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Environmental protection laws under attack

Nothofagus, Mt Toorongo, VIC

Changes are afoot to dramatically wind back cornerstone federal environmental protection laws. Under these changes, State Governments would be given sweeping powers to assess and approve major development projects. If implemented, these changes would be a disaster for our nation’s environment and wildlife.

In 1999, the Howard Government introduced the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation (EPBC) Act. It was meant to protect environmental areas and wildlife that were so important, and so at risk, that their existence was of national importance.

Since it was introduced, the EPBC Act has saved only a few wild places from mining and other development. Many thousands of developments have gone ahead.

Australia’s environment is now under unprecedented attack. Nine open cut mines are planned for Tasmania’s pristine Tarkine forests. The Broome community are battling the construction of a massive gas hub at James Price Point that would mark the beginning of the industrialisation of the Kimberley . The Great Barrier Reef is becoming a coal and gas highway, and could lose its World Heritage status.

The State of the Environment Report 2011 paints a grim picture. More and more endangered species are moving closer to extinction, and we are losing our precious places.

40 years backwards

This is the most serious attack on environmental protection in over 40 years. It doesn’t take much imagination to see what the environmental implications of state decision-making would look like for our environment. In Queensland, Premier Campbell Newman has opposed any delays to coal projects, saying that Queensland is “in the business of coal”.

In Western Australia, four out of five Environmental Protection Authority decision-makers on the proposed James Price Point gas hub had to disqualify themselves because of conflicts of interest; the single remaining member, unsurprisingly, approved the proposal.

In Victoria, intervention by Federal Environment Minister Tony Burke was required to stop Premier Baillieu from overturning the previous government’s ban on alpine grazing, to reintroduce cattle into national parks under the guise of a ‘grazing trial’ that was likened to ‘scientific whaling’. Meanwhile, the New South Wales Government has changed laws to permit private hunters to shoot in national parks and allow fishing in critical grey nurse shark habitat.

The major environmental victories of past decades have largely been won by the Federal Government overturning bad development decisions by state governments. Without strong federal laws, the Franklin River would be dammed, the Great Barrier Reef would have oil rigs and Fraser Island would be a sand mine.

Yet later this year, the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) meets to agree to the framework for handing over of approval powers to the states. Decisions about renewing Regional Forest Agreements could be made at any time.

We need decision-makers to hear our voices now. Friends of the Earth is mounting a campaign − ‘Nature: Not Negotiable’ − to prevent the gutting of federal environment laws and to strengthen the federal government’s role in protecting the natural environment.

This campaign includes mobilising around the upcoming COAG meeting, organising with local campaigns, lobbying and community campaigning.

For more information on this work or to get involved, please email lauren.caulfield@foe.org.au

You can also find us on Twitter @naturenotneg or on Facebook at ‘Nature: Not Negotiable’.

Please support our campaign to ensure these powers are not undermined.

Info on the campaign is available here.

Our petition is available here.

The Ducane traverse

As summer kicks in, its tempting to get happily distracted by long gone snow and cold. I have been struggling to write content these last few weeks, so am ‘recycling’ a piece that hasn’t appeared on the front page yet: a summary of the Ducane traverse, in the southern end of the Cradle Mountain Lake St Clair National Park.

climbing past Falling Mountain

Tasmania has notoriously un-predictable winter conditions, but the Ducane can provide  spectacular skiing when it’s in condition, on steep slopes and in gullies.

The ‘traverse’ is generally seen as being the walk/ snowshoe from Ducane Gap, on the Overland Track, over Castle Crag and Mt Massif, into Big Gun Pass, and then exiting onto the Ducane Range proper. From here you head out past the Pool of Memories and down to the head of Pine Valley via the Geryon climbers camp, or through the Labyrinth to the Parthenon track that takes you to Pine Valley hut.

Its awesome terrain at any time, especially winter, which is when these images and report are from. Enjoy.

Winter 2010

Snow shoe trail, Razorback, VIC

As spring kicks in and the snowmass melts, it feels like time to acknowledge what an incredible winter it has been: massive snow falls interspaced with rain and warmer weather and crazy storms. A number of resorts were isolated as treefall and landslips cut roadways. In August almost 2 metres of snow fell across the alps, and now (early October) there is still good skiable snow across much of the higher areas.

The following are some images from the Hotham/ Feathertop area in Victoria from June until now.

When does climate chaos become the new ‘normal’ weather?

late August, snow buckets down day & night across the Alps

Its hard not to feel envious when you look at those photos from the late 19th century that were taken as the miners and loggers made their way up the deep valleys below the alpine peaks and built villages and new towns. Places like Harrietville, at the head of the Ovens River below Mt Feathertop, seem to have had regular dumps of snow through the winter months. Now, if we just get some snow flurries down that far it rates as an event.

Of course, Australian weather has always been famous for being erratic. And if you look at the snow pack records that chart winter snow depths over the past 3 decades you can see wild variety between the seasons.

