30 August, 2012

A calm approach at Mt St Leonard

Steve Meacher

Mt St Leonard logging. Credit: Steve Meacher

Aerial photo of Central Highlands logging. Credit: Sarah Rees

Good afternoon forest friends,

After a squally start, it's been a beautiful day up here in Toolangi, reminding us that winter is coming to a close.

Despite the early wind and rain, a small but significant action took place this morning at Leo's Foot coupe on the western face of Mount St Leonard (see attached photo, taken today). Having seen four early log-trucks leave the coupe fully-laden and a kangaroo hopping out of the way in a panic, soon after 7:00am members of the local community walked cheerfully but calmly into the log landing area and settled down on the logs to await events. There was no immediate response from contractors present other than to make some brief 'phone calls. A VicForests officer walked by without comment.

After a while DSE officers arrived followed by the police. The conduct of the police was friendly but one of the group was singled out and separated from the others. Unbowed, she took the opportunity to explain how the DSE is failing to uphold its charter by not protecting native forests and Leadbeater's Possum.

Meanwhile, the main group were asking the police about so-called "citizens' arrests", as allegedly encouraged on their website by Friends of Fibbers. The police gave clear assurance that such behaviour was not an appropriate response to non-violent protest. One officer also commended the community on the peaceful conduct of its extended campaign.

Having achieved their aims in dignity and with mutual respect, today's protesters agreed to leave the coupe without arrest. It was a deliberately low-key, non-confrontational event, designed to demonstrate that the aggressive and violent behaviour shown by a few rogue logging contractors towards activists at recent protests will not be allowed to prevail.

In this, it was a total success. Thanks and congratulations to all involved. Once again, Toolangi stands tall!

For the forests,


15 August, 2012

Interim forest deal revealed

Nick Clark
The Mercury, August 15, 2012

AN interim forest peace deal has been announced his afternoon -- but there is still no agreement on wood supply or forest reserves.

Industry and environmental groups have been negotiating for two years and have twice extended the talks beyond their initial deadlines.

The deal is not a final agreement, which the signatories say should be delivered after about another four weeks.

The agreement comes after Federal Environment Minister Tony Burke spent the weekend in Tasmania trying to facilitate a deal.

The Inter-governmental Agreement on Forestry is aimed at ending the dispute that has dominated debate for 30 years.

It is understood industry wants stronger guarantees from environmental groups that the industry would not be undermined in overseas markets in the future by groups other than signatories.

Such an agreement would bind conservationist groups outside the discussions to not actively undermine the agreement.

It would include a pledge that conservationists would not oppose Forest Stewardship Council certification.

It is understood it would also cover behaviour such as a campaign by Markets for Change earlier this year which discredited products from Ta Ann that was bound for the basketball courts at the London Olympics.

Industry wants 155,000 cubic metres of saw log and 265,000 cubic metres of peeler billets.

Environmental groups have targeted up to 572,000 ha of forest for reserve.

End in sight for Tasmania's forest wars

Andrew Darby, Hobart correspondent for Fairfax Media
Sydney Morning Herald, August 15, 2012

Marathon talks to end Tasmania's forest wars are approaching final agreement after recovering from near collapse.

An interim deal released today overcomes long-standing obstacles between industry and green groups, setting up for future conflict resolution, and backing strict timber certification system.

The two sides are yet to settle the major sticking point – how much native forest to log or protect – but say they are confident of final agreement.

An initial truce was agreed by industry leaders and environment groups in 2010 after 30 years of protests against native forest logging in Tasmania. It came as the industry collapsed in the face of market rejection of native forest woodchips, and the high dollar.

The talks won $276 million support last year from the federal government to pay out forest workers, restructure the surviving industry and protect forests.

But in recent months as computer modelling of forest use scenarios failed to bring an acceptable outcome the talks threatened to unravel.

Before the latest round began last Friday, the chief executive of the Forest Industries Association of Tasmania, Terry Edwards, described them as "a last hurrah".

