in 2007, governments of Western Europe agreed to reduce atmospheric pollution and to produce more of their energy requirements using renewable means.

California has set a benchmark, imposing regulations and setting incentives.

So there are some promising signs and greater awareness of the problems caused by global warming. Global action is imperative. We need to reduce our consumption of electricity and turn to renewable sources of power. Consumption can be reduced through regulation, incentives and innovation. There is clearly a need for a carbon tax (and carbon trading), for environmentally-friendly building regulations, energy standards and so on. Once regulations and incentives are in place, innovations are likely to follow. After all, necessity is the mother of invention. Governments need to set uniform standards. Governments can have an influence by only purchasing products (e.g. motor vehicles) which meet low emission standards. Governments across the world should follow or better California's example.

Late in 2009, a climate conference in Copenhagen, which was attended by many heads of State, further raised awareness of the issue but failed to reach a binding agreement.

This decade is critical. We must act and act fast to reduce atmospheric greenhouse gas pollution.

There are now several sites addressing this issue. Links to some of the sites appear below.

K Stockwell, Webmeister, 2007; revised July 2008 and December 2009.

In We are the Weather Makers, Tim Flannery outlines some measures which could be taken to avert a catastrophic situation. It is a book which everyone, especially policy makers, should read and act upon.

Weather_makersTim Flannery's book The Weather Makers, which deals with the challenge and ecological impacts of global warming, became an international best seller, spearheading popular awareness of global warming. There is ample evidence that global warming is under way and its impact is likely to be horrendous.

We Are the Weather Makers is a concise and revised edition that presents the facts about climate change to an even wider range of readers. In this passionate book Tim reminds us that climate connects us all, from the Arctic to the Outback. And our climate is influenced by how we choose to live; how we use our fuels, our water and our land.

The Stern report (2006) and a United Nations report (2007) both painted a bleak picture. It is imperative that governments act now to curb greenhouse gas emissions. This means that the main sources of greenhouse gas emissions must be substantially reduced. Coal-fired power stations are one of the worst offenders. If action is not taken, permafrost could start melting, releasing methane, and serious and prolonged global warming would then be unstoppable and sea levels would rise for centuries.

Climate stabilisation requires a drastic reduction in carbon emissions to the atmosphere.

As our population numbers and energy use increase, some have advocated that we turn to nuclear fuels. Nuclear power stations, it is argued, release no carbon dioxide into the air and, as technology improves, are safer than in the past.

However, nuclear power is costly and is associated with danger. It will take time before nuclear power stations can be constructed and become operational. In all probability, nuclear power costs more than electricity generated using wind turbines, tides, waves or some forms of solar energy. Ian Lowe ~ a scientist who is President of the Australian Conservation Foundation ~ argues that "as well as the risk of accidents, nuclear power also increases the risk of nuclear weapons and nuclear terrorism". Ian also points out that "the argument that nuclear power would reduce greenhouse pollution presumes high-grade uranium ores are available (but) the known resources of high-grade uranium ores only amount to a few decades use at the present rate". Nuclear waste remains radioactive for tens of thousands of years. It needs to be stored safely and kept out of the hands of terrorists. This raises the question: can we trust not just present-day governments but governments over the forthcoming centuries?

Exporting yellow cake implies that present and future governments of the recipient countries can be trusted. We cannot assume that future governments will act appropriately. There are potentially dangerous outcomes.

Furthermore, the receipts Australia receives from exporting uranium/yellow cake are relatively trivial: presently the equivalent of one-third of our cheese exports.

It takes a lot of resources to build and maintain a nuclear power station. The waste from nuclear energy has to be stored for thousands of years. There is a terrible risk associated with nuclear stations: the Chernobyl disaster is ongoing.

Notwithstanding what is stated above, in some parts of the world some power may have to be generated in this way. Australia is in a position to be able to export uranium to such area.

Whilst in some areas of the world, to replace coal-generating stations, it may be necessary to generate some electricity from nuclear stations, this may not be the case as far as Australia is concerned.

Alternatives to coal-powered and nuclear power stations
What other alternatives, then, are there? Hydro-electricity stations generate some of our power requirements but they alone cannot produce sufficient power for our needs.

Wind turbines are criticised for being an eye sore and for causing bird deaths. If they are placed in certain spots, this criticism is valid. But wind turbines can be placed away from sensitive coastlines and away from bird migration routes and bird feeding grounds. Although there is a place for wind turbines, they too can only supply a percentage of our needs and, because they are reliant upon favourable winds, cannot supply a constant amount of power.

