Minister regurgitates VicForests propaganda?

Saturday, November 7, 2015

One of the arguments often put forward in support of native forest logging is that all forest logged is subsequently regenerated. Even if this were true, and we know that it’s not, it is fatuous to pretend that regenerating forest provides the same ecological opportunities to Australian wildlife as more complex, mature forest that existed before it was logged.

The process of regeneration and the assessment of whether it has been satisfactorily conducted has always been a complex issue. Too complex, it seems, for the current Minister for Agriculture, Jaala Pulford. When she was recently questioned about the amendment to the Timber Release Plan (TRP) that added another 300 coupes to VicForests’ logging schedule she soon replied that “another 284 coupes” had been removed from the TRP. “In terms of gross coupe area, there is actually no change. There is an additional 10,300 ha. and a reduction of 10,300 ha. So there is not 1 hectare more and not 1 hectare less,” she explained.

It didn’t seem to occur to her that there is no hectare for hectare equivalency between relatively undisturbed ecologically diverse forest and the clearfelled and burned wasteland that replaces it. Indeed she appeared quite surprised when it was pointed out to her that the majority of “removed” coupes are being removed after having been logged.

A fortnight later, under further questioning, she admitted that 224 of the 284 “removed” coupes had previously been logged, or in her preferred words, “successfully regenerated”. But this begs the question - what constitutes successful regeneration?

Prior to changes made last year by the Coalition, regenerated coupes were audited by DEPI/DSE to ensure a satisfactory density and distribution of Eucalyptus regrowth before they were returned from VicForests to government management. Under those changes, all unreserved forests are now managed by VicForests and it is not clear whether any audits have been conducted by the corporation before returning regenerated coupes to – itself!

Indeed it is not clear that any evidence has been gathered to support the Minister’s claim in Parliament that 224 coupes have been “successfully regenerated”.  Of the four coupes in Toolangi included in the list (excluding salvage logged coupes), it turns out two were actually “Thinnings” coupes. These are coupes that were originally logged and re-sown 30 or so years ago; the subsequent regrowth is thinned to provide product and to reduce stem density, allowing retained trees more space to grow. By definition, a thinned coupe is not regenerated so to claim its regeneration as “successful” is disingenuous, if not misleading. The remaining two Toolangi coupes, when visited recently were found to contain dense regrowth of wattles and very few eucalypts. Certainly not the 300+ per hectare that would be necessary to satisfy an audit conducted according to management standards for successful regeneration.

It seems likely that Minister Pulford is, in fact, presenting statements to Parliament that have been prepared for her by VicForests’ media director. Statements that she doesn’t fully understand. But as the responsible minister shouldn’t she ensure that she does understand statements that bear her name? If, on the other hand, she does properly comprehend these matters, it necessarily follows that she is deliberately misleading Parliament - an even more serious proposition!