Our Living World is Dying
Stacey Worman, 2006-2007 Michael B. Keegan Traveling Fellow
Date: November 8th, 2006
To: Undisclosed recipients
Re: An Old Forest, A Feral Ship, and Discarded Paper...
"If a man walks in the woods for love of them half of each day, he is in danger of being regarded as a loafer. But if he spends his days as a speculator, shearing off those woods and making the earth bald before her time, he is deemed an industrious and enterprising citizen."
~Henry David Thoreau
Tasmania, the tiny island off the southern tip of mainland Australia, likely sounds familiar to you because of Warner Brother's cartoon character, the Tasmanian Devil. But you probably weren't aware of the fact that Tasmania is also home to many other unique and interesting creatures...or that it is also where you can find our planet's tallest flowering hardwood trees...or that it is also one of the world's largest protected land masses, with more than 2.7 million hectares locked away in various National Parks and World Heritage Areas...or that it was where Australia's first green political party was formed...
And after spending time in Tassie myself, I can vouch that 'Australia 's Natural State' is nicknamed appropriately. Almost everything harmonizes with the "clean, green image" that they feverishly promote for tourism purposes. Almost everything...except for, well...except for the fact that Tassie is also one of the world's largest suppliers of woodchips. And while it would indeed be wonderful for the state to be able to simultaneously sustain their projected image and their main industry, it is simply not the case and one of them will have to be relinquished sometime in the near future. Tassie's deforestation rates are alarming, being on par with those in third world countries. And their current forestry practices are ideologically troubling, and presently, a small group of elite people are benefiting at the expense of the entire island and its' future.
Although forestry has important historical roots in Tasmania , only recently did the industry shift from selective logging practices to their current clear-felling paradigm. In the olden-days, loggers went into the forest and carefully selected certain trees to fall. The trees that they took were then used in pursuits where local craftsmanship added significant economic value to the product (such as furniture-making or boat building) and it provided a venue for locals to earn respectable livings. In the olden-days, the Tasmanian forests were a resource that Tasmanians could prosper from without destroying.
But as time has progressed and business has become big, significant changes have occurred. A public good is now owned entirely by one company (Well, the people still own the land -- but Gunns Ltd. has unrestricted access to all of the trees on all of that land). Powerful machinery (such as bulldozers, chainsaws, and cable-logging rigs) has rolled in, and more timber is collected in a shorter amount of time with fewer hands. Coupes of old-growth forests (forests that have never been touched by human hands) are now clear-cut and stripped of their low-grade timber which is then chomped into woodchips and exported to Japan. The onsite specialty timbers and other trees/shrubs which are too costly to extract are left behind as waste. The coupe is set ablaze, releasing an enormous amount of green house gases into our atmosphere. And a mono-culture tree plantation is established on-top of the old-growth graveyard, using 1080 poison to prevent the native wildlife from feeding on the seedlings (often killing rare and endangered species).
Forestry practices around the world have advanced a lot in recent times. And no matter how you try to slice it...no matter how much you squint your eyes and tilt your head...there is nothing 'ecologically sustainable' about what is going on, regardless of the fact that Forestry Tasmania tries to promote their operation as such.
So why does it continue?
It's not as if Tasmanian citizens are apathetic. Instead, it is a debate that is passionately alive all around the state...bumper stickers plastered on cars with phrases like "Don't Pulp Our Future" and "Styx Not Woodchips"...everyone has something to say about it...and I was extremely impressed by the scene in Hobart, where one issue has sparked so many different campaigns by so many different groups...
So how does it persist?
Ask a local, and they'll tell you that the logging industry runs the state...or they are at the very least...above the law. As a brief example, they are exempt from numerous acts and legislation that the rest of the society is forced to comply with, such as the Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act. Jo-smoe who owns a block of land might not be able to touch a single tree on his property if it houses an endangered or threatened species...but no matter how many endangered or threatened species occupy a given area, there's nothing to prevent the logging industry from clear-felling thousands of hectares of that land. The history is complicated and I don't have a comprehensive understanding of it myself, but basically a situation exists where certain promises have already been made and various agreements have been signed...so amending the status quo will require tons of money and more than simply an upset public. This is undoubtedly a situation where the world is currently paying (and will continue to pay) for bad deals that were made prior to the time that I was even born...
Those backing the continued clear-felling stress the point that more than 2.7 million hectares of the state are permanently protected in various National Parks and World Heritage Areas (comprising roughly 30-40% of the island)...and then they'll ask, isn't that enough?
