Critique of the forest agreement

The following critique of the forest agreement has been prepared by Miranda Gibson of Still Wild Stil Threatened and Jenny Weber of the Huon Valley Environment Center. We hope this will help to unpack some of the detail in the agreement and dispel some of the myths about what it will mean for our forests. Please read and share.

No time frame for protection and false numbers on the area of forest to be protected

Although we would welcome the creation of reserves, if and when that happens, the numbers of hectares being often quoted are misleading. A deeper analysis shows a very different reality in terms of real forest protection. The more realistic figure is 395 000 ha,  down from 610 000ha. Though there is nothing certain in the agreement for secure protection.

It is 395 000ha on the table for the first tranche, this is far different from half a million. The remaining areas that have been agreed for protection will be held to ransom, pending silencing the rights of people to participate in a democracy, and remaining areas will be logged over ten years and then possibly protected.

There is no moratorium on logging of the proposed reserves in sight, and in fact there are clauses that allow for logging to continue in these areas. In addition there is no transition schedule  worked out according to a timeline.

Ongoing logging within the proposed reserve area is unacceptable. Given the track-record of rescheduling efforts so far, none of which have led to the full implementation of the moratorium or conservation agreement, this clause raises serious concerns about how much forest will be logged and how long it will be before the reserves are protected. The wording in the agreement implies that the protection of these areas will only occur if and when rescheduling takes place. “The Signatories will work with governments and Forestry Tasmania (including the Chair of the Board) to develop the agreed transitional schedule prior to the issuing of the Protection Order”.

There is no indication of how long it will take for the Protection Order to be delivered. In the meantime logging will continue. If this process must be done before the Protection Order, and in addition the first durability report also complete, there will be a considerable delay on implementing protection.

The 21 411 hectares that will be logged once-off or of-last-resort cannot be considered to be part of the reserve figure either, because they will be open for logging. They have no guaranteed protection in the future, as their tenure status will be dependent on wood supply.

 Wood chipping and clear-felling to continue in Tasmania’s forests

Woodchipping

The use of the woodchips produced in the logging cycle is still left unresolved. Alarming and unacceptable wood chipping and clear-felling will continue in Tasmania’s forests, with the support of the environment groups signed on to the agreement. Silvercultural practices need to change, yet the deal locks in unsustainable and ecologically damaging logging practices.

Biomass is not mentioned in the agreement, though it is not specifically ruled out as a domestic option that will be proposed in to the future for feeding native forests in to furnaces or ethanol plants.

Triabunna woodchip mill has been urged by the signatories to reopen. If Triabunna woodchip mill is not re -opened or another alternative for ongoing unsustainable wood chipping, this will be reflected in a durability report prior to the protection order.

If the durability report and therefore the possibility of the Protection Order even being implemented are reliant on external parties such as Triabunna Mill, and reliant on the locking in of wood chipping, then there is a real risk that there will never be protection. Or that the destructive, large scale and low value industry based on wood chipping that has already failed in Tasmania, will be brought back to life and propped up by this agreement.

The clauses around “residues” clearly highlight the intentions to continue to log native forests on industrial scale.

Abandoned Transition out of native forests

The transition out of native forests that was a core conservation outcome and outlined in the Statement Of Principles seems to have been abandoned, as signatories agree to an “ongoing, vibrant forestry industry based in native forests.” The concept of seven years of research planning is mentioned in the agreement, subsided by the government. This appears to be either a tokenistic gesture or a delay tactic. What Tasmania needs and what the global customer base need is not ambiguous statements, but a clear time frame for a transition.

Another aspect of the agreement that point to a further entrenchment of native forest logging include the redefinition of state forest areas as “Permanent Wood Production Zones.” This change in language from the previous “multiple use forest” definition, indicates the real intentions of this agreement and that is to leave these forests open for logging permanently.

We are calling for a clear time frame to be placed on a transition and are calling of the industry out out of native forests within two years.

Sawlog buyback reallocated

The saw log quota has only been reduced to 137,000. And this is in fact a minimum not a maximum requirement, allowing for this to be increased at any time, but never reduced.

Controversially a larger quantity of cubic metres was offered to the Government for the HQ sawlog contract voluntary buyback program that could have reduced the HQ sawlog quota to less than 137 000 cubic metres, subsequently securing more forests for protection. Now the signatories are suggesting additional funding for the loggers and the sawlog quota will not be retired but reallocated. This essentially  means that the entire process of a government funded saw log buy back scheme failed to achieve the conservation outcomes intended, because the majority of the quota bought back will be re-distributed. The question must be raised, will this then work to simple eliminate some of the smaller saw mills and bolster up the remaining mills?

Market endorsement for unfounded “peace in our time” assurances by environment groups for ongoing clear-felling of Tasmania’s native forests. And potential supply of high conservation value forests to Ta Ann.

