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How 504,000 ha of promised forest protection turned into a logging industry support package.

AKA the legacy of the Tasmanian Forest Agreement.

The Tasmanian Forest Agreement (TFA) or sometimes wrongly dubbed the ‘Forest Peace Deal’ was a contentious and hard fought agreement between the logging industry, Tasmanian government, unions and three self selecting environmental organisations (The Wilderness Society of Tasmania, Environment Tasmania, Australian Conservation Foundation) to decide the fate of Tasmania’s publicly owned native forests. It was agreed to by the negotiating pirates and signed into law November 2012

The final agreement included a promise of more than 504,000 ha of forests to be protected with 100,00 plus ha proposed for inclusion in the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Areas (TWWHA) and an estimated 400,000 ha put into temporary reserve with the idea they would be permanently protected at an undisclosed future date. These forests in limbo became known as Future Reserve Land. The forests of north east Tasmania made up a significant proportion of these areas.

The TFA included payouts to the logging industry in excess of 420 million dollars, with a minimum of 3 years for logging and log truck companies to have to leave the Tasmanian industry (with some heading to Victoria to keep logging) before they could consider coming back to Tasmania to work in the native forest logging sector. These payouts were delivered rapidly, while forest protection of the whole area nominated was put off into the never-never. A Senate Inquiry was held into the way in which these payouts were conducted and regulated.

There were strong concerns aired throughout the process by local community groups including those of us in north east Tasmania campaigning for forests, environment groups such as Market Forces and the Bob Brown Foundation, and then leader of the Australian Greens, Christine Miln. The critical concerns included the huge sums of taxpayer dollars being handed over to the logging industry for short term exit packages that expired after 3 years, with no firm commitment or legislative path to protect the Future Reserve Land and whole 504,000 ha of High Conservation Value forests.

Liberals start unprotecting forests

In 2014 the Liberal Party of Tasmania came back into government and immediately set about dismantling the gains achieved by the Tasmanian Forest Agreement, with a particular focus on ensuring the Future Reserve Land would lose any chance of permanent protection. Reclassifying these areas as ‘Future Potential Production Forests’ or as Lyons MP Guy Barnett the Minister for Forestry likes to call them ‘wood banks’. No subtlety there in understanding where he sees the future of Tasmania’s native forests.

Minister Barnett passed legislation to enable these High Conservation Value forests to be logged at any time from 2014 for rainforest species, known as ‘specialty species’ such as Myrtle (Nothofagus cunninghamii), Sassafrass (Atherospermum moschatem), Huon pine (Lagorastrobos franklinii) and Blackwoods (Acacia melanoxylon). Those cutting boards and tourist trinkets at Tourism Tasmania outlets have a high likelihood of coming from our formerly reserved forests!

The Liberal parties next step was to set in place a hard date for when forests once destined for protection could be put into active logging coupes. This date was April 8, 2020. However in October 2016 as part of a proposed revamp of state-owned business Forestry Tasmania which had reported a $67 million loss the Government announced plans to make available about 400,000 hectares of land, two years earlier than legislation had allowed. As we’ve seen with the Liberal party and its commitment to legislation, they’re more like guidelines than rules.

It’s from this point that history shows the dramatic whittling down of the amount of forests destined for protection and the pathway set by the Liberal government to take formerly reserved forests to be turned over to the wood chip driven logging industry. This was done through a process of death by a thousand cuts of reserve declassification and entrenching the self regulating practices of government logging agency Sustainable Timber Tasmania.

By the time we arrived at the date of April 8, 2020 only 356,000 ha was left in the Future Reserve land listing. Forests that were set on a fast track to be added to the 810,000 hectares of Tasmania’s publicly owned native forest that government logging agency Sustainable Tasmania manage for native forest logging. Logging practices that have continuously made this government business enterprise fail at every attempt to gain the global forestry best standard Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certification.

This move to remove protection for these forests has increased the native forests available to logging by 40% in one foul swoop of hard right ideological legislative activism.

The Liberal government admitted that they needed to recheck their maps as about 35,000 ha of this Future Potential Production Land has been included in the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area, and have conceded it would be a bad look, and deeply problematic, to keep nominating those world heritage forests of the Weld, Styx and Florentine as ‘wood banks’. Small mercies.

What’s next?

We are hearing increasing noises from the Liberal government ministers that they want to formally transfer the Future Potential Production Forests back into full logging by the end of 2023, or in the next couple of years. With particular focus on the forests of north east Tasmania from the Blue Tier, St Helens and the Ben Lomond forests.

To do this there needs to be an ‘explicit order to exchange or convert’ the FPPF forests is moved and accepted by both Houses of Parliament. Given that the Tasmanian Labor Party is in lockstep with the pro logging policies of the Tasmanian Liberal Party, this is a serious threat. For those of you who get a bit nerdy on how this process would take place, the process for exchange or conversion is triggered if the Minister for Resources (Minister Guy Barnett) requests the Crown Lands Minister (Minister Roger Jeancsh) to consider the change.

What we can do

This decision sits with the Tasmanian parliament, who we elect into power, and they will act if they think their political careers and taxpayer wages will be threatened. Send a message to the minister for Forestry the Hon Guy Barnett ( ) letting him know why our forests are worth more standing and need permanent protection.

Share your message with other Tasmania’s by penning a Letter to the Editor of our two major newspapers, the address for which you can find at our Take Action Page.

And don’t forget our national nature laws, the Environment Protection Biodiversity Conservation (EPBC) Act are currently undergoing a once in a lifetime review. As part of the reforms we need to make sure that native forest logging is no longer excluded from these federal laws designed to protect wildlife and ecosystems. Send a message to the Federal Minister for the Environment the Hon Tanya Plibersek ( ) to reinforce Blue Derby Wilds submission that the federal laws to protect the environment and biodiversity, the EPBC Act, must be reformed to override self regulating tasmanian forest logging system that Blue Derby Wild is currently challenging in front of the Tasmanian Full Court.

Stay tuned for more ways you can take action to make sure we don’t see a massive expansion of native forest logging in Tasmania and the forests of north east Tasmania.

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