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Rumblings in forest debate undermines hard-fought peace deal

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Rumblings in forest debate undermines hard-fought peace deal

Talk of total forest destruction is misleading and alarmist,

IT looks like it is on again. Agitators in need of a cause, seeking relevance. Emotive drivel, disruptive protests and court challenges. Some things never change.

Watching the publicity antics of these agitators from afar, the Wilderness Society now wants to get in on the action. However, for the head of The Wilderness Society, Tom Allen, to now argue for a cessation of all native logging, is blatant hypocrisy. TWS has now firmly stepped away from its commitment to support the outcomes of the Tasmanian Forest Agreement, which was signed off by industry, unions, the TWS and the Australian Conservation Foundation back in 2012, after almost three years of negotiations.

Under that Agreement, more than 500,000ha of “iconic forest and wildlife habitat” – their words – were preserved from logging and the boundaries of the World Heritage Area extended.

In 2018, the Wilderness Society stated “We believe that the agreement … is the only viable way forward.

And again: “We have made a decision to stick with the Agreement. We will honour that commitment”.

Now, not three years later, Allen argues for the protection of all native forest. With emotive hyperbole such as the forests being “cathedrals of splendour”, and “these living Gondwana links”, and “forest destruction”, Allen portrays native forest logging as lacking “social licence”.

What he really means is that he – and those who share his views – don’t like it. It is the equivalent to arguing that they don’t have a social licence to carry out disruptive protests or expensive litigation.

While having a shot against logging of native forest, and its regeneration, Mr Allen states his support for monoculture plantations, an intriguing position indeed.

It is also hard to understand how Mr Allen can argue that the industry is not sustainable because of a fall in log volumes when by his own admission areas available for logging have been drastically reduced Of course sawlog production will fall.

Mr. Allen was arguing that the Regional Forest Agreement between the Commonwealth and the state does not afford “forest ecosystem protection”. Which is a silly argument because that is exactly what it does. The RFA came into being after the Commonwealth established the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Act (the EPBC Act), which was designed to protect threatened species, migratory birds and other international obligations.

The RFA goes further, in that it is an intergovernmental agreement between the Tasmanian and Australian governments that accredits Tasmania’s sustainable forestry operations against the principles, objectives and requirements of the EPBC.

The Tasmanian RFA covers all forms of forestry and forest management across the state, including public and private, plantation, native, reserve and production areas.

Under the RFA, over 800,000 hectares of native forest have been placed in reserves since 2011, a fact never acknowledged by the environment lobby.

The RFA is a mechanism between two governments to enable a consistent management approach when these jurisdictions overlap, which they now do.

It is not simply set in stone, it is an adaptive management framework, to ensure that its principles are not compromised over time.

Both jurisdictions retain oversight.

When the Tasmanian Forest Agreement was signed, a number of conservationists argued that they were not a party to the Agreement and therefore would not be bound by it, because they wanted total cessation of native logging. That was the start of the Bob Brown Foundation. That group is now using every trick in the book to disrupt and hinder any timber activity in native forest. Emotive language, including the fear of “total destruction” of forests, disruptive protest, market blackmail and court cases are their stock in trade.

They argue that there is no such thing as sustainable forest management, and yet it is recommended as a climate change mitigating action by the IPCC – the United Nations body for assessing the science related to climate change – and by international certification bodies.

The reality is that more than 50 per cent of all native forest, including 75 per cent of forest which is on public land, is reserved from logging.

The Wilderness Society has now obviously changed its position and has stepped away from the Tasmanian Forest Agreement.

In my view, given that fact, the government should also abandon the Agreement and return the boundaries to its position before the Agreement was signed. To not do so is to pander to people who do not keep their word.

Julian Amos is a former Labor minister for primary industry, energy and forests. He has been a long term supporter of the forest industry including as Forest Industries Association of Tasmania chairman.

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