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Conveniently ignoring the facts

By Alan Ashbarry - posted Friday, 17 March 2006


On May 13, 2005, deep in the heart of the Styx Valley, the Prime Minister John Howard and Premier Paul Lennon signed the historic Tasmanian Community Forest Agreement. This agreement reserved one million hectares of old growth forest; permanently maintained the native forest estate at 95 per cent of the 1996 extent for public and private land; phased out 1080 in public forests; and reduced the clear felling of mature forest.

The agreement reserved environmental icons and outlined a transition for the timber industry to re-growth and plantation saw logs. As the agreement was based on the principles of sustainable development, balancing competing demands from the environment movement, the timber industry, and the community it was seen as a final compromise. It was not pleasing to all, but elements were applauded by all sides of the forest debate.

On March 6, 2006, the San Francisco based Rainforest Action Network (RAN) held protests at Australian embassies and consuls, to make a series of claims about Tasmanian forest practices; the government-owned forest manager, Forestry Tasmania; and a Tasmanian integrated timber sawmilling and processing company, Gunns Limited. This company is proposing an environmentally friendly elemental chlorine free pulp mill for Tasmania. RAN sought to give publicity to a report by the International Green movement and the views of a British MP on Tasmanian forests.

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The Rainforest Action Network (RAN) likened Tasmania’s forest practices to the rampant illegal logging in the third world, and claimed the last remaining old growth was being destroyed. This view of Tasmania, backed by many local activists, was projected onto the world stage and in letters to the Prime Minister. But what are the facts. Is Tasmania an international pariah, or is it in fact a saint?

The Convention of Biological Diversity is a good starting point for anyone who cares for our forests, plants and animals and our environment.

Its latest target is to conserve 10 per cent of forests world wide to protect biological diversity. Tasmania has met and passed this target and has reserved an outstanding 45 per cent of its total native forest, including over a million hectares of old growth (primary) forest (pdf file 267KB). Depending on which code of football you play, that’s a million soccer fields or about 1.5 million rugby fields.

Outside these reserves forests not required for reservation are managed for timber harvesting using sustainable principles and under the guidelines of the Forest Practices Code (pdf file 911KB) that protects environmental and cultural values. The independent Forest Practices Authority chaired by an independent chair, with expertise in public administration, environmental and natural resource management, demands that all forestry must have a forest practice plan (FPP) that accounts for cultural and environmental values, including rare and endangered flora and fauna.

The Authority also publishes statistics from approved FPP’s that show in 2004-2005 only 34,328 hectares of the total 3.2 million ha forest estate was planned for harvesting, of which only 12,600 ha was to be clear felled. Only about 10 per cent of this can be classed as old growth.

Tasmania’s forests are well managed and have been subject to official inquiries and reports for decades. Tall, old trees are “protected” in reservations and outside reserves by a tall trees policy that saves the biggest based on height and volume.

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Tasmania is a microcosm of Australia in general. Australia's forest and wood products industries have an annual turnover of more than $14 billion a year. The industry contributes about 7.5 per cent of Australia’s manufacturing output. Forest industries are Australia's second largest manufacturing industry. It is built upon the principles of sustainable forest management based on scientific evidence.

Australia’s forest management takes into account the unique character of our forest ecosystem and the particular requirements for sustainable management. It is based on Australia’s international agreements and commitments, national and state legislative frameworks, national standards and principles, national and regional policy initiatives, and agreed codes of forest practices. Management also incorporates the broad community expectations for sustainable forest management, addressing environmental, economic, social, and cultural and heritage issues.

Employment in the industry has increased 45 per cent over the last 10 years. Government figures show the industry employs over 86,400 people, with 13,400 people directly employed in forestry and harvesting. The majority are employed in value adding, such as veneer, pulp and paper mills.

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About the Author

Alan Ashbarry is the researcher for the 15 branches of Timber Communities Australia (TCA) in Tasmania. He has a deep commitment to people in communities that depend upon the sustainable management of Australian forests and acknowledges the pride that forest scientists, professional foresters and timber workers have in providing a renewable resource and in creating jobs that have long term benefit for society, the economy and the environment.

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