03 October, 2010

Uneasy truce carved from log wars

Maris Beck
The Age, (article), October 3, 2010

East Gippsland Tree and Tama Green
Tama Green, a protester in the Goolengook logging dispute, admires a mighty eucalypt. Photo: Ken Irwin (right)

AT 5am the loggers would roll in. The activists were ready: locked to bulldozers, lying on platforms in the giant trees, waiting for the headlights, deep in the Goolengook forest in East Gippsland.

"The adrenalin!'' recalled protest leader Stuart Paton, who lived in the forest for five long years. "It was kind of like a war mentality.''

Another activist, Tama Green, said that offsetting the hardships were the sunny days, good friends and small wins that kept them going. Ms Green remembers mornings waking up: ''It's all crisp and clear and the birds are singing … and you're like, 'Yep, they can't log this.' ''

The decades-long struggle over the Goolengook, which raged between environmentalists, the state government and loggers, culminated on Friday in a kind of coming together.

On one of those dazzlingly crisp days, Environment Minister Gavin Jennings, surrounded by former protesters and traditional owners - but no loggers - officially launched the new East Gippsland National Park.

The park covers 45,000 hectares, including the contested Goolengook that is home to 400-year-old trees and rare and threatened species such as the long-footed potoroo, spot-tailed quoll, powerful owl and slender tree fern.

Traditional owner Aunty Rachel Mullett thought the park declaration would never happen.

''You talk about it and think about it and it never happens,'' she said. "Today has blown us away a little bit.''

Mr Jennings said the government had threaded "the eye of a needle" in balancing the interests of loggers and environmentalists.

But, of course, compromise also means everyone is left a little unhappy. The government estimates 63 per cent of the new park is old-growth forest; the Wilderness Society claims it is only 33 per cent.

Forest campaigner Luke Chamberlain of the Wilderness Society said the park was "a very good step in the right direction". But many areas included in the park had already been logged, other areas were already protected from logging as "special protection zones", and the reserved land included a cow paddock.

Mr Jennings said the so-called paddock was ''a meadow of rare and endangered vegetation that has high conservation value''.

He also said national park status was more permanent than special protection zones and suggested that activists were remaining critical as a tactic so that they could lobby for more areas to be protected.

The government has promised the logging industry that the East Gippsland park will not mean a loss of timber resources or jobs, with Mr Jennings claiming the area is "not necessarily that great for logging" - but loggers beg to differ.

Victorian Association of Forest Industries chief executive Philip Dalidakis said it was "environmental hypocrisy" that society demanded parks but was not willing to cut its consumption of paper and wood.

He said that as the timber industry was pushed out of Victoria, it went overseas to countries with far fewer regulatory controls.

"I'm not sure that jumping up and down celebrating a reserve in Victoria benefits the orang-utans in Indonesia."

A co-ordinator at Timber Communities Australia, Trevor Brown, was sceptical about the promise of no job losses. He said the park area was valuable for saw logs and pulpwood, "the eye fillet and the mince meat" of the timber business. "It is just another kick in the guts for the industry."

Mr Brown said the Gippsland activists had endangered loggers' lives for years and stopped them from earning a lawful living.

But that was all history now. "I think you can only look forward to the future and hope there is one," he said.

On that point, the environmentalists and loggers agree.

No comments: