*Pics: Jenny Weber says: The images in this article are photographed in the threatened coupe, inside the blue tags. There is further comment, Comment 21, below ...
Controversial planned logging by Forestry Tasmania on Arve Rd in July/August 2015, using cable logging clearfall practices
• Forestry Tasmania Lockout
Conservationists are calling for an immediate halt to planned logging as Forestry Tasmania conducts a lockout on a main tourism route Arve Rd near Geeveston in southern Tasmania for the next six weeks and log ancient forests surrounded by five registered giant Eucalyptus trees.
Bob Brown Foundations Jenny Weber states, ‘Forestry Tasmania is closing Arve Rd tomorrow (July 21), locking out access to the Hartz Mountains National Park, Tahune Airwalk and Tasmania’s Wilderness World Heritage Picton River, Farmhouse Creek and the upper Huon River, while foolishly logging a region of globally unique towering giant trees.’
‘Premier Hodgman is putting logging ahead of tourism. We call for a halt to logging of this forest. Tasmania’s community would benefit from protecting this threatened forest as the five registered giant trees are located right alongside a main route used by tens of thousands of tourists.
“These forests surrounded by giant trees provides an ideal opportunity for a giant tree bushwalk in intact forest rather than another outrageous case of logging the scenery,’ Jenny Weber said.
‘This shows how absurd is Forest Minister Paul Harris’ claim that logging and tourism work together,’ Jenny Weber said.
‘Forestry Tasmania is using extreme logging practices such as cable logging on steep slopes, and clear felling in old growth forests.
“Worse still the majority of the forest will end up as woodchips, and this contentious timber will supply the controversial Sarawak logging company Ta Ann, what an appalling waste of Tasmania’s unique forests,’ Bob Brown Foundation’s Campaign Manager Jenny Weber concluded.
• Former Gunns boss Greg L’Estrange (above) warns new biomass industry needs a ‘social licence’
Editor: Greg L’Estrange is so right ... First Fleet Fossils appear to know no other way than dig-it-up-chop-down-if-it-doesn’t-move-root-it. And, so very sadly, it appears Forest Furnaces are the new Woodchipping ... here we go again ...
The former head of Gunns believes Tasmanian politicians and the forest industry need to heed the lessons of the past if any new biomass industry is going to attract investment.
Greg L’Estrange told ABC Radio National’s Background Briefing program he was not confident there had been enough change since the demise of the timber company and the mothballing of its $2.5 billion Tamar Valley pulp mill.
The pulp mill project, which is being offered for sale by the company’s receivers, faced significant community opposition, with many arguing the project failed to gain a “social licence”.
Last month the Senate passed a bill to include native forest biomass in the revised Renewable Energy Target (RET), lifting hopes in Tasmania of an energy industry powered by native wood waste.
The state’s forest industry produces millions of tonnes of residues each year and the Tasmania Government has called for expressions of interest from the private sector to use residues in the south, possibly in a biomass plant.
The forest industry is hoping to see a range of European-style biomass energy proposals for native wood waste.
But it is feared the burning of native residues to create electricity will become the “new woodchipping” industry which has been at the centre of decades of conflict.
Mr L’Estrange told Background Briefing there was a “right to log” attitude that was deeply entrenched in south-eastern Australia which he believed went as far back as the First Fleet.
He said when Gunns announced it was not going to use native timber for the pulp mill there was view from Tasmanian MPs that Gunns had “ratted” on the industry.
“They didn’t want to understand our positioning and I think from that point, in certain circles, we were dead meat in the process,” he said.
He said doubted there would be investment in a biomass industry unless transparency and sustainability issues were addressed.
“You have to be much more transparent than people ever had to be and you have to do things properly because if you don’t do things the right way, what I call the ‘people’s police’ will be out, they will hold you to account,” he said.
“They will use social media then to affect your financial wellbeing and, if you lose your financial wellbeing, you are no longer in any industry.
Mr L’Estrange said some of the “old behaviours” still existed.
• The Background Briefing Transcript on burning native forests ...
Gregg Borschmann: The eucalypt dominated native forests of Australia contain some of the world’s most decorative and prized hardwoods.
Iconic species—black butt, brush box, karri, Tassie oak, turpentine—and they’ve all been at the centre of this country’s longest running environmental conflict, over logging and woodchipping.
Reporter [archival]: The police are mobilising now to move in here, and we know also that they intend to hassle this camp.
Gregg Borschmann: Four decades on from those early protests, the ‘forest wars’ look set to continue. The latest argument is over the role of native forests in tackling climate change. Should they be locked up as carbon stores, with the potential to generate billions of dollars in carbon credits?
