Rally to save native forests


Gerry Watt

The tragedy of woodchipping in south-eastern Australia continues behind a smokescreen of glossy state and industry propaganda that has led many to believe the problems in our forests are over.

Forestry management practices are rapidly converting our forests into a virtual mono-culture of similar-aged regrowth that can no longer provide a habitat for native wildlife. Since woodchipping began in the 1960s, millions of birds and animals have died, directly killed by logging or dying painfully from starvation and predation. Others can no longer breed due to the lack of old trees with hollows for them to nest in.

More than 50 eucalypt species and the habitats of 400 species of animals and birds are now threatened by logging. Local populations of koalas and long-footed potoroos are on the brink of extinction. Streams and coastal lakes are suffering siltation and, in many cases, drying up.

Current logging practices are severely impacting on water supplies. In undamaged forested catchments, water percolates slowly through soils and swamps, providing a steady supply of filtered water to groundwater and streams, even in periods of drought. Current logging practices lead to an initial increase in run-off for about five years, which carries heavy sediment loads, then up to 100 years of reduced flow as rapidly growing regrowth starves the soil, streams, lakes and other vegetation of their "normal" water supply.

Given global warming and prolonged drought, and the expected population increase on the NSW South Coast of 74,000 over the next 25 years, it is staggering that governments continue to jeopardise this most precious water resource. Water is the highest value product that can be obtained from the native forest estate and regrowth forests should be managed towards their old-growth state.

Jobs in tourism, which underpin the local economy, will be threatened by continuing degradation of the natural environment, while the highly mechanised, low-value-adding woodchip industry exports jobs.

This taxpayer-subsidised destruction of our native forests has to stop. To force political change, it's time to intensify the campaign to permanently protect and rehabilitate native forests.

To that end, a coalition of nearly 30 environment groups is organising a peaceful mass rally on July 2 at the South East Fibre Exports (SEFE) woodchip mill south of Eden. The protest aims to pressure the state and federal governments to stop the destruction of the south-eastern NSW and East Gippsland native forests. It will also call for an end to native forest woodchipping, which drives the logging industry in south-eastern Australia.

Ninety per cent of wood logged in the Eden area goes to the chip mill for export, mainly to Japan for paper manufacture. The chip mill consumes more than 160 truckloads of native forest logs per day; that's 900,000 tonnes this year, heading for 1 million tonnes annually over the next couple of years.

None of this is waste wood, as industry and government would have us believe. The chip mill can only handle whole logs.

Australia now has more than enough mature plantation hardwood to meet all local and export demands. In fact, due to over-planting, Australia and the world are about to face a glut of timber. Hardwood plantations in Australia can already supply 8 million metric tonnes of chip logs per year, 30% more than was exported last year from native forests.

The Japanese-owned SEFE chip mill at Eden has not made the switch because native forest logs cost it about one-third the price of plantation logs. SEFE also benefits from subsidies, including exemption from local government rates and the provision of roads, port facilities and other infrastructure. In addition, contract loggers are heavily subsided with Commonwealth grants for equipment and training.

SEFE averaged a 23% annual return to shareholders over the last four years. Yet the government-owned Forests NSW, which supplies wood to SEFE from publicly owned native forests, runs at a loss.

Send a message to the state and federal governments that our native forests must be protected before it's too late. For more details, visit <http://www.woodchippingsux.net.au> or email <chipmillrally@yahoo.com.au>.

From Green Left Weekly, June 21 2006.
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