Solar power, too, is likely to only supply a percentage of our needs. At present, solar cells are relatively expensive and a vast array of cells is needed to supply even a small town. However, solar technology is improving and there is a good argument for all homes to have a solar hot water service which can be augmented with mains electricity. Householders can save considerable amounts on their electricity bill if a solar hot water service is installed.

A public company, Enviromission, has been formed to construct a tall chimney near Mildura. As air is sucked up the chimney, it is hoped that the air flow can be used to generate electricity. This is an interesting idea. Hopefully, the idea will be successfully implemented and the station will be able to produce electricity economically.

Off the coast of Newcastle, waves are being used to generate electricity. There is also a project off the coast of Fremantle (Western Australia) aimed at generating power using waves. Tidal movements can also be used. Perhaps we should devote more resources to generating electricity using tidal and wave energy.

Furthermore, a company is interested in building a wave-powered station off the coast of Portland, Victoria, and use the station to desalinate sea water during periods of low electricity demand, e.g. at night.

Some sugar mills burn cane residues and use it to convert water to steam to generate electricity. But some carbon dioxide is released into the atmosphere as a result.

There is yet another option worth exploring, geothermal energy. There is much heat under the earth's surface and, in some places, hot rocks are relatively close to the surface. In the Cooper Basin (in northern South Australia), there is a huge body of granite which is heated to about 250 degrees C, the hottest near-surface non-volcanic rock so far known. The rock is bathed in super-heated water under great pressure. This body could help supply our power needs for many decades, especially if used along with solar energy, wind turbines, wave turbines and so on.

Geo-thermal stations should be built away from population centres. Hot rocks are likely to be close to the surface in geologically unstable areas and a geo-thermal station is such a region could trigger larger or more-frequent earth tremors.

Some electricity can be generated using gases produced from sewage and waste. Energy Developments Ltd has tried to generate electricity at tip sites with some degree of success. A new station at the Tatura waste water treatment facility is now connected to the electricity grid and is an example of what can be done. Apart from generating electricity, the station has helped reduce odours which locals sometimes found most unpleasant.

Australia has extensive gas fields and natural gas is already being used in power stations. Such stations are less polluting than coal-fired plants. A body of gas has been discovered by Lakes Oil under one of the coal-burning power stations of Victoria's LaTrobe Valley and Lakes Oil is hoping that the power station's owners will convert the station from brown coal to run on natural gas. Whilst the use of natural gas in generating power is not sustainable in the long run, natural gas is less polluting than coal and can be used as an interim measure.

We should try to produce our electricity using a combination of wind, solar, geothermal, wave and other sources of energy. As a last resort, we may also need some gas-fired power stations. There is no doubt that coal-fired stations need to be closed down, especially the least efficient ones which produce relatively large amounts of carbon dioxide.

More attention should be given to energy efficiency. Reducing waste and using efficient electrical devices is a way to reduce greenhouse pollution. Long-life electric globes which use less power than conventional globes are on sale from a number of outlets in some larger towns and cities: hopefully they will become more readily available over time.

linkAustralian Business Round Table on Climate Change

linkAustralian Conservation Foundation's climate pages

linkAustralian Government: Department of Climate Change

linkClimate Action Network Australia

linkClimate Change Matters (aimed at teachers and students)

linkCSIRO climate change pages

linkGreen Power Australia

linkVictorian Greenhouse Office

linkWorld Wildlife Fund Australia's climate change page

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Population Growth

Can Australia support millions more people at or above our present quality of life and standard of living?


Early in 2008, the Australian government announced that immigration would be increased to over 300,000 persons a year. At the same time, the birth rate increased in Australia, party due to the payment of a 'baby bonus'.

In June 2007 it was reported that Australia's population had reached 21 million, a 75% increase over 40 years. Australia's then federal treasurer, Peter Costello, urged Australian families to have three children, one for each parent and 'one for the country'.

Australia's population is estimated to be 35 million by the year 2050, a 60% increase.

