3 November, 2016
Back to the future for Tasmanian forests
Tasmania may rekindle its bitter forest wars by ending a moratorium on logging in 400,000ha of native forests protected under a 2012 peace deal. Sources: The Australian, ABC News
The Hodgman Liberal state government flagged that the moratorium, in place until April 2020, could be prematurely scrapped to meet logging contracts.
This would be likely to spark a return to protests in the state's long-disputed native forests, as well as market campaigns against the Tasmanian timber industry, which is recovering from collapse.
The move could further hamper state-owned Forestry Tasmania's attempts to secure topflight Forest Stewardship Council certification, seen as crucial to selling into premium markets.
Resources Minister Guy Barnett told state parliament he had been advised by Forestry Tasmania that the moratorium might need to be ended before April 2020 to meet timber contracts.
"I will be considering whether or not the currently legislated date ... being April 2020, is appropriate, or whether it might be brought forward," said Mr Barnett.
Forestry Tasmania had advised there was "theoretically" sufficient resource in the production forests to maintain legislated wood supply, but Mr Barnett suggested it might not be "commercial or sustainable" to meet contracts purely from existing production forests - requiring new areas to be logged to "grow the industry".
He said the move would not jeopardise FSC certification because private companies, rather than Forestry Tasmania, would log the moratorium forests.
The Wilderness Society, which played a key role in negotiating the forests protection agreement with the timber industry, warned that was far from certain and the industry would lose out if there was a return to conflict.
"We find this deeply alarming and would be incredibly surprised if the marketplace didn't as well," society campaign director Vica Bayley said.
"It would be a surrender in terms of Forestry Tasmania seeking FSC certification, signal a renewed level of conflict over forests in Tasmania, and throw a question mark over the confidence the marketplace can have in Tas manian timber."
Mr Bayley said he suspected the move was political, to curry support from key constituencies in the lead-up to the state election, due by March 2018.
Using private companies would not necessarily protect Forestry Tasmania's FSC certification, he said, and would amount to "privatising Tasmania's' conservation estate".
Under the 2012 peace deal, backed by then-Labor federal and state governments but dumped by the Hodgman government in 2014, the 400,000ha was to become national parks and reserves.
Instead, it was protected only until 2020 and classified as "future potential production - forest".
The Greens described any end to the moratorium as a "declaration of war" said state Greens leader Cassy O'Connor:
"These forests in places such as Bruny Island, Wielangta, the Blue Tier and the Tarkine should be formally protected in reserves."
The Forest Industries Association of Tasmania could not be contacted.
Labor MP Michelle O'Byrne bas brushed aside the move, describing it as a political distraction from bullying allegations made against Government Minister, Rene Hidding.
"It is clearly just a diversion," she said. "They have got significant problems at the moment with a Premier who is not dealing with the actions of a Minister of the Crown, a member of Cabinet and they are looking for anything to detract attention.
"The Minister announced nothing today and I'm not speculating on nothing."