Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Forestry 'ethics' in Australia

Earlier this year the huge ethical problem inherent in the long-term practice of converting Australia's native forests to monoculture tree plantations was solved in one fell swoop by a director of a plantation company:
“…..Effectively most of the Central Victorian forests, it's basically a plantation. It's called 'native', but it regenerated from a 1939 fire. It all got burnt on the same day, it all regenerated on the same day - apart from having human hands touch it, that's a plantation, but unfortunately it's seen psychologically as native. But that material now is high quality. And you could plant that stuff, but you won't get quality in 10 or 15 years, or 20 or 25. …So, it's really not a native versus plantation: it's a 30 to 50 year, versus a 10 to 15 year issue.” [1]

Setting aside the fact that the 1939 fires occurred 70 years ago, rather than a mere 50, plantation management entails considerably more than a passive wait for native species to regenerate after an inferno.

In Tasmania and large areas of mainland Australia the process goes something like this: First the native forests, including ancient stands of World Heritage value, are bulldozed to the ground. A tiny minority of the logs are used for furniture making, boat building and suchlike. Ninety percent of the logs that are harvested, however, are used for the conversion to woochip to make paper pulp for the commercial benefit of large transnational corporations [2]. The rest of the considerable biomass, as can be seen in the above image [3], is piled up and burnt using napalm dropped from helicopters. In this process hundreds of years of forest mulch is also incinerated and the top soil turns into baked brick. Local residents often choke on the thick plumes of smoke that emit from these gigantic industrial fires.

Monoculture bluegum trees are planted to replace the biodiverse forest. The industrial fire prevents the regeneration of unwanted (non-commercial) rainforest species. In turn, repeated industrial applications of 1080 poison kill off wildlife that may pose a threat to these small newly-planted monoculture saplings used to replace native flora.

Over the following 20 year life span of the industrial plantation there may be repeated aerial sprayings of cypermethrin and/or other toxic insecticides; and this occurs despite the placement of these industrial plantations in major water catchments and within and around rural communities across the state. Cursory and unreliable testing is done in major arterial streams where chemicals will be the most diluted. It is no coincidence then, that that the Australian state with by far the most intensive 'forestry' regime has the highest human cancer rate in the nation. Toxicological studies in Tasmanian devils, the platypus and other native mammals, unsurprisingly, reveals the presence of POPs including organo-chlorines, PCBs, furans and dioxins. [4]

The words of Ula Majewski can only hint at the tragedy of what is happening in (what now are only the small remnants left of) Australia's native forests :

"There is nothing quite like the silence of a freshly cut clearfell or a freshly cut aggregated retention coupe, just as there is nothing quite like the terrible roar of a chainsaw or an excavator splitting open the dawn air. In these blasted landscapes, the voice falls silent; narrative is systematically rendered nonexistent. To stand within this silence, in the choked up confusion of mud and splintered stumps, to come across the jagged remains of a tree under which you sat a few weeks before, is to truly understand the terrible parameters of ignorance and disrespect that are compelled by something as fundamental and as simple as human greed. "[5]

[1] Australia's recession-proof woodchips
Peter Mares interviewing Dennis Neilson (Director of the New Zealand based forest industry consultancy, DANA Limited. A company that owns eucalyptus plantations).
ABC National Interest program. 24th July 2009

[2] Corporations such as Norske Skog whose major customers are the Rupert Murdoch media empire and Fairfax Media. These two companies virtually monopolise the Australian newspaper market. Also woodchipper companies such as Gunns Ltd and Forest Enterprises and the companies that invest in them (Elders, AMP, ANZ, Macquarie Group, Perpetual Investments and others).

[3] Biomass piles from a typical native forest coupe clearfell in North West Tasmania. This image was taken by the author, Brenda Rosser, in February 1996. The 100 year old regenerating forest was 'harvested' by the Tasmanian state government enterprise 'Forestry Tasmania'. Despite written assurances that the area would be regenerated back to native forest the trees were replaced by a monoculture of Eucalypt Nitens. Rainforest species in the creeks were chopped down and other breaches of the Forest Practices Code occurred with no penalties imposed by the State Forest Practices Authority.

[4] See Dr David Obendorf's comments at:

[5] The Cracking of Our Hearts. Speech by Ula Majewski., left in the Florentine. Speech: Parliament Lawns, Hobart. 13th January 2009.


Myrtle Blackwood said...

Unfortunately I've only mentioned a fraction of the disaster that has unfolded in Australian forests.

About half a dozen very common species of mammal in tasmania a mere 10 years ago are now endangered or vulnerable. This includes the Tasmanian Devil (that suffers from 'devil facial tumour disease) and the quoll.

If plantations go on farmland all of the farming infrastructure is pulled up and destroyed. In addition the entire farm is covered with herbicide. The latter may occur more than once.

The absolutely astounding increase in the use of dangerous pesticides from the modern 'forestry' model has to be seen to be believed. And this model is used in nation after nation concentrated across the Southern hemisphere mostly.

'Managed Investment Scheme' (MIS) financial lunacy has ensured the Australian taxpayer has funded the transfer of our best agricultural land to absentee global corporations.

The spectre of vast lands now essentially unmanaged and mostly uninhabited by humans has to be seen to be believed.

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