Tasmanian Times


Defining ‘Waste’ In Old Growth Forests



A couple of weekends ago I had the chance to visit the Observer Tree where Miranda Gibson has been living on a 60m high platform for over seven months. Two things have stayed in my mind since that visit.

The first is how cold it gets in the Tyenna Valley in the winter time. Every time I stopped moving I could feel my hands and feet turning to ice. That Miranda has been up there for 226 days through snow, rain and storms with nothing but a clear tarp over her head says volumes about her passion for, and determination to protect Tasmania’s high conservation old growth forests. The forest that Miranda’s tree stands in was part of 572,000 ha supposed to have been protected by a moratorium back in December 2010, but due to repeated backpeddling by the Tasmanian Government, that moratorium never happened. So the logging in our high conservation forests goes on, and while I’ve returned home to my fluffy slippers and electric blanket, Miranda continues her treetop vigil, vowing to stay on her platform until these forests are protected.

The second thing that kept me thinking was something that came up during a chat with farmer Michael Kelly, who was also at the Observer Tree as part of a pro-logging ‘counter protest’. Michael explained some of his concerns about the proposal to protect any more areas of old growth forest, including the impact it will have on Tasmanian workers and towns who have been reliant on the forestry industry. In addition to these economic concerns, Michael also said something that caught my interest, which was that he didn’t want to see any more forests ‘locked up’ because that would be ‘wasting’ a resource.

This is a common sentiment not only in Tasmania, but throughout the world. If a resource can be exploited, and there is potential economic gain, why wouldn’t we do so? If we were to leave oil and coal deposits in the ground, and old growth forests standing, aren’t we missing out on economic benefits and, as Michael says, ‘wasting’ those resources?

It’s a valid question, and one that will become increasingly important this century as human beings continue their population expansion and resource use in a world where the environmental chickens are coming home to roost. But the answer to the question of what is a ‘wasted’ resource really depends on your point of view.

If I am a laid off mill worker at Triabunna who has a family to support and mortgage repayments to meet, and I don’t have any other skills or ways to earn income outside of the forestry industry, it’s a no-brainer that I will consider the end of logging in high conservation native forests as a wasted opportunity to utilise that resource. From a short term and individual point of view, I’m right. From a long term and ethical point of view, not so much.

You see, all that stuff we humans call ‘resources’ is actually the planet. Trees, fish, forests, and oil reserves are all components of ecosystems, and ecosystems are of far greater value than just the sum of their resources. Healthy ecosystems provide, for free, a wealth of services that are needed for our survival. Things like fresh water, fertile soil, species diversity, a stable climate, and even the oxygen we breathe are essential to life on Earth as we know it. For example, an old growth forest is more than just a bunch of wood. It provides essential ecosystem services such as filtering clean fresh water, sequestering carbon, maintaining soil fertility, and being home to a rich array of biodiversity. When a tree comes to the end of its life in an old growth forest, it serves as shelter to species like this baby Tasmanian Devil (filmed 300m from Miranda’s tree-sit), acts as a home for lichens, insects, and microbes, and eventually decays down to become the rich, fertile humus from which new generations of trees will grow. It is far from ‘wasted’.

Another way of looking at resource use is from the perspective of ethics and fairness. At this point in human history, those who are privileged to live in First World countries are surrounded by an incredible array of material abundance and opportunity. Compared to past generations, the majority of people in a wealthy country such as Australia live like kings and queens. But this wealth comes at a cost: to the environment, to those in countries less well off, and to future generations. It’s not to say that we can’t have material things, or progress as a society. But we must do it within a sustainable framework, and in a world seduced by the impossible fantasy of neverending economic growth, that is just not happening. Bill McKibben recently wrote an article for Rolling Stone magazine which talks about the global ‘budget’ for carbon emissions that we must keep to if we are to avoid dangerous climate change. The actual known oil reserves that exist amount to five times the carbon budget, which means that if we exploit all of those resources in the ground, we will overheat the planet to levels that will make life as we know it unviable.

And here’s where we come to the heart of how we view a ‘wasted’ resource. Leaving 4/5 of the world’s fossil fuel reserves untapped is a waste if we take a short term economic view. But if we take a long term view, one that factors in the future viability of life on earth, we can see that no amount of short term economic gain makes up for what we stand to lose if we push the planet’s temperature beyond safe levels. And it’s not just about us, the 7 billion plus people here on Earth right now. It’s about future generations, our grandchildren and great-grandchildren, and the kind of world we are going to pass on to them. It’s a paradox – we trash our forests, fish and climate to grow our economy and make our immediate lives better, while condemning future generations to a wasted and potentially unliveable planet.

