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Alternative Vision

It is reasonable to assume that if humans are to continue to enjoy the experience of living with the beauty and fertility of Earth we must live within its ability to sustain itself and provide for our desires. In less than 100 years humans have destroyed and modified more natural landscapes than all prior generations put together.

To be sustainable we must protect and restore natural systems. We have no need to use or gamble with the resources of future generations. The wellbeing and happiness of our descendants is in our hands.

Our vision is to restore and protect what is left of the natural systems of the earth.

WHERE TO NOW?

Forest Network recognise that alternative models to the timber and paper industry, as it is today, need to be viable so the transition to equitable and sustainable industries has been a focus of our campaign over the past decade.

These are some of the ideas that will help stop the destruction of our home.

Alternative products

Land restoration

Native Forests

Plantations

Water

Resource recovery

How you can help save forest

Summary

LAND RESTORATION

Despite widespread (though some would argue not enough) recognition of the need to maintain remnant ecosystems in Australia enviromental degradation continues.

Much thought and research has gone into alternative practices that have both environmental and economic benefits but the process has not been coherent or methodical. We are yet to see a co-ordinated approach or one that can unify various interests through a shared purpose.

Agricultural practices have resulted in severe environmental degradation in many parts of Australia.

In some cases remedial reforestation and revegetation has been successful and is now a familiar and widely accepted concept thanks to volunteer groups and organisations like Landcare, Greening Australia and the National Heritage Trust.

Most of that work has been implemented to control;

  • soil salination which occurs after tree cover has been removed and rising water tables bring salts to the surface and;
  • erosion on watercourses and recharge areas (where ground water comes to the surface).

These kinds of programs could be expanded and re-designed to achieve other outcomes. Riparian strips (floristic communities along waterways) could be restored, farms and cleared or degraded land could be revegetated with a comprehensive network of indigenous agro-forests. These forests could be established on fence lines, on internal and external boundaries, watercourses and landscape features such as steep slopes, re-charge areas and erosion sites etc.

Outside the conservation zone, indigenous mixed species woodlots grown for pulp, timber and firewood production would have economic benefits for people on the land and in country towns.

The management plan for this land could also aim to create gene pools to consolidate and protect local biodiversity i.e. allow movement and maintenance of local plant, animal and insect species by having some trees live a full life cycle.

The cost of this initiative would be prohibitive and unfeasible to most farmers under present policies. For a start, few farmers could afford to duplicate fences on their property so that stock could be excluded from these areas.

The Natural Heritage Trust Fund and Landcare have provided some of the money for these projects and 'Work for the Dole' and volunteer schemes have reduced labor costs but there is still a shortfall. This could be met with financial incentives from State and Federal governments.

To illustrate how this project would work, consider the hypothetical case of a landholder with 1000 hectares that is divided into four 250 hectare paddocks. The farm\block is due for new fences. The landholder would cover the cost of the single fence and, if willing to participate in this scheme, dedicate a twenty metre wide strip along the fence lines. Most agriculturists realise that a windbreak will actually improve productivity.

At this point a new federal body e.g. a national land authority (NLA) would underwrite costs for a second fence to fence off the production/conservation zone by providing materials, labor, plants, environmental and financial planning and (consultative) management. The NLA could liaise with employment agencies to employ locals who would receive, or in some instances provide, training in fencing, arboriculture\horticulture and project planning etc. Workers would receive a decent cost of living allowance i.e. something equivalent to award wages and not exploitative wages offered by "Work for the Dole".

In time the reclaimed land would require evaluation and some treatment as the area would be incrementally or successively managed with one of the primary objectives being to generate and re-instate multi-aged stands of timber that reflect the floristic diversity of the original ecosystems. This model would also create and develop another group of workers with the skills to assess and manage these areas.

