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Deforestation deceit reflects badly on environmental campaigners

By Mark Poynter - posted Wednesday, 18 November 2009


Reportedly an increasing proportion of Australians are not convinced that human activities are primarily responsible for global warming. While this is generally assumed to reflect the increased airing of contrary views by climate change sceptics, it may also reflect increasing community cynicism of over-blown scare-mongering by environmental activists campaigning on almost any front.

This was brought home recently when the Wilderness Society (TWS) launched its “Sicforests” campaign outside the Melbourne city office of Victorian government agency VicForests, which manages timber production within the 9 per cent of the state’s public forests where this is a permitted use.

The appalling exaggeration and desperate dishonesty which now typifies TWS forest campaigns was exemplified by their protestors assailing passers-by with claims that 13 “football fields” of East Gippsland old growth forest is being clearfelled every day - 365 days of the year. Incredibly, when asked where they got this information, the protestors pleaded ignorance and admitted they were only paid fundraisers!

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Given that an average AFL oval covers about two hectares, TWS is effectively claiming that more than 9,000 hectares of Victorian old growth forest is being logged each year. This represents a 4,500 per cent exaggeration of the real figure which is about 200 hectares.

Arguably worse, is the group’s ongoing misrepresentation of Australian timber harvesting as “deforestation”. According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation’s (FAO) definition, deforestation is “forests being cleared by people and the land converted to other uses such as agriculture or infrastructure”. Although deforestation is a massive problem in some South American and Asian nations, Australian timber production is clearly not deforestation because harvested coupes are immediately regenerated to grow into new forests.

Nevertheless, promoting the misconception of Australian timber production as deforestation was central to the Wilderness Society’s display at this month’s Barcelona Climate Change Talks where large posters depicted environmental activists protesting in a Victorian logging coupe. Aside from its blatant inaccuracy, this is embarrassing for Australia and an unnecessary distraction for international conservation groups which are acutely aware that forestry issues in Australia are of negligible concern, and are trying to focus on the massive problems in developing countries.

Indeed, the position of Australia’s most prominent environmental groups in relation to forests and climate change betrays an attitude that is desperately out of touch with environmentalists elsewhere in the world. Even the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) acknowledged in 2007 that “In the long term, a sustainable forest management strategy aimed at maintaining or increasing forest carbon stocks, while producing an annual sustained yield of timber, fibre, or energy from the forest, will generate the largest sustained mitigation benefit”.

Sadly, blatant exaggerations and misrepresentations of what happens in Australia’s forests are not new to the international stage. Our environmental movement’s seduction of the international media peaked prior to the 2004 Federal election. At that time, major articles about Tasmanian forestry written at the behest of local activists were published in London’s The Observer, The Independent, and The Guardian; in European newspapers Le Figaro and Suddeutsch Zeitung; as well as the New York Times. In addition, the BBC was coerced into producing a major documentary on Tasmania’s supposedly “disappearing forests” entitled Paper Tiger - for which they were subsequently found to have misled viewers after complaints were made to the UK Broadcasting Standards Commission.

The latest example of the disturbing determination of Australian activists to misrepresent environmental management in their own country can be seen in a short television report recently aired on the Middle-East-based Al Jazeera network entitled “Tasmania’s Shrinking Forests: Deforestation fight in Tasmania”.

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On the Al Jazeera website, the text accompanying the video archive of the report exclaims that “Severe deforestation is taking place in Australia, as well as countries like Brazil and Indonesia”; and, “in Tasmania, forests have been shrinking steadily over the past 50 years due to the state’s billion-dollar timber industry”.

Other claims made in the report are that:

o Tasmania is embroiled in a “war against nature”;
o Tasmania’s forests are “disappearing at a rate of 15,000 hectares per year”;
o less than a third of Tasmania’s original forests remain, and that “most have been cut-down during the past 50 years”;
o the logging of Tasmania’s forests represents “a crime against humanity”.

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About the Author

Mark Poynter is a professional forester with 40 years experience. He is a Fellow of the Institute of Foresters of Australia and his book, Saving Australia's Forests and its Implications, was published in 2007.

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