Bulldozers destroy 500,000 hectares of forest every year.
An area the size of the MCG is bulldozed every two minutes in Australia.

Logging poisons our soil and water, suffocates the Great Barrier Reef, kills wildlife, drains our carbon budget, and leaves our towns, cities and suburbs hotter and less liveable.  If we want to protect our climate, and the ecosystems that make our lives possible, there’s no role for deforestation in Australia’s future.

There’s a devastatingly simple fix — change our laws.

Without a liveable climate, the vulnerable ecosystems that sustain us, simply won’t. Deforestation is Australia’s hidden emitter — it’s like adding 10 million cars to our roads.

According to The Wilderness Society Australia’s deforestation ranks in the global top 10, alongside Borneo, the Amazon and the Congo. It’s primarily driven by agriculture (mostly for beef production), mining and urban development.

Bulldozers drag thick chains through the landscape, snapping trees like matchsticks. This wood isn’t used for anything — it’s burned or left to rot. Carbon once stored in trees and soil goes back into the atmosphere. This wastes up to 10% of Australia’s carbon budget. 

When habitat is bulldozed, many koalas die instantly—while others are left with nowhere to go. Wildlife carers are struggling to cope with mounting numbers of sick and injured animals, the destruction of bushland to blame.

As the only developed country with a deforestation front, it’s no surprise Australia’s mammal extinction rates are the highest in the world. Iconic native species, like the koala, platypus and the greater glider, are on the road to extinction.

We’ve Lost Half our Forests and Bush

Just 50% of Australia’s forests and bushlands remain intact compared with pre-European arrival. The other 50% has been either permanently destroyed and replaced with another land use or is classed as degraded forests and bushlands—most of which is previously cleared but regrowing vegetation of different ages.

The Disaster Of Logging

Meet Jane McIntyre a local resident and member of “No Electricity From Forests” 

Says Jane – 

“Ten years ago, we searched the coast of NSW for a new place to live. Coming from the Northern Rivers, our wish list included healthy native forests, fertile soil and abundant fresh water. We fell in love with 40 ac in the Lorne Valley (between Taree and Port Macquarie) for its mountain views, gentle creeks and 8m waterfall with a plunge pool.  

Surrounded by forest and within coo-ee of World Heritage National Parks, we assumed we’d come to a more pristine area than the population-dense Far Nth Coast.  We built a house of recycled materials, planted a vegie garden and fruit trees, and kept chickens for eggs and alpacas for mowing and manure.  Around ninety bird species visit our native revegetation sites, and families of wallabies bask on the lawn.

It wasn’t long before we became aware of multiple log trucks rumbling down our road.  Often, they carried mighty logs over 1m in diameter, but just as often, the felled trees were much smaller, some as slender as 20cm across.  We wondered about the fate of these saplings.

Asking around, we discovered that where there used to be a hoard of local family-owned mills, there were now only a couple of huge mills. The main receiver of Forest Corporation NSW timber and main mill owner in this neck of the woods is Boral, a $4.3 billion ASX-listed multinational. To supply its quota, the local native forests are being logged on an industrial scale.  We learned that the IFOA harvesting rules changed in 2018 to open up 140 000 ha of native forest between Grafton and Taree, to be intensively logged (read ‘clear felled’) in coupes of up to 60 ha at a time. 

Employing very few workers, industrial logging degrades watercourses, decimates flora and fauna habitats, encourages weeds, causes soil erosion, and increases the risk of fire. Even old loggers are shocked by the destruction.

The sheer quantity taken means that cutting cycles are being shortened and log sizes reduced.  We discovered that the quantities of ‘non sawlogs’ (younger trees) to be harvested had been dramatically increased to equal that of sawlogs – hence our observation of the loaded trucks. Regardless of record-breaking droughts and wildfires, none of this has changed. 

There have been hundreds of cases of ‘unauthorised clearing’, with the watchdog EPA mostly turning a blind eye. Far from protecting biodiversity, the NSW Regional Forest Agreement is unashamedly focused on guaranteeing timber supply to large companies.

So, what is the plan for the smaller ‘non sawlogs’, A.K.A. ‘pulp logs’, or ‘waste’, or ‘residue’? Consider this: 80% of timber harvested is categorised as ‘waste’. And just coincidentally, the Department of Primary Industry (which oversees FCNSW) was issuing press releases as early as 2017 that spoke of ‘forestry biomass’ on the NSW Mid North Coast being voluminous enough to ‘support energy generation systems, with no adverse effect on the environment’.  The DPI even issued photos of felled ‘pulp logs that could be used for biomass’ very close to our home.

Currently, burning forest ‘biomass’ for electricity generation forms up to 60% of Europe’s so-called ‘renewable energy’. The forests of USA, Canada and Eastern Europe are being felled to feed wood-burning power stations in the USA, Europe, Japan and South Korea. Recent changes to Australian legislation count forest ‘waste’ as a renewable energy source that attracts carbon credits and subsidies. Go figure.

Alarm bells were ringing. With a few other concerned citizens, we formed a group (No Electricity From Forests) to spread the word. We toured local halls with a slide show, held regular market stalls, distributed information, lobbied politicians and the media, spoke with FCNSW and EPA, attended Boral shareholder meetings to ask awkward questions, and blockaded a logging site for half a day. We conducted weekend tours through recently logged sites, horrifying visitors with the devastation. 

One set of photos we took only a few kilometres from our home reveals clear felling of about 150 ha. We took photos early in the morning, with lyrebirds calling to each other from opposite edges of the moonscape. 