At this time the process may appear uneconomic but within five to ten years the project would begin to generate revenue. As part of an ecologically sound management plan some of the trees would be cut for firewood in 5-10+ year cycles. There would be scope for local co-operatives, or for example the crews who now log ancient River Red Gums in what should, and will be, the Murray-Darling National Park, to undertake this task. Some of the trees suitable for sawlogs would also be removed. With the protection of all high conservation value forests and realistic royalties being paid for timber removed (selectively harvested, low intensity, see formula below) from public regrowth forests, plantation and agro-forestry timbers would fetch decent prices. After all, as governments keeps saying, in a free market why should some enterprises be subsidised by the public purse?

From royalties received the landholder would receive some monetary and other benefits and the NLA recover the bulk of its costs. Reconfigured tax laws could also provide incentives and some of the funding for such a large venture.

The success of this project would rely, at least in part, on competitive pricing policies that would correct the artificial timber prices that result from state subsidies. Pricing mechanisms could also be used to provide ancilliary benefits eg:

value adding; low value producers should attract comparatively higher royalties than those that produce high value products.

efficiency; incentives to maximise recovery rate of timber cut from logs and to use waste in most cost effective way.

long lived products; provide financial incentives to promote product longevity i.e. higher royalties for timber that goes into disposable products and products that fail to meet a longevity standard.

job creation; the way royalties are calculated could favor labor intensive businesses. i.e. those that use a higher volume of timber for each person employed should be penalised while those that use a smaller volume of timber per person employed should be rewarded.

http://www.abc.net.au/landline/stories/s319090.htm

Many aspects of this model may also be transferrable and suitable for farmers to enter into partnerships with the companies that are entering into, or expanding their plantation business. Rather than the big companies buying land and thrusting vast monocultures onto unsuspecting communities, they could enter into voluntary partnerships with farmers.

For instance, rather than a plantation company buying one farm in the midst of four, they might negotiate with the owners of all four farms and reach an agreement that would see drainage lines and fence lines converted to forests that would provide a mix of products ranging from saw logs (medium term), to pulp logs (short term), to environmental services including carbon sequestration (long term).

Government could assist with the formation of these partnerships by creating a policy framework that would encourage and assist private schemes with public benefits. They already provide generous (market distorting) subsidies to people wanting to establish plantations even when those developments are clearly detrimental to the existing community and environment. It would make sense to reach a pragmatic compromise that sees all parties benefit.

 

Native Forests

In relation to reform of native forest management practices, we propose:

· End logging of old growth & biologically significant forests (High Conservation Value Forest) such as rainforest and box-ironbark woodland. Untouched forest is the product of four billion years of evolution, once clearfelled it can NEVER be the same again.

· Where possible, stop using clearfelling as a harvesting method. Soil run-off, compaction and disturbance, habitat and soil stored seed destruction, loss of understorey and young trees and disruption of natural cycles including hydrology are a few of many flaws with this method. The supporters of clearfelling sometimes compare it to natural effects of bushfire but fires do not impact on soils the way logging machinery does. Sometimes entire coupes (40 hectares plus) can be turned into metre deep or more quagmires.

· Allow selective harvesting only in degraded or modified forest (mainly regrowth from previous logging operations) that is not rare, threatened or endangered. If forests are to function as forests, rather than be treated as timber and fibre plantations, no more than ten per cent of trees in any coup, management area or forest should be harvested in a 100-year period. The issue of conflicts arising from definition of suitable forest should be resolved by community consultative panels like the FSC model uses.

· Sustainable Yield. This concept is about determining levels of resource use that can be sustained in perpetuity and therefore results in many arguments. Current forest management uses forestry definitions that are primarily concerned with timber production and no other values.

In counterpoint, the precautionary principle suggests that systems of production should only be universally applied when a comprehensive body of scientific and empirical evidence has been collected, collated and evaluated. Only when this process has been completed will we be able to assert genuine ecological sustainability. Despite the absence of such data the United Nations (IUCN) protocols on conservation recklessly recommend the conservation of only ten per cent of the earths natural systems.

