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Tasmanian Forests Agreement: deeply flawed, worth backing

On April 30 2013, Tasmania’s Parliament passed the Tasmanian Forests Agreement, with the aim of ending one of the world’s longest-running forestry conflicts. The deal “locks up” a further half-million…

Whose opinion of this forest is most important? The Tasmanian Forests Agreement has decided. Sarah Caulfield

On April 30 2013, Tasmania’s Parliament passed the Tasmanian Forests Agreement, with the aim of ending one of the world’s longest-running forestry conflicts.

The deal “locks up” a further half-million hectares of Tasmania’s outstanding high conservation value forests, including the iconic forests of the Styx, Weld, Upper Florentine, Great Western Tiers and Tarkine.

This is an extraordinary conservation gain, even if it not immediately delivered.

In return, the industry receives guaranteed rights to 137,000 cubic metres of high quality sawlogs which they will get from more secure Permanent Forest Production Reserves.

Wood supply contracts will be accompanied by tradable Forest Compensation Certificates, with compensation payable should Forestry Tasmania be unable to supply the stated volume due to a change of law or policy.

About $200 million in State and Commonwealth compensation will flow to buy out sawlog quotas ($15 million), downsize the regional sawmill sector ($10 million), and help harvest, haulage and silviculture businesses and workers exit the industry ($20 million).

Compensation is also provided for regional development projects and programs in affected communities ($120 million over 15 years).

The forestry industry will get 137,000 cubic meters of high quality saw logs. AAP Image/The Launceston Examiner

A long journey toward a shared vision

The deal was brokered by a small group of industry, worker and environmental organisations. Following three years of listening, deliberation and bargaining, these “signatories” finally reached what for each was a minimally acceptable compromise.

  • Industry gave up over half of its high quality sawlog quota and accepted a significant downsizing. It also bowed to the need for Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certification, which requires an internationally recognised level of sustainability in forestry.

  • Workers and communities abandoned their vision of a large forest industry and settled for one that is smaller and more innovative, and that adds value.

  • Environmental groups abandoned a longstanding “no native logging” policy, permitting native forest to be logged on a moderate scale subject to FSC certification.

The agreement requires all parties to abandon their deeply held views on forests and forestry and work instead towards a common vision. The figurative distance the signatories travelled is truly remarkable.

Figure 1 sets out a sustainability governance triangle populated with many of the groups who made submissions to the Upper House inquiry into the forests agreement. The arrows indicate how remarkable the shift from initial to final position among the signatories was.

Reaching an agreement means substantial compromise. Fred Gale

It now remains to be seen whether the many other groups which did not participate in the signatories process will undertake a similar journey.

While initial indications are not encouraging, given a little time it is to be hoped the forests agreement will create its own dynamic as forests are protected, markets reopened, supply guaranteed and regional development funds expended.

Grounds for opposition

All legislation is contestable and the forests agreement is no exception. Areas of contention include vision, necessity and durability.


Different visions of Tasmania’s forest future abound. Some environmental groups see a future where virtually no native logging occurs and there is a shift to non-forest industries like tourism.

This “no native logging” ideology causes outrage within the forest industry, whose members vigorously defend its antithesis: a large-scale, status-quo, native forest industry based on sustained-yield calculations and “clearcut, burn and sow” silvicultural practices.

Is it safe to come down? The Weld has been ‘locked up’. Rainforest Action Network

Between these two irreconcilable positions, there is a third “eco-forestry” vision that promotes lighter-touch selective logging of native forests across a larger land base.

Still others have advocated for a plantation-based industry that provides all the timber and wood products necessary.

To date, none of these visions has gained broad acceptance across all constituencies in Tasmania.

It is the unlikelihood of reaching agreement based on any of the above visions that the vision contained in the forests agreement — Forest Stewardship Council-certified logging of native forests across a reduced land base — must be judged.


The signatories have argued that the crisis in Tasmania’s forest industry is structural, not cyclical.

Consequently, doing nothing is not an option. To regain competitiveness industry requires sustainability certification, security of investment, and innovation into engineered wood products.

