«Report compiled by David Blair and Margy Dockray For the Uniting Church Synod of Victoria and Tasmania April 2004 © David Blair and Margy Dockray ...»
Forests and Forest Issues
Victoria and Tasmania
A report for the Uniting Church in Australia
Justice and International Mission Unit
Commission for Mission
Report compiled by
David Blair and Margy Dockray
For the Uniting Church Synod of Victoria and Tasmania
© David Blair and Margy Dockray 2004
Forests and Forest Issues in Victoria and Tasmania / 2
About the authors
Davo grew up on a farm near Wangaratta in NE Victoria before completing a degree in Forest Science at Melbourne University in 1995.
Davo has worked in a wide variety of situations from forestry with the (then) Department of Conservation and Natural Resources in Gippsland and APPM’s woodchip operations at Triabunna on Tasmania’s east coast, to scientific research projects on species such as Leadbeater’s Possum in Victoria’s Central Highlands, with Prof. David Lindenmayer.
A one year working visa allowed Davo to travel to Canada for a year where he met his future wife, Sera. She was studying wild Orangutans in Borneo, so naturally she needed a field assistant! They spent 7 months in a remote part of West Kalimantan where they experienced not only the spectacular diversity of unlogged tropical forests, but also the corruption and unsustainable forest practices elsewhere in Indonesia.
During this trip, Davo increased his photography from a hobby to a profession soon after.
Not wanting to give up on field based work, he used his photography to report on projects he assisted with. This has since involved him tracking Wolves in the Canadian Rockies, surveying water birds around the Coorong National Park in SA, monitoring endangered desert animals at the Arid Recovery Project near Roxby Downs in SA and researching seed dispersal in the rainforests around Atherton in Qld to name a few. A return trip to Indonesia included projects on the Javan Hawk-eagle, Silvery Gibbon and nesting Green Sea Turtles.
Davo has had articles published in many magazines including Australian Photography, Asian Geographic, GEO, Nature Australia, Wild and Outdoor Australia. He enjoys outdoor sports such as rock climbing, mountain biking, hiking and soccer. Davo now lives with his wife and young son on a bush block in Healesville, Victoria.
Margy Dockray Margy Dockray moved to Tasmania as a child and grew up in Hobart where she attained a degree in Education. She then married Chris and moved to northern Tasmania where they have raised three children. While raising the family, Margy undertook further study in fine arts culminating in two solo painting exhibitions.
Her strong sense of connection with the natural landscape inspired her to write and to take further study, this time in theology.
She has lived nearly half her life in the north-east rural community which is significantly dependent on forestry. The importance of sustainable forestry to both the community and the environment has given rise to Margy’s interest in forestry related issues. She has co-authored several community reports on forestry related activities. She has been a member of the Uniting Church for the past 10 years.
In 2002, a number of proposals relating to forests and forestry in Australia were put to the Victorian and Tasmanian Synod assembly. It soon became apparent adequate debating of the issues could not be concluded in the time available so the proposals were withdrawn.
Given that the level of debate in the media generally transforms what are often complex issues into shallow coverage with a tendency towards extreme views of anti versus pro-logging (particularly where direct conflict make for sensationalist television coverage), it was thought many UC members who do not have connections with forestry may benefit from further background information.
As a result a report was commissioned, two authors were sought to cover Victoria and Tasmania. Davo Blair wrote the Victorian, National and Global sections as well as introductory sections of ‘Forest basics’ and definitions. Margy Dockray wrote the section on Tasmania. The Theological section is an amalgamation of many voices, co-ordinated by Cath James, Environmental Project Officer for the Synod of Victoria and Tasmania.
The most common question while compiling the report was why the Uniting Church was getting involved in forest issues at all, particularly given their potentially divisive nature.
The Uniting Church has never been one to shy away from taking a stance on social issues that affect our communities. To the contrary, the UC has been a strong voice within the social and political landscape on many important social issues, representing a morally responsible voice from an informed and thoughtful position, reflecting on God’s teachings.
How we value forests is both an environmental and social issue. As Victorians and Tasmanians we are part of the broader Australian and global community and need to recognise the diversity of forest values and think about how we can most wisely use them.
Forests are important to the economy, the environment, the spiritual well being of communities and the natural heritage of Australia and the world. Citizens today are directly responsible for what those of tomorrow inherit.
Given most differences of opinion stem from Government policy in relation to commercial harvesting, that is what the majority of this report focussed on. Unfortunately, the majority of anger and confrontation occurs at the coalface – between conservationists and industry workers, not between these groups and the government who has set the policy.
This research is a long and complicated search for the truth. It is hoped the forest issues contained within this report can be debated in a rational way without personally degrading or harmful comments. With issues that deeply affect people in very personal ways, it is still a debate of policy, not personalities.
It is the Christian calling to act as peacemaker.
What the Uniting Church believes The previous resolutions of the Uniting Church on environmental issues have clearly ruled out theological positions that would allow people to ‘dominate’ and destroy the environment without any regard for the future. However, within the resolutions of the Uniting Church, two broad theological positions are still possible. ‘Stewardship’ in which the environment provides resources primarily for humanity’s needs, now and in the future. The other position is an ‘Ecotheological’ approach in which the earth is seen as having intrinsic value in itself. In this approach humanity must learn to live in harmony with the earth rather than care for it. The positions are not mutually exclusive as both involve the need to preserve the environment for the future. Both positions also reject destruction of the environment to satisfy growing consumer ‘wants’. These approaches offer us a lens through which we can view the forest debate.
The forest debate The ‘forest debate’ is about the conflict between the use of natural resources, often from public land, and the other uses or values of the forests that are degraded through this extraction process.
