26 May, 2009

LETTER: Better use for old trees

Peter Campbell, Surrey Hills
Letter, The Age, 26/5/09

The continuation of old-growth forest logging after the State Government's commitment to protect them is a worrying failure of government.

It is incredible that cow paddocks may be protected when 500-year-old forest giants such as those in Brown Mountain and Delegate forests are still being killed, mainly for woodchips that nobody now wants to buy.

These forests contain many threatened species such as owls, gliders, quolls and even crayfish. They also provide valuable water for our river systems and communities.

These forests can also provide green jobs for local communities into the future through ecotourism that would attract thousands of local and international visitors.

The time has come for the Brumby Government to protect them immediately.


LETTER: A joke that wears thin

Chris Clement, Carlton
Letter, The Age, 26/5/09

IT'S time we sent VicForests and the State Government to the knacker's yard for this lunacy of fobbed-off promises to protect the precious forests of Victoria, and delivering us only a handful of hay. Someone needs to remind VicForests of the definition of "old growth" and how essential these forests are to curbing climate change and supplying Victoria and Australia with drinking and irrigation water.

Its commitment is a joke, its motives extremely questionable and, with antics like this, my trust in my Government is running thin. Premier John Brumby, please prove your leadership and honour your Government's promise to immediately protect the real old-growth forests of Victoria.


LETTER: The wrong questions

John Tucker, Montmorency
Letter, The Age, 26/5/09

So, Lyall Johnson, we need more surveying to ensure that mapping boundaries protects the "greatest amount of old-growth forest available, while also protecting timber jobs". Then why is the Government continuing to allow logging in contentious areas, knowing that the maps upon which it relies, and which VicForests exploits (undue influence or not), are faulty? Given that such "logging" employs approximately six chaps on bulldozers and one bloke with a match for a few weeks, what jobs are actually being protected by prevaricating?

Perhaps it's time for all sides to remember that governing is meant to be done for the benefit of the people — not for the benefit of companies, in the hope that they will pass on some of this benefit to the people in the form of jobs.

We need an end to the false dichotomies of economy versus environment. We need a recognition that people do need to eat, but that they also need to breathe. We need the courage to ask not "how can we best protect jobs/trees/football?" but to ask "what do we need to do to ensure that we leave the world a better place, given what we know?".

If that means restructuring society or providing free retraining and income support for miners, wilderness society workers or anyone else, then bring it on.


LETTER: Put an end to this forestry folly

Rosemary Glaisher, Axedale
Letter, The Age, 26/5/09

Cutting down 500-year-old trees and selling them to Japan as woodchips is a bit like bulldozing superb, intact medieval castles and crushing their stones to make roads. A bit like, but actually much worse, because destroying these ancient forests kills entire ecosystems, driving threatened species closer to extinction.

Yet this is exactly what our State Government is allowing to happen, despite having promised in 2006 to protect our old-growth forests.

Your article ("Declared forests turn out to be paddocks", The Age, 25/5) raises interesting questions about how an iconic wilderness of forest giants like Brown Mountain in East Gippsland can be annihilated while areas of regrowth and "cow paddocks" can be earmarked for protection.

It does not take a hardened cynic to wonder whether these areas are selected more on the basis of their usefulness or otherwise to the timber industry than on their conservation value.


25 May, 2009

THE AGE: Declared forests turn out to be paddocks

Adam Morton
May 25, 2009

Nearly 40 per cent of old-growth forest earmarked for protection by the State Government since the 2006 election has been found instead to be young regrowth, poor quality vegetation and cleared paddocks.

A survey by green groups found that about 15,000 hectares of Gippsland forest that the Government planned to turn into national park and conservation reserves was of no value to the timber industry and had comparatively little environmental value.

The survey findings come as the Government engages in a protracted haggling exercise with conservationists and state-owned commercial logging agency VicForests over the final location of the protection areas.

A report to be released today claims the Government is "protecting" cleared and previously logged land, while allowing timber harvesting to continue in high-value old-growth forest areas, such as Brown Mountain in far east Gippsland.

This is despite its 2006 election promise to "immediately protect the remaining significant stands of old-growth forest in Victoria".

Victorian National Parks Association executive director Matt Ruchel said the Government's commitment to turn 41,000 hectares into national park and conservation reserves could be an important step, but that the maps it released before the election were based on flawed ecological advice.

The report, designed to pressure the Government to rethink its old-growth protection maps, says 10 of the 25 proposed protection areas in east Gippsland are not old growth forests.

An area cited in the report is at Mt Stewart, which was found to be "grassy dry and shrubby dry forest, including a large weed-infested cleared field, large areas that were prescribed burned in the 1990s and 2007".

Similarly, areas at Breakfast Creek, Boggy Creek and Yellow Waterholes are described as "largely burned areas from the 1980s, cleared land and logging coupe from 2006".

Mr Ruchel said it was unclear if the mapping errors were deliberate or a mistake.

But Wilderness Society forest campaigner Luke Chamberlain accused VicForests and "Government logging bureaucrats" of undermining the election pledge. "Two and a half years on from the election John Brumby must show leadership and honour his Government's commitment."

John Hermans, a forest ecologist who runs his own sawmill at Clifton Creek, said he believed the timber industry recommended forest that was not commercially viable for inclusion in state reserves.

"If more people knew what was happening here in Gippsland there is no way they would get away with it," he said.

The Government promised to protect 33,500 hectares of old growth plus 5000 hectares that link the Snowy River to Errinundra National Park and 2500 hectares of "icon sites" — mainly logged areas that were once battlegrounds between conservationists and the timber industry.

The protection areas are yet to be formalised in legislation, but have been off-limits to loggers since the election.

The State Government did not respond directly to the claims in the green groups' report, which was also backed by the Australian Conservation Foundation.

Instead, a government spokesman said that finalising the park boundaries was still a work in progress.

"This process requires extensive survey and mapping work to ensure that, in line with election promises, the boundaries protect the greatest amount of old-growth forest available, while also protecting timber jobs," spokesman Lyall Johnson said.

VicForests spokesman Cameron McDonald said the agency was just one of several bodies talking to the Government about the old-growth protection maps. "Any suggestion that we exert undue influence is incorrect," he said.

Conflict over the protection areas has been heightened by summer logging at Brown Mountain, which green groups say is home to trees up to 500 years old. One coupe was felled and the remains burned, but further harvesting has been on hold since January, when conservationists claimed they had found threatened glider, owl and crayfish species.

This triggered a State Government investigation, which Mr Johnson said found no evidence of threatened species. But he said the moratorium on harvesting in the remaining Brown Mountain coupes scheduled for logging would continue while the survey results were considered for "further issues"."