Our Forests, No Future?

Written by Luke McEvoy, May 2024

The first of January 2024 has come and gone and with it brings an end to native, hardwood timber harvesting, in Victoria, a decision the Victorian government made without any industry consultation or warning. This was a short sighted and absolutely heart-breaking decision for regional Victoria timber towns and its workers, as well as the timber and construction industry as a whole. This also leaves me, a young, tree, timber and nature lover concerned for our forest’s future.

At 30 years of age, I am not yet old enough to have seen one full rotation however I am old enough to have witnessed the devastating environmental impacts happening in the world around us.  Second generation in the timber and plantation industry, I have seen first-hand the misinformation and confusion around active forest management and the current health of our forests and I’m worried. I have always believed that forest health and biodiversity should come first and any commercial resource second. However, I also believe these can coexist and even flourish when managed accordingly. Timber, after all, is the most sustainable building product that exists on earth.

The Ideology of nature first and timber second has not always been the case and unfortunately, we are now feeling the effects. We have made mistakes along the way. We have cleared too much habitat and replaced it with barren farmland and over-development. We have harvested forests greedily for ease and profit, rather than adopting improved ways to encourage biodiversity and regrowth. We haven’t had the resources to encourage investment into active management and recovery of our forests. We haven’t replanted enough trees into new high value plantations. We haven’t taken invasive species control in our forests seriously. We haven’t been able to have an open and honest discussion about the state of our forests without vitriol from both sides of the argument. We haven’t consulted our indigenous and local community members to understand fire protection and forest management methods. Instead, we’ve put it all into the hands of city bureaucrats who haven’t spent enough time in the bush to understand and see the local on country changes. 

We have however, lumped ‘forestry’ into a one size fits all approach and haven’t considered the unique requirements of individual forests.

I say “we” because these are our forests. It’s now come to this….

A complete closure of the industry that so many Australians have relied on and benefited from for hundreds of years. Hardwood decks, Hardwood floors, Architectural cladding and linings, Posts and rails, stairs, weatherboards, and even firewood, products that are in almost every home in Australia will no longer come from Victorian forests.

Even the great environmentalist David Attenborough agrees that “wood is an extraordinary renewable resource and taking it from well managed sources benefits forests and the planet”.

This isn’t the fault of environmental groups who I often agree with their concerns regarding biodiversity and habitat loss but it’s very important to note the significant difference between sustainably managing a regrowth forest for biodiversity and timber production and deforestation for land clearing and development. These are two very different types of logging which are unfortunately often lumped together to skew facts and sway public opinion. There is an extensive amount of research and data globally to show that active forest management can actually improve the health and resilience of forests.

So how did we get here? Don’t we have an obligation to provide for our consumer needs locally? We shouldn’t have to rely on other states or worse, overseas imports from developing countries with significantly worse forest and biodiversity credentials than our own. Already hardwood imports into Victoria from interstate and overseas sources have skyrocketed by over 50% with this number expected to dramatically rise as demand only increases. Are we comfortable in saying that as long as it doesn’t come from our backyard then it is okay to take what we need, often from less developed nations? Is using other building products such as steel and concrete doing more harm to our environment than sustainably managed forests? Do we believe that locking up forests with no management plans in place while simultaneously losing the workers who grew up in the bush and have a wealth of knowledge about our forests, is the right way forward? We only have to look at the state of our national parks to realise that the current issues are not unique to previously logged forests and all our forests need help.

Our forests are not what they used to be, there are many theories and debates about why this is but we I think we can all agree, our forests are not the thriving, healthy ecosystems they once were.

Invasive species, climate change, over-development, fires, drought, under-funding, lack of active management and logging practises have all caused distinct changes, to the point now that without human intervention and a careful management plan these forests and the unique creatures that depend on them, will not survive.

I’m worried for our forests and everything that relies on them, I’m worried for the future of this industry, I’m worried for our timber supply and the flow on effects this will have on the broader environment around us.

Is there hope?

We have to move forward. We need to work together. We must do what’s best for our forests. It’s important that industry can understand and acknowledge the concerns of environmental groups and learn from past mistakes. It’s just as important that environmental groups look at the science of individual forests and don’t simply dismiss any alternative solutions. At the end of the day, we all want what’s best for our forests for generations to come. I am yet to meet a forester who wants to clear the earth of trees in fact its quite the opposite, so why is there such a divide on what’s best for our forests?

Why can’t the many foresters who have lost their jobs in the industry become the new custodians of management and forest health, working together with environmental groups, traditional owners’, government, and forest scientists on how best to manage and restore our forests at a local level. Let’s look together at not what we can take and profit from but what we must leave and put back in order to ensure biodiversity thrives leaving a healthy forest behind. Localised on the ground groups working together on individual forests, tailored specifically to that forest’s needs, not a one size fits all approach from the city. There is so much to be done why isn’t this on top of the priority list? Where is our 10, 20, 50-year management plan so young people have the confidence that our forests are in good hands and can see a future in forestry. For too long, governments have only looked 4 years ahead and decided on policies in order to gain more votes, rather than the sustainable future of our forests.

We are at a critical juncture for our forests and our future. The decisions made today will reverberate for generations to come. It’s imperative that we bridge the gap between environmental concerns and industry needs, recognizing that sustainable forest management is not only possible but necessary for the health of our ecosystems. We must move beyond divisive rhetoric and collaborate on comprehensive, long-term management plans that prioritize forest health and biodiversity. By promoting partnerships between foresters, environmentalists, indigenous communities, government, and scientists, we can pave the way for a future where our forests thrive and sustainably meet our needs. It’s time to shift the narrative and commit to leaving our forests and environment in better shape than we found them. With dedication and cooperation, we can ensure that our forests remain a source of pride and inspiration for generations to come.

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