There has to be a better way, and thankfully, there are signs of hope. Haltingly, in the face of political campaigns based on fear and ignorance, the world is slowly working towards a global emissions target to avoid dangerous climate change. Increasingly, countries are recognising the true value of their natural assets and acting to ensure they are kept intact for future generations. The discipline of economics is finally starting to accept that infinite growth on a finite planet is a flawed model, and the concept of a steady state economy that operates sustainably is being explored.

But ultimately, this is about you. Because person by person, country by country, we must all come to understand that this beautiful, incredible, fragile Earth we inhabit is worth far more to us than just the sum of its resources. Humans have reached into every corner of the globe, and as we’ve done so we’ve left swathes of environmental destruction in our wake. Fifty percent of the world’s forests are gone. Seventy five percent of fish stocks have crashed or are in dangerous decline. Unless we act soon, we risk bringing on the end of 11,000 years of stable climate in which human civilization has flourished. We are clever enough to put a man on the moon, but are we wise enough to look after the only home we’ve got?

I hope so. I hope that we will all learn to take the long term, ethical view, and that our vision will be as far reaching as Miranda Gibson’s view from her treetop eyrie. That soon, homo sapiens will come to understand that an old growth forest is worth more standing than as a pile of woodchips, and truly live up to our name of ‘wise humans’.

Miriam Moriarty is a writer with a focus on the environment and social issues.

Author Credits: [show_post_categories parent="no" parentcategory="writers" show = "category" hyperlink="yes"]


  1. Roger

    August 8, 2012 at 8:49 pm

    Re # 21 Miriam,

    Looking at the report it says they have Conservation Values not High Conservation values, there is a difference. Even my lawn has conservation value of some sort.

    I also believe FT had a report from their certifying body done after this report to look into the sustainable cutting allegations. According to that report they weren’t over cutting.


  2. Sue DeNim

    August 7, 2012 at 9:21 pm

    Dear ole Willaim. Very eloquent and far too gracious for our mate Robin.
    I would have been satisfied to unceremoniously and unapologetically call him …

  3. William Boeder

    August 6, 2012 at 9:29 pm

    #18. Whoa, steady there Robin, you are being a bit hard-assed about all this burning business?

    Way back before the conception of Forestry Tasmania and its amazing capacity to flout almost all and every regulatory and ethical business control and financial accounting responsibility, you may have had good reason for some part of a small view of your forest management suggestions.

    By the way Robin, the term management when used in context by the likes of those critters that inhabit the board room of this GBE, Forestry Tasmania, does not really show us much in the way of care or maintaining of the forests that this State has formerly accumulated.
    May I say that this above ironclad fact of yours is loaded to buggery with fallacy.
    This iron-cladding example that you seem to dwell upon so incessantly: “Forestry Tasmania are obligated to regenerate this area without interference from marginal Greens groups getting in the way.”

    If you had tried to push this line back just after Victoria’s ’39 bush-fires you would have been all trussed up in one of those white restraining jackets?

    Just think for a few moments as to how Tasmania had originally become the thickly lush tree-ed island in the first instance, well before the megalomania of today’s logging fanatics?

    How is it that this is the very product that drives the bewildering mob of Forestry Tasmania wild in the mind, to go out and clear-fell whole great expanses of this forested stuff, then burn the buggery of whatever they bulldoze into heaps and finally incinerate the last of the former life of these areas?

    Don’t you realize that this is the product of the increasing deeply disturbing corporate disease, as this is exactly what happened with Gunns Ltd, now look to what sort of legacy they will leave upon this State?
    Nothing but the visual ravages and damages of heretic-minded greed-toads, that and an enormous amount of taxpayers money pissed up against the wall?
    Today there are an enormously increasing magnitude of people in many countries across the world that seem to think otherwise, how has all this clear-felling helped the many and varied wildlife species that once proliferated the world’s forests?
    Bugger ’em and burn ’em is not the way of evolution my old mate.

    Our Ancient Native Forests are an especial legacy of what can accumulate upon our lands in natures undisturbed timeliness, (providing that the most avaricious and destructive profligate white and brown men can be kept out of the world’s forests.

    Think about this Robin and try to deny this titaniumclad fact?

    Over to you my old mate.


  4. Miriam Moriarty

    August 6, 2012 at 7:54 pm

    Roger, the West independent report broadly agreed that those areas have high conservation values. The report also found that Forestry Tasmania has committed the state’s native forests to a harvest quota which is double the sustainable yield: http://www.themercury.com.au/article/2012/03/27/313301_tasmania-news.html

  5. Roger

    August 6, 2012 at 6:32 pm

    Hello Miriam,
    I just thought I’d mention that the 572,000 Ha may have been assessed for HCV but not all of it was assessed as having HCV. There is a big difference.