Others dispute this analysis. Private foresters in particular have argued that the downturn is cyclical, that markets will recover and that governments should not give in to “ENGO extortion”.

This view is also shared by the Tasmanian Liberal Party. Its leader Will Hodgman noted in a speech last year that the very attempt to strike a deal had created the investment and jobs crisis.

But with Forestry Tasmania and Ta Ann both agreeing that FSC certification is required in foreign markets, those making the cyclical argument need to explain how that can be achieved outside the forests agreement.


Any agreement worth its salt has to be “durable”. It must secure each party’s objectives into the foreseeable future.

The agreement establishes a Special Council composed of signatories and other ministerial appointees to oversee its implementation. A key role for the council is to prepare “Durability Reports”.

A compromise is better than a war. AAP Image/Matt Newton

For environmental signatories, durability has meant getting as large a portion as possible of the identified high conservation value forest protected as soon as possible.

For industry signatories, durability is an agreement to end protests in international markets and the setting up of Permanent Timber Production Zones.

In amending the agreement to end protests, the Upper House very nearly upset the deal’s delicate balance, causing consternation among environmental non-signatories. They now claim one purpose of the agreement is to “silence” environmental critics.

But while the amendments are clearly designed to put pressure on environmental groups to not engage in protests against markets and business, it does not directly silence them. If they believe the deal to be a dud, there is nothing to prevent them from taking action.

Deeply flawed, worth backing

The Upper House was under enormous pressure to reject the forests agreement outright. Surprisingly, after taking a really close look at the deal, it chose instead to amend it.

These amendments do not alter the fundamental bargain that underpins the agreement. The Upper House ultimately accepted the signatories' vision of Tasmania’s forest future.

If the agreement is implemented, over 500,000ha of high conservation value forests will ultimately be protected in exchange for establishing a smaller, more secure, Forest Stewardship Council-certified native forest industry.

Seen from the perspective of groups that haven’t shifted their position, this is a deeply flawed agreement. But the forests agreement — or something very like it — is the only bargain that could ever be struck to reconcile Tasmania’s forest conflicts.

If the agreement falls over, Tasmania can look forward to another 30 years of forestry conflict. I, for one, judge that to be a far worse outcome for forests, firms and communities than accepting the current deal.

Others, of course, must make up their own mind.

Join the conversation

22 Comments sorted by

    1. Jane Rawson

      Editor, Energy & Environment at The Conversation

      In reply to Jason Purdie

      Hi Jason, this is a picture showing what war - in this context - looks like.

    2. Mark Poynter


      In reply to Jane Rawson

      Arguably, a more accurate depiction of what the 'forest war' looked like would have shown a logging contractor looking at his burnt-out or damaged machinery, or being stopped from working by extremists locked onto harvesting equipment.

    3. Neil Smith


      In reply to Mark Poynter

      Mark, I hope if your reference to "a logging contractor looking at his burnt-out machinery" is to suggest that environmentalists are to blame that you can provide evidence. To my knowledge none of those people you like to call "extremists" have ever engaged in that sort of activity.

      In my opinion this comment is an unwarranted slur designed to inflame.

    4. Peter Rutherford

      logged in via email

      In reply to Neil Smith

      Hello Neil. I know we have been fed the line that no activists ever engage in sabotage or nasty behaviour, after all, they are only engaging in "non-violent direct action.” The following is one example of an anti forest activist engaging in naughty behaviour. Geoffrey T was convicted of 2 counts of criminal damage in 2001 in Victoria. He still owes the contractor, whose dozer he vandalised, $6,656, as he only ever paid $290. The former DSE is also owed over $5,000 for culvert pipes he smashed. GT is one of 3 activists who non-violently boarded a Japanese whaling ship in January 2012. Watch the following if you want to see anti-forest activists engaging in non-violent aggravated burglary. More example available on request.

  1. Rajan Venkataraman


    Dear Prof Gale
    Thanks for this very helpful article explaining what the Tasmanian agreement delivers and the compromises that it involves. Any such deal involves compromises and no one walks away entirely satisfied. The trick is often to leave everyone dissatisfied in equal proportions with a few sweeteners to close the deal.

