The fight for WA's forests: 40 years on and still going

Beth Schultz − WA Forest Alliance

Chain Reaction #119, Nov 2013,

Western Australia's Environment Minister, Albert Jacob, is about to sign off on a 10-year management plan for WA's south-west native forests.

For management, read "logging and burning". WA's current forest managers cannot conceive of any forest management that does not involve chopping down trees and burning forests at unnatural frequencies over unnaturally large areas.

Minister Jacob has been in the job for only seven months and he wasn't even born when the fight to save WA's forests began, in 1975. Of course the decision will not be his alone. It will be the decision of the Barnett Government, which is determined that native forest logging will continue for at least another 10 years despite the cost to taxpayers and the environmental damage it will do – facts available to any independent investigator interested in the truth.

With or without government direction, WA's government agencies – the Conservation Commission, the Department of Parks and Wildlife, the Environmental Protection Authority - have obligingly provided the smokescreen of misinformation, wilful blindness and falsehoods behind which the myth of sustainable logging has been perpetuated and spread.

Hidden in the hundreds of pages withheld from the public until the last minute or extracted only via questions in parliament, there are some gems.

For example, we now know there are 10,033 hectares of mature karri forest available for logging. Under the plan recommended for approval by WA's Environmental Protection Authority, 500 ha will be clear-felled every year. That means all mature karri forest available for logging will be gone in about 20 years.

The karri sawlog industry will then collapse because the plan to get sawlogs from karri regrowth has been, like most forestry projections, an abject failure. Firstly, karri regrowth is not growing as fast as anticipated. 'First thinning', supposed to happen at age 20, is not happening till age 30. Secondly, karri regrowth is not providing good quality sawlogs. Instead of increasingly large volumes, in 2011-2012 less that one per cent of karri regrowth logs were good quality sawlogs.

The karri sawlog industry has logged itself out of existence.

Yet the Forest Management Plan 2014-2023 will set an allowable cut of karri sawlogs that as usual we are assured is sustainable.

In a report to the WA Government, the Auditor General said that the forest managers overestimated the amount of logs they could sell by 19 per cent and that environmental protection measures were routinely ignored.

The expert panel that examined how sustained yield was calculated for the next Forest Management Plan found that the software used to model this fundamental figure cannot take fire or drought into account

To make allowance for these episodic events, without explanation, as some sort of safety margin, the forest managers reduced the allowable cut of jarrah sawlogs by 10 per cent and the allowable cut of karri sawlogs by 15 per cent.

In past years the forest managers said they could project the sustained yield of jarrah and karri sawlogs for 250 years. For the next Forest Management Plan they have reduced this ludicrous time frame to 10 years.

However, the expert panel on sustained yield said that because of shocks like major fires, cyclones, and pest and disease outbreaks, the next Forest Management Plan should be reviewed after five years. No mention of climate change here, yet all these shocks are exacerbated by climate change.

To add insult to injury, native forest logging is costing WA taxpayers millions of dollars a year. Using various subterfuges the WA Government gives the Forest Products Commission huge subsidies while the Commission uses creative accounting to conceal its losses.

Native forest logging in Western Australia is an environmental and economic disaster. The only explanation for its continuation by government is ideology, but ideology is not changed by facts and rational debate.

As with the 10-year campaign that succeeded in getting much of WA's old growth forest protected, only massive public pressure will persuade the current crop of wilfully blind politicians running Western Australia to change their minds.

Either that or we'll have to get rid of them.