The federal Environment Minister, Tony Burke, and the Tasmanian deputy premier, Bryan Green, joined the talks last weekend – and today Mr Edwards and other negotiators emerged with an interim agreement.

"It is our clear expectation to finalise an agreement in four to six weeks' time," Mr Edwards said. "At this stage we haven't been able to finalise issues around wood supply and reserve outcomes."

The conservation movement has been seeking protection of up to 568,000 hectares of native forests.

In the interim agreement, signatories accepted some continued native forest logging, with a transition to greater use of plantations, and legally binding protection of high-conservation-value native forests.

Today's document also spells out how a stakeholder council will oversee the "durability" of a final deal, and requires certification of timber production by the internationally accepted Forest Stewardship Council.

Environment Tasmania negotiator Phill Pullinger said negotiations had been very intense over the past week but all around the table were committed to achieving a solution.

"We absolutely want to deliver a strong and sustainable future for the forest industry in Tasmania that is free of the conflict and aggro that has gone on around this issue for so long," Dr Pullinger said.

"We absolutely are working to deliver a strong outcome for nature conservation, so that it does deliver that durability that the industry and all of us have been working so hard to achieve."

07 August, 2012

Planet Ark misquotes uni on logging

Leslie White
Weekly Times Now,  August 7, 2012

A BOGUS quote attributed to a major university by a key environment group is ``no problem'', the university says.

Planet Ark had released a quote claiming logging products are carbon-friendly to build with, complete with a reference to an RMIT study.

But the quote: "Substituting wood products from well managed forests and plantations for carbon intensive products could reduce the embodied emissions of a typical house by up to 18 tonnes over its life'' does not exist in the study.

And the assertion has angered other environment groups - who say less than 20 per cent of wood recovered from a forest goes into wood products - and other university researchers, who say the RMIT study itself says forest management was outside its scope.

Following questioning by Weekly Times Now, Planet Ark admitted the quote came from a "fact sheet'' supplied by logging industry body Forest and Wood Products Australia.

Planet Ark campaigns head Brad Gray said the line was "accidentally attributed with no intention to mislead''.

Planet Ark has a deal worth $700,000 with FWPA, and FWPA's logo appears on the RMIT study.

Weekly Times Now contacted the study's lead researcher, who saw "no problem'' with the FWPA quote being attributed to the study as he considered it reflected the findings.

RMIT initially told Weekly Times Now the quote was merely "paraphrased''.

After Planet Ark admitted "accidental attribution'', RMIT issued a one-line statement saying it accepted Planet Ark's explanation and "now regards the matter as closed''.

But days later, Planet Ark again disseminated the "quote'' attributed to RMIT - this time to ABC's 7.30 program.

The "quote'' was displayed on 7.30's website, but Planet Ark wrote to it with a correction early this week - after questions from Weekly Times Now.

RMIT failed to answer questions from Weekly Times Now on how much FWPA contributed to the study and on whether it would accept incorrect referencing from its students.

But it said RMIT "undertakes research sponsored by industry partners in an independent and professional way''.

06 August, 2012

No peace deal for Tasmania's forests

ABC News (Australian Broadcasting Corporation), August 06, 2012

Long-running talks to strike a peace deal for Tasmania's forests have failed, with signatories unable to meet today's deadline for a final agreement.

The industry and environmental groups involved say they need fresh eyes and cannot do it alone.

They have called on the state and federal governments to facilitate a final agreement to reduce the amount of native forest logging in the state.

The groups will not say what the key sticking points are, but say the plan they had almost settled on did not provide enough timber for the industry.

Terry Edwards from the Forest Industries Association says the issues which need sorting out are "significant".

But Phil Pullinger from Environment Tasmania says failure is not an option.

"We do think that the new set of eyes may help us with some lateral thinking," he said.

Tasmanian Premier Lara Giddings says an agreement is vital to bring hope for the future.

"It is a reality that our forestry industries are under pressure, it is a reality that our world markets are in decline," she said.

"There is no use being a (Opposition Leader) Will Hodgman in all of this and putting your head in the sand and pretending the problems in the forest industry will go away.

