Conservationists round on premier over logging bid

Tracey Ferrier |

The Tasmanian Liberals want to open 40,000 hectares of previously protected forests.
The Tasmanian Liberals want to open 40,000 hectares of previously protected forests.

Conservationists have savaged Tasmania’s Liberal government for promising to expand native forest logging without saying where the trees will fall.

Groups have expressed fury and dismay after Premier Jeremy Rockliff said he would open 40,000 hectares of previously protected forest if he wins the election on March 23.

They say threatened species will inevitably suffer but it’s impossible to say which ones when the Liberals haven’t given voters a map, or a list of locations.

The 40,000ha are part of 356,000ha at the heart of a 2012 peace deal that ended the state’s bitter forestry wars.

Under the Tasmanian Forest Agreement, millions of dollars flowed to the timber industry to compensate for the loss of access to swathes of high-conservation native forest.

Jeremy Rockliff
Jeremy Rockliff says Tasmania could capitalise on the end of native forest logging in two states. (Ethan James/AAP PHOTOS)

The forest was classed as “future reserve land” but when Labor lost to the Liberals in 2014, the agreement was dismantled.

And future reserve land became “future potential production forest land”.

Announcing the expansion on Thursday, Mr Rockliff said Tasmania could capitalise on the end of native forest logging in Victoria and Western Australia.

Resources Minister Felix Ellis said: “We have already identified 27 parcels of FPPF land totalling approximately 39,000 hectares of largely regrowth forest in the northeast and northwest, which is suitable for conversion back to production forest”.

He said the parcels had been identified with a range of considerations, including regard for the state’s system of reserves, sustainable practices and the prioritisation of previously disturbed regrowth forests.

But that’s where the detail ends.

Wilderness Society campaigner Alice Hardinge says it’s not good enough, especially in the middle of an election campaign.

She says all 356,000ha have been independently assessed and found to have extremely high conservation values and voters deserve to know which of the more than 250 parcels that make up the area will be targeted.

The Australian Conservation Foundation’s national nature campaigner Jess Abrahams says Tasmania’s native forests are full of endangered species, including wedge-tailed eagles, critically endangered swift parrots and giant freshwater lobsters.

Tasmanian Resources Minister Felix Ellis
Resources Minister Felix Ellis says Tasmania’s forestry wars “are in the past”. (Rob Blakers/AAP PHOTOS)

He says calling them regrowth forests is disingenuous.

“It masks the fact that biodiversity is recovering and it needs to continue to recover, not be logged and trashed yet again,” he said.

Mr Felix was asked if the election promise would reignite the state’s forestry wars.

“I think forest wars are in the past,” he replied.

“Tasmania does forestry so well, and we have the opportunity now to grow.

“The alternative to Tasmanian timber is imports from third world countries that can’t manage their forests responsibly, like we do.”

Veteran forest campaigner and former federal Greens leader Bob Brown has a different view about how tense things might become.

“He’s stoking the forest wars … he’s pouring petrol,” he told AAP after fronting a press conference alongside Tasmanian Greens leader Rosalie Woodruff.

“As the forest gets smaller we get bigger. They’ve got this draconian position – we’ll arrest and jail people who peacefully defend the forests. They’re likely to end up with hundreds of people in jail.”