The recent article by Dr Simon Grove in The Forests Agreement to end all Forest Disagreements contemplates an uncertain way forward with a backwards look of reproach for missed opportunities. As a community, we seem agreed not to allow woodchip contracts to drive logging of native forests. Do we continue to harvest sawlog in our regrowth forests? Do we replace native sawlogs with hardwood imports? Do we embrace a future which ensures that a funded plantation estate produces hardwood sawlogs for high-value forest product?
All these options read well, but as essential questions they disclose stark realities. Many environmental NGOs list the cessation of native logging as a key principle of their charter. Some environmentalists hold the
anti-logging principle close to heart, but engage in promotion of certified sustainable native forestry under FSC principles. It is
- as you would guess - surprisingly difficult to produce timber from a certified forest without logging.
Plantation advocacy has become the default position in this complexity. The better of the other two roads to take - if you hold to this no-logging principle - given that consumption of timber products probably cannot be stopped in its tracks.
I find this forced and disingenuous advocacy irritating. Without the no-logging-native-forest incentive, it is doubtful most plantation advocates would be fans at all. There is an opportunity for eucalypt stands in farm forestry. Plantation is a useful adjunct to traditional state-run forestry and not distinct in its practices. Industry people understand the interweave of different tall forest environments up alongside the Great Dividing Range, but this understanding is difficult to impart to the general public. National parks adjoin state forests, adjoin private forest reserves, in an interlocked and continuous jigsaw of forested estate. Reseeding, planting of tube stock, thinning of stands, creation of forested corridors, watercourse revegetation and the whole plantation repertoire are simply the tools of a broader forestry approach. No single forest model need stand in complete isolation.
In truth - and it is a very inconvenient truth - there is no independent hardwood sawlog plantation estate. Either currently or coming on line. There exists no funding model for large-scale industrial plantations of hardwood sawlog. There is no single eucalypt species that has proven easy to grow in broad scale plantation and has a demonstrable commercial yield of board for flooring, joinery and furniture uses. There is no place to put this estate. Suitable land is currently either native forest or more productive farmland. In the absence of viability and a funded model, the plantation enthusiast can support only farm forestry and state forestry bodies. They, at least, have a recognisable future.
We have endured a decade of hype arising from the poorly conceived Plantations 2020 experiment of the Howard years with the propagation of unbelievable nonsense about pulplog having a sawlog potential. It's a real annoyance that there is still constant reference to a
non-existent 'plantation choice' in hardwood specifying in the building industry. So repeated is this contention, it can only be an orchestrated conspiracy of misinformation. Is someone paying magazine scribes to caption images with
'plantation hardwood floors'? Never is a source provided. The same misleading claims pervade the recycled sector. We fool ourselves or we ask to be fooled
- either way, we are complicit in our own deception.
Grove outlines the choice we still must make with a welcome directness and clarity. We have always known what it was, but the pretence and the nonsense allowed us to dither. His is an articulate voice. It laments lost opportunities and wrong turns, and is scathing of the envirospeak cul-de-sacs that the forestry debate has created. It reminds us that forests are dynamic. They are not static. The eucalypt forest predominates because it has survived where other genera have disappeared. It understands adversity. You can spin that several ways, but the notion of 'locking up' a forest, of not 'disturbing' it, of not 'managing' it - has a dimension that is both scientific and social. How is this understood in the cities? Do pristine, weed-free tracts of wilderness just abide? Do they remain beyond our vision and our memory for months or years on end? Till we reawaken. For those few days when we wish to ramble, or camp, or canoe.
It is precisely for those other days of the year we need to agree upon a credible forest policy that will endure new and often insubstantial paradigms of consumerism. Absolute certainty may not come with our choice. But it must be a sustainable future by modern standards.
One popular answer is not a choice. Softwoods have a long established plantation tradition. Hardwood pulplogs - a messy history but a plantation future still possible. In relation to hardwood sawlog, the plantation ideal is a myth of convenience to distract us from a simpler choice. Like the recycled option, it lacks the potential to carry more than a fraction of current demand.
Another answer would be to back an industry that has responded to change over 21 years and invested heavily in its own future. Private sawmilling sourcing native sawlogs from state forests and regrowth forests. Being linked to state forestry, we can claim to have formulated a direction for it, as well as some ownership of the process.
The final choice is imports carrying both the carbon cost of
long-distance shipping and the great imponderables of remote provenance. Is it to be Papuan, Sumatran and Solomon Island hardwood all
round? Or Blackbutt, Spotted Gum and Stringybark from our own managed
The difference between old Tallowwood boards and the new forest product seems greater than with many other species.
I never tire of those creamy olive tones of recycled Tallowwood.
Wish I could find another 2000m2. Our customer base never tires of buying it, either.