"What an agreement will do is give us some hope, some way to providing for a sustainable native and plantation forest industry into the future."

Federal Environment Minister Tony Burke says he is confident an agreement can still be reached.

"Throughout all of this, we need to remember two things: one, we are talking about a group of people who a fortnight ago were able to reach an agreement; secondly, everybody around that table knows what it means if they don't reach agreement," he said.

"Industry are only at the table because they believe there are significant benefits to industry from them being in an agreement.

"The conservation groups are only on the table because they believe there is a one-off opportunity there for a conservation outcome.

"And the union is at the table because they know there are strong employment outcomes from reaching an agreement."

The parties will meet Mr Burke and Deputy Premier Bryan Green on Friday.

They expect a deal, if any, will be announced early next week.

Doubt cast on Gunns pulp mill

ABC News (Australian Broadcasting Corporation), August 06, 2012 

The Tasmanian timber company Gunns has raised the possibility it will not proceed with its planned $2.3 billion Bell Bay pulp mill project.

Gunns has told the stock exchange its board can not agree on whether the Tamar Valley project will go ahead.

It is now accounting for the $250 million it has already spent on the project as an expense rather than an asset.

The money is included in a $800 million asset write-down which the company is anticipating as part of its annual result expected later this month.

Gunns says this does not necessarily mean that the project will not go ahead, only that it is an indication of the company's decreased confidence about it proceeding.

"The company's board has been unable to reach a view for the purposes of the company's 30th of June 2012 financial accounts that the mill project is 'probable to proceed' in terms of the concepts defined in relevant accounting standards," the statement reads.

"The decision taken by the board does not necessarily mean that the mill project will not proceed.

"Rather it is an indication of decreased confidence from the company that is has the ability to influence the mill project proceeding."

Industry analyst Robert Easement says the announcement highlights external pressures on the company.

"The high Australian dollar has made it hard for them, the falling assets value of their plantations has made it hard for them," he said.

Company shares have been in a trading halt for almost five months as it tries to negotiate a planned $400 million capital raising.

Gunns says it is unclear when it will emerge the trading halt.

02 August, 2012

DSE - prosecuting while being prosecuted

Environment East Gippsland
MEDIA RELEASE, Thursday 2 August 2012

Today, in a curious paradox, the Department of Sustainability and Environment is being taken to court for not adhering to its own rainforest protection laws, while next week DSE will be in court prosecuting VicForests for criminally logging rainforests.

The environment group which successfully sued VicForests in 2010 for planning to unlawfully destroy endangered wildlife habitat, has today served court documents on DSE*.

Environment East Gippsland hopes to prove that DSE neglected to follow its own law and protect identified areas of nationally significant rainforest.

“While DSE takes VicForests to court for illegally logging rainforests, we believe it has itself broken laws on rainforest protection, which has forced our community group to now take DSE to court”, said Jill Redwood from EEG “It reads like a silly Monty Python sketch, but this absurdity is real”.

VicForests is due to appear in the Bairnsdale Magistrates court this Monday 6th August and the Environment East Gippsland vs DSE case should be heard in the Supreme Court in November later this year. 

For comment or information:  Jill Redwood (03) 5154 0145

*Environment East Gippsland initially began proceedings to sue VicForests last December/January over 14 areas of rainforest it planned to clearfell. These 14 areas support nationally significant rainforest in East Gippsland. It has now joined DSE into the case as EEG believes DSE is the authority which should have by law mapped and protected all Sites of National Significance for Rainforest.

01 August, 2012

Planet Ark founders cut ties with 'lost' organisation

Adam Harvey
ABC News, 1 Aug 2012

PHOTO: Pat Cash and John Dee have withdrawn their memberships from Planet Ark. (johndee.com) 

The founders of environment group Planet Ark are speaking out about the charity they say has lost its way.

Environmentalist Jon Dee and tennis great Pat Cash founded Planet Ark 20 years ago.

