Forestry in Tasmania is at a crossroads.
Now is a time of opportunity to embrace sustainable development, alternative practices and emerging methodologies to ensure the future of the industry is secure.
The way forestry has been conducted traditionally is through logging old growth forests or planting monocultures. Neither of these practices is sustainable and will ultimately contribute to the downfall of the industry, unless changed.
As an industry, forestry has the opportunity of providing a number of ecological benefits to society that other industries can not do, due to it’s ability to provide green cover for the land.
In his truly remarkable book, Land Mosaics, renowned landscape ecologist Richard Forman, discusses the benefits of large green covers in land use, compared to small patches of green cover.
These benefits include:
1) Water quality protection for aquifer and lake.
2) Connectivity of a low-order stream network (for fish and overland movement)
3) Habitat to sustain populations of interior species
4) Core habitat and escape cover for large vertebrates
5) Source of species dispersing through the matrix
6) Microhabitat proximities for multi-habitat species
7) Near natural disturbance regimes
8) A buffer against extinction and environmental damage.
In Tasmania, Forestry has the ability to provide these ecological benefits, as several hundred thousand hectares of land are currently used by the industry, but the way forestry is practiced has everything to do with whether or not it’s green cover provides these benefits in practice.
To date, forestry in Tasmania, has not taken advantage of its ability to provide ecological benefits to the community, and has been solely profit driven. This has resulted in an industry in crisis and the creation of several environmental problems.
Initially, people thought that plantations were the answer to unsustainable forestry practices and that they would provide a solution to the logging of old growth forests.
They were under the illusion that if something is green then that must be good for the environment and would provide an end to ecological destruction.
Sadly, the environmental benefits that a monoculture plantation provides, is a far cry from the ecologically diverse and healthy environment of a naturally occurring forest ecosystem.
The practices of monoculture forestry ensure that biodiversity is kept to a minimum. The trees are essentially forced into a hard labour concentration camp, where only the end product of timber is catered for. All other life forms, beware – the biodiversity is controlled through highly toxic pesticides. Those entering this space, whether they be other plants, insects, birds, or native animals, are unwanted and dealt with in the harshest possible way.
These monocultures are not the friendly, life affirming places provided by a natural forest, but literal deserts – vast warehouses of natural resources reduced to their bare minimum economic monetary value.
To the industry these plantations are nothing more than suspended profits in the form of timber, protected with toxic chemicals, just waiting to be harvested in order for the profit to be realised.
The methods used to keep other species away are the greatest cause for concern in this warehouse system.
The natural cycles present on our planet ensure that chemicals are distributed far and wide. This process can be seen in the oxygen, nitrogen and water cycles, but it applies to toxic chemicals and pesticides as well. What some toxicologists refer to as the cycle of poison, describes how toxins disperse across the globe. It is inevitable that these poisons will travel far from their original point of use and ultimately enter our bodies where they damage our
health, slowly, and subtlety.
What is more concerning, is that plantation trees like Eucalyptus nitens now appear to be bred for characteristics that enhance their toxicity to deter pests. This method is no different to topical applications of pesticides, as the toxin, whether it be endogenous or exogenous, still poses the same risks to the ecosystem, in terms of it’s ability to spread, pollute and harm.
Research by Cannell (2004) has confirmed that monocultures are less efficient than alternatives because:
1) In general, evaporation from a monoculture is greater than other hardwood species or unmanaged forests
2) Compared to short vegetation and other hardwoods, transfer of acidifying pollutants from the air to the soil and surface water is greater
3) Monocultures capture less carbon than alternative or unmanaged forest systems.
For best practices in combating climate change and looking for ways to reduce carbon emissions, this alone, should make monocultures a less favourable choice for industry. Alternative polyculture methods should be supported by governments as part of a national strategy to improve the sustainability of the industry.
Indeed, if forestry is to be truly sustainable it has to change 4 fundamentally wrong practices:
1) The concept of monoculture
2) The use of poisons for controlling biodiversity
3) The notion that timber is the sole and most valuable natural resource to be gained from a plantation.
