Tasmanian old growth forests

This post is inspired by Miranda Gibson. I’ve known for a while that there was an activist living up a tree in Tasmania. In case you missed it, Miranda came down from the tree last week after almost 15 months due to a bushfire (see more here).

But why was she living in a tree for almost 15 months?

Background

Old growth forests are, well, old forests. Their age alone makes them historically significant – many trees in Tasmania are approximately 400 years old, and some are over 90 metres tall (1). To give some context, that is as old as Shakespeare’s plays (2) and taller than any other structure in Tasmania (3). But ecologically, these communities are highly important. These systems have reached a state of equilibrium, where the growth of new trees is balanced by the death of old trees (4). The presence of old, dying trees is vital for the habitat of some species (5). The lack of disturbance also allows the long-term establishment many plant and animal species (4). I assume that these species would especially encompass those susceptible to disturbances, which are ever-increasing with the activity of humans. I consider these characteristics the most persuasive, however old growth forests also reduce evaporation and increase water flow to streams (4). Additionally, they absorb CO2 and are recognised as substantial CO2 sinks (6).

Tasmania is home to almost one-quarter of Australia’s remaining old growth forest (4). Although almost 70 % of old growth forest in Tasmania has been protected in reserves for years, the amount of old growth forest unprotected was greater than the total amount of old growth forest in Queensland or Western Australia (4). In 2011, the Tasmanian Forests Intergovernmental Agreement was signed by the Prime Minister Julia Gillard and Tasmanian Premier Lara Giddings (7). This agreement agreed to protect a further 572,000 ha of old growth forests, as nominated by environmental organisations, in Tasmania (7). This would protect virtually all old growth forests in the state (4).

At this point, though, the priorities of the logging industry need to be considered. Forestry Tasmania, a corporation owned by the Tasmanian government, are responsible for the management of Tasmania’s forests. The corporation has contractual obligations to supply timber (8), and provides many jobs. The Intergovernmental Agreement guaranteed that wood supply to the forest industry will be maintained, and that existing contracts will be honoured (8). An Independent Verification Group, as established as part of the Intergovernmental Agreement, found that it was not feasible to stop logging in all the areas included under the 430,000 ha priority regions if quotas are to be met (9). Forestry Tasmania claims that less than 0.5 % of the 430,000 ha of land identified for protection requires logging (8). At this stage, 504,000 ha of old growth forest is protected by a Conservation Agreement which applies until 30 June, 2013 (10). This agreement excludes the areas that Forestry Tasmania requires (10).

Consequently, logging in old growth areas in Tasmania continues. These forests would take hundreds of years to regenerate; if there are to regenerate. Communities of multiple species are threatened – many endangered species have been observed in these areas (11). The removal of these environments can drastically change the landscape, resulting in further flow-on effects – such as increased evaporation. Additionally, the logging of old growth forests reduces the capacity for CO2 removal globally. Once it’s gone, it’s gone. Miranda Gibson vowed to stay in a tree earmarked for logging until old growth forests were protected in Tasmania (see more here).

Thoughts

I don’t believe that logging old growth forests for consumer items is acceptable. The ecological role these forests play is too great to compromise. In a world where climate change is imminent, it is imperative that traditional environments such as old growth forests are preserved. In my perfect world, there would be no logging of old growth forests. But this is reality; the opinions of others matter, and negotiations are required – for better or worse.

Therefore, I applaud the Australian and Tasmanian governments for moving towards protecting all old growth forests in Tasmania. I recognise that functioning agreements between industry and environmental groups are few and far between, and appreciate that the Tasmanian Forests Intergovernmental Agreement will protect a significant proportion of Tasmanian old growth forests from logging in the future. In contrast, many old growth forests are still logged around the world – and Australia. Less than 70 % of old growth forests in Victoria and New South Wales are protected (as of 2006) (4).

Action

I think the respective parties in this situation are taking the right steps, but further work is needed to meet the requirements of all parties. However, I almost feel that the attention dedicated to this cause would be better aimed at reducing the amount of old growth forests logged Australia-wide. Therefore, the actions I have taken are to;

Urge the Tasmanian government and Forestry Tasmania to implement changes to allow the cessation of logging in old growth forests
The continued logging of old growth areas is primarily driven by Forestry Tasmania and their desire meet their contractual obligations. The report presented by the Independent Verification Group identified several ways that Forestry Tasmania may be able to move their logging operations out of old growth forests. These measures, however, are more costly and not considered economically viable.

You can tell Forestry Tasmania to consider these measures here.

Ask the Victorian and New South Wales governments to consider similar negotiations to reduce the amount of logging in old growth forests Australia-wide
The movement in Tasmania is warranted and is overall doing great things. However, there is still substantial logging of old growth forests occurring around Australia  – especially Victoria and New South Wales.

You can tell the relevant Victorian and New South Wales corporations that Western Australia and Tasmania have set a precedent that they need to follow. You can also sign this petition to tell the New South Wales government that opening additional land to logging is unacceptable.

Ensure I only purchase wood and paper products that are recycled
This one is pretty straightforward – if the consumer does not want it, manufacturers will stop making it (.. or find a way to make the consumer want it). I feel that recycled products are preferable to those that are certified as sustainably managed (eg. FSC certified) – although these would be preferable if you did have to buy new.

Featured image credit: Observer Tree

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