Likely impacts of a population increase of such a magnitude could include:

• greater population density; less space per person
• longer commute times
• more-congested roads
• greater crowding on trains, trams and buses
• greater difficulty in being able to attend sporting and cultural events (where capacity is limited)
• loss of productive farm land to urban encroachment
• higher food prices
• an increase in crime
• more flats and units and a smaller percentage of those having a backyard and quarter-acre block
• harsher water restrictions than would be the case with fewer people or, if desalination plants are constructed, higher water charges
• greater difficulty finding a secluded camping site or uncrowded beach
• more pressure on coastal environments
• smaller gardens
• higher electricity prices
• a reduction in the quality of life
• social disintegration and the development of ghettoes
• greater polarisation between rich and poor
• an increase in our Greenhouse gas emissions compared to emissions of a smaller population size
• a greater likelihood of ecological tipping points being exceeded
• huge costs (and time) of retrofitting the infrastructure of cities so that they can better cope with an increased population

At the same time as some advocate that Australia increase its population, severe water shortages have been, or are being, experienced in much of southern Australia.

Much fertile farmland is being encroached upon by spreading cities. Roads and freeways in capital cities are becoming increasingly congested. Trains and trams are struggling to cope with an increasing number of passengers. More rolling stock is required and railway lines need to be duplicate and extended in order to cope with the increasing numbers of patrons.

What is the optimum population which Australia can sustain at the present quality of life and a high standard of living? Can such a high rate of population growth occur without impacting upon the environment and upon our quality of life?

Some argue that the birth rate and immigration rates should be higher because our population is ageing. Yet these advocates seem oblivious to the fact that our environment is in a state of crisis, suffering permanent and irreversible damage. Species are being lost at an alarming rate, land-clearing continues, global warming is worsening, resources are being depleted and our environmental imprint is worsening.

Reg Morrison in his book Plague Species (New Holland Publishers) asks if we have set ourselves apart from other animals by a genetic disposition for utter irrationality. Irrational and ignorant land management actions with respect to the Alexandra area are outlined in Joan Semmens excellent book Bush Seasons (Hyland House). With the knowledge we have accumulated over time, exploiting resources at the expense of our bushland and environment is inexcusable. Yet we seem determined to increase our numbers and wage a war against nature. Waging war against Nature, against our environment, is a war which, ultimately, we cannot win.

"Instead of controlling the environment for the benefit of the population, maybe we should control the population to ensure the survival of our environment." ~ Sir David Attenborough, The Life of Mammals

 

It has bern claimed that each Victorian 'needs' 8.1 hectares to sustain their lifestyle, an ecological overshoot. Resources are being used up at an alarming rate.

Some scientists believe that Australia can only support about 8 million people at our present standard of living. But if we use resources more wisely we can maintain our standard of living, supporting something like the present population. This means we must use more renewable energy and recycle more. It means we must improve public transport and develop more efficient vehicles which can run on renewable fuels (e.g. biodiesel).

A book by J Goldie, B Douglas and B Furness, In Search of Sustainability (CSIRO Publishing), suggests what we must do to achieve a sustainable society.

But if Australia's population continues to grow there will still be more pressure on the environment; more pressure to develop new housing estates in coastal swamp and heath lands; more pressure on national parks and reserves; more pressure on state forests; longer queues at major sporting and cultural events; more- crowded beaches; more-crowded roads, and more crime. In short, in the long run, more people may mean a lower quality of life. It means it will be harder to find wilderness areas and riversides where there are no other people.

"There are more human babies born each day - about 350,000 - than there are individuals left in all the great ape species combined, including gorillas, chimpanzees, bonobo and orang-utans..." ~ Richard Cincotta, ecologist Population Action International

 

A group called Sustainable Population Australia (SPA) has been established. Counters on their web site illustrate the speed of population increase.

SPAs aims and objectives are:

  • to contribute to public awareness of the limits to Australian population growth from ecological and social viewpoints.

  • to promote awareness that the survival of an ecologically sustainable population depends in the long term on its renewable resource base.

  • to promote policies that will lead to stabilisation, and then to reduction, of Australia's population by encouraging low fertility and low migration.

  • to promote urban and rural lifestyles and practices that are in harmony with the realities of the Australian environment and its resource base.

  • to advocate low immigration rates while rejecting any selection of immigrants based on race.

  • to promote policies that will lead to stabilisation, and then to reduction, of global population.

The two boxed quotes above were observed on the SPA web site.

We must protect natural ecosystems, realising that humans are part of these ecosystems. Population increases place more pressure on natural ecosystems. We are currently living beyond our means and rapidly using up/destroying resources.

Global warming is a growing threat. Many plants and animals are at risk of extinction. Water supplies appear to be drying up in places. We need not only to curtail population growth but work toward a more-sustainable future.

