300 indigenous people protest dams outside the International Hydropower Association’s Congress at the Borneo Convention Center
KUCHING May 22nd: At 11am today, SAVE Rivers and 300 indigenous people from all around Sarawak protested outside the Borneo Convention Center Kuching where the International Hydropower Association’s biennial congress is being held.
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They arrived at around 10.30am carrying banners saying ‘Respect Native Rights’, ‘Stop Baram Dam’, and ‘IHA Stop Collaborating With Corrupt Regime’. Dressed in blue shirts saying ‘No More Dams’, the 300 protestors raised their voices peacefully against the proposed dam projects for more than an hour at the entrance of the BCCK. Richard Taylor, Executive Director of the IHA, came out to hear Mark Bujang, SAVE Rivers’ Secretary give his statement to the press and had a brief conversation.
Protesters managed to get to the main entrance of the BCCK where delegates of the IHA Congress came out to watch were handed informational leaflets by SAVE Rivers volunteers.
‘Indigenous communities are voicing their opposition to the dams being built on our land. We were not given a voice inside the congress so we are using our voices here in the form of a protest’ said Mr Bujang.
The 300 protesters included members of dam affected community members from Bengoh, Murum and Bakun and also community members from the proposed dam sites at Baram and Limbang.
‘We all came to Kuching today to show IHA, Sarawak Energy and the Sarawak Government that despite what they say, we disagree with the dams. I live in a dam affected area so it is too late for us but I do not want see others suffer as we have.’ said Ngajang Midin from Long Ayah, a community affected by the Bakun Dam.
Johannes from Long San, Baram, said that people in Baram oppose the proposed Baram dam.
‘We know the government plans on building a dam in the Baram area. Our ancestral lands will be flooded, and we will lose our land and livelihoods. We have learned from Bakun and Murum dams. The government only think about to make money with the dams but they don’t care about us. We want development but not dams.”
The protesters dispersed peacefully at 11.40.
SAVE Rivers also announced their Alternative Conference taking place tomorrow, 23rd of May. The all-day event will take place at the Riverside Majestic Hotel and will include speakers from affected communities with special guest, Bob Brown, ex-Australian senator and renowned dams activist.
All images courtesy of SAVE Rivers
Media Release: 7th May, 2013.
The implications for native forests around Australia of Tasmania’s controversial new forest law are alarming forest campaign groups around the nation.
They fear that the loggers, state governments and those environment groups party to the forest agreement will now attempt to use this as a model for the rest of the country with dreadful impacts on Australia’s forests.
The constraints on advocacy and peaceful protest are also of great concern, as an extraordinary precedent has been set under which the environment will be punished if groups dare to strongly advocate genuine forest protection and transition from native forest logging, especially to markets and consumers. Already the Prime Minister has demonstrated in her call to silence environmental critics that an era of victimisation and vilification has begun.
Forest campaigners around the nation have condemned the new Tasmanian forest law, including Environment East Gippsland, Gippsland Environment Group, South East Region Conservation Alliance (SERCA), Rainforest Information Centre, Forestmedia, Friends of Leadbeater’s Possum, Chipstop, and NativesRule.org.
Steve Meacher, a Victorian campaigner of many years working to save the endangered Leadbeater’s Possum stated, “Clearly there remain significant problems with the Tasmanian agreement and mainland environment groups will not consider themselves bound by it nor by any future agreement which takes a similar approach. The deal is imposing conditions that are not within the powers of the parties.”
Environment East Gippsland’s Jill Redwood stated, “Tasmania is ushering in an era of entrenched industrial logging in native forests and attempting to gag environmental forest campaigns, both of which are unacceptable”, she said. “The Tasmanian agreement has been flagged as a blueprintfor the rest of Australia’s forests and we will vehemently resist this.”
South East Region Conservation Alliance spokesperson Harriett Swift stated, “Holding the forests hostage to a bunch of obnoxious provisions, including ‘durability’ requirements to silence voices telling environmental truths to buyers and to halt forest protests, is an attack on civil liberties. Already the PM has called for dissenters to be silenced, and a campaign of denigrating such groups and the individuals who represent them is underway.”
“If the new law was genuinely aimed at balancing conservation outcomes and a sustainable industry, public scrutiny and comment about what it contains would be no threat to it.” Harriett Swift said.
