This is a win for the beautiful movement which has showed up for forests for decades! Every single person that came to blockades, lobbied your MP, supported crucial court cases, donated to GECO and other orgs, and surveying for threatened species.
Students at a protest at Yalmy (2005)
This is a win for all the creatures that call the forest home, and all of us who depend on them in terms of biodiversity.
And a win for our capacity to bring down emissions by protecting some of the most carbon dense forests in the world.
Cut-tail Ash tree on Sellars Rd (2021)
We still need to disband the wood pulp agreement
While this is a huge win, some important things remain to push for. We still need clarity on whether the state is going to try and meet contractual obligations with the Forest (Wood Pulp Agreement) Act 1996. This agreement locks in harvest obligations with the Maryvale Mill and Opal / Nippon. Without this agreement being disbanded it's likely we'll see logging appear under other categories, such as bushfire mitigation and disaster logging. Pressure may increase in forested areas currently, or in the near future, subject to disaster logging - including Wombat State Forest and the Dandenong Ranges National Park.
Woodchips pile ready for export in NSW. (Stephen Codrington, Wikimedia Commons)
The industry has been pushing as part of the transition space to also move into ongoing logging via 'thinning' and fire track maintenance. All of this is based on highly contested science which can have the effect of increasing risk to communities, as well as damaging the environment. In East Gippsland after the Black Summer bushfires, we saw logging take place all along the Princes Highway and in the Errinundra National Park to remove "killer" trees, which were actually merchantable timber then sold to mills. In 2005 we saw egregious illegal logging of rare Mountain Ash forest (for East Gippsland) through the creation of an unnecessary fire break - 10 times the regular size, where logs were then moved on secretly for production.
Disbanding the wood pulp agreement removes the profit imperative at the very least. Thankfully in the last week news broke that the Andrews government has legal grounds to break this agreement by invoking the force majeure clause in the pulp contract, a common clause allowing either party to suspend the contract in the event of extraordinary circumstances, which in this case is the Black Summer bushfires. We must lobby for them to do this.
Despite these risks on the horizon, this is an end to clearfell logging and export woodchipping - which GECO has been fighting against this for 30 years! This is a win they can't retract.
Forest management - the new buzzword
As we move into this new area of struggle, we need to focus on what we are building up for forests as 30% of coupes have not regenerated, with that figure increasing to 50% for Ash type forests. A big part of GECO's work in the transition space in East Gippsland has been to push for a rapid investment in ecological restoration and cultural caretaker rights to be handed back to Indigenous peoples.
The impact of logging near Cann River, East Gippsland (2022)
We are aware of the differing interpretations of what forest management looks like, and will push for outcomes that are good for communities and the environment - not just a retrofit of industry without understanding what the environment needs first - and that we also depend on.
The announcement includes land management works for 1.8 million hectares of public land, previously subject to the timber harvesting allocation order. How they intend to re-purpose contractors in this space is still unknown, although is likely to include bushfire-related activity. More info can be found here.
What GECO means by forest management includes the following, but is by no means an exhaustive list:
- Working towards restoring previously clearfelled areas back to their original Ecological Vegetation Class
- Preventing further erosion and sedimentation of waterways
- Updating and implementing action plans for threatened species
- and updating and implementing pest management plans.
All of this has flow-on effects in terms of boosting tourism and agriculture for regional communities. In terms of future jobs, we also want to see the implementation of the Emerald Link which will boost East Gippsland's visitor economy and for the state government to invest in the construction of the sea to summit trail. The state government has already invested 1.5 million in conducting market research, it's time to move to action.
We'll be watching closely how the government intends to transition some forested areas to National Parks and we will be fighting for the expansion of existing and the creation of new ones.
We still need to end logging in NSW and Tasmania. A call-out was put forward by the Bob Brown Foundation to mobilise for national days of action between the 17 - 19th of August this year. We will absolutely still be showing up for this. The Regional Forest Agreements have been a complete disaster, we must call for them to be abolished nationally. In their implementation of the recommendations from the Samuel Review, the federal ALP can remove the clause which makes them exempt from national environment law. Without this exemption, the industry would be unviable. There have been positive signs so far this may happen.
There is such a bright future past logging, and we are so grateful to be able to see the light at the end of the tunnel now. A lot of us in the movement are having bittersweet feelings - thinking about all the forests we've lost so far, and all the people that fought and sacrificed so much in the process. This is a moment both filled with grief and joy.
But we are still holding this win close, as they are few and far between. And this one was a long time coming.