On 20 October 2010, the Tasmanian Conservation Trust announced that it had decided not to endorse the Forests Statement of Principles Agreement (the Agreement) which was signed by representatives of the forest industry and three conservation groups and presented to you on the 19 October 2010.
The TCT is delighted to acknowledge that the Agreement establishes considerable common ground between the industry and conservationists and this is a good basis for further negotiation. The TCT also acknowledges that the Agreement promises an astoundingly positive outcome for the protection of high conservation values of intact forests on public land, mainly in wilderness areas, and the TCT strongly supports this ambition.
The Agreement is NOT, however, a complete plan for the conservation of Tasmania’s forested landscapes and the TCT has identified a number of key issues that need to be addressed in parallel to any efforts to implement the Agreement if a truly effective and comprehensive conservation outcome is to be achieved. Indeed, the principal reason why the TCT did not join others in endorsing the Agreement was because of the sheer number of omissions and their importance for the TCT and the wider Tasmanian community.
- fails to address the broader need for protection of native forests and other ecosystems for biodiversity conservation – where almost all priority issues and areas are to be found on private land
- fails to address ‘fatal flaws’ associated with ongoing attempts by Gunns Ltd to establish its Bleached Eucalyptus Kraft Pulp (BEKP) pulp mill in the Tamar Valley
- fails to make an appropriate commitment to reform land management agencies in Tasmania, especially Forestry Tasmania and the Parks and Wildlife Service, to recognise internal conflicts of interest and the intended reality of a much expanded reserve estate in Tasmania (likely to be more than 50% of the state if the reserves promised as part of the Agreement are included)
- fails to establish an appropriate, science-based process to establish prudent timetables and limitations on a transition out of disputed public native forests that clearly establishes appropriate high conservation values, the extent of such values and appropriate management of forest needed to maintain such values; and
- fails to commit to identifying and commercially exploiting the carbon benefits of protecting and restoring native forests.
For these reasons the TCT has decided not to endorse the Agreement but we hope that it can be built upon by governments and by affected rural communities, industries and landholders to deliver the truly comprehensive outcome that the wider Tasmanian community clearly wants and expects.
In formulating your response to the Agreement, we urge you to consider broadening that response beyond those matters explicitly included in the Agreement to include those that we have raised so that the community’s conservation aspirations might be effectively met.
The TCT welcomes your Government’s promise of ‘broad community consultation’ in developing its response (media release, ‘Statement of Principles Welcomed’, 19 October 2010). In so doing, we would urge you to consider explicit and structured engagement with those rural communities likely to be significantly affected by a shift away from native forest harvesting to assist them in finding modified development paths.
We trust that this letter will be accepted as a preliminary TCT contribution to the ‘guidelines and scope’ phase of the consultation process. The TCT has more than 30 years experience in campaigning for the conservation of Tasmania’s terrestrial and marine biodiversity, especially its forests, and remains keen to contribute. Below is our detailed critique of the Agreement and suggestions for a more complete and achievable plan for the future of Tasmania’s forested landscapes while providing a more realistic future for the forest industry.
The TCT requests a meeting with you to discuss these concerns and recommendations regarding the Agreement.
1. Private land biodiversity
[Note: This section deals solely with biodiversity; and other issues relating to private land, such as carbon and biomass, are dealt with separately.]
Private land has not been given sufficient attention in the Agreement yet private forests contain the majority of unprotected threatened species habitat, threatened and under-reserved forest types and freshwater ecosystems, and over-cleared landscapes. Although public forests contain some biodiversity values, it is not an exaggeration to say that, by ignoring private land, the Forests Agreement has failed to address forest biodiversity conservation problems. This failing must be addressed by some additional arrangement to be implemented alongside the Agreement before credible claims for a complete plan for Tasmania’s forests can be made.
Nearly 40% of Tasmania’s unreserved forests are found on private land and yet the Agreement makes only cursory mention of it. The Agreement fails to identify the crucial importance of private land for biodiversity conservation, fails to commit to specific conservation strategies, and fails to acknowledge the vital need for governments to provide funding to facilitate these strategies.
Disappointingly, the Agreement does not identify the important and urgent need to provide private forest growers with an expanded range of opportunities to earn an income from the protection of the non-wood values of their forests, including options which involve conserving biodiversity. In particular, the TCT would like to see the Tasmanian Government approach the Australian Government with a view to using experience gained since the Regional Forests Agreement was signed in 1996 to launch a new, long-term, market-based financial mechanism that can reward landholders for choosing to pursue best-practice conservation management over and above their duty of care obligations.
One positive element of the Agreement is that it states that protection of forests on private land will not be ‘mandated’ or legislated, as landholders’ consent and cooperation are vital in most circumstances to ensure active and appropriate management arrangements are introduced and maintained.
