The Age (article), October 19, 2010
A peace deal has been struck to save Tasmania's wild forests after a quarter of a century of conflict between the logging industry and the environmental movement.
Marathon talks between industry, union and green groups will culminate in the handover today of a statement of principles, already signed by both sides, to Tasmanian Premier David Bartlett.
The deal is designed to shift loggers out of Tasmania's ancient forests and into a sustainable plantation-based industry.
Under the deal, Tasmania is expected to go to Canberra to seek hundreds of millions of dollars compensation to secure the future of the timber industry.
The industry bowed to demands from environmentalists on the last stumbling block - a clause that restricts the burning of timber as biomass fuel - sources told The Age. Green groups, in turn, agreed to recognise existing wood supply contracts.
The struggle between activists and loggers over Tasmania's old growth forests began in the mid-1980s.
During the dispute, tens of thousands of hectares of tall eucalypt forests up to 400 years old have been clear-felled - mostly for low-value export woodchips - and hundreds of protesters have been arrested.
The dispute has claimed several political scalps, including then opposition leader Mark Latham in 2004. His offer to protect the Wilderness Society's list of high conservation value forests and give $800 million compensation to the industry was regarded as having contributed to his 2004 election loss.
Greens leader Bob Brown, who was dragged through the mud by loggers and later shot at in the 1986 Farmhouse Creek protests, said the agreement could represent a landmark in the dispute.
''Nothing like this is ever totally finalised,'' he said last night. ''But I have high hopes that this could be the greatest breakthrough since the promise Mark Latham held out.''
Despite several federal government interventions that protected more forests and compensated the industry, the logging and the protests continued as recently as last week.
The peace process began after a Labor-Green government was elected in Tasmania in April, and as the industry saw international markets moving against native forest logging and a slump in profits.
The peace ''road map'', as it has been described, recognises the need to stop ''industrial forestry'' of old-growth forests in a time frame to be agreed. It still allows for specialty timbers to be logged from these forests, for purposes such as craftwood.
It calls for a move to ''a strong and sustainable industry based on a range of plantation-based industries including a pulp mill''.
No mention is made of timber giant Gunns proposed $2.2 billion pulp mill project, and there is no calculation of compensation required, or jobs that will be shed or gained by the transition.
But it says the state should ask the Commonwealth to help rebuild the industry to ensure timber communities are able to be more economically resilient than they have been until now.
Last month, Gunns chief executive Greg L'Estrange conceded that the public relations battle over old-growth logging had been lost.
''We see that the conflict has to end,'' he said in a speech in Melbourne, adding that many good ideas came from ''the people we used to throw rocks and brickbats at''. ''The vast support of the Australian population is with the environmental non-government organisations.''
Yesterday, another 120 jobs in the timber industry were lost when Gunns confirmed the long-feared closure of a pine sawmill at Scottsdale in Tasmania's north-east.
''Sadly, this is more evidence that doing nothing is not an option,'' Mr Bartlett said. ''Many, many commentators have said difficult change is coming to the forest industry, whether we like it or not.
''That's exactly why the current negotiations between the forest industry and environment groups are so crucial for the industry's future, and jobs of our timber workers.''
Parties to the talks, who all strenuously rejected the involvement of politicians in the negotiations, refused to comment before today's announcement.
The Tasmanian deal will increase pressure on the Victorian government to boost protection of the state's native forests before next month's state election.
The government this month proclaimed the creation of 45,000 hectares of national park in Gippsland - the result of a commitment made before the 2006 election. Native forestry logging continues in eastern and central Victoria.
Environment East Gippsland spokeswoman Jill Redwood, who in August won a Supreme Court injunction to stop logging at Browns Mountain due to the threat to endangered potoroo and glider species, said Victoria should follow Tasmania's lead.
''If a forest annihilator such as Gunns can see the light over native forests, then it is time our government moved into the 21st century and followed suit,'' she said.
But Victorian Association of Forest Industries chief executive Philip Dalidakis said the Tasmanian situation was unique, and no parallels could be drawn.
With Adam Morton
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