Green Left Weekly's Susan Austin spoke to forest activist Miranda Gibson, who has lived for more than 100 days on a platform 60 metres up a Tasmanian old-growth tree. The “Observer Tree” has brought international attention to the campaign to protect Tasmania's forests. Gibson has vowed to continue her tree-sit until the campaign wins.
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What prompted you to climb the tree and take this courageous action? What do you hope to achieve?
The failure of the government to deliver the Conservation Agreement which was promised in August 2011 is what prompted me to take this action. I wanted to expose to the world the truth about what is going on in Tasmania: that logging of high conservation value forests continues despite the government's promise.
By being in this tree I want to connect people all around the world to these forests. I hope that can show people the value of this forest, the devastation that is happening from logging and also inspire people to take action.
I want to create pressure on the government and on Malaysian logging company Ta Ann to cease the forest destruction. I have been in contact with Ta Ann's corporate customers and I am asking others to do the same, asking them stop buying wood from high conservation value forests.
What has it been like, living 60 metres up in a tree for over 100 days?
Living in this tree has been an incredible and inspiring experience. I have come to know this forest on a deeper level than I could have ever imagined. I enjoy the subtle changes in the forest, the visits from birds, animals and insects, the view across the valley and mountain ranges.
There are definitely challenges to living up here. Making sure I get enough exercise and staying in contact with people so as not to feel too isolated are both important.
The weather has been so variable, with heat waves, storms and snow! Even though this can be hard, it is also one of the special parts of living up here. Because your life is always affected by the weather and the changes in the forest, just as the other creatures are out here too. It adds to the feeling of connection.
Have you had much support? From who?
The level of support has been very inspiring. From locals living in the closest town to people all around the world and from all walks of life. It was great to see such a strong show of support in the recent global action, where there were over 70 actions across 15 countries.
What do you think of the recent report, produced by Jonathon West and the panel of experts appointed to investigate logging contracts, mining interests and the conservation values of the proposed forest reserves?
The reports have highlighted the critical importance of these high conservation value forests. Many areas, including where I am, have been recommended for World Heritage.
The value of these forests was outlined including: endangered species habitat, Aboriginal heritage sites, karst and cave systems and glacial features. These areas of tall Eucalypt are also under-represented in current reserves and are globally significant in their own right.
The reports also raise concerns about forest industry contracts, particularly Ta Ann's contract. Forestry Tasmania have overestimated the amount of wood available and the contracts cannot be met, even without any forest protection. This shows clearly that these contracts are unviable and need to be changed.
Are you hopeful that the West report will lead to a resolution in favour of forest conservation?
With the clear evidence that these forests are high conservation value I hope that they will receive the protection that has been recommended. However, the concern now is that the conservation outcomes will be sacrificed to meet wood supply contracts that are evidently unviable and unsustainable. There is also a great concern that the Forest Practices Code will be watered down to allow logging of additional areas.
What do you think of the tactics of the big environmental non-government organisations (ENGOs) that have been negotiating for years with various timber industry players in a government-endorsed “peace agreement” process?
The ENGOs involved in the process are hopeful that the negotiations will deliver forest protection. Although the process has failed to deliver any conservation outcomes so far, there is still the possibility that it can result in positive outcomes for the forest.
However, there are elements of the industry that have clearly shown their interests remain with unsustainable logging practices. The government has also proven untrustworthy and broken promises of a moratorium and a conservation agreement.
There have been very few big rallies or protests in recent years calling on the government to protect our high conservation value forests, yet the majority of Tasmanians, and Australians, want to see our forests protected.
The government seems to listen more to companies like Ta Ann and Gunns than to ordinary citizens. Do you think that more needs to be done to demonstrate public support for forest conservation and to put pressure on the government to make good environmental and social decisions?
The government and some parts of the industry seem reluctant to let go of the outdated and unviable industry. The government and companies like Ta Ann need to know that people in Australia and around the world do not want to see these forests destroyed. Now, more than ever, it is critical to ensure this message is loud and clear. This is why I am taking the action that I am. However, alone my action is not enough. I hope that it will inspire others to stand up for the forests. Because it is only together that we will have the strength and power needed to ensure the forests are protected.
Are you aware of any other direct actions such as tree-sits or blockades that are going on in Tasmanian forests at the moment? Do you stay in close contact with other members of Still Wild Still Threatened?
Still Wild Still Threatened continues to take action in Tasmania, including at Camp Florentine; Tasmania's longest running forest blockade. This continuous action involves tree-sits and other blockading tactics to defend the Upper Florentine Valley from logging.
In addition many other actions take place in the forests and towns of Tasmania in defence of these ancient forests. Of course, with more people we could do more actions.
Is there anything that readers can do to support you?
One thing everybody can do is take part in the cyber-action at Ta Ann: Behind the Veneer, which will send a message to Ta Ann's corporate customers in Japan.
There are loads of other ways for people to help out. A few ideas are: hold a community forum or film night (I can Skype in to talk and answer questions), spread the word, put up posters, hand out flyers, organise an action, or come to Tassie. Contact me for more information on ways to get involved or ideas you have. I'd love to hear from you.