By Tom Flanagan
HOBART — A blockade organised by the Wilderness Society brought road works to a standstill in the threatened East Picton region of Tasmania's southern forest on February 17. About 40 protesters, including Green Independent parliamentarian Bob Brown, have established a camp in the forest. They are calling on newly elected Liberal Premier Ray Groom to end roading and cable logging in the forests, which were part of the Hartz Mountains National Park from 1939 to 1979.
While the action was originally planned to last a week, it could be extended depending on overheads and funds, Wilderness Society spokesperson Christian Bell told Green Left. The state government appears to be trying to wait out the protest, as it has tended to lose out in previous well-publicised confrontations.
The 3000-hectare East Picton forests are about two hours' drive south-west of Hobart, near the town of Geeveston. They consist mostly of 200-300 year old tall eucalypts towering over a dense understorey of rainforest species including celerytop pine, myrtle and horizontal scrub, with huon pine growing along the banks of the Picton River.
Bell says the Field Labor government made the decision to log the former national park just before the February 1 state election. It acted despite the opinion of a Forests and Forest Industry Council panel of experts that the East Picton forests are important in their entirety to protect water catchments and the integrity of a neighbouring world heritage area, and because they are old growth forest.
Labor's decision was also taken against a June 1990 recommendation of the Department of Parks, Wildlife and Heritage that the East Picton forests should be added to the world heritage area.
Tensions escalated at the protest site on February 18 when a blockade on the logging road was torched by pro-logging vigilantes. A Forestry Commission bus, parked across the road earlier in the week, was also damaged during the night raid. Its lock was broken and its petrol tank was ripped out when it was driven over a pile of rocks placed in the road.
The Wilderness Society's Kerry Brown said there had been warning of the raid and Hobart police had been notified before it occurred. Liberal MP Bruce Goodluck has called for termination of social security benefits to unemployed protesters.