Forest wars flare after pledge to grow native logging

Ethan James |

Jeremy Rockliff has made a pitch to the forestry industry as part of his re-election campaign.
Jeremy Rockliff has made a pitch to the forestry industry as part of his re-election campaign.

Tasmania’s forest wars have reignited after the Liberal party promised to unlock a previously protected 40,000ha of native trees for logging if re-elected.

Premier Jeremy Rockliff cited a desire to capitalise on “growing global demand” and native forestry phase-out by Labor governments in Victoria and Western Australia.

But the move has been criticised by the Greens, conservation groups, state Labor and a peak forestry body who says they’ve been used as a political football.

The land, made up of an unspecified 27 parcels in the state’s northeast and northwest, is part of 356,000ha protected under a 2012 deal struck with industry and conservation groups.

The state Liberals in 2014 designated the land as a future potential production forest (FPPF), a move Mr Rockliff described as setting it aside for a “rainy day”.

“What we’re doing is giving certainty and confidence to local sawmillers, contractors, local jobs and regional communities,” he told reporters on Thursday.

Bob Brown, Rosalie Woodruff and Alice Hardinge.
Bob Brown, Tasmanian Greens leader Rosalie Woodruff and Alice Hardinge of the Wilderness Society (Ethan James/AAP PHOTOS)

The state Greens said the decision to expand logging into protected forests was appalling, while environmentalist Bob Brown flagged increased protests ahead of the March 23 poll.

The former federal Greens leader said Tasmania would be plunged into a “dark age of global condemnation” for destroying natural heritage.

“The world is in the twin crises of global heating and the mass extinction of birds, animals and plants,” said Dr Brown, who was recently charged with trespassing over a forestry coupe protest.

State Greens leader Rosalie Woodruff questioned whether there was a market for the forests amid tighter certifications around environmental management.

“It is wood that would be taken from forests that house critically endangered species (including) Tasmanian devils and swift parrots,” she said.

Native forest logging in Victoria ceased at the end of 2023, with the state government declaring it was economically and environmentally unviable.

Mr Rockliff said the expanded supply would be made exclusively available to existing Tasmanian customers.

Tasmanian Forest Products Association chief executive Nick Steel said the Liberals, who have been in power for a decade, could have solved wood supply issues at any time.

“Instead, they have decided to make it an election issue,” he said.

“The (association) has been talking to the government for a long time about active management of FPPF land, and what has been released is nothing like our plan.

“The (association) believes in total land use management. Not all the FPPF land is suitable for production forestry.

“The (association) is calling for a full examination of the land, with input from a range of groups – including forestry, aboriginal bodies and environmental agencies.”

Labor leader Rebecca White said the Liberal plan was aimed at creating division and her party would release their forestry policy in coming days.

Resources Minister Felix Ellis said he was assured there was strong support for increasing certainty and supply of native timber.

“I think the forest wars are in the past. People now realise forestry is one of the most sustainable industries there is,” he said.

“There are always going to be extremist Greens who are opposed to everything this industry does.”

Opinion polls indicate both the Liberals and Labor will struggle to form a majority government, with more than a third of the state set to snub the two major parties.