A call for a stable forest and timber industry, embedded in a healthy biosphere and supported by a knowledgeable and supportive population.

Wood is an almost magic raw material. It has been with humanity for its entire existence. It is part of every human culture – developed or archaic. Being surrounded by wood creates a feeling of wellbeing in humans and animals. Wood is one of the few natural resources that can replenish themselves at the same time as being used by humans. To work with wood is a privilege. To be able to harvest wood is a generous gift of nature. We have to thank nature for its existence and it would honour us if we acknowledged it. Publicly and every time we use wood.

I am making this statement to demonstrate that I am very much an advocate of the use of wood and strongly believe that it can be harvested in a truly sustainable way if the right techniques are applied for its cultivation. In Tasmania that has generally not been the case.

The philosophical and biological foundation for a healthy timber industry

There may be a Tasmanian or Australian forest law that provides an acceptable guideline to a truly sustainable timber industry. I have not done the research to find it. What I notice is, that very little, if any, reference to such a fundamental legislation is made in the massive cacophony of comments and actions about matters forest and timber in Tasmania.

There doesn’t seem to be a strong, well-formulated and enforced fall-back position when it comes to clearing one’s thoughts and actions in the daily maelstrom of ideas and opinion about the right way to conduct forestry and timber operations.

What we keep experiencing in discussions and wrangles around forests and timber is vigorous horse trading by people involved in trying to get what they conceive as value out of forest products. The ferocious “debate” – to use a rather too flattering word for what’s going on in Tasmania – reminds me of acrobatics by a bunch of people in a scaffold that has no foundation. A flimsy mental contraption held together by sundry soft bits and under constant repair where it comes undone under strain.

The base -the foundation - is missing. We don’t know where we are going and why we are doing what we are doing. The result is opportunistic short-term actions by people and organisations that think that they have found an area of quick and easy money. A field where the rules are unclear and where pressure and manoeuvring leads to the success they want. Over time this attitude and the resulting practices have set the informal “foundation” in this industry and most players have found ways around it to suit their aims.

This is the backdrop in front of which “forestry agreements” are negotiated. It really is an oriental bazaar where chosen males are doing their bartering quite remote from hard and just rules. A world of its own. Barely related to the needs of the surrounding society. A boys club with its own secret codes.

Back to the TFA on the table in Tasmania. I have worked in information and PR and I admit, the document and the second reading of Minister Green are rather soothing in language and tone. I am not surprised that a great many people have been touched by it and would dearly like to get behind it and finally enter a period of peace in the Tasmanian forests. Were all this about a local fair or a festival programme, we would relax and let it go. But dealing with forests, land use in general and the forestry and timberindustry, nicely worded intentions are not good enough.

I want to make it clear, I don’t regard forestry as a vitally important industry because of a number of jobs. It is much more significant because we are looking at probably the single most important human activity on this planet beside the management of the oceans. Yes, forests – and I mean real forests, not monoculture tree or fibre plantations – play a prime role in our natural environment. Beside the stunning biodiversity that natural or close-to-nature managed forests incorporate (and should retain), they also perform vital functions for the human wellbeing. They act as water catchment and water purifiers, they positively influence regional climates, they control erosion, they moderate storm winds and so forth. It is in these healthy forests that the much sought after resource, called wood, grows. And it is in well-balanced natural, or close to nature managed, forests where this resource keeps on growing in perpetuity with little input from humans. The human input is one of attentive observation and spot intervention for harvesting or other tweaking.

Forests are like living bodies from which we can take the “fleece”, but let the carrier organism live on.

When we deal with the regulation of human activity in forests we should have this image before our eyes. The understanding of the main role of forests is what has to be regulated first. We need to express our will to manage the forests entrusted to us in a very long term way. Sustainably. And we do it because we feel comfortable with this sane concept. Most people not only understand that, but strongly desire it. I come from a country where the forest laws recognise all this and you should experience just how happy and indeed proud the population is about the well-managedand profitable forests.

For those who like counting beans: you’d better bring a big sack when you want to go on a counting mission. There are a lot of beans to be collected from well-managed forests. The country I am talking about is smaller in surface than Tasmania and has a total forest cover of about one third of its territory. No clear felling, no chemicals allowed. A few forests are totally locked away for educational, water management and biodiversity reasons. The vast majority are production forests, stocked with mixed species of mixed age. And the beans are reflected in the employment figure: Around 90,000 people are employed in the forest and timber working industries. Something to think about!

This and similarthings should be thought about in Tasmania, before the horse trading and holding out of hands for Government money resumes.

Of course you could say that this should have been done long ago. Yes! But it wasn’t. Because the superficial hanky-panky within the myopic rush for large scale forest rip-off has totally buried any connections with fundamentals. So, we have now arrived at a non-binding piece of prose that doesn’t really satisfy anybody, as we can read in comments from all quarters. The best many say is: it’s better than nothing.

But I suggest, that it is worse than nothing. And why is that so? Because I submit, that despite all the threats, intimidation, fears, projections, ancient wounds we are actually not in immediate danger if this TFA gets voted down in the Upper House. It’s not World War III. It’s only the equivalent of a three year old on his tricycle being denied his daily lolly and producing a screaming fit. Once he regains his breath, things can be sorted and life goes on. Better than before, because it was long clear that the sugar fixes should be stopped for health reasons.

The Upper House should reject this legislation with a firm, but positive “NO”. Positive in the sense that the MLCs set in motion a process of creating underpinning fresh legislation that opens the way for a totally new approach to forestry, as suggested above.

I am not going to give it a name, so that we don’t get wild accusations, speculations, horror scenarios painted for public consumption. All I strongly propose is that such legislation cover points of the type listed here:

• Very long term forest planning, covering state and private forests
• No clear felling
• No chemicals
• Restoration management in existing monoculture plantations
• Mandatory biodiversity
• Protection of water catchments
• Erosion control
• Ensuring continued, non-chemicals basedfertility of forest soils
• Regulations accurately reflecting above points
• Policing of implementation
• Support community forest ownership
• Ongoing public education programme
• Promotion of the use of wood
• Assistance in the development of wood working and construction technology
• Subsidise thoughtful transition into a balanced forestry regime
• Subsidise only the non-commercial functions of forests

In one sentence:

The Upper House should vote NO to the Tasmanian Forest Agreement and simultaneously start a process of drafting comprehensive new, modern forest legislation as a reliable, long term base for the development of strong and ongoing forest and wood working industries in Tasmania, also taking into the account the need for permanent protection of some high conservation value forests.

Peter Brenner is Former Head of Information of the Swiss Timber Information Council (Lignum).

• Brenda Rosser: I cannot support this ‘forest agreement’.  Any document or action that entrenches corporate tree farming/concentration of ownership and control of land and monoculture plantations is absolutely indefensible.  Nothing has changed since I contacted Tim Fisher at the Australian Conservation Foundation in August 2002 (see pasted in excerpt below).  The corruption, the dire sociological and environmental effects, the loss of good agricultural soil from food production, all of these accusations have stood the test of time.  The plantation 50 metres away from our house steadily increases in fire hazard as the trees (already towering above our dwelling on a steep hill get taller and taller), fire clearings lack adequate area and maintenance, access tracks are not maintained (the one along our boundary is overgrown and blocked by fallen trees).

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