When the NSW Minister for the Environment, Robyn Parker, left everyone incredulous with her statement in 2011 Budget Estimates that chopping down trees actually benefitted koala populations, most people assumed it was an embarrassing fumble by a Minister under intense pressure for her failure to protect Australia's most iconic animal.
The Minister was lampooned on Twitter and in the following day's papers for a statement that was seemingly so laughable.
But what if the Minister hadn't put her foot in her mouth? What if Robyn Parker was not guilty of ineptitude, but had instead merely articulated, a little baldly perhaps, the newest spin from the forestry industry?
There is ample evidence that a campaign by the NSW forest industry to position itself as an environmentalist's best friend is now in full swing. Statements of the sort voiced by Robyn Parker in 2011 are looking more like a strategy rather than a stuff-up.
Whether it is from the mouths of O'Farrell ministers, Shooters MPs, or loggers, we are seeing a transformation of the language being used around native forest logging and woodchipping. That change is paving the way for an assault on forests and wilderness areas in the state by commercial interests that aim to have protections for native forests dismantled.
The new catch-cry from loggers and hunters is 'sustainable use' of the state's native reserves. Don't be fooled by the language. 'Sustainable use' could include anything from trail bike riding to shooting safaris for hunting enthusiasts. And of course it also means logging.
There is no doubt that the native forest industry in NSW is in decline. For example, Forests NSW made a loss of more than $750,000 last year from operations in Southern Region native forests.There are also mounting rumours that the South East Fibre Exports wood chip mill at Eden is facing closure. Years of unsustainable logging, the collapse in international mixed native wood chip prices and the growing supply of consistent and cheap plantation wood chips have all contributed to this.
In these circumstances, you would expect to see an industry in retreat. However, the rhetoric from the forestry industry has been anything but diminished. Recent public statements from the forest industry sound very much like an aggressive new PR campaign to recast wood chipping native forests as a source of renewable and sustainable energy. The new plan is to chip and burn forests and in the process re-badge wood chipping as a source of green power.
The Policy Manager for the Australian Forest Products Association, Grant Johnson, recently explained that there was no conflict in the idea that a national park with high conservation value outcomes could have 'multiple' uses. He went on to say that that most of Australia was 'a cultural landscape anyway, subject to frequent burning by Aborigines', and therefore not in a 'pristine' or unaltered state.
The Executive Director of the NSW Forest Products Association even had a figure for the amount of additional land needed for logging. Russell Ainley said 'a little more than one million hectares' would be adequate.
He went on to list some of the forest reserves that might comprise part of the million hectares. They included Pine Creek, home to some of the last koala populations in NSW state forests; Queens Lake near Port Macquarie; Myall River, and the iconic Wollumbin and Whian Whian wilderness areas, created after the first forest protests in NSW.
But it's not just logging in national parks in the name of 'active forest management' that the timber industry is playing for. It also has its sights set on burning the State's native forests for electricity.
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