David Lindenmayer: We know that we’re talking about very big numbers, in the order of several billion dollars over the next five years. And we know this from detailed modelling that’s been done at ANU. But interestingly, the federal government’s own modelling shows virtually the same thing as the ANU modelling. All we have to do is shut down native forest logging and move our source of wood products to plantations.
Gregg Borschmann: That’s David Lindenmayer from the Australian National University.
On the other hand, should the forests continue to be logged, with the waste burnt for renewable energy, thereby saving jobs in a declining and financially struggling industry?
Richard Colbeck: Most countries around the world have a strategy for generating energy, whether it be direct electricity or largely thermal energy, utilising residues from their forestry operations. We don’t. I think we should. We need to be prepared to make the decision that we are going to have a native forest industry. I don’t think that that has actually permeated through the political process. That’s one of the things that I’d like to generate as part of my legacy in the portfolio.
Gregg Borschmann: That’s Senator Richard Colbeck, the Federal Parliamentary Secretary responsible for forestry.
The native forest timber industry has been bedevilled by argument over woodchipping ever since exports started in the 1960s. It was meant to be the by-product of a sawlog driven industry. But with more intensive harvesting and questionable environmental outcomes, green groups called woodchipping ‘the tail wagging the dog’. That’s now acknowledged by Senator Colbeck, one of the architects of Australia’s current forest policy,
Richard Colbeck: Well, look, I think that there’s no question that a certain sector of the native forest industry became a key driver and that’s the woodchip sector. That was unfortunate but it was an economically viable sector at the time.
Gregg Borschmann: Out in the bush, the foresters noticed how the demand for woodchips changed the logging game.
Pat Murphy: Yeah, that just left them open slather to do what they liked. They had to keep their trucks running, so quality of timber that went out went out the window because they had to get quantity. They could make just as much money by sending ten loads out a day of woodchip as what they could do on two loads of quality timber. They had big investments in their trucks, they had to keep them on the roads to make money, make payments.
Gregg Borschmann: Logging in native forests is regulated by Australia’s ten Regional Forest Agreements, known as RFAs. They were introduced almost 20 years ago and were meant to buy peace in the forests. But they’ve proved to be highly contentious, and they’re soon up for renewal over the next few years.
The RFAs set the rules for logging and woodchipping, but times have changed. International markets have become increasingly wary of woodchips from environmentally disputed native forests in Australia.
Greg L’Estrange: The profitability of the native forest woodchip business had almost shrunk to zero and volumes were in decline as well. Regardless of what we thought of the native forest industry ourselves, we could see what was happening to the markets.
Gregg Borschmann: That’s Greg L’Estrange, former CEO of Tasmanian timber company Gunns.
In Tasmania, forest harvest levels have collapsed by almost 80% over the past decade. But with the decline of export woodchipping, there’s another option. It’s known as native forest biomass, and it can be burned for renewable energy production. That option has been banned for the past four years, but it’s now back on the table.
Senator Colbeck again:
Richard Colbeck: Well, if you look at what’s happening in Europe, in some countries up to 50% of their renewable energy comes from biomass, and that comes from both plantation and native forest. And again, Australia is quite an outlier in that space.
Gregg Borschmann: Hello and welcome to Background Briefing. I’m Gregg Borschmann.
Biomass is meant to be the waste left over after harvesting a patch of forest for prime sawlogs. But one recent government-funded study in Victoria shows that waste could be over 90% of everything that’s cut, including what used to go for woodchips, any sub-prime logs, pulp and paper logs, and the residues from sawmills.
Senator Colbeck says the future of the forestry sector should be driven by new, high value products, including emerging wood-based extracts.
Richard Colbeck: You’re looking at things like nano-crystalline cellulose that’s been developed in Canada. Some suggest that up to 30% of a motor vehicle could be generated out of that product. It’s got high strength, it’s light, it can replace some of the other petrochemical-based products in a motor vehicle. So they’re the sorts of things that are coming down the line.
Gregg Borschmann: In the meantime, burning native forest biomass is seen as the more immediate saviour of a shrinking industry.
Richard Colbeck: We need to have a market for everything that comes out of the forest. You need to have a market for residues as well as the high-quality product, otherwise it’s not going to be economically viable.
Gregg Borschmann: But according to others, Australia’s native forests could be much more economically viable, and sustainable, with a different approach. It’s an approach that the foresters and politicians are struggling with.
In coming years, billions of dollars of carbon credits could be up for grabs, not by burning native forest woodwaste for electricity, but rather shutting down the financially struggling logging sector.
From the Fenner School at the ANU, Professor David Lindenmayer:
David Lindenmayer: The numbers are really quite staggering. What they show is that if we stopped logging native forests, that would give us about 38 million tonnes of carbon emissions credits on an annual basis.
