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Upper Catchment Issues Vol 1 No 1

Author: Tasmanian Community Resource Auditors Incorporated

Introduction

The area shown in Fig 1 (Forest Coupe SF156B) has been selected by Forestry Tasmania for logging and subsequent tree plantation. The area is adjacent to a certified organic farm and is thought to be a significant contributor to water recharge for the Brid and perhaps other rivers. In conventional forest management regimes clearfelling is extensively used, as are chemicals (fertilizers and pesticides) during the establishment phase of plantations. Accordingly, the potential for adverse impacts on the nearby organic farm (certified A Grade to the National Standard by the Tasmanian Organic-Dynamic Producers) was thought to be real and worthy of further risk assessment. When dialogue with the logging proponents failed to reveal concrete risk assessment data it was proposed that an enquiry be initiated. As water quality and quantity appeared to be at risk Dorset WaterWatch (DWW) also took an interest and became a member of the research team. DWW was also concerned about impacts in the general area as well (a total area of 180ha, which included the area of the coupe).

An Action Research approach was used to guide a year long study into the risk aspects of a proposal to log the area located at Mt. Scott (grid reference 542300E/5427500N), known as State Forest Coupe SF156B. Action research was seen as capable of bringing together local community knowledge of the site and other "scientific knowledge" generated by experts from perhaps a number of fields. Harding (1998) argues that ‘knowledge’ is a result of an ongoing interaction between those holding ‘local knowledge’ and those holding the so-called expert ‘objective knowledge’. In short, Harding argues that there are many forms of knowledge and that the local knowledge’s within a community cannot be ignored. Along similar lines Tattersall (1991) argued for strong community participation in the auditing of the environment, stating that

"Community Based Sampling is designed to provide that community with a powerful resource, that when used properly will bring about changes in the way we as a society behave toward our environment and each other."

Context for the study

The North Eastern Highlands are situated on the northern side of Mt. Barrow at an elevation of approximately 800m. Yearly rainfall averages around 1700mm. Land use includes cattle and sheep grazing, forestry, tourism and fishing. There continues to be a growing interest in the establishment of organic farming in the catchment.

Key river systems rising in the catchment include the Greater Forester, Brid, St Patricks and Ringarooma rivers.

Biophysical Capability
Soils

Soils, developed principally from granite-diorite, are found at elevations between 600m to 800m. These soils are prone to erosion and are thin and friable. Soils are held in place by a diversity of shrub and tree species.

Water Flow

In the higher rainfall periods the existing forest systems help to moderate runoff and recharge into riverine systems.

Flora and Fauna

The catchment contains an abundance of flora and fauna, including Eucalyptus .spp, sections of pure rain forest, rare land snail Anoglypta Launcestonensis, goshawks, wedge tail eagles, native cat, tiger cat, platypus, Bennett’s and Rufous Wallaby and wombat and a range of other species.

Case Study Area

The case study area (Forestry Coupe) of area 56ha bears many of the aforesaid properties, being rich in fauna and flora and exhibiting complex hydrogeological conditions. The organic farm is situated 50m down slope from the coupe. Dorset WaterWatch is also concerned about an area of 180ha that includes the coupe itself.

Research Methodology
About Action Research

A participatory approach was preferred as it was thought to empower participants to contribute towards shared understanding.

In this way the community members as experts within the local settings and the researcher as an outside expert each share their expertise to improve collective understanding of the situation. Consideration was given to the choice of a methodology that would, as far as possible, accommodate the above requirements and at the same time display responsiveness and flexibility.

