Honouring our forestry agreement is not optional
Julian Amos provides an accurate assessment of the misleading and alarmist language being used as well as the new battle being formed by the Wilderness Society and others. (Talking Point 18 May 2021).
The Tasmanian forest industry has worked tirelessly to transform and fit within the Tasmanian Forest Agreement model, and this created a void for professional activists who are now reigniting the fight with explosive and misleading language for political advantage.
Following years of investment and hard work we have an industry that is focused on producing more with less. More on island value adding, more regeneration and plantations and more focus on the environmental solutions that our sustainable and renewable industry provides.
So let’s look at the latest target, native timber.
Firstly what is native timber?
Well, it generally comes in two forms. Regenerated native forests and previously unharvested native forests or “old growth”.
A very small percentage of native timber comes from unharvested native forests. The rest from regenerated forests.
As the name would suggest regenerated forests are forests that have been harvested in the past, regenerated and will be harvested again in the future. These forests largely produce fibre and Tasmanian Oak for doors, stairs flooring and furniture etc.
Basically it is the same cycle of farming the forests that has been done since man invented the axe.
Unharvested native forests provide access to specialty timbers that Tasmania is famous for such as blackwood, sassafras, celery top pine and myrtle. It’s also an important source of premium Tasmanian Oak that is used for the high-quality flooring, bench tops, furniture and architectural features that you will find in many homes, offices, shops and restaurants.
The timber the two forests produce is different. This is a matter of fact. This is not simply a matter of convenience nor a marketing ploy but a matter of producing a different timber for different purposes. Then there are our important plantation forests, for hardwood and softwood timber and wooden products. They are different again… but that’s another story.
This line between regenerated and old growth is blurred more often than it’s not by our critics. And whilst old growth native timbers are an important piece of the forestry puzzle, it accounts for only a very small percentage of industry outputs.
So where is old growth harvested? It is harvested in selected areas that were agreed upon by the environmental groups under the TFA.
The Tarkine, an old mixed forest area given a new name includes areas of managed forests on the outskirts, areas that generally border grazing pastures and other farms, as well as button grass plains.
I can assure you no one is driving into the depths of the Tarkine region and harvesting these sensitive areas and no amount of alarmist commentary from environmental groups will make that the case.
So whilst environmental groups would have you believe that the forested area within the Tarkine’s 450,000 hectares is under threat this couldn’t be further from the truth. The Tarkine has never been under threat and never will be under threat, and good forest stewardship is the reason for this.
But as the new battle ground is set, maps are now emerging online with a “new Tarkine boundary” that extends into nearby farmland, townships and managed forests.
We don’t operate by these exaggerated maps, we operate according to the boundaries that were agreed to, as we should.
Moving the lines might be convenient when arguing that the Tarkine is being destroyed, however it does not make it true.
More than half of Tasmania’s forests are protected and over 90% of old growth is protected, forever! World Heritage areas have been created and the industry has moved to improve.
Timber products are increasingly being recognised for their sustainability (a new tree is planted for every tree harvested), as a carbon store (that continues after harvesting) and as a beautiful, natural product that creates functional, practical, affordable, and biodegradable products such as packaging, furniture, and construction materials, including ply and veneer and framing.
Growing our own timber means not needing to import timber from overseas, from countries with far less environmental controls than here.
As we look down the barrel of a simultaneous worldwide building timber shortage and a social housing crisis we need to think. How did we get here?
This constant pressure over decades from environmentalists to “reduce, reduce, reduce” has resulted in Australia importing around 40% of our building timber. This is madness, we are world leaders in sustainable forestry, yet with all our resources we import timber, which creates more carbon and less jobs than producing it here.
So, if not Tasmanian grown and processed timber products for housing, packaging and dressed timbers, then what?
Timber is important to the built environment, our environmental efforts, society and the economy, and our critics would be well advised to catch up to the rest of the world and embrace timber as part of the solution.
I will leave you with this quote.
“The Forest Agreement gives us what Tasmanians and Australians have wanted for our forests for decades – a World Heritage Area in the southern forests and an end to logging in 500,000 hectares of our iconic forests”.
This quote is from The Wilderness Society website; however it seems that when political ambitions are on the line, honouring past agreements and common sense becomes optional.
Nick Steel is the CEO of the Tasmanian Forest Products Association.