Climate skeptics love to point to cold weather and hard winters as ‘proof’ that climate change is not real, but this just reveals more about their ignorance of how climate change is expected to work than proving any other point. Some climate campaigners prefer to use the word ‘climate chaos’ because this gives a better indication of what the science tells us is coming: ever more erractic and extreme weather events.  In our part of the world, this will include drought, flood, fire, and extreme weather events like torrential rain.

This info is easy to find. It is not the stuff of hysterical greenies hiding in caves. It is from the mainstream of the climate science community. In a democracy we can think what we like. But having an opinion which runs counter to science doesn’t mean climate change is not happening. One of the things that strikes me – in a week where much of western and north eastern Victoria has been flooded, people evacuated, the road to Falls Creek was cut, and a landslip closed operations briefly at Hotham resort, is how quickly we can adapt to changed conditions and accept them as the ‘new’ normal behaviour of the weather. Just a week before that we had those wild snowfalls that blocked the Hotham Road for a day and a half and dumped almost a metre of powder across the alps. Then throw your mind back to July, and the gray rainy skies that brought miserable conditions and mediocre snow.

My point here is not to stir up fear, or to slate all this strange winter to climate change. Its just to remind ourselves that what we have experienced has not been an ‘ordinary’ winter. Sure, we need to grab the good winters when they do come along, and ski or board as hard as we can. We probably need to grumble and find other things to do in the winters that don’t happen. But we should never lose sight of the fact that all of whats happening is consistent with what climate science tells us is coming, unless we decide to do something serious as a global community to greatly reduce our greenhouse emissions.

And for me that’s reason enough to do what we can where can, to reduce our impact, and to get action at the community, corporate and government level.

Louise Perrin

First snow. Image: Louise Perrin

Louise Perrin is Environmental Manager for the Mt Buller and Mt Stirling Alpine Resort Management Board. She has been the driving force behind an innovative – and very successful – recovery plan for the endangered Mountain Pygmy Possum.

The possum is the only native mammal that lives in the alpine environment above the treeline and its habitat is threatened by development, climate change and introduced flora and fauna.

The Recovery Plan for the species on Mt Buller was developed in 2005. It contains a range of actions to assist in the continued survival and conservation of the Mountain Pygmy-possum on the mountain. This has relied on substantial support from the Resort Board, the ski lift company, and the Department of Sustainability and Environment, and has even involved the construction of boulder fields to create habitat for the animals.

In spite of the pressures from ski field development through its habitat, the fires of 2007, and the longer term impacts of climate change on alpine environments, the Mt Buller project is a showcase of a program which has helped bring a species back from the brink of extinction.

Lou says “I just want to do my best to ensure that my kids can enjoy this little patch of alpine Australia as much as I do”. But her contribution to this effort has been huge and deserves widespread acknowledgement.

There is a profile on Lou here.

Geoff Mosley

Geoff Mosley has worked for decades to protect wild places in Australia. He helped establish wilderness zones and parks across the south east of the mainland and Tasmania, and has recently released a book on Antarctica. He is active in the field of steady state economics, a keen walker, and widely published activist and thinker.

Perhaps he is best known for his efforts to see a major national park established across the Australian Alps. Much of this vision has now been realised, although he continues to work to see an extension of the Western section of the Alpine National Park and to get World Heritage listing for the forest ecosystems of the south east corner of the country, where Gippsland and NSW meet.

Check here for an interview with Geoff.

The remarkable shrinking Alps plan!

near Wire Plain, VIC

According to Phil Ingamells, of the Victorian National Parks Association, “there has never been more hoo-haa from Parks Victoria over the development of a management plan, and never such an unpromising result, as their draft of their alpine parks management plan”.

He says that the new plan is a “new low”, delivering very little that will enhance environmental protection, despite starting the process well.

You can read his analysis here.

winter is back (finally!)

Well, for everyone who has been suffering with all this dwindling snow, rainy days and warm weather, the front that’s passing over the Australian Alps this weekend is definitely a sight for sore eyes.

Wire Plain, VIC

With a good start to the season back in June that then faded off, backcountry skiing has been exceptionally sketchy over the past week or so, and even in resorts most have only about 30 per cent of their trails open. That situation will change this week….

For full reports, check Mountain Watch.

These are a few pics from the Mt Hotham area over the weekend.

Take action to protect our winters!

A classic image from the Victorian Alps: Mt Feathertop from Hotham. But without serious action on climate change now, our alpine areas are at grave risk.

First Protect our Winters (POW) Australia action alert

The Victorian government is in the final stages of deciding what type of Climate Bill it will deliver as part of it’s election commitments.

Similar Bills in other places – for instance, the UK and Scotland – have set ambitious greenhouse emissions reductions targets (Scotland has committed to 42% reductions by 2020).

We must urge the Victorian government to deliver a strong, world leading Bill. The final decision about the Bill is being taken now. And a strong Bill will greatly reduce Victoria’s contribution to climate change through driving a shift away from our reliance on polluting brown coal power.

POW Australia has issued its first action alert, asking people to email the Premier, John Brumby. It is available here.

We hope POW supporters, skiers and boarders from across Australia will support this on line campaign. Lets get the Australian winter sports community mobilised to protect our winters.

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