The approach selected was one of action research involving the community (Dorset WaterWatch, Ann Gschwendtner, and other community members), and experts (Forestry Tasmania reports, letters and face to face dialogue, Philip Tattersall [Tasmanian Organic-Dynamic Producers Co-operative], Duncan Mills [Social Ecologist], Assoc. Prof Brian Finalyson [Centre for Environmental Applied Hydrology, Department of Geography and Environmental Studies, The University of Melbourne], Pat O’Shaughnessy [O’Shaughnessy and Associates] and Dr Owen Ingles [Soil Engineering & Risk Management Consultant]). Action research was chosen on the basis that it meets the requirements of dialectical enquiry and participation, touched on in the previous paragraph, on the following bases:

* An action research methodology involves an iterative process of planning, action and reflection (Dick 1992/93, pp. 3-18) to improve the understanding of both those in the research setting and the co-researchers in relation to the research hypotheses. The methodology utilises multiple methods for the collection, analysis and interpretation of human, biophysical and financial data in a similar way to the approaches used by other researchers (Stringer, 1996; Rossman and Wilson, 1985).

* Action research accommodates participation in a number of senses. Firstly, it allows for research to be conducted on-site. Secondly, it encourages a range of levels, or degrees of co-operation. Involvement can vary from the more traditional roles of community and researcher-as-expert to a fully co-operative community-researcher partnership. Thirdly, the methodology is able to utilise a broad range of data (qualitative and quantitative) as it is capable of embracing a whole range of expressive forms (Reason, 1994, p.334). In short, data derived from lived, everyday experience (experiential) and that derived from scientific or technical measurement are each seen as equally valid samples of reality. Finally, participation enables the building of strategies for ensuring trustworthiness (mentioned earlier) as it enables the researcher to check findings with other co-researchers in the research setting.

The choice of action research and the overall approach came out of considerations about the complexity of the way in which humans conceptualise systems, and the nature of the relationship between a community and its environment. This led, in turn, to considerations about the importance of studying situations in their context. The study in context would tend to be more holistic, interactive and relevant. It was considered that this would be best accomplished through a participative approach. Action research also allows for the modification and adaptation of research process in order to respond to new areas of enquiry and in so doing accommodates a process of growing understanding, such that there is increasing clarity as the enquiry continues. The approach is therefore, potentially emergent and responsive (Dick, 1992/93).

The methodology can also accommodate an iterative and cyclical process, drawing upon localized experience and theory to construct understanding. For the purposes of this research this was considered to be an important strength when working with community groups in the context of their environmental issues.

There are several approaches to action research. The one employed in the present project used a cyclic process of Planning-Action-Reflection. Planning involves developing ideas and hypotheses about ways to approach enquiry based upon previous experiences in a given context. This gave rise to actions, which were then reflected upon. The reflection usually involved critical appraisal of both findings and methods used to generate them and, sometimes, the methodology itself. This reflection then gave way to informed planning which, in turn, led to further action and so on (Dick, 1992/93). Fig.2 shows an example of enquiry cycles, visualized as a spiral of deepening understanding.

Methods Used to Gather Data

Data was sourced from reports, field excursions, community experience, and expert reports. Reports from Forestry Tasmania (FT) were examined in detail by the research team and questions were generated on the basis perceived mismatches between community experiences and FT assertion/findings. Experts were asked to examine literature on the proposed logging site, including reports from FT. In one case a recognised expert was asked by the research team to visit the site and provide a report as well as advise other experts. Finally, all reports were supplied to Assoc. Prof Brian Finlayson (The University of Melbourne) for the purpose of an overall report.

At each stage the research team critically examined the key findings of each expert and formulated questions back to FT for response. In this way issues were constantly refined and refocused so as to ensure that any hypotheses were rigorously tested, and at the same time there was opportunity to raise other lines of enquiry.

Outcomes from the Action Research Process

Phase 1:

The main task was to identify key environmental aspects and their significant impacts, including how possible impacts would be manifest. The method used was based upon a similar approach used in ISO 14000 auditing (SGS, 2000)

Rationale for Identifying Environmental Aspects and Significant Impacts

1. Environmental aspects

Key environmental aspects identified included:
• High rainfall in the proposed coupe area;
• Fragile soils in the coupe area;
• The coupe is an important element of river recharge;
• Forest management practices adopted on the site, including clearfell, chemical use and burn off operations;

2. Identification of potential negative environmental impacts

Potential negative impacts were classified on the basis of ‘within catchment element’ and ‘external to the catchment element’. ‘Within catchment element’ is defined here as in the immediate area around, and including the coupe (i.e. the l80ha site) and external to the catchment element’ includes areas remote from the coupe that may suffer negative impacts as a result of logging and plantation activities occurring within the coupe (including future impacts).