4) The concept that forestry need remain separate from agriculture or horticulture.
This is not only achievable, but will provide a greater profit for the industry, long term.
Forestry has become synonymous with logging, but there is so much more to be gained from silviculture than the bare basic profit from timber.
Around the globe, there are many sustainable forestry industries emerging. Tasmania’s forestry industry, with help from government, should invest in research and development that will allow it to secure a future, create jobs, and generate a healthy profit as well as meet criteria for ecological and social responsibility.
A brilliant alternative is Analog Forestry. This method arose from Sri Lanka as a more sustainable alternative to monocultures.
Sri Lanka has a rich tradition of sustainable agroforestry practices that acknowledged the importance of other species besides humans. They would plant an extra crop alongside their own so that birds would have something to eat.
Today people have forgotten that other animals also require space for food. They seem to think that it is perfectly acceptable to cover the whole planet with human-related activities without leaving any space for other species to exist.
Analog forestry uses a process known as Biomimicry, where silviculturalists base the plantation on a healthy natural ecosystem, seeking to recreate some naturally occurring features, as well as providing economic advantages.
In this system ‘biodiversity protection and livelihood issues are inescapably intertwined’, with a plantation consisting not only of timber species, but other plants and trees, products of which, can generate an income. An example would include biodiesel trees, fruit trees, medicinal and fibre plants, which can all coexist side by side.
The advantage of this system is that when the timber is felled, there are still other trees and plants that are able to generate an income, meaning that there is no waiting period for realisation of profit, as there is in a solely timber monoculture where after felling 20 – 40 years are required in order to realise profit a second time.
No pest control is required, since the system effectively functions like a naturally occurring forest.
According to the International Analogue Forestry Network, the system is based on the following principles:
Observe and record
Understand and Evaluate
Know your land
Identify levels of yield
Map out flow and reservoir systems (existing and potential)
Reduce ratio of external energy in production
Be guided by landscape and neighbours needs
Follow ecological succession
Utilize ecological processes
It is absolutely feasible that a similar industry could thrive in Tasmania using indigenous or exotic species, or a combination of both.
In the West, similar systems called ‘polycultures’ have been trialled with great success. Results have shown that contrary to popular belief, the yield in a polyculture is actually greater than in a monoculture.
If producers are looking at profit generated from a number of different sources, as is the case in a polyculture plantation, this has the added bonus of diversifying the investment and decreasing risk.
The profit eggs are not all in the one basket. This is very important in an investment that is based on a natural resource affected by weather events, disease and pest invasion.
Other benefits of polyculture include:
The development and expansion of the flora and fauna that live within the soil, due to decreased disturbance
• Fewer disturbances to the system overall, allowing for the recycling of biomass and dramatically reducing the necessity of chemical inputs.
• Inclusion of fauna and the diversity of plant species making a plantation far less of a target for pests and improving its resilience to disease.
• Greater vegetative cover in the form of understories or a ground cover reducing the rate of evaporation and greater
infiltration of water into the soil and ultimately the water table.
• Less labor intense over the productive life of a plantation.
Sean Fears put it best when he said ‘Far from being an aberration or temporary fad, polyculture has been practiced for the majority of human history with great success.’
India has several forms of traditional and sustainable forestry practices.
One of these is called Jhum, still practiced in parts of North India.
This system is a kind of checkerboard forestry combined with shifting cultivation, where a section of forest is burned and cleared for agriculture. It consists of a rotation strategy where a section of forest is cleared for the purpose of agriculture for a number of years, and then left to regenerate. Provided the areas under cultivation are small compared to the unmanaged forest, and provided they are left for regeneration are undisturbed for long enough and sufficient sections of forest are never disturbed, this is an appealing alternative solution to monocultures.
An improvement on this methodology would be to practice partial clearing and planting of species in between larger trees left undisturbed, without the ‘slash and burn’ approach.