We were often met with incredulity. ‘Where in Australia is timber waste being burned to generate electricity?’ we were asked. We knew that Queensland timber was being exported to the world’s biggest wood-burning power station in Japan. We knew that our wood was being exported to Ireland to burn in power stations as a replacement for peat. But apart from co-generation wood-burning at Vales Point, and the Condong and Broadwater mills, this seemed like a ‘sleeping’ issue for Australia.

Wake Up Call

No longer. There is currently a development application being discussed with Singleton Council from a company called Hunter Energy that proposes to convert the defunct Redbank power station to 100% biomass. The woodchip for Redbank is unlikely to come from land under local council jurisdiction. The new state forestry laws have facilitated more intensive logging in coastal state forests from Taree to Grafton ie an extra 140,000 ha opened up for clear felling of up to 60ha at a time. These are the hubs that the DPI identified as having the potential to supply hardwood for electricity. 

The CEO of Hunter Energy is businessman Richard Poole and the chairman is Adam Giles, (check them out for interesting reading) former Chief Minister of NT and Sky News host. If the Redbank DA is approved, it will be the 10th biggest biomass burning power station in the world. 

Expressions of interest for ‘residues’ have already been advertised, to be supplied within a 400 km radius of Singleton. That includes our area. It doesn’t take many joining of the dots to suspect that the massive bank of ‘non sawlogs’ at our local Boral mill may find its way to the Hunter Valley.

The poor Hunter Valley. For decades, inhabitants have endured stratospheric levels of air pollution from the coal industry. Now they face a new industry that spews out tonnes of hazardous emissions – particulates, carbon monoxide, nitrous oxide, and an assortment of greenhouse gases. The process of converting hardwood to burnable pellets expels volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that are anathema to asthma sufferers. 

Burning wood pellets releases even more CO2 than coal per unit of energy. When the IPCC tells us that the world has less than 10 years to tackle climate change, chopping down our carbon-sequestering forests and releasing their carbon into the atmosphere in a rush of combustion is so counter-intuitive and scientifically unsound as to be absurd.

So much so, that we have to ask ourselves: why do governments offer carbon credits and other subsidies to this highly polluting and climate-damaging industry? The answer lies in the fallacy of ‘carbon neutrality’. The argument goes like this: as forests grow, they fix atmospheric carbon; we release that carbon when we burn the wood; the carbon is then reabsorbed as new trees grow, closing the carbon loop. 

Disingenuous

This disingenuous claim rests on two suppositions: that forests are managed sustainably, and that forests regenerate at the same rate as they are being logged. Both the observable effects of industrial logging and the recent expansion of areas to be logged are antithetic to sustainable forest management. 

Regarding replacement time, trees can take decades, even centuries, to reach maturity. We have less than ten years to convert the world to genuine renewables and expand our forest carbon sinks to keep us below a catastrophic 2 degrees of warming – or some predict, as much as 3 to 5 degrees. 

Lose-Lose

Burning hardwood for electricity is a lose-lose strategy for confronting the climate crisis. With one stroke, forests are decimated and the carbon is released into the atmosphere. We may just as well keep burning coal – at least we might get to keep the forests. 

(Watch the documentary ‘Burned: Are Trees the New Coal?’ for a detailed analysis of ‘the accelerating destruction of our forests for fuel … the policy loopholes, huge subsidies, and blatant green-washing of the burgeoning biomass electric power industry’. It’s coming to your town soon.)

Who Knows Details?

There is currently a DA being discussed with Singleton Council. But how many people are aware of the finer details of the new industry, and its potential for pollution? Hunter Energy is spending lavishly to paint a rosy picture of ethical jobs at the virtuously named ‘Redbank Green Energy Park’, aiming to convince the public that this is a legitimate path to tackle climate change. 

After all, the project has the blessing of the Department of Primary Industry, and is consistent with the blithe conclusions of the North Coast Residues Project. 

Once the decision is made, only the Minister for the Environment can undo or alter it. If enough pressure is applied to alert the Minister. That Singleton Council is considering the DA begs the question: how can such a major project not rate as a State Significant Development, and thus be properly subjected to more intense scrutiny?

There Are Jobs

So much research has already been done on a clean energy future for the Hunter Valley community. BZE (Beyond Zero Emissions) reports that 50,000 sustainable jobs could be created in the next 5 years. The Hunter Jobs Alliance, composed of unions, medical people, teachers and environmental NGOs, aims for job security in genuinely renewable energy industries, such as wind, green hydrogen, and recycling. As coal is phased out, scientists and community groups are missing from the table as government and industry moot the future of the Hunter Valley. But few people are aware of the ramifications of biomass burning. The industry, which employs few, is set to fly under the radar until it is too late.

Deforestation Accelerated

And so, we are doing our utmost to spread the word – at a community level, at a political level, and in the media. Up until now, it’s been largely conjecture, not happening ‘in our backyard’. There has been no journalistic ‘hook’. But with Redbank, that has changed. Australians need to be aware that, as we all earnestly discuss re-afforestation and carbon sinks, the very opposite is happening. 

The rate of deforestation on both public and private land has accelerated, and 80% of that timber is ‘waste’ which can be burned for electricity – that is the reality. This trajectory could not be further from our stated goals of protecting forests and biodiversity, and mitigating climate change. 

What on Earth are we doing?”

Jane McIntyre (on behalf of No Electricity From Forests)

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