Plantation Forestry –
Officialdom turns a blind eye
Is the information provided to the public open and transparent.
The answer to the above question has to be
no
. According to the federal Department of Agriculture,
Fisheries, and Forestry's Bureau of Rural Sciences, there were approximately 1.8 million hectares of
plantation forests in Australia in 2006, one million of which were softwood (exotic pine species).
Significantly, the area planted to softwood has hardly increased in the last decade, while the area
planted to hardwood species (Eucalypts) has more than tripled. According to the same source
(“Australia's plantation log supply 2005 - 2049" [2007]) about 90% of hardwood plantations are
mainly Blue Gum. Enlarging on the growth in Eucalypt plantations, the document explains:
“The
emphasis on short-rotation plantations is also changing. A larger proportion of new plantations in
the future is likely to be aimed at sawlog production, which may suit land outside the traditional
plantation regions. This trend will be helped by new taxation arrangements that removed an
impediment to the buying and selling of immature plantations funded through managed investment
schemes."
In the Clarence Valley, the emphasis is most definitely on short-rotation woodlots for pulp
production, and almost exclusively
funded through managed investment schemes which take
advantage of taxation arrangements. S
omething to ponder over as the world looks at ways to reduce
our carbon output.
Following on our investigations into the plantation forests industry in the Clarence Valley, an
Internet search by our office manager, Jay, has turned up a series of interesting documents published
by the Australian Federal Government between 2006 and 2007, and we re-stress the fact that while
plantations in NSW are established under the NSW Plantations and Reafforestation Act, 1999
(P&RA), it is Federal Government tax breaks that is driving the industry.
The series of documents reviewed below have clearly been produced to head off any potential
criticism of the industry, and it is significant that almost all appear to have been authored by
consultants from within the industry, who would be expected to have vested interests in stressing
the positives while downplaying, and in most cases completely ignoring, the negatives.
The tendency to avoid any mention of the environmental downsides of plantation forestry is
consistent with much of the Howard Government's policy in relation to economic growth at all cost.
In the same way the mining and energy sector influenced government policy on climate change, it
appears the timber industry may also have had significant access to government decision-makers in
relation to plantation establishment. So what do these glossy publications tell us.
Eucalypt plantation at Baryulgil, Clarence Valley