Gregg Borschmann: At the current price of $14 a tonne, the credits from 38 million tonnes of carbon a year, over five years, would exceed the government’s entire Emissions Reduction Fund, as it currently stands.
Senator Colbeck says the native forest carbon numbers are inflated, and that the carbon credits are being used as ‘political constructs’ by those who want to shutdown native forest logging.
Richard Colbeck: I don’t support that process. I don’t, quite frankly, believe the numbers that are being put forward because I’ve looked at the science from CSIRO, I’ve looked at the science from very eminent Australian forest carbon scientists, and they quite clearly show that a well-managed forest can provide…harvested and managed over time, can provide a better carbon outcome than one that’s just left fallow. I know that particular interests were pushing that line, but the genuine forest science doesn’t support it.
Gregg Borschmann: One of the forest carbon scientists that Senator Colbeck refers to is Fabiano Ximenes. He’s a research scientist with the NSW Department of Primary Industries.
Fabiano Ximenes: What we’ve found is that a lot of the times the published research tends to overlook a lot of the essential components of the carbon cycling forest products. So they do a very good job of looking at the forest carbon side of things, but I think there are quite a few omissions when it comes to tracking the fate of carbon in wood products, and that’s where I think there’s a big point of contention.
And if you look at the fossil fuel displacement impacts of using biomass or bio-energy, when you combine those things with the carbon that’s actually stored in the forest in a production scenario, then you see that after multiple rotations you actually get a better…a more beneficial greenhouse outcome.
Gregg Borschmann: That analysis is disputed by David Lindenmayer.
David Lindenmayer: We know from detailed measurements at many hundreds of sites that over 60% of the forest biomass is actually logging waste. We also know that only 2% of the biomass is in long term sawn wood products like furniture. The other 2% actually gets converted to beer pallets which have a life cycle of about three to four months before they make their way to landfill. The heroic assumptions made in that analysis simply don’t stack up when you actually measure what’s happening in forests like the mountain ash forests of Victoria.
Gregg Borschmann: Last year, David Lindenmayer helped prepare a confidential brief for the federal Environment Minister, Greg Hunt. It was on the carbon values of the Victorian ash forests. Background Briefing has a copy of this brief. It’s never been formally released. The document quantifies the amount of carbon that could be saved every year by not logging those ash forests: it’s 3 million tonnes a year. That would be worth more than $40 million, based on the current price of the Australian carbon credit unit. Victoria’s forest corporation, VicForests, says the real carbon saving and its dollar value is less than a quarter of that.
Nathan Trushell is general manager of stakeholders and planning.
Nathan Trushell: We’ve done the sums based on the methodology that that number was arrived at. We arrive at a much, much lower number. If you were to use that methodology, somewhere in the order of $6 million, maybe $7 million.
Gregg Borschmann: Per year?
Nathan Trushell: Per annum. Again, that does not take into account the fact if you were to stop timber harvesting, that there would be a substitute effect that may have a high carbon impact. Again, I don’t say that to criticise the work of anyone. I think information is becoming better understood in this space and it’s an evolving space. So we need to be very careful about arriving at numbers while we’re still trying to understand this.
Gregg Borschmann: Background Briefing can reveal that the numbers in that confidential brief for the federal Environment Minister were crunched using the federal government’s own model. It’s called FullCAM, that’s an acronym for Full Carbon Accounting Model. It’s a model that’s been developed over about the last 15 years to catalogue and report on Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions in agriculture and forestry. It’s cost tens of millions of dollars to refine. Four years ago, it was used to calculate for the first time how much carbon Australia could save if it stopped native forest logging.
David Lindenmayer again:
David Lindenmayer: If we were to stop logging say for example on the 1st of January 2016, up to the 2020 period, which is when we have to meet our -5% emissions reduction target, we would save about 190 million tonnes of carbon emissions, which is about 80% of the carbon abatement task to 2020. Some people think that those numbers are actually conservative, we can actually go even higher than 80% when we start to think more deeply about what’s going on, but 80% is probably the absolute minimum.
Gregg Borschmann: So would government be aware of these figures?
David Lindenmayer: Absolutely they would be because similar kinds of modelling have been done within government.
Gregg Borschmann: Government modelling on what would happen if logging reduces in Australia’s native forests, and the amount of carbon that could be saved, has been a tightly guarded secret. Until now. In recent years, it’s has been thought that this work was only happening at the ANU. But David Lindenmayer says people inside government have also been doing similar research.