The Agreement indicates that a lot is yet to be negotiated and finalized. One controversial aspect of the industry has been the supply of wood from high conservation value forests to Ta Ann. The agreement does not indicate that this will cease. And as it is clear the destruction of those forests is set to continue, it is evident that Ta Ann will continue to receive this wood.  For Ta Ann to continue to sell ply made from such destruction and labelled as “eco” friendly does not resolve the controversy in the market place. International customers expect a higher environmental standard and the tick of approval from some environment groups is not enough if there is no real change to the company’s practices.

Alarmingly, Clause 6  states “long-term compensable supply contracts, with legislated sovereign risk protection.” To legislate these supplies is a risk to Tasmania, when markets could change again and continue to decline, leaving the taxpayer to compensate. In addition, it raises questions about Ta Ann and whether their controversial wood supply will be legislated, locking them into destruction of our native forests.

False market endorsement for controversial product

The unfounded “peace in our time” assurances that will be made by the signatories in the international market are unacceptable. As is the call for a government funded propaganda machine to sell clear-felled native forest products internationally. Ultimately Tasmania’s wood products must stand the test of international scrutiny, and a PR campaign coupled with a tick of approval for some environment groups will not be enough to hide the fact that destruction is continuing in the forests. The only way to bring about market stability is to bring the product  in line with customer expectations by adopting strict environmental practices, which this agreement fails to do.

Durability

The details about the durability reports are absent, though there is a clear requirement that they be delivered before protection of forests. This not only leads to a very dubious delay in forest protection, but also leaves a cloud of uncertainty around whether protection will ever be implemented.

The protection of these forests should not be subject to conditions. They have been verified as high conservation value by independent scientists and should be protected regardless. Yet, the agreement implies that the protection will not proceed unless there is “public and proactive” support for entire agreement, including in the market place.  This kind of statement is akin to blackmail. To expect the public, who have not been consulted or involved in this process, to give proactive support to this agreement is a way of stifling open and honest public debate and discussion. The community should be free to critique aspects of the agreement without being  having those verified forests held to ransom. The specific mention of public support in the markets is unacceptable. There are problems with this agreement in terms of the real conservation measures that would be needed to satisfy customers buying ‘eco-friendly’ products. These customers have a right to know about these issues. There should be space for problematic aspects of the agreement to be critiqued.

Dispute resolution

The Agreement refers to “ in relation to activities external to this agreement that may undermine it,” Yet, it is questionable how this agreement can be bound by activities that are external to it. And if this clause is intended to refer to protest activity, it is extremely problematic and a dangerously undemocratic precedent to set.

Missing timelines, ongoing logging as delay continues to protect forests or restructure the forestry industry that is urgently needed to transition the industry out of native forests,

When it comes to conservation outcomes, this agreement lacks in substance. Filled with vague statements and a distinct absence of time frames for protection, it does not offer with confidence any indication that forests will be adequately protected.

Certification

The agreement appears not to rule out AFS certification, which is an unacceptable form of certification for forests and which is aligned with PEFC, a certification standard that has been condemned  internationally by environment groups.

The call for FSC certification is also problematic, because it is based around the  permanent timber production zones, which will consist of  native forests outside the reserves. An attempt to gain FSC for these areas shows an intention to continue to log them, indicating again the clear lack of a transition. The reality is, however, that current industry practices including clearfelling and cable logging are unacceptable and should not be approved by environmental certification standards such as FSC.

The agreement states that the forest manager should be “able to undertake and demonstrate full management control of the production forest estate (forest management area).” This looks suspiciously like an attempt to lock in Forestry Tasmania to managing the forests, which is in contradiction to the government’s approach in relation to the URS review, which would see a restructure of FT. FSC for Forestry Tasmania’s logging practices, unacceptable agreement that an Australian forestry standard is a standard suitable for forestry industry. This standard is not recognized as such domestically or internationally.

Forest Practices Code needs strengthening

The  statement that “the Forest Practices Code should be progressed in a manner consistent with this agreement” is vague and meaningless, and raises alarm bells around the critical issue of the FPC  upgrade that has been recommended by the Forest Practice Authority.  The statement in the agreement could be interpreted in a number of ways, and in fact to say that the FPC be “consistent with this agreement” seems to imply that the code, like everything else in this deal, be treated as secondary to wood supply.

Special Species Zones

There are questions around the management of such zones. In particular around those areas identified as eucalypt forest, as the agreement states “If any forest within the Special Craft and Timber Zone is typed as eucalypt forest the special management order should permit those forest areas to be harvested as if they were part of the Permanent Timber Production Zone Land.”

–Such areas could be exposed to the same industrial scale logging as the permanent production zones, and therefore they cannot be included in the reserve figure.

Regional Forest Agreement is flawed & should not be endorsed

This agreement implies endorsement and support for the Regional Forest Agreement – which should, instead, be thrown out. “The outcomes of this agreement should be incorporated into existing State and Federal mechanisms, including the Regional Forest Agreement.”RFAs are discredited and should not be entrenched through this agreement.

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Posted on November 25, 2012, in Media Releases. Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

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