The Logging Jam Is Clearing: If Australia's Forestry Industry Develops According Expectations, Conservationists and Loggers Could Soon Find Themselves United on the Same Environmental Front

By McGhee, Karen | Ecos, November-December 2004 | Go to article overview

The Logging Jam Is Clearing: If Australia's Forestry Industry Develops According Expectations, Conservationists and Loggers Could Soon Find Themselves United on the Same Environmental Front


McGhee, Karen, Ecos


Such a prediction seems improbable as divisive debate on old-growth logging in Tasmania continues to dominate forestry news nationally. But it's in-line with a vision for the way forward emerging from other parts of the industry.

Despite the long-standing us-and-them hostilities embroiling Tasmania's forestry, elsewhere the line traditionally separating the wishes and wants of the environmental movement and forestry industry is beginning to blur. Obvious signs include the recent appointments of high-profile former green lobbyists Tricia Caswell and Phillip Toyne to senior forestry industry roles in the Victorian Association of Forest Industries (NAFI) and Integrated Tree Cropping Ltd, respectively.

But there are also many more subtle indicators. Relevant government and industry bodies, for example, are producing more and more policy discussion documents that consider forestry in terms of natural resource management (NRM) and broader ecological sustainability. Similar terminology is also becoming increasingly evident in forestry education with tertiary courses now addressing these and related concepts in considerable detail.

Support for this emerging direction in Australian forestry was also evident during a recent review by CSIRO Forestry and Forest Products in which relevant government and corporate bodies were surveyed about NRM issues in relation to the industry's future.

Dr Michael Robinson, an environmental manager with the Division, says the survey, which will help steer R&D directions, identified a widespread recognition of the need for a more holistic attitude to growing and harvesting trees in Australia.

'Ecosystem services is the big new direction forestry can embrace, particularly for the development of new plantations' he says, explaining that this recognises output from forests as going well beyond the traditional wood and paper pulp.

Also known as environmental services, the concept exploits the diverse ways in which trees and forests impact positively on landscapes. They can, for example, prevent soil erosion and help ameliorate salinity.

'This approach isn't converting into management quite yet but it's where research and policy is headed and is a direction forestry could embrace,' Robinson says.

The federal government's 1997 industry statement Plantations for Australia: the 2020 Vision set a target for the area covered by plantation forests to expand nationally from one million hectares in 1996 to three million in 2020. So far that objective is on track. Already, plantation forests provide over 50% of Australia's wood production and that proportion continues to climb.

This increase in plantation area is intended to help service new markets. The annual value of the forestry industry to Australia is $15.2 billion, or 2.3% of GDR and thought to be rising; these emerging opportunities are seen as a robust vehicle for further long-term growth.

The continuing expansion of the plantation estate is not being advocated at the expense of native forests. These can, of course, also be valued in terms of environmental services and so land already wholly or partially cleared is seen as the preferred option for new plantations.

Unfortunately, only a small proportion of land in Australia receives the 750 mm-plus annual rainfall required for successful commercial forestry. Most prime sites--those receiving above 800 mm a year are along the coastal fringe and competition from urban development and intensive agriculture bumps prices up beyond what would normally be considered cost-effective for the industry.

'And so there's a recognition in industry that they'll need to expand plantations into more difficult [drier] environments and that may mean using new species or new methods of management or silviculture,' Robinson says.

There's also growing awareness--particularly in research and policy circles--that the positive environmental benefits provided by forests could actually be measured, valued and used to generate financial returns. …

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