One criticism of rotation forestry has been that although it is definitely more sustainable, the commercial output is uncertain.
From a timber only production perspective, this is, indeed a concern, however, research in Russia done by Feldman, Korotkov & Logofet (2005), reported that, with careful planning it is possible to reach particular management objectives within the rotation strategy, but that it is most important ‘to get the distribution of forest types in accordance with an adopted hierarchy of their commercial values, i.e. more valuable types have greater shares.’
Other sustainable forestry models exist and include ethnoforestry, and agroforestry. Both systems rely heavily on traditional indigenous practices that are sustainable. Much money is currently being invested in the research and development of these areas in India, and will no doubt hold useful, valuable information for our own forestry industry, here in Australia.
Pandey (2007), points out the need to investigate the domestication of useful wild species and include them in mainstream agroforesty practices. The possibilities seem endless and hold exciting potential for combined ventures in the pharmaceutical industry, medical research, textiles, timber and agriculture, to name a few.
By diversifying and focusing on Non-Timber Forest Products, sufficient possibilities are available to the Tasmanian forestry industry.
It would be a great thing for Tasmania if, out of the current crisis, emerges an industry that is environmentally sustainable, produces jobs, contributes to research development, and is sufficiently profitable.
All this is achievable, but the opportunity must be realized and acted upon.
1) Analog Forestry Network Website, What is Analog Forestry?, available online at:
2) Cannell, M., (1999), Environmental Impacts of Forest Monocultures: Use, Acidification, Wildlife Conservation and Carbon Storage, New Forests, Volume 17, Numbers 1-3, January 1999, Pages 239-262
3) Feldman, O., Korotkov, VN., Logofet DO, (2005), The monoculture vs. rotation strategies in forestry: Formalisation and prediction by means of Markov-chain modeling, Journal of Environmental Management, Volume 77, Number 2, Pages 111-121
4) Fears, S, (2008), Monoculture Vs Polyculture Farming Methods, True Progress, August 31, 2008, http://trueprogress.com
5) Foreman, R., (1995), Land Mosaics; The ecology of landscapes and regions, Cambridge University Press, UK
6) Pandey (2007), Multifunctional Agroforestry Systems in India, Current Science, Volume 92, Number 4, Pages 455 –463
7) Phanthong, K., & Patterson, D., (1996), The Problem is Plantations, Monocultures: Environmental and Social Effects and Sustainable Alternatives Conference, 2 June 1996
Treasurer says pulp mill on track
The Tasmanian Government says the Gunns proposal for the Tamar Valley pulp mill is in better shape than it has been for a long time.
The Treasurer Michael Aird has told a budget estimates committee he plans to meet the new chief executive of Gunns Greg L’Estrange.
Gunns shares have risen sharply since long serving chairman John Gay severed ties a month ago.
Mr Aird says Tasmania has the forestry resources to supply the proposed $2.2 billion mill.
“We have considerable private sector plantation resources in this state and it is there ready to support a pulp
Mark Shelton ...
Mark Shelton MP
Shadow Minister for Resources
Tuesday 29 June, 2010
Forestry dollars but no plan
The Government is spending $1m a year implementing a Forest Plan that is still under negotiation.
The Resources Minister admitted expenditure would have to wait until the forest industry to come up with a plan, but could give no timeline for this process.
Clearly the Premier’s roundtable proposal has now been dumped.
We have the ludicrous situation now where we have money for implementation of a plan, but no plan, and no timeframe for completion of the plan.
As a result, questions in Budget Estimates on critical issues for the forestry industry, like resource security and yield, could not be answered because there is no plan.
Nor could Resources Minister explain why the Government had squeezed a $3.5 million four-year promise for promoting Tasmanian timbers into a two-year period.
He dismissed any suggestions the new timeframe was an indication of the life expectancy of the current Parliament, or was required earlier to combat the negative campaigning of the Tasmanian timber industry overseas.