And in my own excursions, I traversed the state and frolicked on many of those million hectares....and the scenery was indeed breath-taking and spectacular...But much of the 'protected and preserved areas' are not the world-class old-growth forests which stabilize our climate and purify our waters...Rather, the 'protected and preserved areas' are composed of mostly alpine ecosystems which are hardly threatened, as their naturally barren landscapes make them unprofitable for extraction industries anyway. Meanwhile, the ecosystem which is locally, regionally, and globally significant...and the same ecosystem which is currently being completely annihilated...remains largely undefended...
People around the state are trying their best to demand and insinuate change...and innovative alternatives and interesting solutions have been proposed by a diverse range of user groups...but to seemingly no avail. The industry, backed by both governmental parties, isn't budging.
And so sometimes it seems that time and energy should instead be spent using direct action. And one group has at least managed to hold their ground and has so far halted the progression of 'progress'. The Save the Weld Action Group (S.W.A.G.) erected a blockade on one road (a road subsidized by tax dollars), cutting off the loggers access to more than 2,000 hectares of old-growth forests. It is a rather impressive site with various tree-stands, tri-pods and other structures designed to make it difficult for the loggers to come in -- and their main attraction? A huge pirate ship that they have constructed in the middle of the road! Arrrr matey!
On my drive out to the Weld Valley Camp, I first passed many forestry plantations. And as I got closer, I started seeing many clear-felled coupes...essentially fields of stumps and "worthless" timbers that were just waiting to be burned...And all the while, logging trucks were streaming passed me...usually in fleets of three...and roughly every ten minutes...
I showed up at the camp and was warmly greeted and offered a cup of tea by those standing watch out front. And throughout the afternoon and into the evening, I met the individuals that comprised the transient group...native Tasmanians, flocked Australians, and international visitors...people of all ages and backgrounds, living out there for various amounts of time...the son of three-generations of loggers....a uni graduate with a degree in natural resource management...first time and veteran protestors...people out there for the day and those that have been out there since the beginning...
And they prefer to be called 'feral's' instead of 'hippies'....because 'hippie' carries the connotation that they are just out there in the forest 'hanging out'...instead they busy themselves nearly 24-7 with projects that will secure the block of land from the pressure that it is receiving on all sides. And many of their extravagant stunts have been great for publicity and have done their job of spreading national and international awareness of Tasmania's major issue.
I spoke to one of the "feral's" about the logging truck I saw with trees with girth's so large that only three of them fit on the entire bed...he then told me that earlier that day when he was in town, one with only one log on it had flown by him...
They risk arrest for trespassing, yet they hold their ground and are ready to climb up trees or lock themselves to structures if the authorities arrives. Loggers themselves often show up at the blockade, as they have been sent out in the field fetch their daily wood...there are no hard feelings and usually, the loggers and feral's talk...they both agree that things cannot continue like they are...the loggers don't like what they are driven to do, but since they are the owners of those expensive logging trucks, their only other choice is complete and utter financial ruin...
The cards are stacked against the feral's and the small block of land that they are defending is relatively 'insignificant' in the grander scheme of things...but they refuse to give up trying because they know that their concession will assure that far too much is irreversibly lost for the benefit of too few people.
What upsets them the most is not that humans are using the forest. Rather, it is the fact that these forests, with some trees more than 500 years old....are being destroyed to produce woodchips, which are sent to Japan in order to make paper, which is in turn used to make some of the most wasted products in our society today...think about all the single one-use paper products that get used for only a few moments before being thrown into trash cans...disposable paper cups, paper plates, paper bags, computer paper, paper towels, toilet paper...there is clearly a huge-demand for these paper products from a growing market and our ever-expanding population...and with the low-cost, government subsidized clear-felling practices in Tasmania...the industry has the opportunity to make a huge profit very quickly and naturally, that is what they are doing...
The goods news is that we all don't have to be in the forest with the feral's to apply pressure on the logging industry to halt the clear-felling of old-growth forests around the world...but the feral's do need the rest of us out of the forest to be conscious of our choices...they need us to start getting serious about reducing, reusing, and recycling our paper products so that the market for old-growth woodchips won't thrive like it has been.
On another note...
I've made it to the Philippines! And it's an entirely new world! To start out, Siobhan has connected me with a friend's friend (one that she met on her own travels around the globe!) who is doing environmental work with the Peace Corps! I'm excited to learn more about all the good work that they are doing, especially since my older brother is currently serving with them in Romania (and hopefully I will make it there for a visit as well!)!
Until next time, take care and recycle paper...