22 November, 2012

Historic forest deal ends 30-year dispute

Matthew Denholm, Tasmania correspondent
The AustralianNovember 22, 2012

A HISTORIC deal to end the 30-year war over Tasmania's forests by protecting more than 500,000ha - one of the nation's largest conservation outcomes - is due to be unveiled today.

Multiple sources yesterday confirmed to The Australian that green and timber groups had agreed to protect more than 503,000ha of native forests while allocating 137,000cu m of sawlogs a year to industry.

The deal, following more than two years of difficult negotiation, was last night being voted on by the boards of the conservation and industry groups involved in the process.

Barring last-minute revolts, it will be endorsed by state cabinet and the federal government and introduced into the Tasmanian parliament today. This meets a deadline set by the Gillard government for $100 million in regional development funds linked to a successful forest peace deal, as well as at least $15m to buy out sawlog contracts.

The Australian, which broke the story yesterday on its website, has confirmed the headline figure is 561,000ha, although about 58,000ha of this will be subject to some logging.

Immediate protection will be granted to about 395,000ha of the forests most coveted for conservation, in areas such as the Styx, Weld and Upper Florentine, with their eventual inclusion in World Heritage areas and national parks.

A further 108,000ha will be added to reserves in 2015, as long as environment groups have kept to the agreement and cease campaigns against the industry.

In addition, 21,000ha will be logged once, but then rehabilitated and added to the new reserves, while 37,000ha will be selectively logged for specialty timbers only.

For this reason, the conservation groups - Environment Tasmania, The Wilderness Society and the Australian Conservation Foundation - will regard the total conservation gain to be just over 503,000ha.

This means green groups have achieved 70,000ha less than their original conservation demand of 572,000ha, while the timber industry has shaved its sawlog demands from 155,000cu m a year to 137,000cu m.

The talks were initially made possible by Gunns' exit from native forest logging, freeing up 220,000cu m of sawlogs, although expert analysis later revealed less timber supply than previously thought.

This led the state and federal governments to run a sawlog buy-out scheme that identified a further 59,000cu m that could be surrendered for compensation.

Talks collapsed last month, but were resurrected informally in recent weeks, with the Construction Forestry Mining and Energy Union, via its national head Jane Calvert, playing a key role.

Pressure from Tasmanian Premier Lara Giddings, who governs in a power-sharing deal with the Greens, helped push the parties to reach agreement in time for the last sitting of parliament, securing the $100m federal funds.

Politically, the deal is seen as vital to any hope state Labor has of retaining power at an election due by March 2014.

The Liberal opposition, sections of the timber industry and some key independents in the state's upper house are likely to firmly oppose the deal, arguing that it sells industry short.

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