01 August, 2007

LETTER: We need to see the wood and the trees

Professor Rod Keenan, school of forest and ecosystem science, University of Melbourne, Parkville
The Age, 1/8/2007

Tricia Caswell is right. Forest policy needs a national view and a holistic approach to effectively face the challenges. Australia has 164 million hectares of forest. About 2 per cent is in Tasmania. Much of the public debate centres on timber harvesting in tall, wet, old-growth eucalypt forests on public land. These are a relatively small part of the total forest area. They are important habitat for many animals and plants, and some are in significant wilderness areas.

However, the latest State of the Environment Report indicates that tall, open forests are relatively intact (about 87 per cent of the pre-European distribution remaining) and well protected (34 per cent in reserves) with the remaining areas well managed.

The imperative for forest biodiversity conservation is now largely on private land. Many of the forest types under-represented in the reserve system are in shorter-stature, drier forests and heavily cleared woodlands now used for agriculture.

The notion that forest management problems can be solved simply by transferring lands to conservation reserves is also simplistic. Much of the debate is over timber harvesting.

However, fires, climate change, pests, diseases, feral animals and urban development are bigger threats to forest biodiversity, water and other forest values. They need to be managed, whether timber is harvested or not.

Despite past periods of heavy utilisation, native forests continue to provide many values and services. If these values are to be maintained and improved, we need a vision that transcends simplistic notions of production versus protection and a comprehensive forest policy based on a renewed commitment from all levels of government with sufficient resources for effective implementation.

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