It soon forged a high profile, thanks in part to the backing of celebrities like Olivia Newton John, Kylie Minogue and Pierce Brosnan.

But times have been tough for Planet Ark lately.

It has made substantial losses for three years running, sold some major assets and offered redundancies to staff.

After National Tree Day at the weekend, Mr Dee and Mr Cash have told 7.30 they are particularly upset about Planet Ark's links with the timber industry.

Planet Ark has allowed its logo to be used on advertisements for timber, paid for by Forest and Wood Products Australia (FWPA).

It is part of a sponsorship deal in which Planet Ark gets $700,000 from the timber industry.

Planet Ark is also under fire for working with the timber industry to update the industry's certification system for wood products, which is called the Australian Forestry Standard (AFS).

It is seen as weaker than the rival certification system backed by the environmental movement and run by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC).

A timber company ticked off by the AFS was last year fined for illegal logging.

The Planet Ark board and management team should be held accountable for this decision to work with the forest industry... Planet Ark needs to return to the values that once made it such a great organisation.

Mr Dee and Mr Cash left Planet Ark five years ago. They say at that point, the organisation was "highly successful".

They remained members of the organisation, but now, both Mr Dee and Mr Cash have cancelled their memberships.

"The AFS scheme concerns many environmentalists. Clear felling, environmental destruction, death of native forests," Mr Dee said.

"An organisation like Planet Ark cannot be seen to be associated with that particular standard. The only standard they should promote is FSC. That's why I felt I had to take a stand on this.

"It's been very difficult for Pat and I. We founded Planet Ark. They do some great projects, National Tree Day on the weekend with a million native trees and shrubs.

"We beleive this campaign, tied up with the forest industry, is one step too far."

Mr Cash issued a statement to 7.30, saying Planet Ark should be held accountable for its decision to work with the forest industry, and return to the values that made it great.

"The deal with the forest industry and the controversy around the Peter Maddison TV advert has eroded Planet Ark's credibility as an environmental organisation," Mr Cash said.

"The Planet Ark board and management team should be held accountable for this decision to work with the forest industry, as well as the sale of Planet Ark Park and any staff redundancies.

"Planet Ark needs to return to the values that once made it such a great organisation and withdraw from their association with the AFS and the FWPA."

Selling out?

Mr Cash and Mr Dee are not the only ones accusing Planet Ark of selling out.

"What in effect Planet Ark is doing today is endorsing logging in the Styx Valley," Sarah Rees from My Environment said.

"This is a very confusing message for consumers, given Planet Ark has such an important role to play in advising people on best brands and good wood."

Greens Leader Christine Milne agrees.

Planet Ark is an environmental organisation committed to encouraging positive behaviour change... We guard our independence and reputation fiercely.

"What Planet Ark has done is they have undermined the rest of the environment movement by effectively trying to give some green wash to the native forest logging industry," she said.

"The AFS has no credibility at all. It was only dreamt up in response to the FSC standard and Australia couldn't meet that standard. Next thing we knew we had this dodgy standard which no-one has any respect for."

Independent Senator Nick Xenophon says Planet Ark's deal with the timber industry is a conflict of interest.

"There could be a perception that who pays the piper calls the tune. And when you're getting $700,000 in donations from the industry and part of the review of the forest standard, then it raises some serious questions of a potential conflict of interest," he said.

Financial trouble

Planet Ark's financial statements show it has been in the red for three consecutive years.

Last year, the charity put its former Blue Mountain headquarters on the market. It sold for a bargain $875,000.

Planet Ark says it is not in financial trouble, and recent redundancies are simply because the charity has shifted from the Blue Mountains to Circular Quay.

Planet Ark's deal with the Forest Industry has made it easier to balance its books for now, but they may find that the relationship causes long-term damage with its traditional supporters.

"I think it will be the beginning of the end for Planet Ark unless they change direction because everybody looks at it and sees what it is," Senator Milne said.

Planet Ark declined 7.30's request for an interview. But in a statement, it says it is not compromised by its deal with the forest industry.