The classifications were as follows:

Impacts within catchment element
• Extinction of flora and fauna;
• Water Quality: Movement of Chemicals and soil into water;
• Water Quantity: Interference with water yield from site;
• Mass landslip and possible slumping;
• Soil Erosion in the form tunnel and sheet erosion.
• Noise pollution due to long working hours.

Impacts external to catchment element
• Negative impact on water quality for down stream users;
• Negative impact on water quantity for down stream users (short high peak flows leading to flooding and riverbank erosion and possibility of reduced flow in dryer months, with some minor streams drying up);
• Log truck damage to municipal roads and bridges. The significant impacts identified above formed the key hypotheses that required exploration during the next phase of the enquiry.

Phase 2:

Gathered data from FT (See Appendix 1 for report), conducted site visits, interpretation and reflection sessions with members of research team, entered process of cycle of questions to FT, LCC, Dorset Council. Generated a specific list of impacts. Initial consultants reports re potential risks (based on probable impacts) were generated. (See Appendix 2 for reports from Dr Owen Ingles). Dr Ingles confirmed that water quality would be an issue and at the same time raised concerns over the erodibility of the soils in the area as well as water yield.

Phase 3:

Commissioned other experts to look at various aspects of the impact of the proposal. From this we generated further questions for FT,LCC and Dorset Council. Pat O’Shaugnessy visited the site over a number of hours and essentially confirmed, on an independent basis, the findings of Dr Ingles. All information was then pulled together in final report after on-site visit. (See Appendix 3 for reports from Pat O’Shaughnessy and Dr Brian Finlayson).

Conclusions

The significant potential impacts identified by the expert consultants included, impacts on water quality/quantity, possible movement of chemicals onto the certified organic farm, and soil erosion. The research team is still engaged in an assessment of potential damage to Community infrastructure (roads, bridges and costs to clean up drinking water and Biodiversity).

In his report, Pat O’Shaughnessy raised concerns about water yield and expressed reservations as to the suitability of certain areas of the coupe for tree plantation. Dr Finlayson expressed a number of concerns related to water yield, quality and dismissed each of the three FT options put to Mrs Gschwendtner in their letter of March 14, 2000. (see appendix 4).

This left the research team with the growing concern that FT may have not adequately addressed the risks relating to their proposed operation on the coupe. It was clear that three independent experts agreed on many of the environmental impacts identified by the research team. FT was informed of key findings throughout the research process. Despite this FT did not appear able to come to grips with the situation in which they found themselves, i.e. that the proposed coupe may not be suitable as a logging site.

Key Findings and Recommendations

1. The expert reports and field studies by the research team indicated that FT has, to date, failed to conduct a complete risk assessment;
2. FT did not appear to be able to factor in community concerns, particularly in respect of the special nature of industry sector concerns and broader issues relating to community water use issues;
3. One emergent finding, although not discussed, was the way in which local government appeared to be frustrated, despite their best efforts to participate in the direction and management of their upper catchment systems;
4. If the issues at the centre of the present case study are typical of what is happening in the rest of the state then the case study team recommends the establishment of community based audit teams to audit forestry practices against the Forest Practices Code and ISO 14000;
5. We would argue that the present impasse is resolvable. Rather than look upon the current stalemate between FT and local Community as unresolvable, our team proposes that the proposed logging area be set aside and managed by the community under a ProSilva (see appendix 5) model. For its part the Tasmanian Organic-Dynamic Producers would be interested in certifying the area under its new Ecological Certification Classification. Also, with the changes in policy regarding the use of the residue from forestry operations as a source of energy, ProSilva has become, more than ever, a viable option for low impact forest management.