The end of native forest logging in NSW is on the horizon – but it can’t come fast enough for the climate and the environment.
No matter what the Government says in public, in private they know that the native hardwood industry has already reached the cliff edge and is an embarrassing reminder of the forestry wars between the Liberals and Nationals that have been played out on the public stage for years.
Tasmania, Victoria and Western Australia have all demonstrated the benefit that can flow from a planned end to native forest logging.
Whereas here in NSW we are seeing communities having to stop their daily affairs and stand up for forests to try to build the political momentum to put an end to our costly, unprofitable and destructive native forestry industry that will ultimately abandon workers and communities.
There is a populist and incorrect idea that logging native forests is an essential industry that is vital for important needs, including the construction of housing. This is an easy mistruth that has propagated from those vested in the continuation of the industry. The reality is that the trees that are felled in NSW native forests mostly get converted to wood chips that are then burnt in overseas power plants or used for paper, or are used for other low value products, for which there are alternatives, such as pallets, fence posts and telegraph poles.
Laminated softwood pulp is a much more sustainable, cost effective and durable product for the construction of buildings so that is, unsurprisingly, what the industry prefers.
This is precisely why the softwood plantation division of NSW Forestry Corporation has earned more than $90 million over the last two years while the native hardwood industry lost around $27 million in the same period of time. Sustainable plantation softwoods are relatively low cost and go towards high value end-product uses. Native forests, by contrast, are being torn down at a huge expense before being burnt in carbon intensive power generation facilities or used for things for which there are alternatives.
Academics, forest scientists and conservationists and industry professionals have known all of this for years. There have been several papers published in recent times on the fiscal and environmental costs of native forest logging and recently we have seen reports prepared by the non-government sector that demonstrate how quickly and cheaply we can transition to a profitable model.
Late last year, Frontier Economics released their report into the kind of transition support that could see an end to native forest logging in NSW. The plan would support workers, the industry and the environment while creating exciting new opportunities for regions that have traditionally been involved in native forest logging. They used Australian Bureau of Statistics data to estimate that there are just over 1,000 jobs involved in hardwood forestry operations in NSW, a number that is declining already with no assistance offered to the affected workers.
To protect these workers in forestry and the wood processing industry, their plan accounts for structural readjustment, redundancies, retraining, and buy backs of existing wood supply agreements. This support would happen alongside an expansion of the current dedicated softwood and hardwood plantation estate to ensure that timber needs can be met well into the future without destroying native forests.
All of this would take an investment from the Government but the costs, around $20.8 million per year until 2053, will likely be outweighed by a range of positive budget impacts including avoided ongoing structural adjustment and bushfire support to the hardwood sector, avoided equity injections to the Forestry Corporation and the likelihood of increased dividends from the Forestry Corporation over time by avoiding the loss making activities of the hardwood division.
We Need Native Forests
Beyond a simple calculation of the monetary benefits of ending native forest logging, the threat of a changing climate offers a survival imperative to rapidly regenerate native forests. Native forests store huge amounts of carbon dioxide, the older and healthier the forest, the more carbon is captured and stored. The federal government has committed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 43% compared to 2005 levels. This commitment, while inadequate, equates to about 15.3 megatonnes of carbon reduction over the next 9 years which is also about the same as the annual net carbon emissions generated by logging our native forests.
To put this another way, Australia could reduce our carbon budget by 43% simply by ending the unprofitable native forest logging industry. With the additional plantation estate and increases in high-value end use products, we could achieve well over a 50% reduction from 2005 carbon emissions. This is an exciting opportunity that we should embrace to make a genuine and immediate contribution to mitigate the worst impacts of climate change while benefiting the community.
The warming climate has also led to a significant increase in the duration of the bushfire season as well as the intensity of the fires experienced. The 2019/2020 bushfire season was the longest and worst on records, fires devastated 80% of South Coast forests and 60% of North Coast forests. Although these disasters are inevitable in this age of a warmer planet, native forest logging operations over the last 70 years had a significant impact on the damage that was caused to forest systems, homes and lives.
Native forest logging operations cause a reduction in the stratification, or layering, of trees in forests that can last for up to 70 years. This disruption to the natural forest balance leads to dryer conditions closer to the ground which then causes more damage when fires take hold.
Contrary to the myth of forests in National Parks being most dangerous in bushfires, it is actually the logging the of our State Forests that creates the most dangerous conditions for runaway mega fires that has a permanently damaging effect on forests and surrounding areas.
Ending native forest logging NOW will help us arrest the raging loss of biodiversity we are experiencing, referred to as the extinction crisis. So many of our unique forest dependent animals are facing extinction including the greater glider, yellow-bellied glider, spotted-tailed quoll, koala, glossy black cockatoo, powerful owl, masked owl and sooty owl. Many forest dependent species rely on the hollows in older trees to survive, the same trees the logging industry prefers. Some 70 native animals are hollow dependent including some 20 bat species, 12 arboreal mammal species, 26 bird species and 14 reptile species.
We know that the extinction crisis upon us means that species loss will be compounded and it will not be a single species or a few species – we are looking at the extinction of many, many species in a relatively short period of time.
We must not let this happen, we must rise to the challenge and pull out all stops to avoid any extinction. Saving our native forests, saves our lives as well.
The desire and need to end logging of our public native forests is here, but political leadership is not. We can carry on the current trajectory as an unplanned plunge into free fall off the cliff, after wrecking more of the precious forest systems that we all depend on, or we can take control and go forward in a way that offers countless benefits to all. With political willpower, we can regenerate our forest estate to optimal function creating thousands more jobs than are currently employed in its destruction. This is the time for us to take the opportunity to right some of the historical wrongs while also making responsible plans for the future. The only question is – will you join us?
Greens NSW MP