The Agreement also acknowledges the need for private landholders to obtain government assistance in order to seek certification of their forestry operations. Without a commitment to best practice, however, much of any such assistance could be wasted.
Failure to deliver proactive private land conservation programs, coupled with the likely increase in logging pressure on private land if there is a substantial transition away from logging of native forests on public land, will lead to dangerously perverse outcomes whereby Tasmania’s most threatened and poorly reserved forest types and threatened species habitats will be lost at an ever-increasing rate. This doesn’t sound like a ‘forest peace deal’ that any conservation group could embrace.
· The voluntary protection of high conservation values forests on private land through the delivery of an appropriately funded, scientifically based private forest program which would offer a range of financial incentives for landholders to voluntarily protect their forests from logging and to manage them over the long term.
· Require landscape-based property management plans and certification by FSC (or other equivalent independent, stakeholder-based certification systems) as the basis for regrowth forestry management on private land.
· Improved regulatory framework including amendment to the Forest Practices Code to ensure biodiversity conservation commitments are met for all land tenures, comprehensive land-clearing legislation for all native ecosystems and a policy commitment to introducing legislation to end the use of 1080, or any other poison, to control native browsing animals and establishment of a program to assist landholders in using non-lethal humane control measures.
· Provision of state and Australian government funding to deliver a package of private land conservation programs identified above. Based on previous experience, in particular with the Tasmanian Private Forest Reserve Program, funding in excess of several hundred million dollars would be required to provide a program which had the potential over the long term to deliver a complete system of private protected areas to compliment the public reserve system and to facilitate other private land conservation measures.
Continued expansion of protected areas on private land and improved off-reserve biodiversity conservation through improved logging practices and legislative reforms are essential. It will ensure Tasmania fills the many gaps in the existing reserve system and will assist the State Government to meet agreed policy objectives for conservation on private land including:
- meeting commitments made in the Supplementary Tasmanian Regional Forest Agreement to:
- protect under-reserved forest communities and oldgrowth forest (clause 21)
- prevent broad-scale clearing of native forest (clause 45)
- protect threatened non-forest vegetation communities (clause 48)
- implementation of the objectives of the Strategy for a National Reserve System
- meeting Tasmania Together goals to increase the area of land reserved on public and private land
- assisting the State Government to achieve the objectives of the Threatened Species Protection Act by protecting and managing important habitat.
Also, the recently finalised ‘Australia’s Biodiversity Conservation Strategy 2010-2030’ identifies the vital need for increased protection of ecosystems, threatened species and improved condition of native habitats across all land tenures. The Strategy states that to assist in achieving ‘Action 2: Building ecosystem resilience in a changing climate’ each state and territory will need to contribute to the following outcomes in regard to protecting biodiversity:
- 2.1.1. An increase in the number, extent and condition of ecosystems protected under secure conservation tenure.
- 2.1.2. An increase in the extent of private land managed for biodiversity conservation.
- 2.1.3. An improvement in the conservation status of listed threatened species and ecological communities.
- 2.1.4. A net increase in the extent and condition of native habitat across tenures.
The 2010 Department of Primary Industries, Parks, Water and Environment report ‘Vulnerability of Tasmania’s Natural Environment to Climate Change – an Overview’ highlights the importance of building a complete reserve system, linking protected area establishment on private and public land as an action to assist with protection of Tasmania’s biodiversity against the impacts of climate change. The report states in part that:
The development of the National Reserve System (NRS) has been identified as a priority climate change adaptation approach for the protection of Tasmania’s biodiversity, embracing the CAR reserve design principles of comprehensiveness, adequacy and representativeness. Linking protected area establishment with off-reserve conservation effort is a key action identified in ‘Australia’s Strategy for the National Reserve System 2009-2030’. (page 57)
The role of protection measures and management of private land that is sympathetic to biodiversity will be a very important component of adaptation approaches in Tasmania. (page 57)
2. Gunns’ Bell Bay pulp mill
The TCT believes that opportunities were missed to deliver a forests deal which addressed concerns about Gunns’ Bell Bay pulp mill and instead the Agreement gives tacit approval to it by virtue of it being the only pulp mill currently proposed for Tasmania. This is a very disappointing outcome which serves only to maintain the very strong community opposition to this socially divisive and environmentally destructive project. Any doubt that the Agreement is helping to deliver the Bell Bay pulp mill was dismissed when the Gunns CEO Greg L’Estrange welcomed the finalisation of the Agreement and the market price of Gunns’ shares increased, signalling the Bell Bay mill project was more likely to be funded.