  6. Miriam Moriarty

    August 6, 2012 at 1:16 pm

    Unfortunately Robin, the fact that we are depleting the Earth’s resources at a rate faster than they can be replenished is not a fairy story. My article does not argue against regeneration burns. It argues against the destruction of high conservation old growth forest, which in the case of Tasmania is not even economically viable in its current operating model.

  7. Robin Halton

    August 6, 2012 at 3:07 am

    I have no problem with the logging slash shown on the photo awaiting a high intensity burn late summer/ early autumn 2013.
    Eucalypt logging slash with its content of bark, disturbed forest litter, twigs, limbs and branches makes ideal fuel for the ashbed effect for regeneration purposes.
    FT are obligated to regenerate this area without interference from marginal Green groups getting in the way.
    It is pointless to write fairy stories about the subject “Defining logging slash in old growth forests.
    The hard ironclad facts are there, regeneration treatment is the priority.
    I look foward to witnessing a long and successful regeneration burning season in 2013 covering as many coupes throughout the State it as possible to achieve.

  8. TGC

    August 6, 2012 at 1:52 am

    #6 “this fragile earth”? “..earth hangs in the balance”? Get away with you- it’s as tough as nails- it’ll be ok!

  9. Steve

    August 6, 2012 at 1:17 am

    #14; Anne, whilst I totally agree with your sentiments, I’m not sure we’ve been spared until now by the philosophy of our early ancestors. I think it’s more a case of lack of technological ability!
    I exempt the Buddhists from this generalisation but look what happened to them when they bumped into the modern world in the form of communist China.

  10. Mike Adams

    August 5, 2012 at 1:01 am

    The more humans there are the more the earth’s resources, both animate and inanimate will be depleted. Unless the rush to the projected 9 billion is halted, whether by governmental decree or by increasing per capita income, our descendants are in for a rough time. If any betting agency is around in 2112, what odds would they give on human survival for another 100 years?

  11. Anne

    August 5, 2012 at 12:31 am

    Thanks Miriam, great article, and I agree with you, although I’m not sure the term ‘wise’ should ever be used to describe humans, given our species’ appalling and growing propensity towards selfishness, greed, and the careless disregard for anyone or being that is seen as irrelevant to our own particular and self-serving desire.

    When we are finally able to re-adopt the philosophy held by our early ancestors, of taking from the planet only what we need, as opposed to what we want, then perhaps we will regain that respect for the Earth and her rich resources, and she might slowly recover from the abuse humans have inflicted upon her for far too long.

  12. John Wade

    August 4, 2012 at 11:06 pm

    Whoa, Teilhard De Chardin, now there is a figure who was hit with a sonic boom on the reality of existing. I wish more people understood him, Rob Blakers.

  13. Rob Blakers

    August 4, 2012 at 9:48 pm

    Marian, very nicely expressed.

    The living beings of this planet have values to one another as material resources – for food and materials and to provide eco-system services such as clean air and water. In addition to, beyond and interwoven with their resource value however, is an intrinsic value. All life has a right to exist for its own sake. All living things strive to survive.

    Life uses other life for its own survival but humans have grossly abused their capacity to do so. Our evolving role is to have, as Teilhard de Chardin said, a reverence for all life. This does not mean that living resources cannot be used, but rather that such use is limited to need rather than want and is conducted with an understanding of this intrinsic value.

  14. Squizzy

    August 4, 2012 at 9:29 pm

    Soon enough governments & companies will regard the removal of forests that in a carbon conscious economy could otherwise stand and earn money as a waste of the resource. The Michael Kelly’s/Hirst’s of this world will probably never get their heads around that.

  15. john Hayward

    August 4, 2012 at 9:22 pm

    All very reasonable , Miriam, but you are dealing with people like Michael Kelly, who is much better known as the boss of The Kelly Gang logging contractors than as a farmer.

    The word “sapiens” is as utterly spurious when used to describe Tasmanian chippers as “locked up” is when employed as a metaphor for preserving nature.

    John Hayward

  16. bob hawkins

    August 4, 2012 at 8:26 pm

    Miriam, may one day the waters of the world run as crystal clear as the intent of your words. And may Michael Kelly, and those who share his fears, chance to read them.

    Friday night’s ABC 7.30 Tasmania


    brought more evidence that people who have known all along that we have been abusing our forests are beginning to find the courage to say so.

    Now that the grip of fear in which Forestry Tasmania and Gunns have held their contractors is breaking down, it is to be hoped more will do the same. — Bob Hawkins

  17. David Obendorf

    August 4, 2012 at 7:53 pm

    Ron [comment #5] I think you’ll find Forestry Tasmania has contracts for the export of whole logs (peeler billets for veneers) to China and perhaps other SE Asian countries. Artec at Longreach is still exporting some hardwood chips.