“We expected nothing less than an adequate reserve system and an accountable industry. This agreement delivers neither,” Harriett Swift said.
Major problems with Tasmania’s forest agreement include:
· World Heritage nominated forests are still being logged and this will continue until mid-June, after which associated ongoing operations such as log removals will still continue in relation to those areas.
· The Wilderness Society, Australian Conservation Foundation and Environment Tasmania are actively promoting Tasmanian forest products, including wood sourced from destroying World Heritage value forests;
· No new reserves were created by the legislation. Only 90,000 hectares (of World Heritage forests) are to be protected in the next 18 months (and some logged meanwhile);
· All other promised protection will most likely never eventuate, but the loggers get their millions in funding, and ‘green’ groups assistance to sell the products immediately;
· Reserves that might be created can be opened for logging;
· If the Liberals win at national and state elections, then they will scuttle the conservation arrangements which arenot due to start until October 2014 at the earliest;
· The agreement included a requirement that Forestry Tasmania be awarded Forest Stewardship Council certification – which is highlyunlikely given their destructive methods of logging;
· Excisions? of valuable forests planned to be logged even though they are inside the areas slated for future protection;
· Native forest logging is entrenched and greenwashed, a major departure from national conservation groups’ policy for a rapid transition of logging away from native forests into existing plantations.
The bill passed in Tasmania’s House of Assembly yesterday is primarily yet another industry lifeline and has betrayed the environment. Grass-roots environment organisations have been left stunned that a bill that lacks conservation assurances and props up a collapsing and unviable destructive native forestry industry has passed with support of some Greens parliamentarians. Still Wild Still Threatened and Huon Valley Environment Centre have renewed their commitment to forest protection advocacy in all forms.
Huon Valley Environment Centre’s spokesperson Jenny Weber stated, “Today we are far from assurances of protection for Tasmania’s wild forests. The passing of this legislation, that is very pro-industry with merely a conservation veneer, does not deliver any upfront forest reserves. Logging will continue inside the proposed reserves, as there are areas of forest that were excised from the proposed reserves to meet the logging schedule.
“This legislation fails the wild forests, and we will be there to provide scrutiny of a forestry industry that has not made any commitment to changing environmentally destructive practices,” Jenny Weber said.
Still Wild Still Threatened spokesperson Miranda Gibson stated, “In response to the Forest Bill passed by the House of Assembly yesterday, the Huon Valley Environment Centre and Still Wild Still Threatened have vowed to continue to campaign for Tasmania’s forests. The legislation entrenches and props up the unviable native forest industry and ongoing logging of high conservation value forests, while making the attainment of new reserves virtually impossible. Conservation outcomes have been undeniably sidelined. Those groups and members of the Tasmanian State Greens who have supported this bill have aligned themselves with the collapsing forestry industry at the expense of our forests,” Miranda Gibson said.
“We are alarmed by the threat to curtail freedom of speech and the rights of protest out of yesterday’s legislation, which attempts to blackmail the community into silence by holding forests at ransom. These are undemocratic tactics to silence the voice of the community and benefit the forestry industry. The new clause provides the opportunity for either House of Government to determine what constitutes a failure of durability, including substantial active protests or substantial market disruption, and once that determination is made, reserves do not proceed,” Huon Valley Environment Centre’s Jenny Weber said.
“When one wades through all the spin being propagated by parliamentarians and signatories to the TFA, forestry in Tasmania is at the point where it continues to drain public resources and destroy irreplaceable ecosystems. It has tarnished Tasmania’s brand by not recognising the value of unique native forests and by maintaining unsustainable resource management practices coupled with a wasteful and irresponsible on-the-ground approach. If that wasn’t enough, they have created a green-wash industry for Hamid Sepawi’s Ta Ann and those connected with Sarawak timber mafias and human rights violators. What is clear out of this process is that Ta Ann has received ongoing parliamentary support in Tasmania and now a green-wash tick from some environment groups. We will continue to oppose the ongoing operations of this company in Tasmania and Sarawak.,” Jenny Weber said
“As The Wilderness Society, Environment Tasmania and the Australian Conservation Foundation are now committed to forsaking the role of forest advocacy and have become the green-mouthpiece for a forestry industry, who yesterday claimed they got everything they wanted out of the of the TFA process and consistently refuses to make necessary changes to their out-dated, destructive and reprehensible practices, our organisations will redouble our efforts to campaign for the protection of intact natural ecosystems,” Jenny Weber said.