· The State Government should take a proactive role in delivering a more acceptable plantation wood processing strategy for Tasmania which provides Gunns with a viable future while protecting the environment and the communities of the Tamar Valley. Should funding be provided to Gunns as a part of the Agreement in recognition of its abandonment of native forest logging and processing operations and associated rights to wood, it must be on the conditions that: i) it abandons its efforts to establish a BEKP pulpmill in the Tamar Valley; ii) your Government revokes the Pulp Mill Assessment Act.
· We note that you have made a number of media comments to the effect that the State Government will not be providing any funding to Gunns, as a part of the agreement, for them to hand back wood supply licences. We ask that you confirm in writing that your Government will in no way attempt to obtain funding for Gunns from the Australian Government unless it abandons its plans for a BEKP pulp mill in the Tamar Valley. Government support for development of alternative processing options and opportunities, however, would be an appropriate use of public funds in the circumstances.
3. Transition of logging out of public native forests
The Agreement seeks a total transition of ‘commodity-scale logging’ out of native forests on public land while only leaving open the possibility of small-scale logging for furniture and craft industries. This is in effect a ban on commercial logging of native forests on public land in Tasmania but the Agreement provides no justification for such a move. We have tried without success to obtain a justification from the conservation negotiators.
The insistence by some conservation groups on ending logging of native forest on public land constitutes a moving of the goal posts in the forestry debate from the previous commitment to protection of high conservation values in forests. This stance is also inconsistently applied as the cessation of logging of native forests has not been sought for private forests and the differing approaches have not been explained.
As explained in Section 1, ceasing all logging of native forests on public land may have a disastrous environmental impact by shifting significantly more native forest logging to private land (in particular for commodities such as woodchips). Such a dramatic change would also impact on the forestry sector by threatening the economic viability of processing facilities, such as saw mills or veneer mills, if they are reliant solely on timber supplies from private forests.
The TCT believes that logging of regrowth native forests on public land can be acceptable and in fact desirable if appropriately planned and managed. Not only will it reduce the pressure on private forests and maintain the viability of the private forest sector, there are positive environmental advantages to this form of logging, if done responsibly and if restricted to younger regrowth forests.
Native forests also provide some products which currently cannot be produced from plantations.
· The TCT’s view is that if logging is to be halted across all State Forest it must be done on the basis of a scientific identification of high conservation value forests and not an arbitrary opposition to ‘commodity-scale logging’. We suggest that the basis for negotiations should be to seek a transition out of high conservation value public forests (this has to be done on a precautionary basis given the lack of information available) while leaving open the possibility of continued FSC certified logging of regrowth forest and, where possible, that these forests should be used for high value products.
4. Reform of Forestry Tasmania and establishment of a reserve management agency
The Agreement fails to address the urgent and important need to reform the two primary land management agencies in Tasmania i.e. Forestry Tasmania and the Parks and Wildlife Service.
To achieve the necessary reforms outlined in the Agreement and this letter, major institutional reform is necessary, with Forestry Tasmania’s roles and functions to be split up and transferred in order to remove conflicts of interest while retaining appropriate expertise. The Parks and Wildlife Service needs to be reformed and better resourced to ensure they are better positioned to protect and manage the more than 50% of Tasmania which will be in reserves if the Agreement is delivered.
4.1. Reform of Forestry Tasmania
In line with policy positions and suggestions which the TCT and others, including the Tasmanian Greens, have been advocating since the late 1980s, we would urge your Government to take the opportunity afforded by implementation of the Agreement to make long-overdue and badly needed changes to the administration and control of public lands in Tasmania.
The principal changes the TCT deems prudent are:
- Establishing Forestry Tasmania as a state-owned company with a mandate to harvest wood resources on public land from available regrowth forests on terms and conditions set by a Stewardship Commission or similar institution. This FT regrowth logging operation would be required to operate on a fully commercial basis so as to avoid any undermining of competing commercial operations on private land.
- Establishing a Speciality Timbers Commission that would be responsible for harvesting speciality timbers from appropriately designated areas of forest (and purchasing such timber from others) with a mandate to maintain an orderly supply of wood to the craftwood users of Tasmania. Like FT, it would do so on terms set by a Stewardship Commission.
- Establishing a Public Lands Stewardship Commission with a mandate to manage those lands set aside for extractive use management (viz regrowth harvesting by FT and speciality timber harvesting by the STC).
- Establishing a Parks and Reserves Authority to manage and control dedicated conservation reserves (including existing reserved lands, new reserves expected from finalisation of the CLAC process for resolving the status of unallocated Crown land in Tasmania and from implementation of the Agreement).
