State-federal agreement threatens Tasmania's forests


By Mat Hines

HOBART — In April the government's regional forest agreement (RFA) options paper was released. The agreement is to be signed on June 30, handing control of Tasmania's forests to the state government for the next 20 years.

The 1992 National Forest Policy Statement, signed by state and federal governments, was where it all began. This was meant to ensure protection of all old growth and wilderness forests until a reserve system was put in place and ecologically sustainable forest management achieved.

But it wasn't until the woodchipping uproar of December 1994 that any attempt to implement this policy was made. In 1995 Keating set up a rapid and trivial assessment of forest areas to determine those required for the reserve system.

In December 1995 the deferred forest areas (DFA) decision withdrew only a few forests of high conservation value.

These decisions would form the basis of regional forest agreements (RFA), which Keating announced would end control of export woodchipping by the federal government.

A scoping agreement signed by the Tasmanian and Commonwealth governments on January 16, 1996, committed them to negotiating an RFA that was consistent with a range of policies, legislative requirements and agreements.

Tasmania is meant to have been divided into eight areas, called biogeographic regions. In each of these, in order to protect the great diversity of the state's forests, the preservation target was to be 15% of the forests that existed prior to European settlement, 60% of old growth and 90% of high quality wilderness

These targets were to be higher for both broad forest types and old growth where they are endangered, vulnerable, rare or depleted.

The Tasmanian Conservation Trust (TCT) has calculated that approximately 2.8 million hectares need to be protected to meet the government's own rules. Some 1.6 million ha is already protected in reserves. The 1.2 million ha needed includes 0.9 million ha of forest and 0.3 million ha of non-forest, the latter in unprotected wilderness.

The targets set for the regions have not been applied. This is likely to result in the north and east of the state, where most of the state's endangered species are located, having fewer areas protected.

An information sheet produced by the TCT highlights the following flaws in the RFA process:

l<~>no adequate funding to protect those forests that can be reserved only on private land; this could lead to more woodchipping and clearing;

l<~>only 50 forest types were used in the assessment despite 130 being scientifically recognised;

l<~>the amount of reserved land was overstated by including mining areas and forestry stream side reserves;

l<~>the definition for old-growth forests was narrow and therefore excludes large areas of old growth, reducing the amount that needs to be reserved;

l<~>logging has not been shifted out of sensitive areas during the RFA process;

l<~>the process failed to ensure the completion of research projects in time for protection;

l<~>failure to be consistent with the scoping agreement.

The following World Heritage quality areas remain under threat:

The southern forests. Here the tallest trees in the southern hemisphere lie within valleys surrounded by World Heritage peaks and ridges. The area, 60,000 ha of forest, is under threat from clear-felling.

The Great Western Tiers. In the north of the state, this 35,000 ha area is situated below the escarpment of the central plateau section of the World Heritage Area. Steep, forested gullies, waterfalls, rainforest and karst landforms are characteristic of this area, which is under threat from logging.

The west coast rainforests. Glaciated mountains and stands of Huon pine, King Billy pine, deciduous beech and myrtle lie in this area of 100,000 ha, which is threatened by mining and logging.

The Wanderer Wilderness. Isolated by Macquarie Harbour on the state's west coast, this area's main threat is mining.

The Tarkine. The area's 360,000 ha of pristine wilderness in the state's north-west are continually threatened by logging, mining, grazing and off-road vehicles.

In the past three decades, 140,000 ha of pine and eucalypt plantations were planted. Trees are ready to be cut now. Tasmania has the potential to create more than 3000 jobs by investing in saw and pulp mills to process this.

Currently these trees are being exported as whole logs. The Howard government recently removed controls on the export of unprocessed wood from plantations.

The Howard government has the power and the opportunity to save the Tasmanian forests. But it doesn't show any inclination to do so.