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Erik is a public policy professional and owner of the online training course in democracy and civic action: www.3ptraining.com.au The Blog …explores ways to create a sustainable and just community. Explores how that community can be best protected at all levels including social policy/economics/ military. The Book Erik’s autobiography is a humorous read about serious things. It concerns living in the bush, wilderness, home education, spirituality, and activism. Finding Home is available from Amazon, Barnes&Noble and all good e-book sellers.

Tuesday, 16 April 2013

Why Foresters are from Mars and Forest Activists are From Jupiter

Forest "regeneration burns" following clearfelling in Tasmanian Oldgrowth. Photo credit Beth Heap. 

It is fair to say that professional foresters and environmental activists inhabit different planets; or at least they see this one very differently. That people have different worldviews is not a bad thing, but it can be extraordinarily difficult for any of us to see past our worldview even if the evidence to the contrary is glaring.


  • Some people continue to believe in communism even after the collapse of the Soviet Union and the exposure of the utter failure of the communist project;
  • You can tell some Christians that you are gay, you love Jesus with all your heart, you practice an exemplary Christian life, you have prayed and fasted for healing, sought rights of deliverance, contemplated suicide, and ended up on anti-depressants, and they will tell you to pray harder for healing;
  • If you an evolutionary biologist speciation proves evolution, irreducible complexity proves evolution, gaps in the fossil record prove evolution, entropy proves evolution, extinction proves evolution;
  • If you are a forester and you log a forest that is seventy per cent rainforest species by canopy cover, napalm it, and plant rows of eucalyptus in its place, this will be sustainable in your eyes.

The Conservationist’s View

So on to forestry. I argued in a previous blog (http://findinghomebookspace.blogspot.com.au/2013/03/quest-for-holy-grail-ecosystem.html) that full ecosystem management is a distant, and in most if not all instances, unattainable goal. It follows that a comprehensive, adequate and representative reserve (CAR) system for the target ecosystems is essential:

  • as an ecological benchmark;
  • to give effect to the precautionary principle (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Precautionary_principle); and
  • to maintain ecosystem resilience in the face of environmental change (climate change, pollution, etc).

It also follows that extractive activities with big environmental impacts like mining, clearfelling, or demersal trawl, are inherently destructive.

This is essentially the world view of environmentalists. Within that world view, activists peg themselves on a spectrum from, on the one hand, a fairly pragmatic appreciation of the challenges of natural resource management, to a mystical invocation of the sacredness of mother earth on the other.

The Forester’s View

Foresters deeply oppose these concepts. That’s a big thing to say, but it is in effect what they do say. In this alternate world view, sustainable forestry makes otiose any form of preservation because best ‘practice forest management’ ensures that the environment is not harmed in any way. In this view, all issues such as landscape values, water quality, karst, biodiversity, ground water, and soil structure, are adequately addressed through management. Any form of conservation is therefore unnecessary at best and counter productive at worst. This view was put forcefully to the Legislative Council by former forester Geoff Wilkinson. You can view Mr Wilkinson’s submission here (http://www.parliament.tas.gov.au/ctee/Council/Submissions/Sub%20121%20-%20Geoff%20Wilkinson.pdf). On a personal note I once suggested to a former district forester for Geeveston that we should have a buffer zone to prevent logging to the boundary of the World Heritage Area (WHA). He said that current management provided a buffer i.e. logging World Heritage value forests is a form of conservation. He was sincere in this statement.

Some History

Let’s start with a trip down memory lane. Tasmania’s first anti logging blockade happened at Farmhouse Creek in Southwest Tasmania in 1986.  Following this action the Forestry Commission argued before the Helsham Royal Commission that protection of the Farmhouse Creek (and Lemonthyme) forests was unnecessary. They got protected anyway.

Then in 1989 conservationists and foresters sat around a table to find a way forward but were unable, or perhaps unwilling, to overcome their world view differences. At that time, and at any time since, the Forestry Commission could have advocated formation of a comprehensive and representative reserve system, and begun work to that end. Had they done so, they could have prevented considerable environmental damage, saved the community the worst of 25 years of social conflict, and undercut both the green movement and the Green Party. Instead they went to the government of the day with a proposal for a law that locked in destruction of all the old growth forests that were not then in secure reserves. That was pretty much all the old growth on Crown (public) land. This destroyed the fist Labor/Green government and locked in community conflict to the present time.

Since then the official line has changed from ‘we don’t want forest conservation in Tasmania’ to ‘we have enough forest reserved from logging that conservation values are already protected’. Industry said that in relation to the Recommended Areas for Protection under the Grey government, proposals for WHA extensions, formation of the Douglas Apsley National Park, the Regional Forest Agreements (RFA #1 and #2), the Community Forest Agreement, and now the Forest Peace Agreement; in other words, every forest conservation proposal for the last quarter century.

