28 January, 2007

ARTICLE: The reality of catchments

Seamus Bradley

The Age, 28/01/2007

MELBOURNE prides itself on its pristine water sources. Rain falls in our all-natural catchments and the water gurgles through native forests so beautiful you could imagine the girl with the sun in her hair stopping off to shoot a quick shampoo commercial.

The reality, as illustrated last week, is somewhat different. There are big burly blokes (and sheilas?) with chainsaws, mucky boots and heavy equipment in the catchments stripping out thousands of tonnes of timber for some sawlogs but mostly for woodchips.

The logging is done in the highest- rainfall area of the catchment, meaning that millions of litres of water are lost to you, the public, because young trees suck up more water than mature trees. As Doctors for Forests warn, logging in the catchments also has negative health implications.

But banning logging in the catchments could also have negative health impacts for state governments. Logging unions would fight anything that looks like a win for the pinko greenies, and government would need to avoid/offset any job losses, dodge a plunge in business confidence and soften any economic downturn that the economies of logging-dependent rural communities would face.

There is nothing simple about logging in the catchments and nothing elegant about the arguments around the matter.

For instance, reaction to our page-one story has ranged from "if you want water, cut down all the trees and concrete over the catchment" to "brave loggers save the Thomson catchment from raging bushfire".

So while city people need good clean water from pristine catchments, many country people need secure jobs that pay well. Are these two needs mutually exclusive? Should logging be moved to plantations — also controversial — where the timber is of consistently better quality?

Why is the whole topic shrouded in such secrecy? Why won't government and companies answer straight questions? What did the State Government mean when it announced on Thursday that it would be "moving some logging to maximise water harvesting"?

Which Victorian Greens politician hears the voice of Bob Brown as Obi-Wan Kenobi in his head?

Elsewhere there were bouquets and brickbats for Tom Hyland's opinion piece on Melbourne's transport woes. Brilliant say some, what a whinge say others.

And Professor Sue Willis is criticised for saying that ill-informed criticism is driving the brightest away from teaching because it tarnishes the profession's reputation.

Original article

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