In the debate about the Gunn’s Pulp Mill, the management of the forests, especially the “old growth” forests that will be cleared to feed the mill, has all but been forgotten.  Yet these forests may hold 1200 tons or more standing timber per hectare. The clearing of these forests. Once logged and converted to younger forest, their value is mainly of symbolic for the pulp industry, with as little as 26% of the timber being used. But it was symbolism powerful enough to trip Opposition Leader Mark Latham in Tasmania when he was looking for “green” votes at the last federal election. The sawmill industry is dependent on older timber and has been all but wiped out by clearfelling to create the young, even age stands preferred by the pulp industry. It is sawn timber that produces the long-lasting forest products as opposed to paper products from pulp that mostly ends up burnt or in a tip. The sawmill industry’s preference for older timber has left it on the frontline of conflict with conservationists and its lack of unionisation has seen its voice lost in the CMFEU. dominated as it is by the unionised pulp industry. Physically stuck where the mill is built, sawmilling needs long-term access to areas of forest like its former managed crown leases to thrive — management that can far better preserve other forest economic values. However, this does not suit the pulp industry or academic forestry that dominates state forestry departments.  Environment Minister Malcolm Turnbull has offered $200 million to Indonesia to help protect their forests and offset global warming — but what about Australian forests? The same global warming offset money could re-establish a number of sawmills, a timber salvage industry and help with brokering a deal to protect many of the remaining un-logged old growth forests to store carbon in Tasmania. For Shadow Environment Minister Peter Garret, global warming is almost the only issue he has remained consistent on, but he seems not to see the link between maintaining and regrowing Australian forests for long term carbon storage. Mining giant Rio Tinto does and they have contracted a farmer to maintain bush on a 3500 hectare Queensland property for 120 years, paying him over $1 million. What would Tasmania old growth forests be worth at a pro rata rate? There is an irritating academic confusion as to the value of forests in water supply catchments but the 50,000 odd hectares of ‘old growth’ Mountain Ash Forest in the upper Yarra catchment gave Melbourne the highest quality water of any capital city in Australia for decades.  The tourism value of older forests is equivalent to exported value from overseas tourists dollars spent per day visiting them, with National Parks and Reserves commonly generating in excess of 20,000 overseas visitor days per year worth between $1-200 spending per day. Smart politicians would see a golden opportunity for more diverse forest management with better protection, more quality water, and increased overseas export value tourism. Put simply, more jobs and more votes.  Send your tips to [email protected] or submit them anonymously here.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
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