In response to this abrogation of responsibility and dereliction of duty on behalf of the organisation professing responsible global governance we advocate that no more than ten per cent of trees in any coup, management area or forest should be harvested in a 100-year period. We anticipate this model would preserve all the values of the forest or at least effectively give any forest a one thousand year life as opposed to the current model which views forests as timber growing paddocks with an eighty year life. While we realise that this model cannot be implemented immediately we believe it should be the long term aim of humankind.

In addition, to preserve genetic provinance, trees should be replaced with a seedling propagated from the tree removed. Regulation of harvesting could be contracted out to companies with a vested interest (monetary rewards) for effective policing.

Restructuring the native forest timber industry will help eliminate waste including cutting down of trees that will not be removed, even for woodchips, and woodchipping of whole trees that contain no sawn timber. If you can't use it for sawn timber, it is probably valuable habitat so don't cut it down!

Another forest and plantation management system that FOEFN support is the Forest Stewardship Council certification scheme. While no system is perfect FSC is a tool that will help improve forest and plantation management. Unfortunately FSC has met resistance from non-progressive elements of the timber industry, governments and even some conservation groups. This has allowed second rate practices to continue. We'd expect as much from timber industry and governments but what is the "environmentalists" story?

(NB Since this last paragraph was first written, virtually all the "environment" groups have endorsed FSC. The problem now is that FSC is failing badly at holding industry to account and we are on verge of condemning FSC as a farce. See this article. Even since it was written the situation has deteriorated.)

Photo above in Otway Ranges, all others on this page unless stated otherwise - Central Highlands.

Plantations

Forest Networks Plantation Policy

Our preferred position is that once existing plantations have been harvested the area should not be replanted with exotic monocultures but should instead be reforested with indigenous species and allowed to revert to, or carry similar characteristics in composition and structure, native forest.

In light of current political and economic circumstances we recognise that this position is not entirely practical so, in the interest of pragmatism and compromise, we advocate the following plantation management practices as transition measures (based on cleared land, the formula would adapt for areas with existing native vegetation):

We would like to see the area of the plantation estate dedicated to conservation and ecological restoration increased incrementally. This will require law reform in regard to plantation and forest management on private land. Ultimately, for plantations over 5 hectares, 35% of the area would be dedicated to indigenous vegetation.

The proportion of indigenous vegetation could be increased as other more sustainable production sources come on line .e.g. agroforests/forest restoration on farms/rivers etc. The initial goal would be to re-instate vegetation in riparian zones and drainage lines. Ephemeral streams would be protected by 40 metre buffer strips while permanent waterways would receive 100+ metre buffer strips.

The restored native forest would result in buffer strips that would allow indigenous ecological systems to fulfill their biological potential. For example, habitat creation that would allow animal movement and plant species migration etc.

After this goal is met, another thirty per cent of the plantation base should be transformed into multiple use restored forest. Some trees would grow old and die, thereby providing habitat hollows etc, while others would be cut for firewood, pulp and sawlogs.

The remaining thirty five per cent could, theoretically, be managed to produce specialist timber products such as exotic species in perpetuity.

Chemical and fertiliser use in timber and fibre production should be banned immediately.

Landholders &/or plantation managers would assume responsibilty for removing wildlings (self sown exotic species that colonise the adjacent indigenous vegetation).

Ideally, where plantations have been based on exotic species they should be converted back to indigenous species with a long term aim of reinstating all natural systems. A specific model and time frame for this transition process would need more development.

Some may want to argue for the benefits of a highly capitalised and mechanised industry built around large volumes from intensively managed exotic monocultures. The purpose of our proposals would be to re-instate natural systems where practicable and not aspire to unrealistic and unsustainable economies of scale in timber production.

We also aim to empower local communities by supporting a vision and struggle for ecologically, socially and economically sustainable systems of production.

The Victorian state government intends to treble the plantation estate to about 750,000 hectares by 2018. If this expansion was to occur on existing cleared private land, imagine the benefits if about 250,000 hec. of the total was retired from production and was instead committed to soil, water and biodiversity conservation. With the right incentive mechanisms this proposition is feasible. Private enterprise already receives generous taxpayer subsidies, why not ensure some tangible returns to the public for their investment in corporate welfare?

