Red Gum Forests Need Water and Thinning: Not Bob Carr

Nick Ashwin 001 copyFORMER New South Wales Premier, Bob Carr, obviously has no idea when it comes to the history and ecology of river red gum forests in south western NSW. His misguided comments in The Land one week ago (“Forests or fenceposts”, July 30, pg 19) reflect the prejudices of someone born and breed in Sydney and trained as a journalist before becoming a career Labor politician, and more recently a handsomely paid roving representative for Macquarie Bank.

Mr Carr may have a deep knowledge of US political history, but he clearly doesn’t understand the history of the forests in his own land – Australia.

He wrote last week that if logging continues in the river red gum forests along the Murray the old trees will be all gone in 10 years and we will be left with only straggly regrowth. This is simply untrue. Almost all the old trees were logged out over 100 years ago, what is now growing along the river is regrowth and the timber industry that remains is selective in not taking the biggest and oldest trees.

What the red gum forests really need is a good drink, and thinning out, not Bob Carr’s idea of help.

During the late 1800s, large quantities of timber were cut to build and operate river boats, for gold mines and for rail sleepers. The extent of the logging, including along the entire river frontage to a distance of approximately three kilometres from the river bank, resulted in concern that the forest would be entirely cut out. So a conservation effort began based on the concept of multiple-use: that the forests be tended and encouraged to regrow for sustainable timber harvesting as well as conservation values.

Significant quantities of timber continued to be harvested from the remaining forests until twenty years ago and, of course, the trees re-grew along the river bank. And all this happened despite changed flow regimes, beginning with the construction of the Hume Dam in the 1930s.

But by the late 1980s the political balance had shifted almost completely from looking after the forests for their timber, as well as conservation value, to seeing them mainly as wildlife habitat. Large areas were listed as national parks and Ramsar sites because of their value as ‘wetlands of international importance’.

The push to lock up more forest as national park continued during the 1990s. In 2003 The Wentworth Group of Concerned Scientists, led by the late Peter Cullen, claimed that the forests needed to be protected because vast numbers of ancient red gums were dying along the entire length of the Murray River because of drought.

Clearly there were many stressed trees and there still are, but declaring more area national park is not going to make it rain.

The best way to protect these forests, particularly during drought, is through controlled thinning and getting more water into them, including through overbank pumping – both important management practices that armchair greenies like Bob Carr continue to oppose.


The picture shows two boys on a jet-ski on the Murray River and red gums just upstream of Koondrook, Central Murray Valley, in November 2007.   Photograph taken by Jennifer Marohasy.

Jennifer Marohasy writes a fortnightly column for The Land newspaper.  This article is republished from The Land of Thursday, August 6, entitled “Gumming up the works”.

15 Responses to Red Gum Forests Need Water and Thinning: Not Bob Carr

  1. Ann Novek August 9, 2009 at 12:58 am #

    There are hardly no sounds that are as disturbing as a sound from a jetski and a chainsaw.

  2. Larry Fields August 9, 2009 at 7:27 am #

    Living in California, I’ve never seen a Red Gum forest, but I have worked several seasons for the US Forest Service many years ago. For the benefit of the Bob Carrs of this world, I’d like to mention two general considerations about thinning, aka timber stand improvement.

    First, in a dog-hair thicket, the young trees are competing with each other for water and minerals from the soil. This slows down their growth rates appreciably. Thinning allows the remaining small trees to grow much faster into merchantable and aesthetically pleasing big trees.

    Second, thinning–if followed up by burning of the slash–can be a good fire management practice. If a wildfire does start in a thinned stand of timber, the rate of spread will be slower, and it will be easier to contain.

  3. spangled drongo August 9, 2009 at 8:46 am #

    “There are hardly no sounds that are as disturbing as a sound from a jetski and a chainsaw.”

    I suffer from that problem too, Ann, but we have to overcome bad associations.

    They are both incredible tools. And toys.

    It’s just that they too often are possessed by the mindless.

  4. Ian Mott August 9, 2009 at 11:38 am #

    Bob Carr always saw himself as some sort of latter day Abe Lincoln. But having long since dispensed with slavery, poor old Bob was left with only trees to free from the scourge of land clearing. And he seriously believed he did so.

    Meanwhile, in the real world beyond inner Sydney Glebe, the 150,000 hectare annual clearing rate that he used to justify the clearing controls was proven to be a gross exageration. The Landsat satellite scans revealed an annual rate of between 8,000ha and 12,000ha, including cleared regrowth.