Population size should not be equated to power. Some populous nations have low incomes per person. The Internet and globalization can help make "small" nations rich. Recent wars have proved that modern weapons are more important than population size when fighting a battle.

Many of our environmental problems are associated with population growth. Our planet has finite resources and has a balance. If we abuse our planet or become too many in number the balance of nature will collapse, e.g. greenhouse effect causing melting of ice caps and destruction of ozone layer leading to genetic mutations. 50 million or 60 million people is the last thing we need. So rather than "populate or perish", it's "populate AND perish"!

"Whatever your cause, it's a lost cause without population control" ~ Paul Ehrlich

linkSustainable Population Australia

linkPopulation and Climate Change (ACF site)

linkMark O'Connor: Overloading Australia

 

Australia's Water Crisis

Is irrigation in the Murray Valley doomed?

In 2006 and 2007, some towns and cities of southern Australia were running very short of water and severe water restrictions were in place over much of southern Australia. There were predictions that the Murray River could cease flowing; recent rains appear to have alleviated the problem for now.

Over the past decade or so, rainfall has fallen over the southern part of Australia. Runoff has fallen significantly. In parts of southern Australia, rainfall has fallen around 25% but runoff has fallen, say, by 65%. At the same time, the past decade was one of the hottest on record and evaporation rates were high.

In Perth, annual rainfall roughly halved several years ago. The annual rainfall has not reached the old average since. In the past few years, rainfall appears to have fallen again. A desalination plant has now been built to augment the city's water supplies. Severe water restrictions are in force.

Apart from desalinisation, there has been much talk of treating and recycling water from sewage facilities.

Irrigators have been hard hit and several have become bankrupt as a result of the lack or ample and cheap irrigation water.

Instead of using unsealed open channels to convey irrigation water, measures are to be taken to line channels or pipe water.

In many places, rainwater tanks are becoming more common. In Echuca, runoff from the roofs of the hospital and surrounding houses is directed into a number of tanks so that the water can be used to water gardens, flush toilets, etc.

It is obvious that the price of water needs to be increased and water rights (or the number of licenses issued to farmers) needs to be cut to more sustainable levels. Environmental water is required for wetlands and to maintain healthy waterways.

Insufficient flood water is reaching the lower Murray where up to 60% of the river red gums are reported to have died.

As far as the Murray-Darling Basin is concerned, former Prime Minister Howard proposed that the States hand over responsibility to the Commonwealth. Whilst many welcomed this move, many believed that an independent commission should be established, just as control over banking and interest rates has been handed over to a central bank (the Reserve Bank). Such a body will need generous funding to help cover the cost of water-saving infrastructure and other initiatives.

Associated with the hot dry conditions, fires have become more common. Vast areas were burnt in southern Australia over the summer of 2006-07 and in February 2009, adding to atmospheric greenhouse gases and polluting some water supplies.

On the other hand, much of the northern half of Australis has been hit by cyclones and flooding rain. Some believe that lightning strikes have become more common.

February 2007 (amended/minor upgrades March 2007, June 2007 and August 2010)

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Indigenous Plants

Why should we grow indigenous plants?

Just as a strong case can be mounted for retaining some areas of bushland, a strong case can be made for growing indigenous plants in our parks and gardens. Growing native can help ensure that our environment has an "Australian" feel. Growing native plants can also help provide habitat for native birds and other animals. And indigenous plants require less water than most exotics.

If we plant mainly exotic plants, there is little to distinguish our country and our region from any other. Local plants can be propagated from seeds or cuttings or purchased through a nursery. To protect our environment, native plants should never be dug up from roadsides or the bush!

Dr Tim Flannery, author of "The Future Eaters" and who was recently appointed to teach about Australia at a leading US university, recently stated that "devotion to imported lawn, trees and pets reduces biodiversity and lessens the survival chances of wildlife". Bringing the bush into towns is important, but population control is also crucial to ease the pressure of urban sprawl and to prevent our environment from coming under increasing pressure.

The Director of Educational and Environmental Programmes for the New South Wales Zoo, Dr D. Woodside, recently said that "small marsupials, frogs, birds of prey and big lizards and snakes would be extinct around urban areas within two decades, on current trends". Clearly, this is not desirable and so it is up to every town dweller to plant native. Cats and dogs kill birds and small marsupials and it is pleasing that some cat owners now contain their pets to the house and/or to an enclosed area.

