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The Last Forest Protest?

This brochure could become historic
Could it really be true? I went along to a forest rally on Saturday. Since then Prime Minister Julia Gillard has announced a deal that will protect most of the most vulnerable areas but still allow a new Malaysian veneer mill and guarantee it supply until 2027. It will also provide compensation packages for people displaced from the forest industry.
Large sections of Tasmania’s population have literally been at loggerheads since industrial -scale clear -felling of native forests began in 1972 and we began supplying woodchips to Japan. Before that, every small town had a saw mill or two that employed a few people and provided timber for building and furniture factories. These timber mills had leases for ninety – nine years, something which they lost as soon as wood -chipping started.

 I won’t say traditional logging practices were pretty, but overall, the forest canopy wasn’t disturbed. Though the wildlife may have been locally displaced, it wasn’t driven from large swathes of bush at once, nor was it sprayed with atrazine. No –one had ever seen Devil’s Facial Tumour disease.  Birds, possums and other small creatures that lived in hollow trees, still had plenty of refugia and the waste returned to the soil. Patches of churned -up ground, fallen trees and dead branches were not so dissimilar to the normal cycles of the bush that they it did not regrow. They certainly didn’t leave great gaping scars, devoid of all other life except - years later, orderly rows of even –aged, fast -growing imported eucalypts.  With their mosses and fungi and ferns, many of the places which the Greens have struggled to preserve for their beauty are regrowth after selective logging. Nor did the saw millers and ‘fallers’ as they call them here, have the supply problems that they seem to be having now. 

 I never did understand why small mill owners thought they were on the same side as the big corporations that just come, pillage and leave. Oh, that’s right. It’s because they have been told that those awful tree huggers have locked everything up. They should be thankful. Otherwise there would be nothing left to fight over. Nor would there be anything left for future generations or for tourists to admire.
While employment in the timber industry has drastically declined, tourism has grown two and a half times. People do come to see our wildlife in the wild, the tall trees and the temperate rainforest in all its diversity, which they may never have heard about, had there not been this ongoing controversy. Not that you would get many red -blooded timber workers to swap their chainsaws and dozers for a tea towel.  That is the tragedy of our small rural towns. The only reason the timber industry as presently constituted has existed at all for the last few decades, is because it has been massively subsidised by the state. This is called corporate welfare. The Ta Anne Mill does at least represent downstream processing and a small amount of local employment in the North West. 

The ‘greenies’ are not the enemy whatever you may hear on talk – back radio or read in the full page ads in the paper or hear in the street in some pro -logging communities.  “Why aren’t those bludgers at work?” “Did you see that?” “They were using wood on their fire – bloody hypocrites.” And these are some of the nicer things that have been said. It is the scale and speed and the indiscriminate nature of clear -felling that is the enemy. Dedicated people have campaigned against this relentlessly over the years. They have been arrested, assaulted, vilified and fined. They are heroes not villains. Let’s keep our fingers crossed that they can now come down from the trees and take a well -earned rest. May there be peace in the forests at last.


Update 10/08/2011
Celebrations may be premature. The fat lady has not yet sung. On the news last night an angry contractor who services logging machinery vowed to keep up the fight.

The thing is, structural adjustment has been a feature of Australian life for several decades.
I do not recall the same folk shedding a tear for the 16,000 sacked by Ansett on one day in 2001, the 150 people now being retrenched by Ardmona and Heinz in the Goulburn Valley (also on last night's news), or the 2700 workers retrenched by Pacific Brands in 2009, often without even their entitlements such as wages and holiday pay, much less compensation.
Closer to home at Scottsdale, one of the epicentres of the current storm, where was the mourning for the 130 direct jobs lost in the potato industry when multinational Simplot moved on in 2003, after farmers had greatly increased production and purchased expensive equipment to enable supply to McDonald's and Kentucky Fried Chicken?

When the last tree has gone, or there is so much as a whiff of a better deal somewhere else, the corporations will shut up shop and move on, but I ask those who service the timber industry, what will you do then? You are only postponing the inevitable.

Not that I am entirely with the greens here either. I would like to see a small scale timber industry that harvests at a rate that does not destroy the basic character of our temperate rainforest, one of the few left in the world. One that makes use of our rare timber in a way that increases its value ten -thousandfold e.g. through the creation of designer furniture, rather than churning it up for toilet paper. A bit of firewood and some building timber would be nice as well, but while we do not have this in place, I am with you rather than the woodchip industry.