The signing of the much-anticipated “Forest peace deal”, an agreed statement of principles between some conservation groups and the timber industry, was announced on October 19.
Most of the statement of principles had already been leaked. Still up in the air was the two last minute demands made by the Forest Industries Association of Tasmania. These concerned recognition of already existing supply contracts from publicly owned native forests and the use of forests for wood-fired power station.
In the end, the first demand was agreed upon. The second demand saw a compromise, where only plantation wood and residue could be burned for power.
Those involved in the talks, particularly on the conservationist side, were jubilant at the deal being struck.
The Wilderness Society, one of the participants in the talks, said on its website: “The Statement of Principles agreed between conservation groups, timber communities, forest unions and the industry gives Tasmania a unique opportunity to create a sustainable timber industry, protect its remaining native forests and resolve the conflict over logging.”
The biggest issue being celebrated was the agreement to “immediately protect, maintain and enhance High Conservation Value Forests identified by ENGO’s [environmental non-government organisations] on public land”.
The Labor-Green government also gave its support to the principles. The Greens said: “We now have a once in a generation opportunity to deliver a timber industry all Tasmanians can be proud of.”
The Labor Party said: “This agreement is not about destroying Tasmania s timber industry, it is about strengthening it.”
But outside of the major political parties and those involved in the talks, the response has been less positive.
The community campaign group TAP Into a Better Tasmania (formerly Tasmanians Against the Pulp Mill) believes the outcomes of the talks are a travesty. Spokesperson Bob McMahon said: “The three environment groups have signed an in-principle agreement for a pulp mill in Tasmania which Gunns and Shadforths are already claiming is a social licence for the Bell Bay pulp mill.”
The Bell Bay pulp mill proposal is incredibly unpopular with local residents and Tasmanians as a whole.
McMahon believes support for a pulp mill in the agreement is a “damaging tactical blunder made by the environment groups … they now face the near-impossible task of convincing their own members as well as the community at large, whom they have kept in the dark up until now.”
TAP Into a Better Tasmania have opposed the talks from the beginning because of their secretive nature and the exclusion of community groups and the population as a whole from having a say in deals that will affect their lives.
McMahon believes the shift to plantations is not the silver bullet that has been portrayed to be. “The forest agreement fails to include principles of protecting water supplies sucked up by plantations and poisoned by herbicides and pesticides”, he said.
“There is no mention of protection of food-producing land, community health and rural community economic viability, all of which have been seriously impacted by plantations in Tasmania.”
Similar concerns were raised by Andrew Ricketts, convenor of The Environment Association Inc, who also noted that the agreement “fails to protect or even advocate the protection of threatened species and especially those key or core areas of threatened fauna habitat that are likely to come under additional pressure as a result of this agreement, contrary to claims made today [and] fails to protect Tasmania’s most biodiverse forest ecologies and in the main fails to achieve a proper reservation of the endangered vegetation communities of Tasmania.”
The Tasmanian Conservation Trust also did not endorse the agreement.
Though it believed the “agreement promises a great outcome for protection of high conservation value forests in wilderness areas”, it is “concerned that it is not a complete plan for conservation of forests. In particular it fails to address the need for protection of forests for biodiversity — found primarily on private land.”
The Huon Valley Environment Centre meanwhile was positive but cautious about the talks. Spokesperson Jenny Webber said: “While this is a positive step, the real progress to finally ending this decades-old dispute will be made on the ground when our irreplaceable high conservation value forests are put under moratorium leading to formal protection.”
The October 19 Hobart Mercury highlighted other aspects of the deal: “The road map to peace will form the basis of requests for compensation and restructuring to accommodate the radical changes.
“It is believed the cost of the peace deal to the federal and state governments may exceed $1 billion of required funding to allow contractors and other players to leave the industry …
“The forest industry believes it will need 30 years before all harvesting of native forests can cease, arguing that there is no hardwood timber of high enough quality yet growing in Tasmania’s extensive eucalypt pulpwood plantations to be used for building and furniture.”
The forest industry can get away with this, because one of the principles in the deal is for wood to be supplied based on the quality required by industry.
So, while certain forests will be protected in three months time, native forest logging could continue for as long as 30 years as part of the deal.
The talks and rhetoric around peace in the forests has provoked cynicism among many who remember the Salamanca agreement 20 years ago. The 1990 deal was blown apart by the Labor government, who decided to remove the cap on woodchip quotas agreed upon in the deal. The Labor-Green accord in the Tasmanian parliament at the time collapsed as result.