    The bogus overestimate was provided by one of the most senior NSW land management scientists, Mr (Dr) John Benson, then head of the NSW Botanic Gardens. His methodology was to extrapolate, from extremely limited data from the Moree Plains on the Qld border, to cover all the vast array of vegetation communities and land use patterns in the rest of the state.

    And it is a matter of record that neither Mr Benson, nor the responsible departmental policy advisory committee at the time, The NSW Vegetation Forum, made any mention of the more than 14 million hectares of thick woodland regrowth that currently chokes much of the state and has substantially reduced inland river catchment flows.

    It was a small portion of this vast addition to the states vegetation cover that was being cleared for the cotton industry on the Moree Plain. Neither cotton, nor any other rural industry, anywhere in the rest of the state, was exapanding its area in anywhere near the scale exhibited on the Moree Plain.

    It is also a matter of record that one member of the NSW Vegetation Forum presented the government’s own early photographic evidence of substantial re-expansion of native vegetation cover onto previously cleared land on the NSW North Coast. Extrapolation of Moree Plain clearing rates onto this and similar regions around the state was worse than negligent, it was fraudulent.

    The seriousness of Carr’s gross misrepresentation to Parliament of the facts of native forest management in NSW was either not conveyed to him by the responsible officers, or was negligently, or possibly unlawfully, ignored by him. The mandate that he claimed to have for the imposition of clearing controls was either informed by negligence or fraud and, either way, it remains stripped of validity.

    Carr had, and appears to have retained, an ignorant, narcissistic, juvenile fantasy of his place in history as some sort of Lincolnesque forest saviour. And no amount of contrary evidence, no amount of government checks and balances, and no amount of injustice visited upon the forest owning minority, would be allowed to disturb his self indulgent narrative.

    His rightful place in history is as the ignorant fool who expended his energies on saving something that was already curing itself while the city he was elected by went deeper and deeper into crisis.

  5. Ron Pike August 9, 2009 at 1:46 pm #

    To Jennifer , Bob Carr and all,
    I originally read Bob Carrs fiction in the SMH and sent off a letter of rebuttal which wasn’t printed.
    However I wish here to also refute some of the claims made by Jennifer.
    Contrary to what is often claimed by Carr and others ( even CSIRO), the area of river red gums within the MDB is greater now than when White man arrived here.
    The reason for this is very simple and has to do with the fact that these wonderful trees do not withstand wild fire as well as their mountain cousins and there was a huge regeneration of these trees after the floods of the 50’s and 60’s.
    Any look at the many photos of the old river steamer days at Echuca, Hay or Burke will show a river landscape of few River Red Gums.
    There are even more red gums now than when I was a boy fishing on these wonderful rivers.
    Because these trees grow on the flood plain and also because they produce a very difficult timber to use, they were now logged or cleared as other species were.
    In the late 1800’s some were cut for railway sleepers and for bridge decking.
    Jennifers claim that they were cut for the river boats is false.
    Some boats were made from RRG but the amount of timber was miniscule.
    The river boats used dry fallen timber which abounds in these forests.
    Green Red gum is a poor fuel and was never used to my knowledge.
    In the article which I presented on this site entitled ” Bunyips in our Rivers,” I had a section devoted to wether these trees needed floods to survive. This was sadly excluded from the final presentation.
    In this I presented pictures of River Red Gums that had been excluded from all floods since 1956 alongside those on the other side of a levee bank that had been watered by all floods since 1956.
    There is NO difference between the 2 areas of trees.
    Both contain “old trees,” and trees of varying ages from 50 to 2 or 3 years old.
    These wonderful trees benefit from flooding but do not require it to regenerate or survive.
    Old river red gums are never cut for timber as they become hollow and worthless. The trees cut are usually 40 to 60 years old, as they are at this stage solid and of sufficient size to be millable.
    The claims made by the Wenteorth Group and Peter Cullen are simply false.
    Peter Cullen became a MSM “expert” in a field in which he had NO practical experience and both parties are guilty of falsely misleading the Australian public.
    I challenge Jennifer and or Bob Carr to show me these stressed trees.
    I am heading out that way shortly.

