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Are the Australian greens the environmental mafia?

Wink Sutton's Blog
Monday, November 29, 2010

On the 20 August Dr Peter Volker, President of the Institute of Australian Foresters, issued a press release − Say no to the environmental Mafia. Dr Volker was responding to a call from the Australian greens for a ban on indigenous forest logging. The greens hold a position of enormous political power after the recent indecisive Australian elections. On first reading I thought that the label appeared extreme but after consideration it does appear appropriate.

Where will the wood come from?

The greens could not have thought through what their demand will mean for either the Australian forests or the Australian economy. According to recent annual statistics, Australian native hardwoods in 2008/9 contributed 7.8 million cubic metres, or 31 per cent of the nation’s wood harvest. Wood imports annually cost Australia about $2 billion. Imports are mostly tropical south east Asian hardwoods. Softwood imports from New Zealand are only just over 600 million cubic metres.

If there is a ban on indigenous harvesting where is Australia to get its hardwoods from? Or are the greens suggesting Australia uses less wood and makes up any shortfall in the wood supply with polluting and energy consuming alternatives? The move to either a greater volume of hardwood imports or to wood substitutes is environmentally irresponsible. The viability of rural communities would be reduced as loggers and wood users would be without a job.

Not true

The campaign by the greens implies that the indigenous forest is under threat. This is a gross distortion. A large percentage of the most productive forests, the wet forests of eastern Australia, Tasmania, and south-western West Australia, are already in permanent conservation reserves. Victoria has only seven per cent of its forests available for harvesting. Although Tasmania can practise harvesting on 47 per cent of its forest, 90 per cent of its old growth is already in National Parks. In West Australia the annual cut of karri, jarrah and marri is probably a third of what it was 10 years ago. Queensland has recently announced a complete closure of its native forest industry.

Australian forests are not under any threat by harvesting. Almost all forests are managed on sustainable yield principles and have been for decades. The volume harvested is rarely greater than the forest growth.

Without management, which costs money, fire is a major concern. Where there is forest management, the fire risk is usually reduced by deliberate low intensity burning. If the forest is left unmanaged there is an accumulation of forest fuel, and wild fires can be catastrophic usually when conditions are hot, dry and windy.

Re-think demands

Without any income from harvesting it is difficult to see large amounts of federal or State money being diverted to pay for forest management, especially fuel reduction. What other expenditure options are the greens prepared to forgo to manage the unharvested indigenous forest?

Some of the tactics of the environmentalists are unethical. These include threats to local hardwood sawmillers and wood users, frightening the Japanese pulp and paper industry into not using Tasmanian woodchips and blockading lawful forestry operations.

Unless they want the label of environmental mafia the Australian greens should seriously rethink their demand for a ban on indigenous harvesting.

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Forestry and wood and the ETS

Wink Sutton's Blog
Monday, August 30, 2010

If we want to reduce atmospheric carbon dioxide why have we limited the forestry contribution to carbon sequestration? Since we cannot go on increasing new planting for ever, the carbon sink potential of forests is only temporary. In a mature forest the volume of dying or harvested trees more or less equals the volume growth of the remaining trees. Provided the forest is replanted or re-established, the forest is no longer a carbon sink but becomes a carbon store.

Endlessly renewable

Why do we continue to ignore the permanent contribution that wood could make to atmospheric carbon sequestration? Unlike fossil fuels, wood use recycles carbon dioxide as, on burning or decay, an equivalent amount of carbon dioxide is re-sequestered by the remaining growing forest. As well as being an endlessly renewable raw material, wood is also very energy efficient as well as environmentally friendly. If the world really wants to permanently reduce atmospheric carbon we should promote a greater use of wood and reduce our use of concrete, metals and plastic.

However, under the present ETS there is a major disincentive to harvest forests. What we have is a bureaucratic nightmare in which forest owners have to buy back carbon credits on harvesting or for wind throw, fires or any tree loss. The Australian ETS proposal – a one-time payment equal to half of the expected carbon dioxide sequestered at rotation age – is far more logical and far easier to administer. The only liability for the forest owner is where there is a change of land use.

I cannot see the present ETS lasting for decades let alone centuries. I am not aware that it has yet happened but it is very likely we will see wood users claiming credits for replacing concrete, metals or plastics. Another bureaucratic nightmare. It will be totally unfair to the forest growers who grew the wood in the first place but are liable for carbon penalties at harvest.

When the ETS was being developed I had considered proposing that forestry and wood be excluded from the ETS completely. We would get no credits for any growing forests but then we would not face any liabilities at harvest which would have encouraged more tree planting and a greater wood use.

However the Kyoto Forest Owners were advocating that it was wrong of the government to confiscate the carbon credits for forestry. If there were to be carbon credits these should go to the forest owner. Any new proposal from me was most unlikely to find general support from the forestry sector as the sector could not support two very different proposals. The government would never have considered my proposal as it was very keen to have the carbon credits from the plantings of the 1990s.

Sustainable future

Some may disagree but I cannot see forests, and certainly not forests of indigenous tree species, being planted for carbon sequestration alone. It would be far more profitable to invest in production forests.

There seems little argument that we need more forests. If we encouraged a greater use of wood and do not introduce market distorting subsidies to carbon dioxide polluters such as concrete. steel, aluminium and plastics, forests would be greater profit earners, we would see more tree planting and the world would be closer to a sustainable future.

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Disclaimer: Personal views expressed in this blog are those of the writers and do not necessarily represent those of the NZ Farm Forestry Association.

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