Carr announces Eden forests decision



Carr announces Eden forests decision

By Margaret Allum

SYDNEY — Reactions varying from outrage to cautious optimism greeted the NSW Labor government's October 26 announcement of a regional forest agreement (RFA) for the south-east forests near Eden. A decision on the fate of the much larger north-east forests has yet to be announced.

Despite promising to end woodchipping by 2000 (or earlier "if regional circumstances permit") during the 1995 election campaign, Premier Bob Carr delivered an agreement that will benefit the woodchipping industry.

The state government plans to add 37,000 hectares in the Eden area to that already covered by national parks, making a total of 134,000 hectares protected. The Tantawangalo forest and most of Coolangubra, presently not protected, will be added.

The timber industry will be guaranteed an annual quota of 25,000 cubic metres of sawlogs for the next five years, then 24,000 each year for the following 15 years. Six million dollars will be set aside for a timber mill at Eden and an export plant at Bombala.

Tom McLoughlin, from Friends of the Earth, said the "large area of forest to be protected is a strong symbolic endorsement of the environmental movement's position that the native forestry woodchip sector is an environmental and economic disaster that is on the way out".

McLoughlin added, "There is still much to do to achieve reform and sustainable management of native forests in south-east NSW". He called for an end to high-intensity woodchipping in the area.

"[Carr's] decision is hard-won progress with some real disappointment", McLoughlin said. "There will be disputes in the future as the timber union and the state government continue to catch up with scientific and public opinion. Now they are only 10 years behind instead of 30 years."

The Wilderness Society (TWS) welcomed the decision, describing it as a compromise for conservation, and adding that there was a serious price to pay. Steve Ryan, from TWS, said the deal was "half-way there" but that "industry will be happy with receiving almost everything it asked for. Our ancient forests, and the wildlife dependent on them, will be forced again to bear the brunt of another conservation compromise."

Pleased with the addition of the Tantawangalo and Coolangubra areas to national parks, Ryan said that, nevertheless, "An opportunity to resolve the problems associated with woodchipping in this region has been lost".

The National Parks Association of NSW (NPA) welcomed the additional 37,000 hectares of national park but said it "contrasts poorly with the government's own scientific assessment, which demonstrates that some 82,000 hectares should have been reserved and the conservation movement's own reserve proposal of 57,000 hectares, a substantial compromise in itself."

The NPA challenged the accuracy of claims by the NSW government that old-growth forests in Eden have been adequately protected and called on the premier to review the RFA decision. The NPA's analysis of the RFA reveals that 36% of Eden's old-growth forests are not protected in the new reserve system.

"Nearly half of that unprotected old growth — 15,000 hectares — occurs in areas left under the control of State Forests", Noel Plumb, executive officer of NPA, pointed out.

"The last time State Forests was left in charge of highly sensitive old growth in this area, in 1993, they clear-felled it even though it was designated in their own management plan as an especially sensitive area."

Eden is the only NSW forest where logging is by clear-felling (the forest industry calls it "integrated harvesting"), instead of selected logging, which allows the forest to regenerate.

Mark Bletcher, from the South East Forest Conservation Council, told Green Left Weekly that under the new deal, "Logging in the remaining forest will be increasingly intense."

The conservation council's proposal to the government included banning woodchipping in 30% of the forest outside the protected areas.

Rosemary Beaumont, spokesperson for the Bega Greens, denounced the Eden forest agreement as "abysmal". "Over 90% of native trees logged in the south-east go to Daishowa [the large Japanese company] for woodchipping. This has been completely and conveniently ignored by Mr Carr.

"Tragically for the magnificent old-growth and other high conservation forests of East Gippsland [Victoria], Carr's decision not only sanctions continued woodchipping of southern NSW forests, but places more pressure on the East Gippsland forests", she said.

Logging contractors for Daishowa say the RFA will seriously affect jobs in the region. The number of jobs in the timber industry has already been cut by 40% over the last 25 years. Over the same period, timber extracted has increased by 40%.

These job losses have not been the result of forests being protected. They have been the consequence of the restructuring of woodchipping from a labour-intensive to a capital-intensive industry.

Sawmills in the area have closed as the vast bulk of the timber goes to feed the chip mill. Despite this, the companies continue to claim woodchipping is a just a by-product of sawlogging.

The Bega Greens have sent Carr a proposal to halt the destruction of old-growth forests by making use of the abundant softwood plantation timber in the Bombala area.

The Greens propose that native forest woodchipping cease by 1999 with the closure of Daishowa (which employs an estimated 80-100 workers), when the development of the softwood plantation should begin, which has been said to have the potential to employ around 300 workers.

According to the Bega Greens, Daishowa's two federal transitional export licences expire in less than 15 months, and the agreement signed in 1990 with State Forests can be cancelled provided that State Forests gives appropriate notice.

Environmental activists targeted the Daishowa woodchipping mill in the protests before the signing of the regional forest agreement. On April 20, 70 protesters blockaded the mill, preventing 40 trucks from entering. Thirteen arrests were made.

Media stunts also highlighted the threat to native wildlife in the area, especially to the endangered local koala population. Species such as the tiger kwoll, southern brown bandicoot, sooty owl and the masked owl are also at risk.

On the positive side, TWS points out that the last known habitat for the long footed potoroo has been saved in the RFA.