Changing the Game

medium_Melinda Pavey.jpgPerhaps one of our most recent standout reflections is that people from all walks of life, well and truly get the sustainability message regarding the timber 'things' they want.

Melinda Pavey, MP for Oxley in the heart of the hardwood timber rich North Coast of NSW shares her insights regarding the Tarkeeth State Forest on previously cleared farmland. Melinda is an expert at separating fact from fiction and her article, as it appeared in the Bellingen Shire Courier Sun is reproduced below and is well worth a read.

Senator Anne Rushton (Assistant Federal Minister for Agriculture and Water Resources) is another clear thinker. Speaking recently at an Australia Forest Products Association function, Senator Rushton said "It only took me 30 seconds to realise this is a fantastic industry with an incredible future".

And from the very top, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull backs wood fibre as the driver of the new economy.

This is what Melinda had to say:

"The Bellinger Valley boasts wonderfully productive native forest and hardwood plantations, such as those in the Tarkeeth State Forest, one of many areas wisely set-aside for timber production ad-infinitum.

The Valley’s old-timers will tell you that Tarkeeth was privately owned farm lands which were purchased in the 1960s by APM to develop a timber plantation. The land was sold to the Forestry Commission in the 1980s, and the plantations are now mature.

APM planned specifically to grow a crop of trees, to be harvested and processed at local mills - which supports local jobs and supplies households, businesses and Governments with the timber products we all love.

There are 4,295 men and women employed in the forestry sector in northern NSW. And, timber harvesting in NSW is very highly regulated.

Hence, it’s quite a surprise to see that the Greens have tabled a motion in the NSW Parliament calling for the forest “to be protected from logging, to abandon the planned June 2016 harvesting operation and to find alternative jobs for timber industry workers”.

It really is time for a mature, factual, science-based and constructive discussion about forestry and our forest estate.

When you stand-back and rationally consider the facts, there really is no question about the legitimacy of forestry from every perspective – social, economic, scientific and environmental.

If there is a question to be asked, it is: why do some people think a tenure change from State Forest to National Park delivers good conservation outcomes?

Let’s look at the figures.

Since the 1990s, the conservation tenure has grown to 2,400,000 hectares of National Park & Reserves on the NSW North Coast.

There (still) remains just under 900,000 hectares of State Forest on the North Coast, of which near 378,000 ha is harvestable, and the balance (522,000ha) is not harvestable due to slope, riparian and other regulatory exclusions.

em>There is an enormous amount of land that is not harvested, and not used, and not managed.

Also, only between one and two per cent of the overall area of State Forest sees harvest activities in any year. And these areas are only harvested once every 25-30 years in the forestry cycle.

The figures tell the story.

What we need to focus on are the biodiversity outcomes across the landscape. Many species live in both State Forests and National Parks and the two land uses can work collectively to support biodiversity.

But is there another agenda afoot, running under cover of: old growth, threatened species, aboriginal artefacts and cultural history, erosion, fire, forestry economics, wilderness, rainforest, eco-tourism and the like?

Is it that there are some people who just want to shut down an industry?

Regarding Koalas, the key threats to koalas are wildfire, cars, dogs and habitat loss. And yes, there are koalas in State Forests, but they also happily live in and around heavily populated Port Macquarie – which shows that they don’t rely on a tenure system.

Tenure is an human construct to mark out who is in control of what; it does not automatically confer good management, and it is prime for political and/or ideological opportunists.

The fact is that area of conservation tenure is not a proxy for good conservation outcomes.

I must also make a point about duplicity: folk cannot call for the end of native forest harvesting and demand that we source timber from plantations, and then oppose the harvesting of those plantations!

The Tarkeeth plantations are to be harvested and replanted with local native species, including Blackbutt and Tallowwood.

In-line with best-practice forestry, trees will be retained along water courses and on steep slopes, and in doing so, will provide fauna habitat.

Ultimately, sustainably managed timber harvesting can take place in a manner that balances the views of all stakeholders. This happens in New Zealand, in North America and in Europe.

But in Australia, an attitude and a culture has been engineered and decreed that is contrary to what is happening overseas. Many people here see forestry as a problem; but elsewhere, it is widely accepted as part of the solution.

Sadly, the Tarkeeth State Forest is the latest in a long line of production forests in NSW to be subjected to political and/or ideological interventions.

Former ALP Premier, Bob Carr, claimed to ‘save the forests’, but all he really did was change the tenure of 350 parcels of State Forest to National Park.

And city folk were comforted that the ‘forests were saved’. But, out in the bush, pest and weed incursions, increase in fuel-loads, roads and fire-tracks deteriorate and the forest slowly trends to bush to scrub.

And it was for politics, not science. He targeted and harvested preference votes from inner-Sydney to be re-elected, and he received life membership of The Wilderness Society and a World Conservation Union International Parks Merit Award.

I believe the time of the tenure approach has past.

And the costs have been huge. Since the 1990s, the NSW government has invested around $5 billion in this system of estate management. While the annual running costs of the conservation forest estate are currently $376 million, or $53 per hectare (2012/13), NSW State Forests are maintained at a net cost of $17 million or $9 per hectare (2013/14).

Our coastal hardwood forests, and plantations, deserve more than being un-managed exhibits on one side of an arbitrary line and sustainable timber producing systems on the other side.

Both really do need some management to sustain them. Forestry is a management tool, in fact, if you think about it, forestry could be a substitute for the fire-stick farming practises that this continent evolved under for 30-40,000 years – which delivered the biodiversity that we now aspire to.

In this sense, the book The Biggest Estate on Earth, by Australian National University Professor of History, Bill Gammage, is essential reading.

I really do think it’s time for a mature, factual, science-based and constructive discussion about forestry and our forest estate – that truly balances environmental, social and economic values."