    My one concern relates to the central role that the Forest Stewardship Council plays in the outcome. I don't know enough about this issue to subscribe uncritically to the…

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  2. duncan mills

    logged in via LinkedIn

    Fred can you explain .

    1. Being a FSC member, can you explain how this agreement will delivery on the biodiversity concerns of the TCT, who were left out of the negotiation?

    2. Given the economics of managing both production and reserved forests for carbon have not been finalised, how can any of the stakeholders move forward?

  3. Mark Poynter


    As you have described, the 'peace deal' is deeply flawed not least because there is still no scientific definition of 'high conservation value forests' which these new reserves are supposed to encompass, and because the views of most community stakeholders were not considered, including important forest management imperatives such as fire.

    The public discussion about this whole process has totally lacked perspective, particularly in relation to 'wars' supposedly required to save Tassie's…

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    1. duncan mills

      logged in via LinkedIn

      In reply to Mark Poynter

      Mark perhaps the difference between Australia and Europe is not ideological but ecological, and that is why we have to work harder at accommodation of these polar views.War, as ever ,does not help solve complex ecological issues.

      Thanks to the last Ice age the soils of Europe are much younger geologically and it has much simpler ecosystems with higher natural productivity. We on the other hand can only achieve productivity by drastic intervention with correspondingly more complex cascading ecological…

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  4. Hrimnir Benediktsson

    logged in via email

    The author, Fred Gale, has neglected to mention that there is another way forward that has been proposed by the environment movement for a number of years now and that is not only the transition away from native forest logging for wood production and into plantations and agroforestry but ALSO with that, the creation of a new industry based on preserving native forest for its carbon carrying capacity and sequestration potential.

    Forestry Tasmania could transition from a wood products based industry…

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    1. Mark Poynter


      In reply to Hrimnir Benediktsson

      I think you need to rethink your views a bit on this.

      Firstly Australia has already substantially transitioned out of native forests into softwood plantations, but we can't produce solid hardwood timber of sufficient quality or quantity from plantations as yet (and may never be able to) and so that's why native forests are still harvested.

      Secondly, the forest industry is hardly climate change deniers. On the contrary, wood is the most carbon-friendly building material because it is…

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    2. Hrimnir Benediktsson

      logged in via email

      In reply to Mark Poynter

      Whilst it's convenient for the logging industry to use its own research or that which it has sponsored by it to show that logging native forest is good for the forest and for carbon outcomes and that native forest logging should continue, other research is showing otherwise, particularly for SE Australian native forests.

      * Re-evaluation of forest biomass carbon stocks and lessons from the world's most carbon-dense forests

      A key paper from Australian scientists recently found that "From analysis…

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    3. Mark Poynter


      In reply to Hrimnir Benediktsson


      So..... forests store carbon, there's nothing new in that, and I didn't say they don't.

      I simply said that they don't store carbon in perpetuity due to fire - in case you aren't aware a vast area of the large forests was cooked on Black Saturday, so believing that you are saving carbon in forests is a bit of a myth.

      I also said that totally reserving them to keep out all timber production is a net loss in carbon because of the increased use of other materials that embody much higher…

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    4. Hrimnir Benediktsson

      logged in via email

      In reply to Mark Poynter

      I find this really interesting too:

      The waste in Tasmania’s forests: most timber left to rot

      Andrew Macintosh and Richard Denniss

      In debates about native forestry, it’s common for the industry to claim its activities are sawlog-driven and carbon neutral. But as this infographic shows, a hard look at the data shows that most of the biomass affected by harvest operations is left to rot (or burn) on the forest floor, or ends up as woodchips and processing waste …

      Read more here -

    5. Mark Poynter


      In reply to Hrimnir Benediktsson

      If you're going to insist on getting your information from Green-Left sources with an agenda you are going to be misled. Richard Dennis is now the Executive Director of the Australia Institute which is also of the same ilk.

