By Belinda O'Dwyer and Marty Branagan
"Lies, lies, how can you tell so many lies?"*
Deforest industry is lying. Backed by the mega money power of corporate ogres like Boral and Daishowa, the National Association of Forest Industries (NAFI) is spraying the nation with slick commercials like a tomcat with a leaky bladder. Its propaganda is a mix of half-truths, and outright lies.
Most blatantly false is the line that knocking down our old growth forests will help reduce the greenhouse effect. The opposite is true, as any school kid could tell you. NAFI claims that vigorously growing young trees consume more carbon dioxide (CO2) than old trees. Although this is true, they omit from the equation the massive amounts of CO2 locked up in old trees. This is released upon logging, at various rates according to whether the trees are used as sawlogs, or woodchipped and turned into tissue paper.
Along with post-logging burns and gases emitted during transport and processing, the net result of old growth forest destruction is further increases in the greenhouse effect, no matter how many young trees are planted.
The greenhouse effect is now almost universally accepted in the academic community. The fact that NAFI has finally acknowledged it is amazing; to claim that further deforestry will help is like jumping on the bandwagon and jamming its wheels.
The dire predictions about global warming are already coming true: thousands of people died in India from a heatwave and 250,000 people were recently evacuated in Holland after melting snow caused widespread flooding. Other evidence comes from radiocarbon dating of Tasmania's 10,000-year-old Huon pine, indicating that the last 30 years have been the warmest for 30,000. If the polar ice caps continue to melt, evacuations and deaths could run into millions in low-lying areas such as Bangladesh and the Maldives.
NAFI also claims that "plants and animals return after logging and the whole system is renewed". Yet even State Forests admit that species are disappearing. In less than 200 years of European occupation, about 100 species of flora and at least 30 species of fauna are presumed to have become extinct. A further 178 species of plants and about 57 species of birds, mammals, reptiles, frogs and fishes are classified as endangered, all because of habitat destruction.
Regulations demand protection of particular habitat trees, such as for endangered gliders and owls, but policing and enforcing that are very difficult. Even the questions of what are habitat trees and how they can be identified are fraught with difficulty. With the lack of ecologists engaged in deforesting operations, important habitat trees are frequently felled.
Those that are retained are isolated, with all their supporting vegetation and surrounding ecosystems removed. They become prey to increased risk of erosion and wind damage, and are liable to fall. They are also far less likely to remain as habitats, because some species will not cross open or disturbed land.
Also while habitat trees are necessary, so too are nesting materials (e.g. spider webs, lichen) and nest sites other than tree hollows. The invasion of exotic species and disease due to deforestry also has a severe impact on ecosystems. Introduced animals such as feral cats (let in through increased access), and weeds, like lantana, spread through seeds on bulldozer tracks, are deadly to Australian species.
Dieback, a root rot disease, has increased dramatically due to deforestry; it poses a major threat, for example, in the jarrah forests of WA. The widespread practice of replanting not natives but monocultural plantations of conifers, with all their attendant problems, does not help.
Another preposterous claim by NAFI is that "forests suffer disturbance from storms, bushfires and logging but recover because that is the nature of eucalypts". Fire is not, primarily a "natural disturbance". Even the national Resource Assessment Commission (RAC) criticised this as misleading and simplistic because of the lack of supporting scientific evidence. This is especially true in Tasmania, where studies have shown that fire is almost totally a human-made phenomenon, with only .01% of fires caused by lightning.
The increased incidence of fire because of inappropriate European land management techniques (e.g. burning off for cattle feed in state forests) is particularly important when one considers that fire has caused the most significant disturbance in much of Australia's eucalypt forests and is devastating for rainforests.
Since the start of the export woodchip industry in 1972, the use of fire and its consequent impacts have increased enormously. There have been short-term benefits, but they are far outweighed by short- and long-term problems.
Roading, like fire, can in no way be regarded as similar to natural disturbances. Its impact is highly deleterious: the breaking of a forest canopy lets in light, allowing plants of other communities to grow; fire frequency can be increased with greater human access; the fertility of the soil is altered by erosion, compaction and litter; and water quality downstream is dramatically decreased.
More NAFI balderdash is that "only about 1% of managed forests are logged each year". Firstly, there is inadequate monitoring of the rate of deforestation in Australia. There are additional problems over the definition of "managed forests".
Aborigines managed Australia's forests for upwards of 50,000 years. They used a variety of methods to maximise the production of food, bark, timber and resins. They continue to do so where possible, although their lands have been stolen and access denied them under the present regime. Their methods of management are clearly superior to those of Europeans considering the damage wrought in two centuries balanced against 500 centuries of comparative ecological harmony.
However one defines "managed", Australia's native forests are being decimated. On Invasion Day there were about 69 million hectares of forest; now there is about half that — 5.3% of the total land mass.
The rate of deforestation is not slowing, or even levelling out, and in all states except Victoria appears to be increasing. Even if only 1% of forested land were being logged each year, it is obviously not being regenerated at a comparable rate. The industry still needs to destroy old growth, with enormous roading costs borne by the taxpayer whilst the multinationals prosper and lay off locals. Ecosystems are patently not being renewed. The forests are not recovering.
NAFI's claims are at best misleading, at worst criminally deceitful. They accuse conservationists of being emotive while pushing poppycock lacking the most basic empirical evidence. The furphy about greenhouse and old growth forest destruction, for example, although carried by State Forests propaganda is supported by one scientist — an employee of State Forests!
The RAC inquiry states that "under the principles of ecologically sustainable development the precautionary principle should be applied". The extensive clearing of the forest estate has already limited the options of this and future generations. Let us not further limit our options. NAFI ought to have the simple decency to rein in its propaganda until it can provide objective verification of its claims. To quote John Lennon, "Just gimme some truth!"
[The authors' appeals to the Advertising Standards Council (who wouldn't know an eastern quoll from a poodle) have been a monumental waste of time. A prominent Sydney lawyer who is an expert in Section 52 of the Trade Practices Act (misleading advertising) has offered his services for free. Anyone wishing to help coordinate a court case against NAFI should contact the authors at the Caldera Environment Centre, Murwillumbah NSW 2484, or telephone (07) 5533 0197.]
@9point = *"Come Up and See Me (Make Me Smile)" by Steve Marley and the Cockney Rebel.