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Tasmanian honey in a jam

By Rich Bowden - posted Wednesday, 12 October 2005


Tasmania’s much publicised Community Forestry Agreement, jointly announced by Prime Minister John Howard and Tasmanian Premier Paul Lennon in May, does not go far enough in protecting Leatherwood resources to guarantee a viable future for the state’s honey industry according to an industry expert.

Warning of a “death by a thousand cuts,” Dr Pigot of the Tasmanian Beekeepers Association stated that the agreement fails to deliver sufficient reserve stands of Leatherwood trees and warned of a marked downturn in the industry.

“The industry in the south is on the rocks now and there are major operators there who will go out of business in the next three years if things are not done correctly,” he said.

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However government ministers have denied the agreement is detrimental to the state’s honey industry with Federal Minister for Forestry Senator Ian MacDonald describing the $250 million forest initiative as an attempt to both achieve environmental sustainability and ensure the survival of the state’s embattled timber industry.

“By implementing the agreement, the Government has not only added significant new reserves to bring the area of protected old-growth to more than one million hectares, it has also created an ambitious program to enhance growth in the Tasmanian forest industry and increase forestry jobs,” he said in a ministerial press release.

Senator MacDonald also noted that the agreement sets aside sufficient funding to support beekeeping and other industries reliant on the preservation of Tasmanian old growth forests.

Beekeepers though have long seen the logging companies’ indiscriminate and destructive practice of clearfelling and subsequent intense burning as responsible for the Leatherwood industry’s uncertain future and are disappointed that the agreement fails to implement changes to these less destructive forestry practices quickly enough.

Significant stands of the Leatherwood tree (Eucryphia lucida) are routinely felled by loggers along with the surrounding eucalypts despite being of low value as a timber resource. Following the clearing of the land, the organic layer of the ground area is subjected to high intensity burning to both encourage the germination of eucalypts which thrive in bushfire-like conditions and sterilise the soil of competitive trees such as the Leatherwood.

As a result of this continual reduction of the bees’ habitat, beekeepers have been forced into a marginal existence at the edge of forest areas or at higher altitudes where the flowering is affected by the colder temperatures and usually less reliable. Speaking on the ABC’s Landline program, Julian Wolfhagen, of the Tasmanian Honey Company estimated that, if present conditions continued, only enough resources for 10 years commercial Leatherwood honey production remained in the state’s forests.

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Citing responsible resource management as the key to the Leatherwood’s survival Dr Pigot has urged government agencies to utilise the $11.4 million earmarked in the forestry initiative for the beekeeping industry to implement an industry plan stating, “It’s more a question of effective use of a resource that’s God-given rather than how long has the industry got”.

The pure, unblended Leatherwood honey is made from the nectar of the rainforest Leatherwood tree and marketed extensively as a premium quality gourmet product. With around 45 per cent of the $2 million industry produced for overseas markets, the honey is an important export industry for the island state and trades on its carefully promoted image as a product of the clean and unspoiled Tasmanian environment. Famous for its uniquely strong and spicy flavour and distinctive aroma, Leatherwood accounts for over 70 per cent of the state’s honey industry.

However more than just the state’s iconic Leatherwood honey industry is at stake should honey producers lose their battle for survival according to Dr Pigot.

“There is a whole pollination industry in Tasmania dependent on the honeybee. Cherries, apricots, blueberries are all industries the Government is desperately trying to promote as high value Tasmanian agricultural products and all are dependent on the bees for pollination,” he said.

“There’s $180 million worth of agricultural production which is hanging off the bees which are hanging off the Leatherwood.”

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About the Author

Rich Bowden is a freelance news reporter and has had articles published in journals as varied as the conservative Asia Times and the progressive Green Left Weekly. Currently a contributing editor for the independent news site World Press Review and writer for the Dutch independent political and social policy think tank the Review of International Social Questions (RISQ), he lives in the Blue Mountains, west of Sydney, with his wife and two children.

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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