How can a plantation like this be "good for the environment"? Strzelecki ranges.

These proposals will alarm some, especially those who profit from the current situation. No doubt they will mount, as they always do, an argument that the sky will fall and the world as we know it will come to an end.

One fundamental problem with the current economic system that is conveniently overlooked is that accounting systems do not measure depletion of natural capital and the future economic costs of a degraded environment. The ultimate long-term and responsible answer is to attempt neutral resource utilisation, i.e. use no more than can be replaced. If we have international co-operation the market will adapt to the new supply and, accordingly, prices will find a new realistic, albeit higher(?), level.

Timber grown on degraded land would not have to compete with timber removed from a native forest that is heavily subsidised by the taxpayer. The low royalties payable for logging public native forest reflects the belief of most economists and business people that native forests have no capital or start-up costs. Therefore, in this delusional bubble, the only cost associated with destroying natural systems is the direct expense to the business entity *. This absurd premise ignores the contribution forests make to clean air, water, carbon sequestration and other non-"economic benefits" such as biodiversity, recreation, science, medicine, education, spirituality, etc. . What is the value of earth without the intricate web of organisms and complex systems that render it habitable for humans? We cannot, and will not survive, without these natural systems.

*(of course, there is no real cost to business anyway as most costs incurred in the process of generating income, i.e. costs associated with logging native forest, are tax deductible.)

A more realistic price on timber would also lead to less waste and would be a disincentive to the purchase and production of the inferior, disposable products that fill our rubbish dumps now. The introduction of these changes MIGHT see an initial contraction in employment but in the long term many other related jobs will come on line and we will have simultaneously fulfilled our obligations to future generations. To mitigate, and deal with any shortfall in, supply during the transition a nationally co-ordinated plan would be required.

WATER

Consider:

· A national riparian reserve system. The reserves could serve multiple functions e.g. the land immediately adjacent to the watercourse could be reserved for conservation and to maintain water quality. Outside the conservation strip a productive zone, based on a comprehensive network of indigenous agro-forests, to produce saw logs and pulp logs, firewood and even old growth trees that would help to restore and maintain local biodiversity. As a starting point the reserve system could prescribe 30metre conservation zones + 30m multi-use zones on ephemeral streams / 100m+100m on streams and rivers / 200m+ 200m on significant waterways like the Murray. The intricate details of issues around land ownership, tenure, costs and compensation would obviously need to be resolved (there are some ideas below). Voluntary participation and gradual acquisition as land title changes are options. A flexible approach would assist general acceptance of the process. After all, its taken 200yrs to get this far, it will probably be another 200yrs to undo the damage.

· Jobs. This plan would generate employment all over Australia. Most contemporary federal employment schemes are based around menial and vacuous tasks with no long-term value to the participants, community or environment. This plan would create employment opportunities in revegetation, fencing, crop management, harvesting, transport, milling, personal management, training etc. The scope is only limited by the imagination.

 

 

These blokes were members of the Construction Forestry, Mining and Energy Union. Not long after the union orchestrated this blockade action at FoE they lost their jobs. It had nothing to do with conservation issues, it was due to the nature of international trade in forest products and the indifference of their multi-national employer.

 

 

 

Funding. All regional, state and federal governments contribute money to employment, training and environment programs. How much of this money provides a beneficial return? Intelligent, well-designed taxation regimes would also facilitate reaching these objectives. Private investment could be attracted to this project. A report in "The Age" on 8th June 2001 revealed that the corporate sector was attempting to attract $2.8 billion of investment to address land and water degradation.

A national authority to coordinate, liaise and regulate to establish and maintain the project.