      I suggest you read the comments underneath the article from people who it seems actually work in the forest.

      As one commenter noted, you would only have no waste if we grew square trees. Trying to make something round into something square or rectangular there is going to be waste.

      This is hardly atypical of other commodities For example, beef cattle produce far more hide, offal, fat, and bone than the steak they are grown for.

      Have a good weekend.

    6. Hrimnir Benediktsson

      logged in via email

      In reply to Mark Poynter

      Is Human-Induced Climate Change a reality for you Mark?

      Do you think it is a Green-Left conspiracy to gain political power or perhaps simply overblown by the Green-Left as a threat to humanity?

      Do you think that (somewhat famous) British economist Nicholas Stern is stating a Green-Left point of view when he says that Climate Change is the greatest market failure in human history and much more recently, that he was wrong in that he originally underestimated the threat significantly and it's actually much worse than he thought?

    7. Hrimnir Benediktsson

      logged in via email

      In reply to Mark Poynter

      Well I saw a very interesting TV news item on ABC (I think, or SBS maybe) a while back that disputes your views on hardwood from plantation.

      A professor based in Tasmania showed that Tasmanian Bluegum, left to grow for at least 40-50 years would grow big enough and strong enough to supply hardwood adequate for building and the like. The problem it seems is that the time from planting to harvesting bluegum is too short to produce the hardwood necessary. So a longer term before harvesting is required.

      Also, Spotted Gum is apparently a good source of hardwood and is a good option for farm-forestry that less intensive than plantations and is also good in mixed species farm-forestry.

    8. Mark Poynter


      In reply to Hrimnir Benediktsson


      Don't disagree with those species and others such as Sugar Gum, Shining Gum - if left long enough. I've been involved in a lot of plantation establishment, including farm forestry plantings, but there isn't enough of it and very few new areas are being planted now.

      Also, to justify the high capital cost of investment, plantations need to give a return in perhaps 20 - 30 years rather than 50 - 60 years. This might not matter to a farmer who can afford to just let it grow down the back…

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    9. Hrimnir Benediktsson

      logged in via email

      In reply to Mark Poynter

      The native forest logging industry needs to transition to plantations, farm forestry and a carbon based product industry, starting now but should have started at least 10 years ago.

      The resource economist, Dr Judith Adjani has shown that there is enough timber available from plantations to allow this to happen in her book Forest Wars.

      Since the current problems in the forest industry have been caused by a seriously flawed view of economics and mistakes made on those views, I am aware that your own point of view regarding the economics of plantations may also be flawed if that's where you're getting your information from.

      You've had time to answer this question but you still haven't responded to my questions relating to your opinions and beliefs regarding the issue and urgency of Human-Induced Climate Change. Your honest answers are necessary in order to measure your understanding of reality.

    10. Mark Poynter


      In reply to Hrimnir Benediktsson


      There you go again getting your information from sources with a skewed agenda. Judith Ajani is well known as the academic spokesperson of the 'no native forest logging' clique of the ENGO movement. I'm afraid few accept her as an objective voice in this area given her long pre-occupation with closing the industry.

    11. Hrimnir Benediktsson

      logged in via email

      In reply to Mark Poynter

      Well, she's certainly got good reasons to want to close down the native forest logging industry based on her findings as a resource economist, to I accept her perspective on the matter as valuable.

      There are many outside of the native forest logging industry who accept her work and expertise also.

      You're still studiously avoiding my questions regarding your understanding and belief on Human-Induced Climate Change.

      I'm getting the feeling you don't wish to answer because you don't think that this bout of Climate Change is caused by humans or that humans have very little to do with it.

  5. duncan mills

    logged in via LinkedIn

    All interested in forest management need to take note of this emerging technology.

    Managing forest for timber production may itself become obsolete.
    Forestry perhaps needs to transition to the sustainable production of other ecological products and services like carbon sequestration, catchment water yield and bio diversity conservation etc.

    The TFA probably should only understood as a transition strategy to totally phasing out timber production.

    The necessary short term change required…

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