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I WOULD like to outline where most pragmatic Tasmanians can agree about the forestry industry, explain some of the difficulties in solving complex factors, and put forward solutions that should be acceptable to most people.

I am one of 2000 timber workers who derive their income from value-adding to less than 1 per cent of the harvested timber, our special species timbers (SSTs). This is where the greatest value-adding prospects occur and where Tasmania has an opportunity to expand our local industry and export high-class products to the rest of the world.

Our SSTs are unique, beautiful, strong, durable, stable and can be certified to the highest forest certification standard. These timbers include Category 1 eucalypt.

Here are some issues we can all agree on:

• Less than 10 per cent of production forests remain as old-growth, and this is where almost all of the debate and angst is occurring. So 90 per cent of the argument is about 10 per cent of the total forest production area.

• We all want a profitable, socially acceptable, sustainable forest industry.

• We must maximise local value-adding.

• Brand Tasmanian has lost its credibility because of the international condemnation of our forestry management practices. Everyone now needs to work together to restore its image.

• Forestry Tasmania (FT ) already accepts the need to further train timber classifiers and contractors to reduce the acknowledged wastage that occurs during harvesting.

• FT accepts that forests are being cut faster than SSTs are being allowed to recover.

• Tasmania already has a large proportion of the state in declared reserves, national parks and World Heritage areas.

• There is a need to lift our certification standard to the internationally accepted Forest Stewardship Council (FSC).

• Mechanical harvesting necessitates the need for some small-scale burning or removal of some slash.

• There is no social licence to build a pulp mill, as currently proposed, in the Tamar Valley.

• Eucalypt regrowth forests burn hotter and more catastrophically than old-growth forest (FT submission, Southwood Resource Huon, May 13, 2002).

• Aggregated retention (which is currently replacing clear-felling and burning) is a cosmetic change to conversion harvesting practices. It still involves clear-felling and burning more than 70 per cent (on average) of a coupe and conversion of these areas to a eucalypt regrowth forest and destroys the opportunity to sustainably harvest SSTs.

The difficulties

FURTHER problems with aggregated retention include 80 per cent loss of carbon to the atmosphere after harvesting; lowering of the water table and the reduction of surface water for many decades after harvesting; siltation of streams; destruction of the soil ecology; massive forestry burns in autumn; appalling post-harvest visual appearance; loss of forest habitat and ecological diversity for hundreds of years after harvesting; and finally, what affects me most profoundly, the felling of immature SSTs and massive wastage of felled timber.

In the southern forest, with the exception of some areas that are particularly rich in eucalypt because of their natural fire history (such as much of the Warra research site), on average about 20 per cent of the trees are eucalypt.

Hot burning the area after harvesting causes the loss of tree ferns and other understorey species, which are replaced by eucalypt. These crops create a far drier environment, populated with a far more flammable primary species. In other words, we are creating a potential fire bomb.

There are other proven and safe ways to harvest our forests. They cost about 20 per cent more to extract saw logs, but the forest essentially retains its ecological identity as a mature mixed-aged forest that can be sustainably managed without loss of quality or diversity, forever.

With a change to much lower-impact harvesting methods, any shortfall in eucalypt supply can be handled by opening up already mature eucalypt regrowth forests that are available now for harvesting. This simple change would make a profound difference to the harvesting rate in old-growth forests and solve much of the bitter division within our society.

The solutions

HERE are some possible solutions to these problems:

• Immediately end conversion forestry practices in mixed native forests.

• Immediately change eucalypt sawlog supply needs from harvesting old-growth forests to mature eucalypt regrowth forests (they are currently available and of sufficient volume).

• All remaining mature mixed native forest in timber production areas should be classified as Special Timber Management Units and use FSC standards for the management of these forests.

• Accept that FSC will declare considerable parts of these same forests as having high conservation value and their harvesting prescriptions may only allow such low-impact harvesting as helicopter logging (at present, economically infeasible in this state, though it is done overseas). This decision should placate those interest groups who would rather see these same forests put into reserves than allow FT to manage them in the current manner.

• If we can manage our mature native forests to this high standard, there should be no need for any more area of reserves to be declared within the state. Areas declared as having high conservation value by the FSC should have an immediate moratorium on any harvesting for 10 years.

• Oblige FT to publicly debate these subjects. Currently it is refusing to openly debate opposing views.

• When the general public can trust Forestry Tasmania again, there is a lot of sense in having a biomass power station or biochar plant to use harvesting detritus instead of some burning in the forest. But these must never be allowed to dictate forestry management policies the way woodchipping took over the forestry industry in Tasmania.

