It Isn’t Easy Being Green

We won one today. A very important decision from UNESCO rejected the Abbott government’s efforts to rip up a hard-fought agreement between the Tasmanian forestry industry and a range of environmentally concerned groups including tourism operators, conservationists, and communities identifying as aboriginal. A couple of years back some 74,000 hectares of forest were added to the World Heritage register here in Tasmania, bringing the total protected by such listing to about 170,000 ha. (For the more metrically challenged readers, I seem to remember there’s about 2.25 acres to the hectare, so that would be about 400,000 acres.)

And yes, this forest is something special. Much of it is genuine temperate rainforest, which is found in very few areas of the world any more. Much of the rest is old growth temperate eucalypt forest, which is perhaps even more rare. 

The Abbott government’s contention was that since some of that 74,000 hectares added by the recent decision had previously been disturbed by logging, the entire lot should be de-listed at once. (This is the same government, of course, which has approved the dumping of an incredible quantity of dredging spoil into the waters of the Great Barrier Reef to make it easier to export coal.)

Down here in Tasmania, even the forestry industry peak body thought the idea was no good. Just for starters, less than ten percent of those 74,000 hectares had suffered from logging. More importantly, the fight between the environmental movement and forestry down here has been long and bitter. Peace was hard-won. I’ve no doubt that the forestry body would have liked to lay hands on those forests… but they were well aware of the real cost to the community and to their own people, and they told both the new conservative state government and the egregious fools in Canberra that they didn’t want this.

Not that Tony Abbott’s government listened, of course. Listening to the electorate is not on Abbott’s agenda. (Except for that section of the electorate equipped with private banks, media companies and mineral resources. They’re important. Tony loves them.)

Anyway: a good day. 

One thing I’d like to point out. I hear complaints from a large number of people regarding the protection of areas which have seen intervention from forestry work in the past. “It’s not pristine any more,” they say. “It shouldn’t be protected!”

In reply, I’m going to relay what I learned from a friend of mine, a lifelong forestry worker whose livelihood depended on timber-getting. He took me out one day to a coupe which had been cut, and we walked around. He showed me a small creek on the hillside, supposedly protected by a ‘barrier’ of some twenty metres on either side. (It might have been fifty metres. I can’t recall precisely.) That is: the waterway was supposed to be protected from logging by a buffer zone.

He also pointed out how stripping the trees outside that zone had exposed the trees on the inside to winds and to a massive increase in light levels. That had caused trees to fall inside the buffer, degrading both the slender area of protected forest and the waterway itself. We walked into that much-degraded buffer zone, battling the blackberries that had sprung up with the abundance of new light, and we saw how the waters of the little creek were silted with run-off from the clear-felled areas outside the buffer zone.

We drove around several other coupes, and my friend took the time to show me in each case how clearfelling next to the preserved zones caused damage and degradation inside those supposedly “safe” areas. We talked for a long time, and he was quite clear about it: he said he knew very well that forestry couldn’t keep operating in Tasmania in the manner everyone was used to. He said also that everyone he knew inside the industry was aware of that, but they were all just trying to keep going as long as they could…

…and I get it. It’s a way of life. It’s security, and a livelihood, and nobody wants to destroy that or take it away.

But the truth is that once you rip up the edge of a forest, the new edge is inevitably damaged. And if you label that new edge as “non-pristine” (for in truth, it’s not at all pristine any more) and list it for cutting, pretty soon you create a new edge… which will be damaged in the same way, and you can just keep going until there’s no damned forest left at all.

This is the fact that the pro-forestry lobby inevitably ignores. This is the ugly truth that is so very hard to convey to people who don’t get out there and see for themselves. If you’re going to preserve “pristine” forests (or any other ecosystem) you absolutely have to preserve a buffer zone around them, and it is inevitable that these buffers will not be pristine. They cannot be pristine by definition.

So when you insist on preserving only “pristine” forests or ecosystems, the reality is that you’re simply lining up the dominoes so that you can cut down the next swathe as soon as you’ve finished the last one.

Eat filth, Tony Abbott. Today you lost one. May there be many more. 

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