“The native forest industry is not economically viable when left to stand on it’s own two feet. Yet, the House of Assembly has just passed a bill that will continue to prop up this out-dated and unviable industry with tax payer funds whilst disregarding community concerns and scientific recommendations for forest protection.” Still Wild Still Threatened’s Miranda Gibson said.
“It is delusional to believe that this bill will deliver adequate forest protection. Hundreds of thousands of hectares of verified high conservation value forests are being held to ransom, with protection subject not only to durability measures at the whim of both houses of Tasmania’s parliament, but also dependent on FSC certification. Under this bill high conservation value forests will continue to fall and human rights violations tacitly accepted. As long as they do, we will continue stand up for those ecosystems, forests, communities and cultures that are threatened,” Miranda Gibson concluded.
The ObserverTree Online Art Exhibition will run from today until May 31 on the ObserverTree website. Artworks include beautiful photographic prints by Miranda Gibson, taken from up in the tree-sit, and personally signed by her. There are also paintings, prints and photography by artists who support the ObserverTree campaign. Funds raised from the exhibition will go towards the continuing campaign to protect Tasmania’s threatened forests. Please check out the exhibition here, and please share it with your friends and on social media.
While many conservation-minded people once held hope that the forest negotiation process may lead to forest protection outcomes, these hopes have been diminished by the ongoing conservation compromises made and more recently due to the current amendments made by Tasmania’s Legislative Council.
The amendments that have been made to this agreement by the Legislative Council render the deal void of any real conservation gain, yet prop up the dying native forest industry. These amendments are totally unacceptable.
One amendment is that forest proposed for protection in the first stage are only those areas that are in the World Heritage nomination currently before the IUCN. Leaving out large areas of high conservation value forest, in the North West, the Tarkine, the North East and East, Weilangta, Tasman Peninsula and Bruny Island, and West Wellington. These forests will not be reserved unless the native forest industry in Tasmania receives Forest Stewardship Certification (FSC). Protection will be delayed until at least October 2014, however it will be dependent on this certification.
This is an amendment laced with problems; the forestry industry is not committed to changing the current regime of clear-felling, creating huge quantities of wood that is referred to as‘residues’ by the industry, continued logging on steep slopes, old growth destruction and continuing regeneration burns. If these are the logging practices that are to be granted FSC status, then this would be a severe sabotage of the FSC process and bring into question the credibility of certification. Worse still it entrenches Tasmania into ongoing destruction of native ecosystems at a critical time of climate change.
Grass roots environmental groups, the Huon Valley Environment Centre and Still Wild Still Threatened have called on all parties to reject the legislation before the House of Assembly when tabled tomorrow, 30th April.
Environmentalists Jenny Weber and Miranda Gibson stated, “Tasmania’s forests deal is unacceptable, it has been for a long time and now these amendments by the Legislative Councillors make it worse. This legislation will not provide adequate protection of Tasmania’s unique wild forests.”
Huon Valley Environment Centre’s Jenny Weber stated, “The results of the three year Tasmanian forests agreement process are fundamentally flawed and unacceptable.
“It failed to address crucial environmental and economic issues; including the need to change silvicultural practices and transition out of native forests; failure to restructure an irresponsible and damaging Forestry Tasmania; continued presence and new arrangements by some environmental groups to support human rights violators, the Sarawak timber company Ta Ann; the continued push to process ‘waste’ after logging in the form of wood-chips and bio-fuels to prop up an unviable and non-competitive saw-log industry; and a severely ill managed exit program. All the while there has been ongoing logging of proposed reserves, and loss of wilderness forests.” Jenny Weber said.
Still Wild Still Threatened’s Miranda Gibson stated, “The forest agreement has been mutated to the point of being the complete opposite of the original stated purpose of these negotiations, which was a transition out of native forest logging. If this legislation is passed it will prop up a dying native forest industry based on outdated practices that are both economically and environmentally detrimental to Tasmania”
“The amendments made by the Legislative Council nullify the majority of conservation outcomes from this agreement, by making further reserves dependent of the native forest industry receiving Forest Stewardship Certification (FSC). The current practices of industrial scale forestry, clear-felling and burning are not acceptable for any legitimate certification. This amendment therefore serves to either jeopardise the integrity of FSC or otherwise result in the majority of identified high conservation value forests never being reserved” said Ms Gibson.
