Forest idealists blinkered in their thinking on wood needs

Forest idealists blinkered in their thinkingon wood needs

 19 October 2007

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Australia — Judith Ajani (BusinessDay 11/10/07), like the Greens,wants to convince people that there is no need for timber production fromAustralia’s native forests. She claims that tree plantations should provide allour domestic timber needs.

Australia’s $2 billion trade deficit in forest and wood products provesotherwise. Election-time lock-ups of native forest into reserves by stategovernments have led to this deficit for more than a decade despite significantinvestment in plantation establishment.

Australia now has more than 1.8 million hectares of plantations, but mostrecent investments have been into short-rotation crops for pulpwood productionthrough managed investment schemes (MIS), where investors can use business taxarrangements for their investment in tree crops. After a two-year process ofreview, the Federal Government has moved to give certainty to these arrangementsto encourage city investment in the bush.

The establishment of long-rotation plantations (for high-value sawn timber)through the MIS framework received a boost in the last federal budget, as theGovernment allowed investments in tree plantations to be traded after a holdingperiod of four years. But even if there is an increase in long-rotationplantings, the trees will not be available for harvest for decades.

In any case, it is fair to say there will always be a place for native forestproducts as plantation timber does not have the same durability and appearance.

But Ms Ajani’s opposition to timber production within native forests impliesAustralia increasing its reliance on timber imports from countries without thestrict environmental frameworks that exist here.

Research has shown that up to 10 per cent, or $400 million, of Australia’simports could be coming from illegally logged overseas forests in our region.

This number is a direct result of more than 11 million hectares of productionforests being placed in national parks over the past decade or so (which MsAjani has supported).

Increased bushfires and imports of timber are two truly perverseenvironmental outcomes considering the “Green” motives behind thecreation of these national parks.

Literally millions of hectares of these forests have been devastated bybushfires, due to poor management of the parks.

The 2002-03 fires that devastated the ACT, NSW and Victoria burnt more than 3million hectares of forest, mostly in national parks, and resulted in theequivalent to 25 per cent of Australia’s annual carbon dioxide emissions beingreleased.

The fires in Victoria last season caused a further 1 million hectares to beburnt, specifically in national parks. The forest industry is often a victim ofthe fires stemming from national parks, with adjacent well-managed state forestsand tree plantations singed by wildfires.

A recent report by the CSIRO found that bushfire frequency and intensitycould be expected to skyrocket as climate change sets in. With the huge area ofnational parks created recently, state governments can be listed No. 2 on thelist of contributors to increased bushfire threats.

On the political point, Ms Ajani’s comments that forest policy has been”shoved under the carpet by our political parties” should not gounanswered. Like the Greens, Ms Ajani fails to recognise the world-class systemgoverning the long-term management of Australia’s native forests as demonstratedthrough the Regional Forest Agreement processes.

After years of scientific rigor, the RFAs aimed to put to rest the forestdebate in Australia by marking where industry can manage and what is put inreserves.

At a federal level, forest policy has been a major election theme on at leasttwo occasions. Both political parties recognise that native forest managementhas been more than adequately dealt with through the democratic process andgovernment forest policy.

Their focus has rightly shifted to the promotion of value-adding facilities,like the proposed Tasmanian pulp mill, so jobs can be created for Australians.

The pulp mill is a watershed for investment in value-adding facilities in theforest industry and will provide confidence for future investment in the sector.It has been designed so that the operation can eventually move to a totallyplantation resource. The scale of plantations needed to feed the mill will comefrom a mixture of state-owned eucalyptus plantations, privately owned andMIS-funded forests.

However, Ms Ajani continually voices her opposition to managed investmentschemes, which have proven to be the most effective way of attracting cityinvestor funds to a long-term investment in regional Australia.

Again, without city money for rural investment, is Ms Ajani suggestingAustralia satisfy its demand for forest products with imports?

Australia will always need a sustainable native forest industry, complementedby an expanding plantation sector.

The Australian public must recognise that to take responsibility forprotecting the environment, we must take responsibility for our demand of forestproducts by supporting a sustainable native forest industry in our own country.

If we don’t, we risk encouraging illegal logging and unsustainable use oftropical forests in less developed countries.

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