Image for The liquidation of Nature

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*Pics: Biomass furnaces ...

The liquidation of nature in Tasmania’s forests would be a serious and inevitable consequence of biomass burning the so-called ‘waste wood’. This is because the pejorative term ‘waste wood’ is likely to mean a very high proportion (over 90%) of the native forest biomass from extractive logging coupes in natural and largely intact ecologies.

Neither Australia’s National Forest Policy Statement (NFPS) nor the Tasmanian Regional Forest Agreement (RFA) defines ‘waste wood’ at all. It could, in fact, mean almost anything.

It is not contentious that native forest export woodchips in Tasmania have never received a social license. Despite the public being hoodwinked in its early days, at last count an overwhelming majority of Australians were opposed to woodchipping native forest, especially for export.

The mantra that over 90% of the wood volume of native forest being logged was a genuine waste by-product of sawlog extraction was always offensive and dishonest. Export woodchipping was forever, mischievously justified as using up the waste. It was and remains, in essence, a mining operation.

Modern plantation harvesting generates very little ‘waste wood’ in fact. Slash is being spread over the floor of the coupe, adding carbon to soil slowly and reducing rain interception impacts at the time of the clearfell. For plantation management, selling the wood as wood, appears more economic than burning it.

Export woodchipping in Australia currently only occurs in regions subject to an RFA, which obviates the Commonwealth’s Export Control Act.

The people of Tasmania will realise fairly quickly that burning green hardwood from primary, intact natural and managed natural forests under the mantra of ‘waste wood’ is merely another way of liquidating the native forest ecological biomass for financial gain, in such a way, as to attract a minimum of Government controls and scrutiny.

Burning green and wet wood for renewable energy would generate pollution that further warms the planet and will remove the forest, which if left standing would convert carbon dioxide into sequestered carbon and oxygen.

Adverse impacts on nature ...

The proposition would be unwise and particularly, would have negative and possibly unforeseen adverse impacts on nature.

This nasty ‘waste wood’ proposition would be economically subsidised if included in Australia’s Renewable Energy Target (RET).

Dishonest ‘waste wood’ from native forest would certainly taint the genuinely more benign technologies for creating energy from sun and wind. It would taint forestry, which could potentially gain a social license through other more sustainable practices.

To consider the life supporting natural forests of Tasmania merely as biomass would be another erroneous misconception. A forest is not just trees, it is whole living thing. Concerningly it is to be noted that the life-supporting character of Tasmania’s forests is declining and has demonstrably done so under the Tasmanian RFA. That is surely without dispute and in any case can be evidenced.

It is clearly within Australia’s power to halt the decline and degradation of Tasmania’s life-supporting forested environments and whilst doing so, achieve their retention and protection for the future.

Sustainable development, a commitment of the NFPS, only occurs when we both consider and achieve intergenerational equity. Subsidising the liquidation of nature has no equity for the future. Any inference that such a long-sighted, intergenerational approach reflects an “anti, anti, anti attitude” is easily refuted and dismissed.

Forestry is in fact, largely derived from a one-dimensional response - an historic pillaging and displacement of nature, which has, in land clearance terms, been going on since colonial invasion.

Employment in the forestry sector has continued to decline and now must be around 1% of the Tasmanian workforce

Land clearance continues in Tasmania with little abatement and has always been closely linked to forestry including plantation establishment. Indeed Threatened RFA vegetation communities continue to be pillaged and removed for a range of reasons, despite land clearance being correctly listed as a threatening activity under the Commonwealth EPBC Act. We do not in that circumstance need to add a subsidy to another unsustainable activity and that is exactly what including ‘wood waste’ in the RET system would bring about.

The 2011 reasons given by Government for not including native forest biomass burning (waste wood) in the Australia’s RET scheme would appear sound and certainly a relevant consideration of an over-riding public interest that remains relevant today.

In the 17 years since the Tasmanian RFA began, employment in the forestry sector has continued to decline and now must be around 1% of the Tasmanian workforce. That decline, I would forecast in the absence of a social license, is set to continue.

So even in terms of employment benefit, this industry has gobbled subsidy and reform funding, over and over and has failed to justify the expense.  Why reward failure with yet another subsidy, such as inclusion in Australia’s RET?

Burning green hardwood in forest furnaces, as a covert part of the liquidation strategy for the states’ natural forest ecologies, as replacement for the failed and highly conflict ridden native forest export woodchipping, would not make Tasmania a better place to live. Indeed I argue the contrary would be the consequence.

It certainly would not create a sustainable economic benefit, when such a subsidised activity is measured against the impacts on the multiple services provided by natural capital or the tourism industry.

The proposed RET scheme subsidy, obviously aimed to prop up native forest liquidation in a world of increasing international market scrutiny will damage Australia’s RET system, will attract conflict and condemnation, as well as harming nature. Tasmania would be better without it.

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• Ted Mead, in Comments: Everything about this dinosaur industry doesn’t makes sense, and is fundamentally void of any ecological, ethic or financial rationale.  Such a simplistic assessment is what worries me as history shows this is exactly the lamebrain ideology that Tasmania will pursue. I did spend an evening with FT’s consultant from Germany discussing this issue, and how it operates in northern Europe. My evaluation of that was, it will simply never be feasibly operational in Tasmania without monumental subsidies, which of course is exactly what would happen. The saving grace for our forests is that Tasmania doesn’t have the financial freedom to construct the countless biomass furnaces that would be required the feed the extraction volumes that FT wants and needs to keep alive, such as what Gunns consumed. The establishment of such an unthinkable industry could only happen through a massive financial assistance from the Federal government, and unfortunately the man most likely to initiate this madness is currently running the country.

Nick McKim: Minister Should Support Public Hearings on Draft TWWHA Management Plan

REneweconomy: Burning ambition; Why the forestry industry needs the RET … Small-scale projects would eventually lead to large-scale biomass projects, whether through co-generation, conversion or building new plants. Unsustainable logging would continue and increase, and along with it the loss of biodiversity, including threatened or critically endangered species like the Leadbeater’s Possum, the Swift Parrot, and the koala in SE NSW. If we don’t call a halt to current bad management regimes, and especially if we allow a native forest biomass industry to take off, eventually our forests will be converted to plantations of fast growing commercially viable species which lack any meaningful natural values. The industry push into national parks, and on steeper slopes and water catchments will continue, and carbon pollution will increase, whether or not the government chooses to account for it. This is at a time when all of Australia’s timber needs can be met by plantation wood, and our native forests can be restored and retained as carbon stores, water purifiers, habitat for wildlife and destinations for tourists. Meanwhile the world is quickly moving away from polluting industries. If Australia establishes another polluting, carbon intensive industry, it risks having large empty generators which can only burn coal or wood, when both will eventually be consigned to the dustbin of history. Can we dare to hope that the cross benchers will do what the government seems incapable of doing itself and vote to reject the change to part 4 of the RET legislation that includes native forest biomass as a source of renewable energy, eligible to attract Renewable Energy Certificates?