Tasmanian Times

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Eric Johnson, pulp mills, plantations: What the Wildos say …

GEMMA TILLACK, Climate Change and forests campaigner, The Wilderness Society (Tasmania) Inc
Whether or not Eric or Johnson and Associates exist is largely irrelevant. The fact that the issue of the pulp mill, plantations and the future direction of the timber industry is again the subject of public debate is welcomed and the Wilderness Society is pleased to be able to play a role developing that debate.

In response to Eric’s comments that ‘they have finally realised that it is the forestry industry that offers hope to a beleaguered planet and that the best solution to Australia’s job, financial and climate problems is offered by us’, please read on.

Globally, we need to act quickly to secure a safe climate for our future. The immediate protection of the world’s intact natural forests is an urgent and crucial step that needs to be taken. In Australia, where some of our forests have recently been recognised as the most carbon-dense forests on the planet, that means we need alternatives for the timber industry and a serious change of government policy.

In order to protect these forests and ensure a safe climate for our future, the forestry industry needs to be involved. It needs to recognise the seriousness of the situation and move away from those forestry activities, like logging native forests, which continue to release large amounts of carbon pollution into the atmosphere, worsening climate change. At the moment, 86% of the wood from logging operations in Tasmania’s carbon-dense public native forests ends up as woodchips, which are used to make paper products. The carbon temporarily stored in paper products is released into the atmosphere as greenhouse pollution within three years on average. This is not a sustainable activity in a carbon-constrained society that desperately needs to reduce carbon emissions.

Put simply, native forest are best for storing carbon and should be protected to do so, while plantations should be used for timber production. While plantations do have an important role to play in providing us with wood and paper products, there are also serious establishment and management issues that need to be addressed.

Since the 1980s the area of plantations established in Tasmania has expanded rapidly. This has lead to major environmental, social and economic impacts in Tasmania, but has always been held out as an alternative to native forest logging once they matured. For years The Wilderness Society has been working with the community to change the mismanagement in the forestry industry in Tasmania, including the negative impacts of plantation establishment and management in Tasmania.

The management techniques used on plantations on both public and private land are currently unacceptable and need major improvements in order for plantation-based forestry to have the full support of the community. These issues could be resolved if the political will exists to work to resolve the conflicts over plantations in Tasmania.

The plantation estate represents a massive opportunity for Tasmania and the Tasmania forestry industry to move away from the highly divisive, conflict-ridden dependence on logging native forests. This would allow those forests to be preserved for the things they do best; like providing us with clean air and water, sustaining our unique wildlife and storing carbon to combat climate change.

We believe that sensible value-adding in the plantation-based forestry industry could help to avoid some of the more severe issues with plantations. It could result in a lengthening of logging rotation cycles and a movement away from high-volume, low-value plantation-wood products in Tasmania. This could also help to increase the number of jobs in the plantation forestry industry by employing people to high prune and manage plantations to produce high-quality eucalypt sawlogs and sawn timbers.

One thing is for sure, climate change is the biggest issue facing us as a society and we need to act immediately to protect our biodiverse and carbon-dense native forests and natural ecosystems to give us and nature the best chance of survival. Tasmania’s existing plantations offer a real chance to deliver this, while maintaining a timber industry that is internationally competitive and something to be proud of.

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