15 August, 2012

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."

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