A sorry state of forest affairs

Sponsored and praised by logging unions and supporter groups like VAFI, Australia’s State of the Forests Report 2008 was launched at Bairnsdale’s Auswest sawmill in late May – a pertinent location.

Intended to be ‘an essential reference for policy makers and the wider community,’ the five-yearly forest audit reads more like a marketing brochure pitching pro-logging views, decorated with poor science. It urges us to ‘use Australian forest products with pride’ whilst delivering the bad news in a most auspicious way.

Forest loss – not from logging!

We are assured that previous, bad surveying tools ‘largely explain’ the shocking 10% ‘disappearance’ of remaining forests in the last five years and reassured that ‘little of the (15 million hectares discrepancy) has to do with real forest loss’.

The 200,000 hectare ruin of old growth forests since 2003 is blamed on fire damage, disease and some ‘re-mapping’ (post clear-fell?), admitting dismissively that ‘logging is also a contentious issue’.

Regardless of ‘reclassification of forest types’, ‘boundary adjustments’ or ‘remapping’, we have 10% less forest than we all thought. Does this mean that Regional Forest Agreements, logging plans and sustainable logging standards have been falsely based on gross over-estimates…or heinously breached?

The government wasn’t worried about over-logging and wobbly estimates because, allegedly, in the states where ‘sustainable forest management’ standards were crook, ‘remedial action was taken’.

Logging not seen as a loss

Clearfell logging was rarely used as an example of forest disturbance and there are no real figures representing the loss of forest due to commercial logging. Instead, a conservative estimate of a quarter of a million hectares lost per year between 2000 and 2004 is given, ‘due mainly to clearing for agriculture and urban development.’

Of Australia’s forests, 76% remain unprotected from clearing. Of what little is left of our irreplaceable old growth, ‘sustainable’ logging is allowed to scrap another third. Just how they can sustain 400 year old forests on 50 year rotations they don’t explain.

The number of known forest-dwelling threatened species increased to 1,315 [from what?], ‘predominantly’ due to impacts caused by ‘introduced species and unsuitable fire regimes’. No mention of clearfelling or prescribed burns as an impact, as it was rationalised that some species ‘occur so rarely in the wild that it is not possible to assess their sensitivity to logging’!

The report sets forth a counterfeit argument that carbon emissions caused by logging a forest will be benevolently offset by the remaining forests.

Despite the report’s attempted trade-off between ecology and economics, the report’s figures reveal that plantations are more economically valuable for logging and that native forests are more valuable left undisturbed, for biodiversity conservation, carbon storage, fresh water/air supply and social/cultural dependencies. The report also mentions briefly (though without emphasis or detail) that undisturbed, healthy forests have industrial/economic values too.

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