Nevertheless we have the Regional Forest Agreement? Isn’t this enough?

The extent to which the RFA provides adequate forest protection is a complex question. What I will say here is that I was a Wilderness Society Activist for the five years preceding the RFA. Industry fought against the proposal that became the RFA tooth and nail. Foresters were rather silent. In other words it didn’t come about through the conscience of enlightened forest managers. It came about because of a national groundswell of protest in which tens of thousands of people marched in the streets in cities around the nation and hundreds of activists went to jail (or at least remand) for forest conservation. These were at the time the largest protests since the moratorium marches of the Vietnam war. Prime Minister Keating needed to diffuse the issue before the next Federal Election. The Regional Forest Agreements with the States was his compromise solution at that time.

Put bluntly, if it were up to foresters, there would be no Tasmanian forests reserved from logging at all.

Trust and plausibility?
It is always dangerous to make broad brush statements (and hard not to in short blog essays)! The ‘forest management’ argument is certainly more plausible in some circumstances than others. For example, when applied to forest that has been extensively selectively logged and burned, forest management may in some instances improve the forest. The argument is stronger for logging in dry forest types if there are small coupes, careful selection of replacement species, adherence to the Forest Practices Code, long rotations, and adjoining un-logged forest. The argument becomes steadily less convincing as you progress into pristine old growth, wet forest types, and rainforest. It becomes absurd when replacing one forest ecosystem with another, such as plantation, and when there are systemic breaches of professional standards.

Even if you accept the forest management argument in some instances there is still an issue of trust. Foresters occupy a strange position . They both inform policy and implement policy. They are forced to respond to public demands that forest be taken out of production but must also honour supply contracts. They both determine forest practices, implement forest practices, and police forest practices all at the same time.

Despite the best professional efforts of many in industry, it is hard for informed observers to take foresters seriously when, for example, they:

  • want to log glacial refugia rainforest communities;
  • find the largest living thing in the southern hemisphere (El Grande http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/El_Grande_(tree ) and set fire to it;
  • use cable loggers on precipitous slopes and only stop when embarrassed by publicity stemming from a blockade by The Wilderness Society (at Hellyer);
  • obtain exemptions from planning laws, freedom of information laws, and laws concerning threatened species;
  • self regulate; and
  • ostracise whistle blowers.

One forester who broke the unofficial code of silence that surrounds forestry mismanagement in Tasmania is Bill Manning. Never a greeny, Mr Manning confirmed what many had suspected or had actually observed. 
To quote: “…the forest industry has become so woefully negligent in its practices that it has been forced to be exempted from all other state environmental, planning and land management legislation for the simple reason that were it to be judged by the legislation that other Tasmanians have to abide by, it would be found to be comprehensively in breach of Tasmanian law. From my extensive in the forest industry, I believe that corruption of forest management in Tasmania [is] such that there is no enforcement of this weakened code of forest practice, and no silvicultural outcome other than the clearfelling of native forest for plantation…the decimation of habitat for endangered species…and finally a culture within the Tasmanian forest industry of bullying, cronyism, secrecy and lies.” (Quote from Senate Hansard, Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport References Committee, Plantation Forests Industry, 8 October 2003, at page 501).

Mr Manning documented over 100 alleged breaches of the Forest Practices Code, including alleged serious corruption and criminal activity. A profession as diligent as that suggested by Mr Wilkinson’s submission might be expected to support a full enquiry, rally behind their colleague, and press the authorities to investigate thoroughly these allegations. Instead Mr Manning was ostracised, sacked, vilified, and when I last heard, was unemployed and suffering depression.
There was no investigation, and there have been no prosecutions. Mr Manning’s notes are presumably sitting at the bottom of someone’s filing cabinet. Is there any reason to suppose that ten years later anything has changed?
Cable Logging in World Heritage value forests, Florentine Valley Tasmania
Readers may be interested in my earlier post on the forest peace deal here: http://findinghomebookspace.blogspot.com.au/2012/12/tasmanian-forestry-peace-deal-should-we.html

Tag line 1: forest peace talks, silviculture, forest practices code, florentine valley, world heritage, forest protest, Ta Ann, old growth forest logging, clearfelling, El Grande, World Heritage Area, RFA, Regional Forest Agreement, corruption, Legislative Council.

Tag line 2: forest peace deal, Christine Milne, Terry Edwards, Vica Bailey, Bob Brown, Dr Pullinger, old growth forests, high conservation value forests, The Wilderness Society, Tony Burke, Michael Hodgeman.

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