· Environmental degradation has resulted from past, and still continues with some current, agricultural practices. Remedial reforestation has provided many benefits and is a reasonably familiar concept due to organisations such as Landcare, Greening Australia and the National Heritage Trust. They have experience in work that is similar and related to the precepts of the proposal above. A lot of the work so far has been designed to treat the symptoms and not the cause by controlling soil salination (rising water tables bring salts to the surface after tree cover has been removed) and erosion on watercourses and the recharge areas where ground water comes to the surface.

· The reserve system would be enhanced if it were expanded to include fencelines and internal boundaries on private property. If start up costs were absorbed or subsidised by the managing authority, landholders/farmers would only need to contribute land and theoretically would receive income when forest strips become productive. For instance, income from firewood and pulpwood would be available after about five years and sawlogs at about 20 years. All initial costs could be recovered and benefits would continue to flow to the public (via government), participants and investors. See Land Restoration

We believe that even as it stands this project would be economically viable but further measures would ensure its viability.

RESOURCE RECOVERY

Another way to prevent or ameliorate shortages would be to implement a strategy of full resource recovery. This issue extends well beyond timber. Try to imagine the obsolescence of landfill tips…. full resource recovery… It is a challenging concept but bricks, metals, glass, timber, concrete, paper, plastic, compostables etc. are all re-usable or recyclable to some degree. This waste is an indictment of our thoughtless consumerism.

www.wasteconverters.com.au

While we're on the topic of timber we'll maintain that focus with another hypothetical scenario.

As there are no tips, construction/refurbishment/demolition sites have bins to receive usable and non-reusable timber products. Some things could be de-constituted and then reconstituted into particleboard, MDF etc while others pieces might only be suitable for wood fuelled furnaces to generate electricity. Non-reusable things might include short/damaged offcuts or timber products that are toxic e.g. particleboard containing formaldehyde, cca treated pine.

Some materials could be used in paper or cardboard manufacture by incorporating the virgin fibres in recycled products. Recyclable timbers could be sorted, de-nailed and redressed then sold as a cheap substitute for virgin (new) timber.

At present this scenario is highly unlikely but a pilot project could test the viability of recovering and selling timber from the sources mentioned above. One of the major hurdles to wider acceptance and use of recycled timber products is the absence of a reliable supply.

Certainly such a project should qualify for some sort of government financing or assistance. Employment programs and training courses in transport, forklift, machining and so on could be devised to facilitate the objectives of this plan. Plastic recycling would also provide materials that could be used in many applications that are normally associated with timber.

The fibre reservoir. This concept is about expanding the options available in the pulp and paper fibre pool. Paper (accounting for about 75% of total timber fibre consumption by volume) is predominantly produced from plantation grown and native forest timber at present. We seem to have an endless appetite for paper, the more we produce, the more we use. We need to curb this prodigious demand for paper and also find and utilise other sources for the raw materials from which it is produced.

Some existing treefree alternatives:

· Alternative crops: hemp, kenaf are readily and easily grown and can be incorporated into agricultural regimes (the downside is that they too are monocultures)

· Agricultural residues: straw from wheat, barley, sugar cane etc

· Genuine sawlog residues

· Recycle cotton cloth. Cotton can be used in recycled paper where fibres become too short after repeated recycling.

· Close the loop. Make sure that any material that can be re-used is re-used.

How you can help save forest

http://home.vicnet.net.au/~when/ - World Home Environmentalists, Network

http://www.conservatree.com/index.shtml - Save paper

http://www.ecorecycle.vic.gov.au/ - Recycling tips and info.

Summary

The land restoration project could be designed and managed to provide a reliable, diverse yet uniform supply of suitable materials to industry.

Some of these proposals may conflict with some favored economic and business practices and principles and may even leave us in breach of some international agreements and conventions.

Why should we compete with the worlds lowest environmental and social standards?

What kind of economic system, and what is it worth, that it would punish us for being the only country in the world committed to a truly sustainable timber industry?

If the system doesn't support, let alone ensure, sustainable and equitable production and wealth distribution, then the system is wrong.

The Central Highlands, this area will soon be obliterated.

One of many log dumps in the Central Highlands

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