David Lindenmayer: There are people within government agencies who have been doing this kind of analysis and there’s been a lot of dialogue and discussion between people at ANU and people within government, sharing of information, discussion of results, off-the-record discussions about what people are finding. And so we know that there’s a very strong similarity between what the ANU results show and what the results of government modelling shows.
Gregg Borschmann: David Lindenmayer says this revelation creates a problem for the federal government. That’s because state forest agencies like VicForests and carbon researchers like Fabiano Ximenes are casting doubt on the large carbon abatement that the ANU says is available.
David Lindenmayer says the ANU estimates are remarkably similar to the government estimates.
David Lindenmayer: Well, the government can’t have it both ways. If these numbers are right, that means that there’s a huge amount of carbon stored in native forest. If the numbers are wrong, then we’re in real trouble because that suggests that Australia’s carbon accounting methodology is deeply flawed and we cannot faithfully and accurately report to the United Nations on emissions from native forest management. You can’t have it both ways. Either the forests are a very significant store of carbon, or the entire carbon methodology is flawed.
Gregg Borschmann: Rather than buying carbon credit units, the government has decided it will help revive the timber industry by subsidising the burning of native forest biomass through the renewable energy target.
The future of biomass is directly linked to the federal and state rules that regulate logging under the Regional Forest Agreements. They’re up for renewal soon. The Greens—supported by Labor—want a parliamentary inquiry into the new RFAs. Senator Colbeck says any such inquiry will be a ‘witch-hunt’.
Richard Colbeck: Unfortunately there are a group who have an ideological view that there should be no native forest harvesting in this country. That’s why they’ve attacked the woodchip sector so strenuously over the years. And so they’ll do anything that they possibly can, they’ll say anything at a particular point in time to drive their objective.
Gregg Borschmann: The Regional Forest Agreements in the four key logging states of New South Wales, Victoria, Tasmania and Western Australia start expiring from 2017. Greens Senator Janet Rice says that 20 years of experience shows that the RFAs have been a failure for both industry and the environment.
Janet Rice: We reckon that it’s really time to take a step back and take a really good look and say, well, have Regional Forest Agreements achieved what they set out to do, of maintaining employment and maintaining the industry at the levels it was and protecting the forest environment? And on a first look at the evidence, it’s pretty clear that they have failed on both counts.
Gregg Borschmann: Over the past decade, Australia’s native forest sector has experienced rapid decline. Nationally, employment has fallen by more than a quarter, and harvest levels have dropped 60%.
Richard Colbeck: Well, that’s basically because we keep on taking away land mass from them, so that the areas available to them continue to be removed as part of a political rather than a sustainable forest management process.
Gregg Borschmann: Senator Colbeck is right. Over the past two decades, with the expansion of the conservation reserve system, forest harvesting is now concentrated in smaller areas of public native forest.
Last year, Prime Minister Tony Abbott said that too much of Australia had been ‘locked up’ in national parks. The PM made it clear again this year at the foresters annual dinner at Parliament House in Canberra where his sympathies lie:
Tony Abbott: The point that I tried to make last year and I want to make again this year is that you are the original conservationists. You see a forest and you see a thing of beauty, but not just something of beauty, you see something which can be very useful to humanity. So I regard you as the ultimate conservationists. I regard you as people who are friends of our environment. Thank you so much.
Gregg Borschmann: The fact is native forests are no longer the mainstay of Australia’s timber industry. Those days are long gone. More than 80% of the total wood supply now comes from plantations. So why was the government so determined to re-include native forest biomass in the renewable energy target?
Richard Colbeck says it was important to save the native forest sector from those who simply want to shut it down.
Richard Colbeck: I think that the opposition by environmental NGOs to native forest residues as part of the renewable energy system has been an ideological one because they know that if the forest industry doesn’t have an avenue to dispose of its residues, the whole industry is not viable. Knowing that their objective is to close down the native forest industry entirely, that’s a very viable way for them to achieve that outcome.
Gregg Borschmann: So finding markets for these residues is critical. Without woodchips, what else is there?
Greens Senator Janet Rice visited the Kuark forest in East Gippsland in May. Parts of the disputed forest are slated for logging this year. Janet Rice says that most of the timber projected to come out of the Kuark would previously have been woodchipped for export
Janet Rice: Up until the end of last year, those woodchips would have been exported through the woodchip mill at Eden. The woodchip mill said at the end of last year it no longer had markets for that and it was no longer taking wood from East Gippsland, so that you’ve got now a situation where 90% of that timber is looking for another market. And that’s where the biomass industry is showing great interest in burning nine out of ten logs that are coming out of that magnificent forest, burning it for energy production.
Gregg Borschmann: Greens forest spokesperson Janet Rice.
