Convergence meets to defend forests

Issue 

I went down to Tasmania for the Southern Forests Convergence organised by activists at the Huon Valley Environment Centre (HVEC) over February 19 to 21. These folks are the heart and soul of ancient forest protection in Tassie and, as always, it was a great honour to work with them.

I have been involved in protecting Tasmania’s rainforests since 1982, when The Wilderness Society noted the success of our blockades to protect NSW’s sub-tropical rainforests the previous year and invited our Nightcap Action Group to come down and help set up blockades to stop the damming of the Franklin River.

More recently, Rainforest Information Centre (RIC) director Ruth Rosenhek has been fundraising for our “Foster Feral” program, which has sent thousands of dollars to the forest protest camps.

Last year, we raised $5000 for HVEC to scout the wilderness for previously unidentified High Conservation Value forests to add to those forest areas already included in negotiations between logging companies, unions, conservationists and governments.

So little is known about these forests. For example, the 100-metre tall “Centurian” is the tallest tree in the Southern hemisphere.

Though it is located barely two hours from Hobart, it was not discovered until 2008. This individual tree is now protected, but it sits within a coupe still slated for logging.

On February 18, the day before the convergence began, there was an action in the threatened Picton Valley where cable loggers had been sent to clearfell an old growth forest area just weeks before a crucial moratorium deadline.

Twenty-five people took part in the protest; one climbed a cable logger and forced the machinery to stop.

The next day consisted of forest campaign planning sessions and updates, a live video link with US activist and author Derrick Jensen and presentations on Tasmanian forests’ wildlife and on media skills.

Back in the 1990s, the RIC supported the last hunter-gatherers in Asia, the Penan, who were blockading the loggers destroying their jungles in the Malaysian state of Sarawak on the island of Borneo.

Now, another Malaysian logging company, Ta Ann, is destroying rainforests in Tasmania.

Ta Ann has become the biggest hardwood timber company in the world through its close ties with the Chief Minister of Sarawak, Abdul Taib. Taib’s vast wealth and power has allegedly been amassed through the strategic distribution of timber concessions.

On the morning of February 20 there were planning sessions for actions on the following two days. In the afternoon, there was a benefit concert.

The venue was packed and the show opened with a kids’ set from “At Night They Howl at the Moon” — an album of environmental songs for kids that Dana Lyons and I made in 1993.

Lyons had sailed with the Sea Shepherd and he introduced his Sea Shepherd Ballad by inviting a rousing chorus of cheers for the announcement that Japan’s whaling fleet had retreated from the Southern Ocean a few days before in the face of determined Sea Shepherd opposition.

Many of the crowd had come especially to hear Lyons sing his animal rights classic “Cows With Guns”, which had been a hit around the world in 1996, #1 on the Irish hit parade and #2 on the Australian charts.

For Lyons' Sydney performance on March 6 and other upcoming gigs visit Cowswithguns.com/calendar.html

On February 21, there was an action at Hobart’s waterfront, where activists locked on to a truck of rainforest logs bound for China.

It was such a privilege and an inspiration to spend time among these young activists defending our ancient forests from the depredations of logging companies and their captive government bureaucracy.

There was another action on February 22, this time at Ta Ann’s veneer mill in the Huon Valley rainforest. Charlotte Buckton attached herself to a conveyor, which stopped work for about three hours.

One of the things that stands out about this movement is the number of women taking part. Of the roughly 30 people at the February 22 action, for example, two-thirds were female.

Among them was Nitya Rolfe, who played a prominent role in RIC’s actions in 1991 against different Malaysian logging companies.

She travelled to Borneo and protested in solidarity with the Penan and their forests. She had locked on to a crane loading rainforest timber stolen from the Penan and spent 60 days in a Borneo jail for her efforts.

[A longer version of this article, replete with photos and citations and hyperlinks, can be found at Rainforestinfo.org.au/tas.html .]