The idea of a forest peace treaty and a sustainable industry has been around for quite a while. In the late 90's there was an attempt based on the acronym CARS , which is to say a Complete And Representative Sample of each of the different pre-settlement vegetative types that would be preserved, and scientific opinion was that 15% should provide for adequate biodiversity. Government and industry pressure reduced that to 7%, but according to Forestry Tasmania even that was too much and would mean the cessation of logging in commercially valuable old growth stands on which so much of their mandated sawlog production depended. And a lot of the remnants were on freehold land and landholders would be asked to make generous covenants to top up particular categories.
Agriculture had been a major part of the problem. If trees are to do well they need pretty much the same conditions as other crops and so most of the tall forests, especially on red soils, had been cleared for the purpose. Deep weathering occurs quickly with volcanics so they are relatively fertile. Other rock types are so slow that fertility tends to exist only where it can come in from elsewhere, like the sediments in valley bottomland. Elsewhere you only need look at the tree rings. A lot of our species have adapted to the slow availability of nutrients from the continual recycling of the forest within itself on virtually worthless subsoils. Huon pine for instance – some of those bigger trees are pushing a thousand years old and you will find them growing anywhere protected but very wet and bleak, surrounded by detritus but often with nothing more underneath them than white quartz sand. And when and if it is logged to the point of opening up the canopy it is replaced in the short term by cutting grass and other nutritionless shrubs that make do on leaf litter remnants. When that burns, as it all will – once or twice and the whole plant community is history.
It seems to be part of our normal mental function that belief trumps mathematics and general common sense. Those CAR percentages add up to 100 and no more. And it is amazing that a large percentage of the population believes that a number like 40% can apply to remaining economic stands of native timber whereas in fact this country has been 'locked up' because it has no economic value other than recreational or quarrying and grossly over-represents communities of stones, alpine mosses, dunes, and stunted shrubbery in the high country.
When I built my sawmill and began organizing my minor species salvage/retail operation Mike Peterson of FT took me around the plantation at North's Hampshire freehold which they were converting to eucalyptus nitens. A casual observer wouldn't have noticed, but he pointed out the sensitivity of growth rates to fertility and microclimate. The trees were doing well near the partially burnt windrows where they had wind protection and fertility. On most of the ground the trees were only a fraction as tall and struggling and this was only the first rotation after native forest. On the next rotation all that windrow material would be finally burnt and smoothed out. Subsequent plantings in their 17 year projected cycle would have no advantage at all . So projected growth rates were a dream and a few years later the woodchip companies with the help of generous tax concessions for investors began acquiring farmland. This was in lower elevations than the freehold and years of fertilizer applications had enriched the soil. Native timber up there on the other hand had been superlative albeit slow growing.
At one point there was a question as to whether some of it should be protected as rainforest. Our federal MP at the time was Chris Miles and he worked hard to show that it was in fact unworthy of protection, having been degraded by previous logging operations. These had mainly been billet cutting for the Burnie paper mill. This was before modern forest practices and billets for chipping and papermaking were produced as follows. Trees were selectively felled and cut into eight foot lengths with dragsaws or chainsaws. Contractors chose the biggest, best and cleanest trees because the sections had to be split with wedges so they could be loaded by hand crossways onto their rigid flat tray trucks and carted down to the coast. Local people around my age (just retired) remember their fathers coming home exhausted in the cold wet winters. After splitting and loading their quota they would often as not have had to winch the trucks out through the mud and sleet to get home. There is a lot of civic pride in Burnie's paper making heritage in spite of the fact it was murderous from those early years and not only in the bush. My neighbor told me about working in the lower level of the mill where they made the chlorine.
“We used to roll the mercury around in our hands. And the collecting hoods above the tanks were stainless steel lagged with blue asbestos.”
Which they would push into the joints with a blunt chisel tool if the smell of chlorine got too strong. The mercury in the bottom of the tanks of salt water was the electrode. And of course much of it ended up in Emu Bay.
“Is anyone still alive.” I asked.
“No, only me.”
“Did anyone ever sue?”
“Not a one.”