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The Forests Agreement to end all forestry disagreement?

By Simon Grove - posted Thursday, 16 December 2010

An outbreak of peace is threatened in the forests of Tasmania. We have a Forests Agreement to end all forestry disagreement. A victory for conservation and for common sense, surely? An end to native forest logging; a move to a plantations-based industry; compensation for retrenched loggers; increased reservation. It all sounds so thoroughly rational, surely the Principles should be rolled out nationally?

Sorry to spoil the party, but we seem to have neglected to consider whether conservation is best-served by forsaking native forestry in favour of a swing to plantations and imports. The pursuit of peace sounds worthy, but if it merely replaces a polarised social landscape with a polarised ecological landscape, delivers perverse anti-conservation outcomes, and costs hundreds of millions of dollars of taxpayers’ money in the process, I have to ask whether it’s all worth it.

The root of the “forestry problem”, as I see it, is that we have been conditioned by years of exposure to the forestry vilification campaign to reject any notion that native forestry and conservation might be good bedfellows. This is despite plenty of evidence that this is indeed the case. But we live in an intellectually lazy and largely urban society in which our understanding of what makes the bush tick is rudimentary; and our hearts often rule over our minds.


People are sick of the war on forestry and just want it to go away. These are the perfect conditions for environmental NGOs to become the de facto voice of authority on matters forestry, and the self-proclaimed arbiters of good taste in conservation. Professional foresters and conservation biologists have been largely disenfranchised. Why ask them for a lengthy explanation of why things are done the way they are, or how they could be done better, when you can make up your own answers and then go fishing for “evidence” to support your case, and when so many in society appear prepared to believe you?

Black-and-white is the new green. It reminds me of the old adage that the simple solution to any complex problem is usually the wrong solution. In the context of conservation, that’s where we are right now with this forests agreement.

It’s ironic that the phrase inconvenient truth was coined to support a pro-environment agenda (and with good reason), but in the war on forestry, it’s the environmental camp that prefers to operate in a knowledge vacuum. But war doesn’t decide who is right, merely who is left, and the environmental NGOs aren’t thinking of disbanding themselves any time soon. In the battle for hearts and minds, sound-bites can bite. Spin-doctors and wordsmiths form part of the corporate structures of modern ENGOs. They have excelled at hijacking the language of forestry and conservation. Science, other than psychology perhaps, doesn’t enter into it. Say something outrageous about forestry often enough and people start to assume it’s true.

There’s always got to be a war on the Western Front, and the foot-soldiers can learn all they need to know about it from the ENGOs themselves, aided by the complicity of the mainstream media who have normalised their greenspeak, column-inch by column-inch. High-conservation-value forests? Sure, we’ll add that term into our lexicon, and we won’t ask whether it has any scientific basis whatsoever as currently used (it doesn’t).

I care deeply about conservation, but I can no longer call myself a conservationist because these days the word has connotations of radical environmentalism. If you think I’m over-reacting, ask yourself how rarely you hear the word “forester” and how often you hear the word “logger” instead; and note too how the entire industry is dismissed as the “woodchipping industry”; how regeneration burns are branded “forestry burn-offs”; harvesting and regeneration is called “land-clearance”; and all harvesting is “clearfelling”, despite most being by non-clearfell methods.

And how, of course, the only certification show in town is the Forest Stewardship Council - the one scheme in Australia that allows ENGOs to effectively veto certification even if all the sustainability boxes have been ticked.


In this warped view of reality, all native forests are high-carbon-density forests, and are likely to stay that way forever unless harvested (best not to mention the massive carbon releases from the Victorian bushfires; nor that wood use is a form of carbon capture and sequestration that can displace more carbon-intensive materials like concrete, aluminium and steel).

The profession of forestry is frequently vilified by ENGOs: after all, in their book, it seems, we’re only in it for the money, or because we get some perverse satisfaction in killing trees and desecrating wild areas. But most foresters that I know “do” forestry because they like trees, forests, nature, people and wood - and the knowledge that the forest resource is one of the few that we know how to use sustainably.

In many other endeavours in society we are living on credit, using finite and non-renewable resources. We clearly can’t go on doing so indefinitely, but we can go on doing native forestry indefinitely - that is sustainably - if we do it well enough.

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About the Author

For the past nine years, Dr Simon Grove has been a conservation biologist in Forestry Tasmania’s Division of Forest Research and Development in Hobart. The views in this article are his own and are in no way attributable to his employer.

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