Image for The exotic plantation curse: an environmental and fiscal catastrophe ...

*Pic: The once vast native grasslands, now denuded and converted into a biological desert. Surrey Hills.

First published October 25

Almost 3 decades ago the Tasmanian Greens advocated the growing of plantation-sourced timber as a means to supply future demands and encourage a transition out of logging native old growth forests. With specifically native timber species in mind, this was viewed by the Greens as a move towards a more sustainable industry. Since then Tasmania has become the plantation isle and what we see now is horizons of ubiquitous exotics, and disturbingly very little of it is owned within the state these days!

The ex-Gunns Tamar Valley Pulp Mill director Greg L’Estrange recently stated in a parliamentary committee (enquiry) “If you look at the creation of the hardwood plantation estate in this State, I think the Federal Government has contributed $500 or $600 million to create 50,000 hectares, the most expensive plantation in the world’s history”.

Where is the return on such an investment? ... the recent and highly questionable hardwood plantations sale, aka the Hodgman/Barnett dodgy deal of the century, will ensure there isn’t one!

Since the inception of fast-growing tree farms, little consideration was given by anyone towards the environmental and biological impacts of exotic species plantations, which were rapidly becoming dominant around the state, both on private and public land.

Exotic plantations are about quick investment return, not long-term sustainability of the environment. 

Much of the exotic plantations in the north of the state were intended for the failed Gunns Tamar Valley Pulp Mill project, which would have been another environmental atrocity in many ways had it proceeded.

Native wet-forest, cleared to plant Radiata pine adjacent to the Tarkine wilderness. The plantation is completely encircled by dense rainforest, which suggests what type of forest originated there.

Extensive soil disturbance has resulted in complete loss of biodiversity, and any organic matter. Parrawe.

Plantation harvesting over a classed stream at Takone. A Blatant disregard to the ‘so–called’ stringent Forest Practices Code.

Completely trashed landscape - Parrawe

The once wet forest near Waratah cleared and replanted with exotics reveals that no understorey species have reestablished in over 2 decades despite being immediately adjacent to virgin wet forest. The region receives an average rainfall of 2170mm with 245 rain-days per year.

Roadside weed infiltration.

As from the 1980s the Forestry Commission, like a plague, was already full swing into clearing native bushland, and then replanting with exotic species. Much of this activity was poorly thought-out beyond the fact and premise that the exotic species could be harvested far earlier than native eucalypts could be. This was a typical myopic view of the industry, which continued on until the end of the century with little environmental consideration.

On the edge of the Tarkine north and east of the Arthur River, and across the Surry Plains, plantations on private land prevail extensively across the horizon. The once-native grasslands, woodlands, scrublands, wet forests, and probably some rainforest areas have been converted to exotic species.

Late last century Forestry in Tasmania developed a fast-turnover, factory-farming ethos whereby patchwork quadrants are now blanketing the landscape with little regard towards maintaining ecological biodiversity of a region, though some plantations within the state have certainly been sown on land (disused farmland) that was already cleared.

Any forester worth their salt should know that removing native vegetation and replanting in exotics was never going to reinstate some form of ecological balance.  But that’s not what modern foresters are trained for. Understanding ecology is not what foresters learn, they are simply indoctrinated into the ideology of merely cutting forests and replanting seedlings through silviculture, or to burn and reseed in monoculture, and in Tasmania’s case the exotic plantation regime seems to have prevailed.

Despite the unfounded claims and semantic arguments that native species will return to a disturbed site through seed dispersal, that appears not the case where exotics are planted. Some wet forests in Western Tasmania contain virtually no understory species beyond some ferns and allies returning to a forest decades after it was converted into plantations.

Other concerns regarding conversions from native forests to exotics plantation are the immediate loss of biota, the lack of flora and faunal biodiversity, the hydrological effects upon the land, the copious amount of pesticides sprayed over water catchments, and the disturbance and loss of humus and soil.

As for a sustainable timber industry, selective native forest logging, and regeneration thinning with long-term rotations is the only methodology that will see a native sawlog industry proceed into future, not the continuation of excessive clear-cutting of virgin forest, harvesting of immature trees, or planting of exotics, as what is presently happening throughout the state!

*Ted Mead claims exotic plantations are an abomination on the landscape, and has never considered them appealing as they are unaesthetic, mostly bland of biota, and void of the wondrous elements a well-balanced forest possesses. Ted sees the plantation obsession in Tasmania as another blight upon the mutilated landscape that Tasmanians seem to wantonly establish with little consideration to posterity.  Ted believes the state’s plantations are a time bomb ticking away amidst exponential climate change when an imminent catastrophic wildfire will probably destroy most of them one day.

• Steven kons in Comments: Interesting ... The Greens worked hard and effectively to destroy Gunns And Forestry Tasmania. The success has led to more wood chips and whole logs leaving the state and very limited downstream processing. Congratulations to the Greens Party. Before I get bashed as being anti Green Party I am just expressing an observation