    Any others?

  18. Anne Cadwallader

    August 4, 2012 at 5:59 pm

    Can only say – great stuff. A clear analysis, and much needed.

    Making changes to the earth is a huge responsibility. So ,clearly, we have to watch that primary balance – short term gain, that takes away the life hopes of the future. Condemning our grandchildren to a world of suffering and death.

    As this idea sinks in, a movement of extraordinary ethical power will rise. Would you not die, and gladly, to bring about the saving of billions of people yet unborn. And all the glorious wheeling life on this fragile earth.

    I think Miranda and her generation are the forerunners of a movement that will stand up to wealth and power and drive them into the sea. The corporates talk about extreme green, when we are merely the gentle birdwatchers and bushwalkers. Their worst nightmares don’t touch what will come as the earth hangs in the balance.

  19. Ron

    August 4, 2012 at 4:08 pm

    Is Ta Ann the only other exporter of hardwood from Tasmania now that Gunns have stopped sourcing hardwood for export?

  20. Alison Bleaney

    August 4, 2012 at 4:00 pm

    Well said Miriam, thank you for this article. At the end of the accounting processes…it’s the ecosystems that hold all the cards for the final hand….
    Alison Bleaney

  21. Karl Stevens

    August 4, 2012 at 3:44 pm

    The industry tends to use the word ‘residues’ to describe anything you can’t put into the back pocket.

  22. Russell

    August 4, 2012 at 2:36 pm

    Only a person with an incredibly underdeveloped understanding of the world and their place in it sees trees left standing in the forest or rivers running into the sea as ‘wasted.’

    These ‘resources’ perform vital functions within natural systems which have taken millions of years to develop as part of a complicated yet simple balancing act. Take one component out or add a foreign one into that system and the balance is lost.

    For those who don’t understand their place in this world, try starting your car engine without the pistons or running it without oil.

  23. William Boeder

    August 4, 2012 at 1:32 pm

    Hello Miriam, well spoken and highly relevant to Tasmania.

    One only has to reflect for some few moments to consider how the government do thing here in Tasmania.

    Were the people of this State to be further mesmerised by the likes of Bryan (the giggler) Green, Our Lara, even Sydney (MV Magiris) Sidebottom, in fact the names of politicians could go on forever, they who have with eyes wide open, held the notion that they are the masters in charge of our resources, thus to own, to give, to grant, to lease out, to transfer,(then just recently, to provide enormous quota’s or allocation’s of our marine natural resources to a sheep of their own special flock.

    This system is also well beloved of miners and corporates whose modus operandi is to say, our wits our machinery and your resources at our disposal, “suggests that we can do much business between us.”

    So along came 2 ministers of a differing view, let’s say Rudd and Swan, “just hang about for a moment all you Billionaires and Multi Nationals, how about giving a little of your as good as free spoils back to this government that granted you your rights to X amount of our Australian Natural resources?”
    Oh no, cry these Billionaires and Multi Nationals that is being so terribly unfair, a resources rent tax, oh you ministers must be out of your minds, we just don’t do that.

    All those 3rd World countries that we have plundered didn’t bang on about a resources tax or resources rental tax, none of that nonsense, “we only take, we don’t pay” well you might see us pay out a trifling amount as a sort of royalty, that is if we tell you exactly how much freebie resource we have plundered and choose to tell you of, as to the figurative amount for the purposes of your royalties.

    No, No. No. damn it all, we propose to spend a few Billions of the dollars we’ve earned from your resources to fight against this resource rent or whatever, in the highest courts in the land!

    We now pause to reflect for just a wee moment, upon Tasmania’s Native Forests, The minerals that lay below the Tarkine, the bountiful surrounding sea-shores rich in Abalone, Lobsters, then too the waters that fall from up above.

    Now just what do the new corporate middlemen of the 3 new water boards have to say about our free from heaven water, well this is a State resource you know, a resource you the people must pay for its supply to yourselves.

    How much that is going to be , well we will tell you as we go along, but let me say it will be a whole lot more than the current amount.

    You see we have big plans for everyone in Tasmania, we will install water-meters so that we can squeeze the cost of every litre of water that you care to use.
    Then you must consider our new fat-cat executives sitting on our management boards have to be paid their multi thousand stipends, then there is our new corporate headquarters, our executive car fleet, these things don’t come cheap?

    So how much money was paid out by these 3 water boards for the the acquisition and control over the domestic and industrial water supply in Tasmania?

    Er um, we have an arrangement that if we can afford to we pay a bit of money to each of the councils who originally owned the water rights, well we might give em a bit..

    Now,can we move on to a different topic other than what we do and where were going and what we got for sweet nothing?

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