Forests trashed for cash

November 2, 1994

By Ben Butcher

SYDNEY — Since mid-September the Fast for the Forest team have been sitting outside Parliament House in Macquarie Street, and for most of that time they have been fasting. They are collecting signatures on petitions objecting to the destruction of old growth and wilderness forests, including sites of religious and cultural importance to Aboriginal peoples.

The team have received support from a wide range of environmental and Aboriginal groups and from more than 18,000 people who have signed the petitions. However, very little is being done by either state or federal government.

In 1992 Paul Keating, John Fahey and the other mainland premiers signed the National Forest Policy statement. This included a moratorium clause which stated that logging in old growth and wilderness forests and other areas of high conservation value would be avoided. Assessments were to be carried out to determine whether areas of forest came under one of these categories.

Despite this, the NSW minister for land and water conservation, George Souris, has continued to sign away large areas of old growth and wilderness forest. Wild Cattle Creek possibly the last remaining forest of its type in the world, containing a koala colony and 2000-year-old trees, was approved for logging.

Concerned that this meant the destruction of old growth forest, a group including Democrats MLC Richard Jones visited the forest. Jones and 36 others were arrested for entering an enclosed forest.

Souris' assurance that the forest did not qualify as old growth seems to be contradicted by reports from both the National Parks and Wildlife Service and from the Department of Conservation and Land Management stating that these areas were old growth and should be protected.

Souris has recently let loggers back into the forest. Of the 161 hectares of original forest, it is estimated that only about a third remains.

Colin Douber of the NSW Forest Products Association, when asked by the petitioners whether 1000-year-old trees were being destroyed, replied that they were, but that they were being replaced.

The policy of leaving parts of forests to regenerate or replanting areas produces either wasteland or monoculture "stick farms" which lack the biodiversity of the former forests. One of the petitioners commented, "How can you grow those endangered species? How can you grow a koala colony?"

Of the forest cleared a considerable proportion is used for woodchips which are exported at as little as $13.31 a tonne. However, the NSW Forest Products Association proudly claims that it receives as much as $70.00 a tonne.

Despite this income the logging industry still receives large subsidies — money that the petitioners say could be better spent encouraging farmers to replant trees on degraded farmland, and to establish and use plantation crops. The recent move by CSR to invest in softwood plantations is a step in the right direction. However, immediate action needs to be taken by governments to protect remaining old growth and wilderness areas.

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