A useful guide to the forest debate


Sustaining Our Forests
By Kara Joss
1994. 121 pp. $15
Reviewed by Lisa Macdonald

Sustaining Our Forests is a much needed and very useful resource for both the novice and the well informed on forest conservation in Australia. The product of Joss' active involvement in the NSW conservation movement and her realisation that most conservation activists are not equipped with a detailed understanding of the issues, this book is a simply written, accessible and very practical guide to an important and sometimes complex subject.

Joss' overview of the key environmental, economic and social issues surrounding the use and misuse of our forests offers a comprehensive summary of both the scientific information available on this question and the trends in and political motivations informing Australian forest policy development over the last few decades.

From a national perspective, but with a detailed focus on NSW, Sustaining Our Forests sets out to answer most of the most commonly asked questions relating to forests — from the botanical content, location and role of various types of forests in Australia and how they are currently being managed (ecologically and legally), to the structure, operations and economics of the timber industry.

While this book is clearly informed by a passionately conservationist perspective, it is neither an emotional appeal based on moral arguments nor simply rhetorical. On the whole, Joss lets the hard facts (drawn from a wide range of sources) speak for themselves. And they do.

Particularly useful are the chapters dealing with the question of who is formally responsible for our forests and their management, where Joss untangles and clarifies the extremely complicated (and ineffective from conservationists' point of view) web of laws, departments and authorities. These all operate according to the "complex charade of forest politics" in which the issue of accountability gets thoroughly and conveniently lost.

Similarly, Joss systematically exposes the concentration of ownership in the timber industry operating in Australia, the extent of public subsidy of the timber corporations' profits and the institutionalised disincentives to a plantation-based timber industry, which would put an end to the devastation of native forests. The information makes this book a valuable contribution to the environment movement's ongoing battle to win public support for rapidly moving to an ecologically sustainable timber industry.

If there is a weak spot in the book, it is in the section on the forest movement, which is disappointingly sketchy. While acknowledging the diversity of the movement and noting the historical effectiveness of non-violent direct action as a method of protest, Joss tends to reduce the question of "positive political change" to the need to obtain "the cooperation of government" — a strategy being revealed, once again, as patently inadequate in the current woodchipping debacle.

Still, dealing adequately with the question of the movement and its strategies probably requires another book altogether — many books in fact. And as Joss herself points out, "The best way to gain an idea of what the movement is all about is to actually take part in it yourself". Whether you're already part of the movement or are just about to get involved, make sure you read Sustaining Our Forests. It will make you a better informed, more effective activist.

Sustaining Our Forests was published at the author's expense and is not commercially distributed. Orders should be mailed to Diane Joss, 21 Muriel St, Faulconbridge NSW 2776.

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