The Australian Forest Products Association says that the existing rules under the Regional Forest Agreements will ensure the management of biomass is sustainable. That’s disputed by the environment movement, which says that biomass, like woodchips, will drive the intense harvesting of native forests. The RFAs lock in the volumes that have to be delivered to the sawmills.
The mid-north coast of NSW has historically been an important timber area. Former forestry supervisor Pat Murphy worked there. He says there was ‘immense pressure’ to find the required amount of timber.
Pat Murphy: You had to get that timber out. If you weren’t getting the timber out, you weren’t doing the job that you were supposed to be doing. The idea of looking after the forest went out the window. You just had to get wood out.
Gregg Borschmann: Pat Murphy says increasing mechanisation made the problem worse.
Pat Murphy: Instead of having blokes with a couple of chainsaws going through cutting, you had machines in there just tearing it down. It went from 2 to 3 loads a day to up to 10 or 12 loads a day. You had just a massive machine going through that was cutting the timber down. It could just tear timber out of there so quick.
Gregg Borschmann: Most of those 10 or 12 truckloads that Pat Murphy is talking about were carting reject logs to the woodchip mill at nearby Tea Gardens, north of Newcastle and Port Stephens. The better quality logs, the sawlogs, are called a quota log. Sawmillers pay a premium for them. And it’s the same for a long straight girder or pole log. Pat Murphy says if a woodchip truck arrived at the log dump and there were no defect logs for chipping, the good logs got loaded instead by the logging and haulage contractors.
Pat Murphy: They had to keep their trucks running, so quality of timber, that went out the window because they had to get quantity. They could make just as much money by sending ten loads out a day of woodchip as what they could do on two loads of quality timber. They had big investments in their trucks, they had to keep them on the roads to make money, make the payments. You could see good quality poles, quota, going out on chips straight to Tea Gardens.
Gregg Borschmann: A bit further north, Background Briefing visited the Bruxner Park forest near Coffs Harbour with Nick Roberts, the CEO of Forestry Corporation NSW, and Dean Kearney, Senior Manager of Planning. Nick Roberts has driven the increasing mechanisation of forest harvesting in NSW since taking up the top job. He’s proud of the results. I asked him if it meant more timber was being taken.
Nick Roberts: No, I don’t think it has. I think it has led to significantly improved safety outcomes, so people are much safer than walking through the bush on the end of a chainsaw. No, I think in terms of volumes it wouldn’t have made a significant difference, but yes, better operating environment, safer operating environment.
Gregg Borschmann: In 2009, the NSW Auditor General warned that the forests of the NSW north coast were being over-cut. The Auditor General also warned that production costs would continue to rise as timber had to be hauled further and yields decreased.
I asked Nick Roberts what was going to turn that around.
Nick Roberts: What we have to do is work very closely with our contractors who help us harvest and extract the logs from the forest to make sure that we do everything we can to contain those costs. Within our business, I mentioned that we’re in the process of turning around what has been a loss-making position into a profit position for the business.
Gregg Borschmann: About 150 field staff have been lost in the past four years as part of the cost cutting. They are responsible for marking up sensitive or protected areas, which trees are to be logged and which need to be protected. So I asked Nick Roberts who was going to be the forestry ‘cop on the beat’ if there were no more field staff.
Nick Roberts: We haven’t got to the point of saying there will be no markup. There will be questions about whether in some particular situations we might be able to use technology rather than using a spray can and a guy literally walking up to a boundary and spraying a tree with a white dot or a mark of some form.
Gregg Borschmann: Nick Roberts’ colleague, forestry planner Dean Kearney, says that after almost two years of trials, 27 iPads have just been bought to install in all the harvesting machines in the region. With a GPS to track their position in the forest, an iPad and satellite mapping, the idea is to give cutters in their harvesting cabs a detailed picture of the forest.
Dean Kearney: Well, I guess it’s revolutionised our business. It means that rather than our guys walking around with old maps with known levels of inaccuracy, they can actually go directly to things like the drainage lines and make sure they’re protected in the place they actually are on the ground. It used to be that there was drainage lines mapped that ran across ridges and over roads and whatnot, now we actually have a really good, accurate picture of where all those features are.
Gregg Borschmann: The old forest maps were often wrong, says former supervisor Pat Murphy. But he says a bigger problem was that forest harvesting plans—the plans that set out how an area is to be cut—were very seldom adhered to. He says logging operations that broke the rules weren’t shut down.
Pat Murphy: Things were just covered up regularly, trees going into filter strips, they’d be snuck out and cover it all up. Yeah, rainforest has been logged but it wasn’t mapped. Anyone with half a brain could go out there and grab a harvest plan and go through it, and walk through that bush and they could pick out a dozen things quite easily. Wrong. Could shut down the harvest operation.