  6. David Joss August 9, 2009 at 4:12 pm #

    Overbank pumping doesn’t seem to work. In November 2006 Herald Sun columnist Andrew Bolt wrote: “As late as last week, 13 diesel pumps were still sucking water out of the Murray to water the gum trees of Hattah Lakes…”
    Hattah-Kulkyne National Park was recently identified as having one of the highest levels of stressed trees on the Victorian side of the Murray. Obviously putting the trees in national parks does nothing to help them either, and yes, these are the same Victorians who have just locked up the Barmah and other river red gum forests to “save” the trees.
    Edward Curr whose Tongala run encompassed the Barmah forest in the 1840s described the forest as open. When he first visited the Barmah area this is what he saw:
    “Looking around, on one side of us we saw extensive reed-beds intersected by the Murray, which (an unusual feature in colonial rivers) flowed here almost without banks, and on the level of the plain. [His description of the Barmah choke is spot on and note his use of the word “plain”] The other half of the circle was occupied by open, grassy, forest land which extended we did no know how far.”
    Further into his description he records climbing a solitary old gum tree from which:
    “A sea of reeds, of several miles in extent, as far in fact as the eye could reach, met our view on both sides…”
    Today the country he described is covered with dense forest and the reeds are considerably diminished except where it is regularly too wet for trees to flourish.
    The aborigines burnt these areas regularly (Curr noted that too) and their burning, combined with lengthy, almost-annual inundations (which drown seedlings) meant that this forest was largely grassy plains back then.
    Given the right conditions river red gums grow like weeds and that is what has happened since the demise of the tribal aboriginal.
    So these ancient forests which Bob Carr is so desperate to lock up for their own good have really only been forests for about 200 years, sprinkled still with a few ancient survivors which escaped the aboriginal management regime. They are man-made.
    Dr Tim Stone in a recent study found that the infamous Barmah choke or “the Narrows”, a section of the Murray between Mathoura and Barmah townships, was only formed about 550 years ago and has proposed that the Barmah forest dates only from then.

  7. Ian Mott August 10, 2009 at 9:17 am #

    Good posts, Ron and David. Solving imaginary problems in new, non-remnant ecosystems is central to Bob Carr’s MO. Indeed, it is now the central element of green/labor environment policy. The list is extraordinary;

    1. A salinity scare that went away in the next drought.
    2. The “restoration” of MurrayDarling catchment flows that are 50% above pre-settlement levels after land clearing.
    3. The use of fresh water to flush the Murray Estuary after the barrage prevented the tides from doing so.
    4. The “protection” of a greatly expanded River Red Gum estate.
    5. Ignoring 14 million ha of new forest thickenning while justifying clearing controls.
    6. Exaggerating actual clearing in NSW by a factor of 15.
    7. Implying that the clearing was all original forest instead of regrowth.
    8. The “protection” of a Barrier Reef that is under minimal threat.
    9. Treating once-off, historical livestock modification of creek banks as if it were a current and continuous problem.
    10. The failure to recognise the vast expansion of riparian and aquatic ecosystems along irrigation chanels.
    11. The recording of urban water extractions from close to the Murray mouth as a loss to the entire river system despite the uncontested fact that the water has traversed 95% of the river length.
    12. Preventing the partial harvest and complete restoration of less than 1% of the state forest estate each year while ignoring fire management bungling that has destroyed more than 50% of the parks estate (and its dependent wildlife) in a single year.

    And the list goes on, and on, and on.

  8. Green Davey August 10, 2009 at 12:30 pm #

    Good Grief,
    Who is this Bob Carr? I don’t think I have noticed him before. I have noticed Dr John Benson. I believe he is a botanist, who signs himself as ‘ecologist’, but seems unaware of the important role of fire in Australian ecosystems.

  9. Ian Mott August 10, 2009 at 3:12 pm #

    Davey, Carr was Premier of NSW for the decade from 1995 to recent times. He now satisfies his pathetic recognition cravings with bits of gratuitous planet salvation. He actually first won office by presenting himself as the (prrp prrp) Mr Fixit of Sydney transport (guuffaaw).

  10. Ron Pike August 10, 2009 at 4:34 pm #

    To David Joss,
    I appreciate your great input and would like to add a few points.
    In relation to the river boat industry on the rivers of the MDB; this was quite short lived and was always hampered by irregular river flow.
    It began in the 1860’s and came to an abrupt end with the 1st World War. At its peak there were about 240 boats involved, so claims that this industry were somehow partially responsible for loss of Red Gums is quite false.
    The history of the “Barmah Choke,” in the Murray is as follows:
    About 25,000 years ago there was an upmovement in the earths crust of about 12 metres in a line roughly between Deniliquin and Echuca. This uplift dammed the Murray and Goulbourn rivers and formed a large shallow lake.
    The Murray followed a course of least resistance to the north, which today is the Edwards river. The Goulbourn continued to feed the lake and broke out to the west.
    About 8,000 years ago the Goulbourn break in the uplift became the main out flow from this lake and the present course of the Murray river.
    It is this breakout point that is the “Barmah Choke.”
    It is the youth of this ex-Goulbourn channel that explains its narrow passage.
    The abandoned channel of the pre-lift Murray can still be seen high and dry on the Cadell Tilt Block and is known as Green Gulley.
    Today during major floods most of the water flows through the Edward- Wakool rivers system because of the restrictions caused by the Barmah Choke.
    As the new channel developed the lake gradually drained and it was after this that the Red Gum forest began to establish.
    I believe this all supports your observations above.
    For those interested in this subject I recommend “Riddles of the Rivers,” by Alan Eager.

