Image for Dear Gregg

A response to, The Larger than expected value of Forest, HERE

Hi Gregg,

I heard your story on carbon in forests on Radio National Breakfast this morning, and I am a little concerned at the way it came across.

There is a lot more to the story, and I am not sure you understand it, if you don’t mind me saying that.

Regarding carbon in forests, there is what I would discribe as a static view, and a dynamic view. There are some people who understand that trees store a lot of carbon, and big old trees store lots of it.

There is also general understanding of how trees take CO2 out of the atmosphere.

However, from there the argument can get a little perverse, especially when those in the conservation movement start moving beyond saving special areas to saying the use of timber is bad.

Remember, these people have a financial interest in maintaining an on-going sense of conflict to keep those donations rolling in, and the resolution of conflict in one area or aspect means they just have to start up something else, and it seems stopping all native forest logging is the latest escalation of the conflict.

The static view has led some to say that the forests are so important to humanity we should lock them up, and not let anyone touch them.

But how would the same people react if you said this:  Vegetables are so important we should lock up the vegetable patch, and not let anyone touch it.

The dynamic view is that trees are a renewable resource, and using timber is a brilliant way of storing carbon in multiple locations at once.

This view discribes how you can harvest trees in a sustainable managed way, and apply the timber to useful purposes that just happen to be a store of carbon as well. Timber in buildings and furniture can be very long term storage. Even paper is a carbon store, and books can be long term storage, but newspapers less so. A tree can have a long life as a living tree, but it can have a second life that can be just as long, and sometimes even longer as a treasured object. Simultaneously you can be growing new trees in the location where the previous trees were harvested, and they in tern can be sucking in atmospheric carbon, and storing it.

As well, the embedded energy in timber products is far less than in most other products. For example, aluminium is highly intensive in its electricity usage, and involves a high transportation input from few and remote locations. Is it renewable? Well, you don’t get fresh bauxite appearing in the hole where you dug the last lot! Meanwhile timber can be grown in many locations around the country, and contributes to the economy of many regions. Some tourism infrustructure would not be viable in small communities without the economic contribution afforded by the presence of the timber industry. This is certainly the case where I am in Tasmania.

In another article recently I saw these two views presented as the bank vault view, and the dam view. The bank vault view seeks the forest to be safely locked up, while the dam view suggests inflows and outflows, and a considerable amount in storage. Most people in rural situations understand what happens when you take lots of water out of a dam when none is going in, and similarly there can be problems if no water is taken out. All can appreciate that a large storage dam can be picturesque as well. This is certainly the case with working forests.

Taking no timber out of native forest creates a situation where no revenue stream for the management of that forest becomes an issue. Management is necessary for weed control, wildfire mitigation, maintenance of roads, walking tracks, and other infrastructure, etc.

Just ask the people of Kinglake in Victoria what it is like living next to unmanaged or poorly managed state forest!

In Tasmania we harvest a small fraction of our public forests in any one year, and all of it is regenerated as native forest. We do not have a situation where large amounts of private forest are cleared annually for conversion to other land uses. In Tasmania the net biomass in the form of forest is gaining on us. All the forest we do not harvest is out there gaining bulk at however many tonnes per hectare per year, and we are working to ensure as little as possible is lost to unplanned wildfire.

As a woodworker, I am distressed at the prospect that the stupid deal that we are being blackmailed with could lock up almost all of our Special Timbers, and for no good reason. This will put a lot of people out of business, but no one is talking about that!  (There are 2,000 FTE - full time equivalent - positions in Special Timbers manufacturing in Tasmania)  Also, a transition out of native forest for commodity hardwood timber production would take away one of the few economic opportunities we have, and there is no clear or viable plan to bring about a plantation estate that could replace it. The private sector has lost its appetite for plantation establishment with the demise of MIS schemes, and the state government has no cash and no capacity to invest in it either. Tasmanian premium hardwood timber is a major export to mainland states, and is well supported in the market place. Tasmania is the only state that is self sufficient in sawn hardwood, and exports around half its total cut. Why should Tasmania turn its back on a successful product, only to try and grow a lower quality and price product that others can grow cheaper anyway?

Other states are net importers, including from overseas sources. Australia imports timber from places like Myanmar, PNG, and the Solomon Islands, and I am sure our forest management practices and regeneration performance is much better than any of those! What happened to those people whose slogan is Think globally, Act locally? They profit politically and personally from trashing our local industry, and the perverse result is an increase in destruction of known HCV tropical forest to replace the ongoing demand for sawn timber in this country. I believe Australia has a responsibilty to be self-sufficient in sawn timber, and to assist other countries to manage their own timber resources better.

When is someone going to do a proper job of understanding and reporting on the timber industry in Tasmania?

cheers,

George Harris