18 May, 2011

Tasmanian logging pact hits hurdle

Andrew Darby

The Age, May 18, 2011

Tasmania's once-in-a-generation forest peace talks have been rocked by the decision of a key green group, The Wilderness Society, to suspend its involvement citing a lack of action.

Talks eight months ago reached agreement on a historic blueprint to end conflict over the island's contentious wild forests, but a logging moratorium is yet to be fully implemented, months after it was due.

It is the first loss of a central participant from the year-old talks between industry, unions and green groups.

Environment Minister Tony Burke warned last night that now was not the time to be leaving the table, and federal government help would only be possible if the groups kept working together.

''The only reason that we have an opportunity for an outcome that works for jobs and conservation is because of the goodwill that's been shown in the community-led agreement,'' Mr Burke said.

The peace talks have identified 570,000 hectares of high conservation value forests in Tasmania up for protection as the biggest timber company, Gunns Limited, ends native forest logging.
Premier Lara Giddings said the state government had protected 98 per cent of contentious high conservation value forests, with just 2 per cent remaining to fill legally binding contracts and to keep forest workers employed.

But The Wilderness Society's Tasmanian campaigns manager, Vica Bayley, yesterday showed reporters a logging access road into public old growth forests of the Esperance Valley in the island's south-east.
Mr Bayley said the road was built this year, while the moratorium was supposed to be in place.

''This is a classic case of what we've been seeing across the high conservation value reserve proposals in Tasmania,'' he said of the road, which pushed through tall eucalypt dominated wet forest, ending about 100 metres from the boundary of the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area.

''A moratorium is always about the 2 per cent that was going to be logged, not the 98 per cent that wasn't being logged,'' he said.

''Despite aspirations for a moratorium, we still have roading operations, we still have logging operations, and of course we've still got resultant conflict in the forests.''

Mr Bayley said the government's proposed carbon tax could be used to ensure protection of these forests, which were some of the country's largest carbon stores.

Small Tasmanian green groups have made increasingly strident protests against continued logging, including disrupting the loading of ships, and shutting down the state's timber agency, Forestry Tasmania.

The suspension of involvement by The Wilderness Society comes only six weeks before independent facilitator Bill Kelty is due to deliver a final report from the peace talks to the Gillard government, which will attempt to balance the protection of wild forests with timber business sustainability.

Mr Kelty could not be reached for comment.

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