Logging provides products that are in constant demand in our modern society – solid timber, paper products, panel boards – as well as employment for many people, particularly in rural areas where other employment opportunities have declined. The economic benefits flow through indirect employment and onto the broader economy, allowing Australians a comfortable lifestyle with many opportunities when compared to the majority of people in the world.
Australians use a lot of wood products, as most developed nations do. These products have to come from somewhere. Australia is very lucky with its eucalypt forests. Due to the evolutionary history of eucalypts adapting to fire, they regenerate very well following major disturbance. Because of this, regeneration following logging is usually successful, although with this dramatic event comes change. Where once there was a mature or even old growth forest, is now a young vigorously growing forest with significantly different values and other resources now available from it.
If we choose not to use our own forest resources, the wood products we use must come from elsewhere, and indeed a lot of what we use does come from overseas. Some overseas countries have good logging practices, however many of the countries Australia brings in products from, such as those in the tropical zone like Indonesia and Malaysia have appalling logging practices. Logging in these countries is devastating the world’s most biodiverse ecosystems (the tropical rainforests), as well as being harvested under some brutal and corrupt companies that cause immense human suffering and abuse.
We need to see this broader picture as it is critical for how we look at our own forests. We also need to recognise the broader crisis facing the global environment. With the exponential increase in human population, combined with increased living standards, humans’ demand on natural resources and impact on the wider environment has never been greater. Global warming from greenhouse gas emissions, massive global biodiversity losses primarily through habitat loss (in the order of 17,000 to 100,000 species are currently going extinct each year), degraded land from inappropriate Forests and Forest Issues in Victoria and Tasmania / 5 agricultural practices, land clearing and salinity on massive scales and degraded water systems all point to some serious challenges for us. What’s particularly alarming is that the environmental change is totally due to people, us.
In the most recent assessment, Australia was shown to have 2, 981 threatened ecosystems, half of which are types of eucalypt forests and woodlands. A third of global mammal extinctions in the last 200 years have occurred in Australia. It is estimated that half the bird species in Australia will be extinct within 50 years. Environmental degradation is occurring rapidly and while some has direct costs to the economy (weeds and salinity cost the economy billions of dollars each year), other changes are irreversible such as species extinction.
But are forest practices to blame for any of this? The majority of environmental degradation in Australia occurs through land clearing for crops. Ecosystems and habitat have not just been altered, they have been removed. While Victoria now has strict controls on land clearing (but not before major clearing was done across much of the state), land clearing is still occurring in Queensland, and directly applicable to this report, it is still occurring in Tasmania.
In Victoria, the main impacts of forestry are on water quantity, tourism and habitat value, particularly for certain fauna such as the State emblem, Leadbeater’s Possum. There have been significant positive changes to the policies and processes, particularly recently. Victoria has recognised the need for independent auditing of harvesting operations, and has initiated having the EPA fill this role. There has been a recognition that past harvesting levels were above a sustainable level and steps have been taken to address this with reduced licence levels. Yet on the flip side, firewood harvesting in the state removes between 1 to 1.5 million tonnes of valuable habitat each year from some of Victoria’s most endangered forest types, the removal of which is poorly controlled. Victoria also has 158,000 ha of old growth forests in East Gippsland available for logging as are some of the water catchments of Melbourne (Thomson and Upper Yarra Tributaries).
Some logging practices such as clearfelling and relatively short rotation lengths are reducing habitat quality and other values in some forest areas.
Ecologically Sustainable Forest Management has been a long-term goal for forestry across Australia. Victoria is certainly closer to this goal than many other states. However with 75 vertebrate species listed in Victoria as Critically Endangered or Endangered by the Department of Sustainability and Environment, many of which are forest dependent, the destination has not been reached yet.
The forest industry plays a more significant role in Tasmania than anywhere else in Australia. Half the state is covered in forest of some description, 3.5% of the Tasmanian workforce is directly employed by the industry and the industry contributes around $1billion each year to the Tasmanian economy.
Despite its importance to the state, Tasmania is suffering a serious crisis of confidence in its forestry industry. Forest harvesting in Tasmania is self-regulated by a forestry industry dominated by large industrial forestry companies. The industry is controlled by its own system of laws and environmental regulations which make it exempt from Local Government planning schemes and other environmental legislation as well as exemptions from Freedom of Information laws. The forest industry enjoys bipartisan political support from both the State and Federal Governments.
Since signing the Regional Forest Agreement (RFA) in 1997, the volume of wood extracted from Tasmanian native forests has increased dramatically. This is largely due to previous limits on woodchip volumes being dropped, resulting in close to a doubling in woodchip production since
1997. Tasmania now exports more woodchips than the rest of Australia combined. Since Forests and Forest Issues in Victoria and Tasmania / 6 ‘sustainable yield’ is based only on sawlog and veneer volumes (which have decreased slightly over this period) and ignores woodchip volumes, Tasmania, by definition, continues to harvest within ‘sustainable limits’.
The increased harvesting has provided more employment in logging, but employment has decreased across wood processing sectors where value adding occurs. Tasmania has greatly increased its rate of plantation establishment, primarily of hardwoods (eucalypts).
Approximately half of all native forest on public land harvested between 1998 and 2002 was converted to plantation. The clearing of over 70,000 ha of native forest in this period, combined with logging of old growth forests and rainforests is impacting on the biodiversity at a local level across the State. Problems associated with management of threatened species and rare forest communities’ have been identified. There are conflicting reports regarding forestry’s impact on water catchments although a precautionary approach is not being used. Tourism and agriculture have also been impacted.