“We call on all parties of the House Of Assembly to reject this bill tomorrow and instead enact real protection for Tasmania’s globally significant forests” concluded Ms Gibson and Ms Weber.
The Legislative Council has fired a torpedo into the Tasmanian Forest Agreement.
After the Agreement was struck last year the Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, made it clear that she expected it to be implemented without alteration. In perhaps the biggest downpayment in Tasmanian history, the Commonwealth gave $120 million to the collapsed logging industry to make good the Agreement. It promised over $100 million more for regional development on condition that the Agreement was fully implemented, including its promised forest reserves.
However, here in Tasmania, under concerted fire from the Liberals and disgruntled individuals from the logging industry, the Legislative Council has voted to amend the enabling legislation which was passed by the House of Assembly and blown up the Agreement’s environmental outcome.
Conservationists from Still Wild Still Threatened are today halting logging operations, in world heritage nominated forest in the Tyenna Valley. One conservationist is perched in a tree sit, which is attached to logging machinery.
Conservationists are alarmed that logging has been allowed to commence only in the past weeks, after these forests were nominated for world heritage protection two months ago.
Miranda Gibson, spokesperson for Still Wild Still Threatened said, “These forests in the Tyenna Valley were nominated for World Heritage protection two months ago. The recently commenced logging in these forests, shows a complete failure by Federal Environment Minister Tony Burke to protect the very forests that his government have nominated for World Heritage.”
“This logging is occurring within several kilometres of the Observer Tree, where I spent 449 days in a tree sit watching over the World Heritage value forests of the Tyenna. During that time people all around the world showed overwhelming support for the protection of these forests. Over 60,000 protest emails were sent to Prime Minister Julia Gillard and Environment Minister Burke requesting that they use their Commonwealth powers to stop the destruction of these forests,
Regrettably Prime Minister Gillard and Environment Minister Burke have ignored the international community and instead stood back and allowed forests to continue to be destroyed, forests they have acknowledged to be globally significant,” said Ms Gibson.
“Despite neglectful silence and wanton destruction of the values of these globally significant ecosystems on behalf of the Federal Government, conservationists in Tasmania will continue to take peaceful action in defence of World Heritage value forests that continue to be logged. Still Wild Still Threatened are calling for an immediate cease all logging of world heritage value forests in Tasmania,” said Ms Gibson.
“What was it like? That first moment you set foot on the ground again?” Many people have asked me this over the past few weeks, since ending my 449 day tree sit on March 7th. And to be honest, I can’t remember. I can’t remember what was going through my mind as I made that quiet descent – twirling around as the rope spun, watching the forest floor slowly get closer and closer. You know those times when there are so many thoughts that could be going through your mind, so many emotions- and because there are just too many your mind is instead quiet and uncannily empty? Strangely, one thing I do remember is the smell! As soon as I entered the understorey I was fully immersed in the scent of celery top pines- after almost a year and a half living in a cloud of eucalyptus. It smelt beautiful!!
When I set foot on the ground I clung to my rope like it would save my life. I didn’t want to let you. I descended into a media scrum. Despite how absolutely lovely and understanding they all were, it still felt a little like getting out of the tree to a pack of wolves waiting at the bottom- it was the biggest group of people I had seen at once in a very long time! The smiling face of Bob Brown welcomed me to the ground. And a hug from Jenny Weber nearly brought me to tears- after all this time working so closely together on the forest campaign, but at a distance it was so nice to see her face to face once again. I looked around me, apologetic faces of photographers looked back, as they snapped away at their cameras while knowing how strange it all must feel for me. I gave a smile and gripped the rope tighter.