4.2. Public reserve management
For many years the area of land in formal reserves and managed by the Parks and Wildlife Service (PWS) has expanded but the resources allocated for protection and active management have failed to keep pace. At the same time, the role of the PWS has become more demanding with new challenges such as climate change, new invasive species and more people visiting reserves. Successive governments have not only failed to provide adequate funding but they have pressured the PWS to focus on delivery of visitor services and the demands of developers rather than protection and management of natural and cultural values.
On top of these challenges, the Agreement promises to deliver a minimum of 600,000 hectares of largely forested land being reserved and under the management responsibility of the PWS. Apart from the normal management responsibilities with new reserves, the PWS will be presented with an additional and largely new challenge of managing these large densely forested areas for bushfire risk. This will require the PWS having substantially increased fire planning and research staff as well as fire-fighting staff plus specialist equipment. Currently the PWS only manages small areas of dense forests and consequently has little experience managing fire in such environments.
The injection of substantial additional funding and reorganisation of the PWS as an independent authority (to ensure it is focused on its core conservation objectives) are urgently needed. This is necessary to maintain the parks and reserves system as a world-class natural, recreational and economic asset and to enable it to finally achieve its Tasmania Together targets and meet visitor expectations.
The State Government’s response to the Agreement provides a historic opportunity to address these long-term and entrenched problems, while taking advantage of the opportunity of obtaining funding from the Australian Government to facilitate the changes.
· The TCT recommends the establishment of the Parks and Reserves Authority (PRA) as an independent statutory authority with a mandate to maintain the parks and reserves system in Tasmania as a world-class natural, recreational, scientific and economic asset.
· The TCT recommends a dramatic increase in funding for a new PRA, especially to expand its capacity for on-ground management and enforcement (as well as the provision of visitor services). As stated in the TCT’s submission on the 2010–11 State Budget, we recommend an increase in appropriation to the Parks and Wildlife Service of $28.05 million in year one and $23.65 million each year thereafter.
· The State Government seek funding assistance from the Australian Government to assist with the additional management responsibilities which will result from implementation of the Agreement, especially the substantial increase in reserved land to more than 50% of the land area of Tasmania.
The Agreement makes only passing reference to carbon and totally omits any mention of the carbon value of native forests. It makes no commitment to seeking to derive benefits either from reduced emissions associated with foregoing opportunities to log intact native forests or from gains in carbon store size attributable to removing regrowth forests from wood production working circles.
We need a clear commitment from the State Government to value and reward management of forests, both on public and private land, to protect and enhance native forest carbon stores. While the most attractive financial opportunities may derive from ensuring that protection and enhancement of terrestrial carbon stores are included in any national emissions trading system that might be adopted by an Australian Government, there is much that the State Government can do not only to facilitate participation in such a system by public and private landholders in Tasmania but also to encourage participation in emerging voluntary carbon markets.
We remain optimistic that the Gillard Labor Government will move to put a price on carbon as a key component of its greenhouse gas abatement strategy and it is vital the Tasmanian Government establishes compatible policies and programs in relation to forest retention and management.
· The State Government should encourage forest managers to protect old-growth and other high conservation value forests by ensuring that they can benefit from protecting the carbon stores that such forests represent from degradation by logging or any other degrading activities. Ensuring all terrestrial carbon management activities are eligible for participation in any Australian scheme also serves to create a competing market for regrowth timber (delay or abandonment of logging plans puts more carbon back into the landscape while logging obviously removes carbon).
The TCT would be interested in further discussions with appropriate officials to explore how best your Government can secure and exploit emerging opportunities not only for itself but also for all Tasmanian landholders.
The TCT appreciates that the Agreement explicitly limits eligible wood supplies for biomass burning to those derived from harvesting and processing plantations. We are aware, however, that the remaining native forest harvesting industry continues to adamantly advocate for the broadening of this eligibility criterion to include wood derived from native forests and that your Government has not disabused them of this ambition.
· If the Agreement is to be effectively implemented in a timely manner, it will be necessary for your Government to establish as a matter of policy that wood derived from public native forests is not an acceptable feedstock for biomass burning. We urge you to make an announcement to this effect as soon as practicable. Failure to do so is likely to lead to one of a limited number of situations that would frustrate amicable implementation of the Agreement.
· Additionally, there is a need for the Tasmanian Government to explicitly indicate to the Australian Government that the Mandatory Renewable Energy Targets (MRET) regulations be amended to clearly establish that such wood derived from native forest sources is an ineligible energy source for the issuing of Renewable Energy Certificates (RECs). It is this aspiration to be issued with and then be able to sell RECs that drives much of the ambitions for those involved in native forest degradation to remain commercially interested in continuing native forest logging. Making RECs available to native forest harvesters thus constitutes a strong and perverse incentive to undermine the policy ambitions behind the Agreement by frustrating, limiting and delaying a transition from native forest to plantation wood supply sources.