Following lengthy talks between industry, union and environment groups, an agreement between them has just been struck, and a joint statement of principles issued, that includes:
- Recognising the need to protect high conservation value forests and end ''industrial forestry'' of them in a timeframe to be agreed
- Restricting the burning of timber as biomass fuel to material sourced from plantations only
- Moving to ''a strong and sustainable industry based on a range of plantation-based industries including a pulp mill"
- The logging of some specialty timbers from these forests for purposes such as craftwood is allowed.
This is great news for Tasmania's remaining native forests, and potentially ends decades of conflict over the logging of native forests.
It is interesting to note that no politicians were involved in brokering the agreement. Forests have been a "political football" for some time, with both Labor and Liberal governments supporting their ongoing destruction for decades and ignoring the wishes of over 80% of the Australian population that want them protected.
There are many factors that have contributed to this outcome, including:
- Continued job losses within the native forest logging industry, despite ongoing access to native forests
- Gunns Corporation exiting native forest logging due to the unwillingness of Japanese buyers to purchase woodchips that are not subject to the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certified forestry practices
- The rising strength of the Australian dollar making export of woodchips unprofitable.
- Declining availability of native forests has forced governments to move loggers into highly contentious forest areas, which has provoked serious ongoing conflicts.
- A realisation that plantations can provide a much more reliable supply of wood with greatly reduced environmental impact - but only if they are appropriately managed.
- There is enough hardwood and softwood plantation resource currently available to enable industry transition out of native forests.
This follows the end of industrial-scale native forest logging in Queensland and Western Australia in the late 90s.
This agreement clearly sets a precedent for exiting native forest logging in Victoria and New South Wales too, where factors very similar to those in Tasmania are also relevant.
It is to be hoped that industry, union and environment groups in New South Wales and Victoria can achieve a similar excellent outcome after years of similar conflict and declining jobs in the native forest logging sector.
Forest protection is big issue in the upcoming 2010 Victorian State election. The Brumby government protected around 41,000 hectares of forest in September 2010, but this included many areas that were not high conservation-value forests (only around 11,000 hectare were old growth forests), and left many other high quality forest areas such as Brown Mountain unprotected from logging.
A compromised political outcome that only protects Melbourne's water catchments (less than 2% of Victoria's native forests logged annually) - will not be good enough.
- Era of protest ends in a principled peace, Sydney Morning Herald
- Historic deal on forests, The Age
- Forest Letter Watch
- Historic agreement to protect Tasmania's ancient forests, The Wilderness Society