Dr Flannery believes that native trees and shrubs should replace foreign trees across whole cities in a coordinated plan to create bird and butterfly habitats. Such steps might also protect our sugar gliders which, in turn, help prevent plagues of such pests as Christmas Beetles (which have killed gum trees in New England, near Armidale).

Many local farmers are now doing a great job using local native plants as windbreaks and, in the case of saltbush, as fodder plants. Many bushland areas are being looked after much better than in the past. But it would be good to see even greater use of local native plants on small holdings, in town gardens, in school grounds and in parks.

Some enthusiasts have attempted to grow native grassland plants, such as Lillies and Everlastings. A lot of weeding and maintenance may be needed to avoid such a garden from looking untidy or becoming weed infested.

Care is needed to avoid such mistakes as planting trees and tall shrubs close to property boundaries or the house.

In conjunction with Bendigo Field Naturalists Club, the City of Greater Bendigo has published a colour booklet on Bendigo area plants suitable for cultivation. The Shire of Campaspe is to prepare a booklet featuring plants suitable for local gardens.

linkClick here for more about indigenous plants

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Wattles

Does wattle cause hay fever?

There is a widely-held belief that wattles cause hay fever and asthma. Truth of the matter is that the hay fever and asthma are likely to continue unabated after the wattles have been cut down.

Gold-dust_Wattle
Gold Dust Wattle (Acacia acinacea) growing beneath Mallee.

Most hay fever and asthma seems to be associated with dust mites (in carpet and woollen blankets), with cats, with horse hair, with introduced grasses, chemicals and smog. The wattle pollen is heavy and falls to the ground. An allergy specialist has confirmed that wattle is not to blame for allergies. So may be we should bring back Wattle Day and plant wattles that are native to our area! What is an Australian spring without wattles. Let's plant local wattle species in profusion and help attract back Sugar Gliders to attack insects! Remember though that some species of wattle are relatively short-lived.

Wattles are nitrogen-fixing plants. Eucalypts may grow much better when wattles grow alongside them. The presence of wattles may also reduce 'dieback' insofar as Sugar Gliders, which eat the beetles causing dieback in some areas (e.g. New England), can feed on wattles when insects are few in number.

 

Environmental Whistle Blowers

Attacking environmental whistle blowers is unwise

A public company recently took a number of individuals and organisations to court for speaking out against the company's impact on the environment.

Apart from the implications on freedom of speech, such actions do nothing to solve the economic and environmental problems resulting from actions affecting the environment.

Let us remember the public debate about the dangers of blue asbestos. Because of a fear of legal action, whistle blowers might, in future, be too frightened to speak out and, because such a debate might no longer take place, there could be undesirable economic, health and/or environmental consequences.

In July 2005, a court 'disallowed' the action but further action could yet be taken.

Apart from the action of companies, governments, too, tend to try to silence whistle-blowers and dissenters. In Australia, some non-government organisations have allegedly been pressured against criticising government policies lest their government funding/grants be lost. Some scientists have allegedly been reluctant to speak out and warn us about global warming and its likely consequences. Some have alleged that CSIRO scientists have been pressured not to speak in public on certain issues lest funding be lost.

In Australia, some experts who have expressed concerns have sometimes had their reputations trashed by a government Senator. Although allegations made under parliamentary privilege have sometimes been proved to be incorrect, the reputation of an attacked person may remain tarnished.

It is important that whistle blowers and critics feel free to alert us to potential environmental, human rights, health and/or economic issues/problems. Attempts to silence dissenters and whistle-blowers undermines democracy and good government.

This issue is the subject of a recently-released book by Clive Hamilton and Sarah Maddison, Silencing of Dissent.

Dissenters, rather than the soundness of their evidence or arguments, are sometimes attacked by politicians and/or newspaper 'journalists'. A case in point is a certain newspaper which appears to be carrying out a smear campaign, against a scientist concerned with global warming, accusing him of such actions as accepting money for speaking to audiences (what's wrong with being paid to address an audience?).

When they disagree with another's economic, social or environmental views, some politicians try to dig up dirt from one's past, resort to mockery or call others by derogatory terms rather than addressing the issue. Name calling and ridicule are forms of bullying which should be discouraged.

linkAmnesty

linkDemocratic Audit of Australia

link Get Up!

linkYour Democracy Australia

 

 Weeds.The section on weeds has been moved to a separate page hosted by Echuca Landcare Group. Click here to enter.

Last revision: January 2010. EDITED by Keith Stockwell ~ stocky at mcmedia dot com dot au

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