• Accept that light burning of some of the harvested area greatly enhances regeneration, and browsing animals need to be controlled or excluded for several years after harvesting.

• Oblige FT to release its secret audit on STMU’s and to write a management plan for SSTs such as celery top pine.

• Oblige FT to comply with the same environmental and planning laws as the rest of Tasmania.

• Remove the requirement to produce 300,000 tonnes of eucalypt sawlogs per annum and instead allow environmental and market pressures to determine harvesting levels.

• Introduce open-market tendering for all sawlog supplies.

• End the massive subsidisation of the forestry industries.

I trust that with a common purpose of solving the forestry debate these solutions can be acceptable to all parties.

Ian Johnston has been heavily involved in harvesting trials with Forestry Tasmania. He is a wooden boat builder and one of the founders of the Australian Wooden Boat Festival and Tasmanian Wooden Boat Guild. He also teaches woodcraft and sells SSTs. First published in Mercury


No progress on Forestry deal ...

The Federal Government says it is not involved in any discussions to restructure Tasmania’s forest industry.

Federal Forestry Minister Tony Burke has addressed the Tasmanian Farmers and Graziers Association conference in Launceston.

There has been speculation a deal to end old growth logging could be concluded soon.

The Federal Government will have to fund a substantial part of the industry restructure and assistance package.

Mr Burke says the Government has not committed any funding for a deal and has ruled out any announcement soon.

Story HERE

Kim Booth MP
Greens Pulp Mill spokesperson

The Tasmanian Greens today called on Gunns Limited to abandon their preference for a pulp mill in the Tamar Valley at Longreach in the interests of restoring community trust and faith in Tasmania’s forestry sector.

Greens Pulp Mill spokesperson Kim Booth MP said Gunns must accept responsibility for the corrupt approval process as they deliberately walked away from a proper assessment and instead colluded with Labor to impose a substandard process which did not assess the site in the same comprehensive manner as the Resource Planning and Development Commission (RPDC) process.

“The people of the Tamar Valley are rightfully concerned about the health and safety of their families which face unassessed threats from fine particle air pollution, poisonous emissions, a massive increase in log truck movements, and serious pollution and contamination of coastal waters,” said Mr Booth.

“None of these issues were properly assessed by the corrupt Gunns/Labor fast-track approval, leaving generations of Tasmanians to suffer the consequences of a corrupt approval.”

“One hundred thousand people live under the Tamar Valley inversion layer which acts as a lid to contain poisonous gasses, including methyl mercaptan and hydrogen sulphide, which both present a serious risk to health, and may also render Launceston and its surrounds uninhabitable at times, due to the offensive stench that is the hallmark of pulp mills worldwide.”

“Launceston residents clearly remember the description of RPDC Commissioner Julian Green retching violently during an unannounced pulp mill visit in Europe as part of the proper but abandoned assessment RPDC process. No wonder Gunns conspired with Labor to cut and run from the RPDC, which later described Gunns data as critically deficient.”

“With the possibility of certification from the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) for Tasmanian timbers, Gunns would be foolish to divert all of its wood supply into a low value single product. The industry should instead be based around solid sawn timber with the myriad of other value-adding and job generating opportunities that will flow from a supply of sawn FSC certified timber.”

“If Gunns want to regain trust and support from the Tasmanian community they must become part of the community rather than trying to constantly dictate to that community.”

“To achieve the consensus that all Tasmanians desperately want in the forest sector, Gunns must abandon any plans for a mill based on the corrupt fast-tracked approval, and if they still want to proceed with a low employment mill, they return to the drawing board, and have a proper assessment process,” said Mr Booth.


Minister says forestry revamp funding possible

The Federal Government will consider funding a restructure of Tasmania’s forest industry.

There is speculation a deal to restructure the industry is imminent.

In Launceston yesterday, Federal Forestry Minister Tony Burke was unable to shed any light on the negotiations but did say he will consider any proposal.

“There’s been speculation over the last few days that somehow I’m sitting at a table negotiating these issues. I’m not,” he said.

Tasmania’s Primary Industries Minister Bryan Green has spoken to his federal counterpart about funding

“Obviously, if there’s to be any restructuring of the industry here in Tasmania, well then, it will rely on the Commonwealth being the banker for that restructuring process,’ Mr Green said.

Conservationists and members of the timber industry are expected to meet again today.

Story HERE