Gregg Borschmann: Did that ever happen?
Pat Murphy: No.
Gregg Borschmann: Pat Murphy resigned six years ago because of the way the forests were being over-cut. And he says it wasn’t just his patch on the mid-north coast.
Pat Murphy: No, go and have a look at any other forest. You go further north there in Casino, it was flogged out years ago. Yeah, you’re likely to find quota logs up there. Around the Hunter now it’s all the same, it’s all been flogged. South coast, you can talk to people down there and they’ll tell you that the bush isn’t there, there’s no timber left in it. I’m not saying that they can’t still produce some timber but there’s no way they can keep up with these quotas. Even if they were to change their logging practices and go on to steeper country, the timber’s still not there.
Gregg Borschmann: Background Briefing put Pat Murphy’s comments to the Parliamentary Secretary for forests, Senator Richard Colbeck. Did they concern him?
Richard Colbeck: Well, it does, because that doesn’t meet the test about long-term sustainability of the industry. We need to be managing our forests for the forest products and also the environmental services that are sustainable over that 100, 200, 300 year cycle. It might be that in certain types of forests you can harvest every 60 years and in other forests it might be 90 years. Others it could be a lot longer. Managing the forest in accordance with what’s best for that forest and also what’s sustainable but in a regime that also meets the other environmental values because they’re equally as important. If you don’t do that, you’ll end up with the concerns that are being expressed.
Gregg Borschmann: Pat Murphy says he didn’t see the long cutting cycles that Senator Colbeck talks about. He says by the time he finished up in 2009, some areas were being re-cut on cycles of two and three years.
Background Briefing met another forest worker on the mid-north coast, in a recently logged coupe on the main range north of Taree. Ray Harvison is a haulage contractor. He’s been in the industry for four decades, and is well known and respected in the local tightknit timber community. He doesn’t like what he’s seeing now.
Ray Harvison: Yeah, they do a lot of knocking things over where they shouldn’t to go to get one tree. The old days you’d put one track in and you’d fall that tree and you’d pull the winch rope out and snig it back up past that one, but you wouldn’t go down and knock it down. If there was something in front of the tree you had to fall, you’d fall that one first and let it go down. There was no mess like there is now.
Gregg Borschmann: Ray Harvison, like Pat Murphy, is an understated bushie. But he says what he’s seeing is murder.
Ray Harvison: You know, there’s a lot of young regrowth that’s been smashed to pieces, where that shouldn’t happen. Yeah, well, it’s murder. It’s close enough to murder, isn’t it. You’ve only got to have a look just here.
I love driving around the forest and that. Now you come up for a drive or something like that or bring people up the bush and have a bit of a look about and they’ll just say to you, ‘What’s happened here?’ And then you tell them what’s going on a bit and they can’t believe it. Not like it used to be.
Gregg Borschmann: Ray Harvison says he fears for his job. Not because he’s speaking out, but because he’s worried there’s little harvestable timber left in his area.
I put his concerns to Senator Richard Colbeck.
Richard Colbeck: Look, there’s no question that in some places the issue about the long-term sustainability of our forests is one that we need to confront and address. Quite frankly, that’s the fundamental tenant for me of how we ought to be establishing our forest industry. It needs to be done in a sustainable way, there’s no question about that.
Gregg Borschmann: Background Briefing has a statutory declaration from a landowner on the mid-north coast, Peter Roberts. He was at a community consultation meeting in March last year at Wauchope. He sat at a table with prominent forest chiefs. They were discussing proposed new logging rules for NSW native forests.
This is a reading from that stat dec:
Reading: One of the forestry staff said, ‘The hardwood forests along the coast have been flogged to death, there’s no decent sawlogs left, the timber’s all gone.’ I said, ‘I go into the forests around here all the time, and to me there’s still some good timber left.’ He said, ‘No, no, it’s all stuffed, we’ve got to get rid of it, put in plantation.’
Gregg Borschmann: Back in the Bruxner Park Forest, I asked Forestry Corporation chief Nick Roberts if senior staff were giving him the same advice, that the local forests were ‘stuffed’.
Nick Roberts: No, that’s not my assessment. You’re sitting in a forest at the moment in Bruxner Park where we were harvesting late last year. The sawlogs were extracted from this forest and supplied to our customers. There are many, many other operations working today doing exactly that.
What we need to do, as our harvesting progresses across the landscape, there’s a continual moving from different parts of the coast up into the tablelands and around and about the state forests that we have.
Gregg Borschmann: The new Regional Forest Agreements will have to ensure that the logging quotas are sustainable, says Senator Richard Colbeck.
