Before I saw the light, it always amazed me how the folk at Forestry Tasmania and their many compliant friends in Parliament, their social media supporters and those who write splenetic letters to the editor denouncing so called ‘tree hugging greenies’ could be so certain they alone were right. Was their conviction just an act of faith given the scant science and the dubious economics of forest residues?
Horribly, back then when I wanted to be hurtful I would call those residues ‘woodchips’.
I was cruel and ignorant.
“We’ve been in the residue business for half a century. So where are the residuals?” I would ask. “Show me the money!” I used to foolishly demand. I’m sorry but it did seem we were the poorest state with low literacy, low wages and high welfare dependency.
Perhaps because I lacked faith myself I found staunch conviction without evidence a perplexing condition in others. Thus I made enemies everywhere. Even the odd angry wood turner would have put me through the lathe for my vile apostasy. And understandably so.
But hold on brothers! Now I am a believer. I’ve changed my mind. I’m with you tree fellers. I am now convinced the only good tree is a horizontal one and I’m going to tell you why.
It came to me on a recent visit to my ancestral Scotland. It was a glorious summer day, which over there is like a tolerable day in a Tasmanian winter.
I was striding up a beautiful glen with a clear but slightly peaty highland stream winding through it. The soft light, the towering clouds alternating sun with shade, the sound of water on stone, the steeply rising ferny hillsides, the craggy grey mountains looming beyond the vivid green of the glen and even a lark singing on high; it was Tasmania with a better view.
Then the epiphany struck. “This is only beautiful because I can see it. And why can I see the view? Because there are no bloody trees in the way!”
It was that simple.
Scotland is breathtakingly beautiful because you can see it. Scotland, I suddenly realised, is Tasmania without trees. Scotland with no trees attracts about 20 million visitors every year. Tasmania with too many trees gets only a bit over a million visitors.
In Scotland without trees, those tourists see their way clear and spend about 20 billion dollars. In Tasmania it’s only 2.5 billion dollars, which still isn’t bad, but think how much better it could be without trees.
The argument is finally settled by simple economics. You can make money by chopping down trees but you’ve got to be serious about it and you can’t let them grow back. The flaw in the FT model is you never get the economic benefit of this kind of Highland Clearance if you let the bloody things grow again.
In Roman times Scotland was wall-to-wall forest, so thick that two thousand years ago, a whole Roman Legion vanished forever. For a long time thereafter hardly anyone went there. Happily by the 16th Century the Great Caledonian Forest was completely gone, cleared for agriculture and shipbuilding.
Not long after, the visitors started to arrive. “Clear it and they will come!” became the catch cry of Scottish tourism. And, my new friends, it should be ours.
In times past when I was inclined to a bit of tree hugging I would take mainland visitors to a stand of giant Eucalyptus regnans in the Florentine Valley just past Maydena. “These are the tallest trees on earth.” I would foolishly boast.
My friends would gasp in admiration and crick their necks, craning to see trees soaring like 30-storey buildings up from the forest floor. In those days I couldn’t see the wood for the trees. I would take people a little further down the track to deride and disparage (I am now ashamed to admit) FT’s valiant but often futile attempts to clear the land. No sooner did they clear one coup than another started to grow.
Concentrating my attention on the smoldering and ruined landscape I failed to notice the dramatic appearance of spectacular mountain ranges that been obscured by the forest. What a shame FT erroneously thought they had to regrow those trees. They too would have benefited, as I have, from a trip to Scotland.
About 10 percent of Scotland is covered by trees, as opposed to about 50 percent of Tasmania, yet that tiny Scottish forest supports 40,000 jobs and adds almost $3.5 billion to the economy, without spoiling the view for the tourist.
Last time I looked we were losing money and not even getting on top of the tree problem. We need to lift our game and drop more trees.
There’s a growing alarm in the Scottish Highlands because the Forestry Commission of Scotland now has an ambitious and mad plan to regrow the ancient forest that once obliterated the best views on earth and swallowed a Roman Legion.
In that country, forestry has suddenly become unpopular, not because they are chopping down trees, but because they are putting them up again. I’m with the people who support bare hills and a great view.
Though I’m not going to be extreme here. Sometimes I find the occasional small tree in the landscape helps to balance my tourist photo.
*Charles Wooley is a legend of Australian journalism, partly through his history with Sixty Minutes
• Ted Mead in Comments: Yes Charles - a good tongue in cheek approach - The problem with your article is that many in Tas would take your epiphany as a devout Forester now, and are probably looking to enlist you as a FT clear-cut ambassador to all things draconian. Fortunately for me I introduced you to these forest giants in the Styx when we did that 60 mins take so I at least know where you’re coming from, whilst many others are probably scratching their heads with disbelief.