25 April, 2007

LETTER: Cutting some of the tall plantation timber tales down to size

Anthony Amis, Friends of the Earth, Melbourne
Letter, Business Age, April 25 2007

Comments directed at me by Mark Poynter and Leon Bren (BusinessDay, 9/9) warrant a reply.

In regards to forestry, Friends of the Earth has a slightly different position to the Greens, in that we accept small-scale selective felling in certain regrowth forests, particularly in regions where plantations are in limited supply.

We also accept that any native timber cut should achieve the highest value-adding possible.

We agree with the Greens that there should be an immediate shutdown of logging in high conservation-value forests and that plantation management, particularly in older pine plantations, warrants urgent restoration back to native forest.

The Greens and Friends of the Earth also agree that the most powerful factor behind native forest logging in Victoria is a rampant woodchip/clear-fell ideology that does not respect the ecological balance.

For instance, one could argue that the main factor in the demise of Black Forest Timbers was the over-logging that occurred in the Wombat state forest during the 1990s.

This occurred after logging syndicates with close connections to Geelong export woodchipping facilities were given almost free rein.

Black Forest was not an innocent party in this debacle. As early as 1993, Black Forest owned almost 11 per cent of the shares in the export woodchipping mill at Geelong, meaning that not only was it profiting from over-cutting the Wombat, but they were also pocketing the profits of native forest woodchipping in areas such as the Otways and East Gippsland.

It could also be argued that the main beneficiaries of woodchipping the Wombat forest were individuals who were instrumental in establishing timber industry lobby groups, which lobbied governments to ease regulations on export woodchips. The Regional Forest Agreements were their triumph. Did the Institute of Foresters support this profiteering as a public resource was plundered by select individuals?

In terms of Leon Bren's letter, as I understand it, the Croppers Creek study is based on a plantation area of about 50 hectares.

This represents about 0.017 per cent of Victoria's present plantation base. While I don't dispute his findings at Cropper Creek, am I naive to believe that findings extrapolated from such a small area do not necessarily apply throughout all Victorian plantations?

It is also important to acknowledge that almost all plantation development in Victoria now occurs on cleared pasture, not native forest.

Many studies have shown significant decreases in stream flow following conversion of pasture to plantations (both blue gum and pine).

Of course plantations produce more product per volume than native forest, however most of the pine is already committed to supply long-term supply contracts. These contracts are not in competition from native forests so such a comparison by Mr Bren is unwarranted. My initial question still remains: Are these plantations truly sustainable?


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