Species harvesting in 1.1 million hectares of reserves

The Forestry (Rebuilding the Forest Industry) Act 2014 (FRFI Act), passed the Tasmanian Parliament on 2 September 2014 and commenced on 22 October. It includes provisions which amend the statutory management objectives and purposes for all conservation areas and regional reserves (clauses 27 and 31) to specifically permit harvesting of special species timbers.

The total area of conservation areas and regional reserves that will be affected by these amendments is 1,118,838 hectares, made up of:

- 841,468ha in existence prior to the Tasmanian Forests Agreement Act; 

- 221,000ha which were Forestry Reserves but were made conservation areas and regional reserves pursuant to the Forest Management Act in November 2013; and

- 56,370ha created following the TFA Act in December 2013.

Clauses 27 and 31 of the FRFI Act amended the purposes (stated in the Nature Conservation Act 2002) and management objectives (stated in the National Parks and Reserves Management Act 2002) for all conservation areas and regional reserves from ‘to provide for the controlled use of other natural resources’ to ‘controlled use of other natural resources, including the harvesting of special species timbers’.

Although the state government and some Legislative Councillors claimed the TCT was exaggerating the extent of these changes, these figures are based on publicly available information produced by the current and previous governments. Peg Putt and TCT Director Peter McGlone briefed the Legislative Councillors prior to them debating the Bill and none of them contradicted our claims regarding the area of reserves affected.

While the state government and some Legislative Councillors claimed that the previous wording of the reserves legislation allowed for harvesting of timber in these reserve classes, to our knowledge logging had never been approved. Also, as was stated by some Councillors, if the previous wording was sufficient there was no need for the change. Clearly the industry wanted the legislation changed to make it perfectly clear that it had a right to log in reserves – and that is what it got.

TFA Act – special species contingency coupes

During the debate in the Legislative Council, Government Leader Vanessa Goodwin provided vague and misleading responses when asked to explain these changes. Some MLCs and forest industry representatives interpreted her comments as meaning that the FRFI Bill was not changing anything and that the TFA Act included the same provisions. This is incorrect and it is important to explain what the TFA Act did, to understand why some people make this false claim.

The Tasmanian Forest Agreement Act included provision for 24 special species contingency coupes, which could be made available for special species logging if needed by the industry and specifically approved by the minister.

These coupes were in areas proposed for reservation; the then government changed reserves legislation – through a stand-alone and little known Forest Management (Consequential Amendments) Act 2013 – to allow the ‘contingency areas’ to still be logged if they were later included in regional reserves. Allowing logging in reserves was a very bad idea but the TFA Act provision only applied to 24 coupes (perhaps a total of 1000–2000 hectares), only in regional reserves and only with the specific authorisation of the minister. We understand that none of these coupes were ever logged.

At the election the Liberal Party promised no more lock-ups but it never mentioned opening reserves up to logging. We suspect this is why it could not admit honestly to what it was doing and wanted to share the blame with the previous government.

The impacts of special species timber harvesting in reserves

Under the FRFI Act, special species timbers must be harvested using ‘partial harvesting’ but this can include removal of individual trees and groups of trees which can, for some values, be little better than clear felling.

Rainforests are normally targeted for special species timbers, although the definition of special species is broad and even includes common species such as silver wattle and any other species prescribed by regulation. Added to this, any other species of tree or woody vegetation may be prescribed by regulation as a special species and therefore allowed to be harvested. So reserves in all parts of the state will be threatened by logging.

Special species harvesting brings with it the obvious direct impacts of removing the target trees (which might be old-growth nesting trees). Many reserves were created to protect species that depend on old-growth forests or threatened forest communities. Logging puts these values at threat.

Special species logging will also be allowed in conservation areas, which form a significant part of the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area. The current management plan prohibits logging but the state government is in the process of revising the plan.

The indirect impacts from potentially hundreds of harvesting operations could be even greater. These operations will require vehicle access and some track construction, which will introduce and spread weeds and diseases, cause erosion and disturb creeks and rivers. Once new tracks or routes are established in reserves, other vehicles will follow, including illegal recreational vehicles and firewood cutters.

Some Legislative Councillors claimed that the volumes of timber extracted by special species harvesting would be very small and not have a great impact; but the impacts, especially from vehicles and creation of new roads, could be very significant and are not directly proportional to the volume of timber taken. Building new access tracks and carrying out logging in reserves is likely to conflict with recreational use.

Peter McGlone