Koren HelbigThe Courier-Mail, July 19, 2012
NEWLY allocated national parks could be reopened to commercial logging and grazing under controversial Newman Government plans to revive the state's struggling agricultural industries.
Protected tracts of native state forest could also be handed back to loggers, ditching conservation agreements that have stood for up to 13 years.
National Parks Minister Steve Dickson accused the Bligh government of locking up vast areas that had little preservation value, including former cattle stations.
But Mr Dickson promised pristine and long-protected national parks would continue to be safeguarded.
Mr Dickson told The Courier-Mail about 875,000ha of state forest and former cattle stations recently gazetted as national parks were likely to be the first to be rescinded.
"What we are doing is an absolute scientific review of all the land we've got," he said.
"If it's pristine land that should be in national parks, I'm going to keep it because you don't take away what needs to be preserved for ever more."
Mr Dickson said much of the land that would be released had previously been logged, mined or grazed. He named four former cattle stations that could come under the plan, all in north Queensland.
Conservationists warned that releasing land would rekindle the 1990s "forest wars" and counter an international shift towards conservation.
But Forestry Minister John McVeigh accused the ALP of failing to maintain its vast land reserves and said forests were now riddled with pests and weeds, posing a bushfire threat.
He said about 200,000ha of native state forest quarantined as reserves under long-held conservation agreements could also potentially be reopened to logging.
The Government would first look to renew state forest access agreements, due to expire within two years, to cypress millers in southern and central Queensland.
Tracts of land considered to be of "low-conservation value" within the western hardwoods region and areas protected under the 1999 South East Queensland Forests Agreement would then be targeted.
Australian Rainforest Conservation Society president Aila Keto, who played a key role in setting up the SEQ agreement, said studies showed native wood stocks were insufficient to meet logging demand.
"The only way that the industry was able to keep going was to keep going to smaller and smaller trees," she said.
"Which means that the industry was essentially destroying the ecological integrity of those forests and the wildlife that depends on them."
Timber Queensland CEO Rod McInnes said the industry did not want to rush "open slather" back into natural forests but some areas had been wrongly quarantined by the former Beattie government.
"We don't clear floor forests, we selectively log about two logs for an area the size of Suncorp Stadium once every couple of years so it's a very light impact," he said.
But Mr McInnes warned the change would not be a panacea for a struggling timber industry battling strong international competition, and local mills could be sidestepped if Hancock Plantations Queensland, which bought out the state-owned Forestry Plantations under the Bligh government's 2010 asset sales, sent timber to China for processing.
A major plan released last Friday shows that mapping the timber industry's future and restoring beekeeper access to native forests are among the Government's key actions for the six months ahead.
AgForce last night welcomed moves to reopen former grazing land to cattle but Wilderness Society campaign manager Tim Seelig said that declassifying designated national parks was "an outrageous act".