  11. David Joss August 11, 2009 at 8:18 pm #

    Further to the above, here is an interesting quote from the then governor of South Australia, Sir Henry Young, in a letter to his Victorian counterpart written from the paddle steamer “Lady Augusta” on her maiden voyage up the river in 1853:

    “The river for 40 miles approaching Swan Hill, and for 20 miles beyond it, presents the most singular aspect which it is possible to conceive—a vast plain of reeds, without visible high land of any kind, or trees; the river-course perfectly safe, open, and deep (3 and 31/2 fathoms) ; occasionally a fringe of high trees, and then another vast plain, entirely bare and open, with large lakes.”

    Unfortunately the “Lady Augusta” turned back downstream soon after navigating the “20 miles beyond” Swan Hill so we have no description of the river further upstream from that point.
    Today the banks of that stretch of river are densely treed with river red gums, such is the invasive nature of the species.
    Accounts by Thomas Mitchell the explorer and Joseph Hawdon, the first overlander to drive cattle down the Murray from Albury to Adelaide, concur with the above description. Both complained of not being able to light a decent campfire in the region because there were no trees.

  12. Ian Mott August 12, 2009 at 11:00 am #

    Yep, these green hideoids have taken an unambiguous ecological surplus and converted it to a duty of care. Carr and the facts have never been close associates and this situation is no exception. And surprise, surprise, the pathetic plodder lists his environmental “reforms” as his greatest achievement. That is a nice way of saying that he ponced about for more than a decade while his capital city got bigger, uglier, more congested and unlivable.

  13. Ron Pike August 12, 2009 at 2:00 pm #

    To Ian and All,
    I think that the information in this little post is informative less for debunking the miths about the MDB Red Gums as it is an example of how radical environmentalism has been aided by our incompetent, sensationalism seeking and left leaning media to repeatedly misinform the Australian public.
    While it is pleasing to be able to air our views and seek to disseminate truth to a larger audience on Jennifer’s blogg, we are really having little impact on the wider audience that would be necessary to make real change.
    How do we do that?

  14. David Joss August 12, 2009 at 5:39 pm #

    Pikey, you ask “how do we do that?” which is a question that has vexed me too.
    I use every opportunity to write letters to editors. Mostly to local papers as I figure if you can educate the local populace you then hopefully have plenty of allies.
    But of course the important votes are in the big smoke so I try whenever an opportunity presents itself. I find you must be brief, quick off the mark and topical.
    Even then you are at the mercy of a letters editor but I think they try a bit harder to get some balance on a contentious subject.
    But I really dunno. I won’t stoop to the sort of infantile stunts the other side pull and maybe that’s a bad frame of mind.

  15. Ron Pike August 13, 2009 at 9:09 am #

    Thanks David,
    And yes I do the same. However I do not agree that letters editors are any more open minded than the rest of the press.
    I manage to get some things printed in the Aus. and used to get some in Fairfax.
    A couple of years ago Wendy Frew fabricated a story on the MDB including photos that claimed to be what they were not.
    My letters to the editor were rejected. I then rang the journalist involved and requested a correction, which didn’t happen.
    I followed this with a letter of complaint to the SMH. I was contacted by the Editor who claimed that the journalist believed that what she wrote at the time was valid and that her photographer had simply been mistaken.
    End of story.
    I have had no letters or articles printed in the SMH since.
    Around this time I met with a well known journalist who was ex Fairfax and then employed by the Aus.
    When I pointed out to her many misleading articles in relation to the MDB and again photos that were not what was claimed; she responded that she was aware of the false impressions but she was obliged to write articles that confirmed the editors beliefs.
    I still occasionally correspond with this journalist, but with little positive response.
    All very distressing.
    Modern journalists seem to have some infalable belief that they alone know what is best for our democracy and they have the power to implement their narrow beliefs.
    To challenge this holier-than-thou view, is to incur the wrath of the press and excommunication from further discussion.
    Our democratic decission making process is less at risk from what voters don’t know, than it is from what they do know that is false.
    1: AGW
    2: Renewablw energy
    3: The problems of the MDB.
    4: Forest and fire management.

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