Richard Colbeck: I suspect that in some places there will be some very difficult decisions that need to be made around the availability of timber, and particularly in some cases in the context of contracts moving forward.
Gregg Borschmann: So cuts to volumes, cuts to future contracts, cuts to sustainable use?
Richard Colbeck: Well, potentially cuts to existing contracts that are promising yields that…and if they’re not there, those are the decisions that will have to be made, quite frankly. But the industry needs to be set up in a way where it’s based on a sustainable yield. That’s the only way that people are genuinely going to make investments into the future. That needs to be clearly understood and visible to industry. That’s the only way that you’re going to have strong levels of public trust.
Gregg Borschmann: In Tasmania, public trust about the sustainability of forestry was critical for the proposed $2.5 billion Bell Bay pulp mill. That’s according Greg L’Estrange, former CEO of Gunns.
L’Estrange says he met with federal and state politicians—Liberal and Labor—to tell them the company would not be taking any timber from native forests. L’Estrange says this was a condition imposed by Gunns’ financial backers. They were concerned about the public perception of unsustainable harvesting in native forests. Greg L’Estrange says he raised this condition at a meeting to Tasmanian Liberal Senators Eric Abetz and Richard Colbeck.
Greg L’Estrange: The reaction was I think they didn’t understand our position and certainly our view that that’s where our future lay. It’s almost if we…I think we’ve used the terminology ‘ratted on the industry’. It certainly was one that they didn’t want to understand our positioning. And I think from that point in certain circles we were dead meat in the process.
Gregg Borschmann: Senator Colbeck denies the claim.
Richard Colbeck: Oh well, that’s simply not true. I’ve always been a supporter of the pulp mill at Bell Bay and I still am. And as I said to you, I know the proposal is still alive and I think it should be built.
Gregg Borschmann: On a subsequent visit to Canberra with one of Gunns’ high level global investors, Greg L’Estrange says he couldn’t secure a meeting with the then leader of the opposition, Tony Abbott. L’Estrange and the financier met instead with Liberals Andrew Robb and Richard Colbeck.
Greg L’Estrange: It was a positive meeting but the calibre certainly reflected in my mind that we weren’t getting the support for the project, which I had trouble understanding at the time.
Gregg Borschmann: And do you directly link this to your attitude, Gunns’ attitude at the time to exit native forest? Was that the problem?
Greg L’Estrange: I believe it was.
Gregg Borschmann: Why?
Greg L’Estrange: Well, Gunns had a long history and a very proud history in the native forest area. This goes to the psyche of being in logging in Tasmania. I think that attitude is a right to log, and you have to understand that most of the areas, particularly along coastal Australia, were opened up by loggers. It’s back to the First Fleet. It’s a deep entrenched view of it is a right.
Gregg Borschmann: Senator Colbeck says it that wasn’t an argument over logging native forests that caused Gunns’ problems.
Richard Colbeck: I think that Gunns themselves left the native forest industry swinging by what they did, but my support for the pulp mill at Bell Bay, based on the plantations grown here in Australia, has never ebbed, and Greg and I have had those conversations and a couple of them have been quite frank.
Gregg Borschmann: Gunns’ problem, Gunns’ position was that their bankers and financial backers were demanding that; that they be only plantation based, that they not be in the native forest sector.
Richard Colbeck: I understand that, I had those conversations, and they made the decision to get out of native forest. They made the decision for the pulp mill to be based on plantation, simply a commercial decision, and I understand why they made that decision. But I think that their demise was not based on that, it was based on other things.
Gregg Borschmann: After three decades in the timber industry, Greg L’Estrange says he doubts there will be significant investment in a new industry burning biomass for renewable energy unless politicians and the industry truly understand the need for transparency and sustainability.
Greg L’Estrange: You actually have to be much more transparent than people ever thought you had to be, and you have to do things properly. Because if you don’t do things the right way, what I call the people’s police will be out, they will hold you to account, they will use social media then to affect your financial wellbeing. If you lose your financial wellbeing, you’re not long in any industry.
Gregg Borschmann: You’re saying that five years ago this was not understood. What’s your sense now?
Greg L’Estrange: I think they know a little bit more now but some of the old behaviours are still there. It takes a long period of time.
Gregg Borschmann: You’re talking about within the government?
Greg L’Estrange: Within the government, and I think in some aspects of the industry. They have to embrace a new future and they’ve got to do it in a different way than what has been done in the past. And I don’t see enough of that change to be confident that they will get the types of support, support in two areas; support from the community, and support from people who will have to put up quite a substantial sum of money to develop this biomass business.