“You can get out of your harness now!” Someone suggested. “uh..uh” I shook my head and kept my fingers firmly in place on the rope that had been my life-line for all those months. I did my media interview like this and still didn’t let go after the media left and the forest fell quiet. That rope was the thing that physically connected me to the tree for over a year. I didn’t want to let go- of the rope, or of my tree. Hours passed, as my support crew walked back and forth up the hill, packing up camp and taking my things to the car. I stayed at the base of the tree, connected to the rope. My last goodbye. Eventually I slowly undid my prussiks from the climb line and took a step back. The rope dangled in the air. I took a deep breath and stepped away from the tree for the first time in over 14 months. I turned around and looked into the forest around me. And without looking back, I disappeared in the undergrowth of ferns. I was shocked by my own agility. Each foot taking one step after another, over rocky ground and tree roots, the ground below me moving up and down as I crossed the steep terrain. I couldn’t believe it! I guess I owe a big thank you to the wonderful support crew who sent me up that stepping machine last winter. The daily exercises paid off and I was taking to the land like I’d never left! Great- one less hurdle to worry about. And i was relieved to do without the embarrassment of falling flat on my face like I’d envisaged.
Now that I was getting the hang of this walking thing, I started to look around me at the forest understorey. All those months I had come to know the forest so intimately, yet I had known it from only one perspective. The upper canopy is dominated by the giant eucalypts that tower above the forest floor. Down below it was a whole other world. I marveled at the tree ferns, growing much taller than me despite only progressing approximately 1-2 cm per year. I watched small wrens dart about on the ground and then disappear into a thicket of ferns. I saw a small animal, maybe an antechinus, scamper across the leaf litter and dive into a burrow between tree roots. I sat down on the ground, springy with brown leaves, twigs and a coating of moss. I looked up into the green canopy of sassafras leaves closing in above the forest. As much as I was already missing my tree top home, I felt a renewed appreciation for the beauty of the forest on ground level.
I returned to the tree and stood beside a bundle of rope that had been thrown onto a log protruding at a 45 degree angle from the ground. Perhaps this log had once been a limb of my tree and long ago plunged violently into the earth. Now it acted as a great bench right beside the tree. The rope draped across it’s rotting flesh triggered a memory. Like dejavu I instantly relived the last moments I had been here in this place. So strange that I had been right here with this tree for so long, but the last time I stood by it’s base was mid-December 2011. I reminisced about the what it had been like. The forest had been a hive of activity, climbing ropes and polypropylene ropes coiled and bundled around us. Planks of wood in an assortment of sizes carefully marked and labeled so we would able to fit the pieces of the puzzle together again up in the tree. I tried to remember how I’d felt then… anxious and excited. Full of anticipated mingled with trepidation at the uncertainty of what I had decided to embark on. Now, as those same ropes were once more coiled and bundled and walked back down the hill towards the car, it was the end of an incredible journey for me. A journey that those days of preparation and anticipation could never have prepared me for. A journey into the forest, into this ecosystem, into this campaign and into myself… in a way I could never have imagined back then.
Someone walked past me carrying a box of food “Geez, hard to believe all this stuff could fit on that tiny platform!” I followed their gaze up into the branches of my tree. It was strange to look at the pattern of these branches in reverse. From 60 meters away the platform circling the trunk right at the crown of the tree certainly did look tiny. But it had come to feel so spacious to me. There was all the space I needed. To walk around (3 steps one way and back the other, that is), to sleep, eat, bathe, watch the sunrise and talk to thousands of people around the world. It was all the space I needed. And sometimes it felt luxuriously large. At other times I felt like tearing my hair out at being confined on a 3×3 meter platform. Now, as I stood looking up, I had the whole world at my feet, but all I wanted to do was jump on that climb line again and go back up to that little platform that I call home.
I resisted the urge, despite the growing anxiety about what now lay before me. I tried not to think about life beyond the forest, it was all too overwhelming. Lying down with my head on the trees roots like a pillow I looked into the upper canopy of my tree, to branches I had watched every day for over 400 days. My anxiety was immediately comforted by the familiar movement of them as they danced against the blue sky. Although the leaves were now tiny specs from this great distance, they were the very same leaves that I knew so well. And it was like this, the weight of my head nestled against the base of the tree, that I said my final goodbye.
Over the past few weeks I’ve tried many times to write a blog to let you know what this has been like- getting down, adjusting to the world on the ground. But every time I sit down to write i don’t know what to say. It is so overwhelming- everything that has taken place and all I have thought and felt these past few months- it felt impossible to know where to start. Today I have told you the story of my feet touching the ground again, but now that I’ve started writing there are so many more stories that want to come tumbling out: of the fire, my last day in the tree, my first day in a house! So stay tuned… Keep checking this blog and in the meantime, don’t forget to take action to help protect these forests… CLICK HERE.