Gregg Borschmann: Even if a new native forest biomass industry is on a small scale, former NSW forest supervisor Pat Murphy says he’s still worried about what it might mean for the forests. He doesn’t think it will be just the forest residues that are taken.
Pat Murphy: If it was to just take the heads of the trees that they’ve left there, the stuff that they’ve knocked down, I wouldn’t see a problem with it. I don’t believe that’s what’ll happen. I think not only will they take that, if they’ve got to fill that truck they’ll cut whatever is standing in front of them to fill that truck. Yeah, it’s not just going to be waste, it’s just going to be anything in their road.
Gregg Borschmann: Background Briefing’s coordinating producer is Linda McGinness, research by Sam Provost, Sarah Phillips and Lawrence Bull, technical production by Simon Branthwaite. You also heard the voice of actor Warwick Young. The executive producer is Chris Bullock, and I’m a Gregg Borschmann.
Reporter Gregg Borschmann Researcher Sam Provost / Sarah Phillips / Lawrence Bull Supervising Producer Linda McGinness Sound Engineer Simon Branthwaite Executive Producer Chris Bullock
• Carol Rea in Comments HERE: So log trucks on a road would put “people’s safety at risk”. Foot/ mouth Mr Harriss. Following this logic there should be no traffic on the new loop road in the Tarkine. Sealed and opened with great fanfare last month. I do believe the Minister is scrambling to justify this appalling decision to cable log in wet winter conditions and in this area. To clearfell 60 acres of forest near one of the top tourist attractions in the south is just madness. The coupe has common boundaries with two Giant Tree Reserves. All possible care will be taken when the hot burn happens before reseeding! And FT says there are no large trees in the coupe. Excuse my scepticism. All those contracts signed off to 2026 with unsupportable volumes for sustainable practices. Oh how the FSC dream fades away ...
ALSO on Background Briefing ...
• Chris in Comments: Will the clearfelled areas visible from Tahune be expanded and enhanced so that tourists can view the Government-inspired ideology of subsidising and allowing an enterprise to operate when bankrupt (and a servant of a corrupt regime in Asia?) Will the logging of the unique forest giants be enhanced by a media photo or two of Harriss, Abetz, Hodgman (with lifting eyebrows) and all other destroyers be allowed; will they cut a ribbon or start a chainsaw?
• Pete Godfrey in Comments: I had a look at Google earth as JDN in post 5 suggested. What I see is a very small patch of forest near the airwalk that is a propaganda screen for the tourists, and a massive area of forest that is being razed all around. There is no way that the level of clearfelling and level of logging that is going on in that area can possibly be called sustainable. At least by any definition I have ever read of what sustainable is. The forest is being wrecked, just like the men in the transcript have said is happening to NSW. The road is obviously used by a lot of log truck traffic ... I am wondering if FT are paying for the road repairs or is it coming out of the tourism budget.
• Shane Johnson in Comments: Just past the Hartz National Park turn off is the formerly signposted Big Tree. It is a shrinking giant but it is wonderful to see, is free and just a 30 metre walk from the road. It is no longer signposted as FT have not maintained the access and the elevated boardwalk is unsafe so they do not want tourists to find it. A government with its heart in tourism would be restoring this asset and making it accessible to all again.
MEANWHILE ... Europe is spun as the Forest-Furnace-Supporters’ benign solution to energy demand. But all is not as it seems ... or is spun ...
• Financial Times: Protesters at Drax AGM say plant fuel may not be green and • Protest Drax at their AGM. No to coal and No to biomass and • Axe Drax protest at Drax AGM and Department of Energy & Climate Change
• Jenny Weber in Comments: The images in this article are photographed in the threatened coupe, inside the blue tags. I protested at the opening of the Tahune Airwalk and still stand by the criticism we had then. Tahune was a publicly accessible Huon River picnic spot with some of the best examples of Huon Pines close to Hobart. When Tahune Airwalk locked the gates and charged people to access this public land it was doing exactly what we opposed, locking up public land for commercial income to prop up their logging practices that are running at a loss. Forestry Tasmania’s tourism operations around the state have always been greenwash operations. The forest practices plans for coupes in the viewfield of the airwalk state that the loggers need to keep a screen in the clearfelled coupe so it could not be seen by visitors. Logging of this Picton Coupe that is adjacent to Arve Rd could not be logged while the road was open as it was deemed unsafe. Due to cable logging practice in close proximity to the road. When we saw the map and there were 5 giant trees so close to Arve Rd, and the priority is logging the adjacent forest with trees as old as the giants, just not as tall, by a short metre, that is when Tasmania is still getting it wrong. Taxpayer funded logging at expense of the economy and environment.