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Forestry protesters actions contrary to international climate science

Opinion piece by Shawn Britton, Managing Director of Britton Timbers

The Bob Brown Foundation have acted to prevent a small selective harvest operation of Tasmania’s Special Timbers at Que River in the north west of the state, under the guise of action for climate. But their actions actually contradict the advice of the world’s leading scientific experts on climate change.

The ‘Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), Special Report on Climate Change and Land’ released in August 2019, backs Australia’s forest industries to help fight climate change. The IPCC is the body appointed by the United Nations for assessing the science related to climate change.

This latest IPCC report reinforces its previous 4th assessment statement on the positive role of sustainable forestry and agroforestry in climate change mitigation, which was:

“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.”

This is exactly what happens in Tasmania. Every tree harvested in Tasmania’s native forests is regenerated and the sector is actively working to increase forest carbon stocks through increasing the plantation estate and regrowing any harvested native forests. Simultaneously we are investing in research to constantly improve the annual sustained yield of timber to provide the ultimate renewable building material for sustainable development.

The small selective harvest that the Bob Brown Foundation has been trying to prevent is in an area that has previously been selectively harvested, around 70 years ago, it is an area agreed with conservation groups under the Tasmanian Forest Agreement to be harvested again to produce small quantities of Tasmania’s iconic special timbers. The selective operation has been carefully planned to harvest approximately 60 trees from a 54–hectare coupe that contains an estimated 25,000 trees to produce high value decorative veneer panels for a new high–profile Hobart–based development. The harvest will remove a small number of additional trees and low–grade wood to facilitate access to the target trees. The rest of the forest will remain intact and accessible for everyone to enjoy.

Timber is the Ultimate Renewable Building Material

Using wood products instead of alternative, more carbon intensive materials, in the building and construction sector is widely regarded as one of the most positive steps we can take in the fight against climate change.

Choosing timber in design and construction can help tackle climate change. The combination of carbon sequestration in growing trees and the long–term carbon storage in wood products in use represents a significant net sink and store of carbon in Australia.

Growing trees absorb carbon dioxide from the air and store it as carbon in the wood. The carbon remains stored in the wood for the life of the piece of timber created following harvesting and processing.

According to Wood Solutions, Australia’s native forests and timber plantations are net absorbers of greenhouse gases at a rate of 56.5 million tonnes of carbon dioxide per year, reducing Australia’s overall greenhouse gas emissions by almost 10%. In 2016 Australia’s forests contained almost 22,000 million tonnes of stored carbon along with a further 144 million tonnes of carbon stored in wood products in use.

The IPCC supports this. Their latest report states that:

Sustainable forest management can maintain or enhance forest carbon stocks, and can maintain forest carbon sinks, including by transferring carbon to wood products, thus addressing the issue of sink saturation… Where wood carbon is transferred to harvested wood products, these can store carbon over the long–term and can substitute for emissions–intensive materials reducing emissions in other sectors.” B5.4.

The alternative to using Tasmania’s special timbers in this high–profile development is likely to be an engineered product made of plastic imported from overseas, most likely China.

To ship a plastic product from overseas instead of using a locally produced renewable natural material is madness, and hardly a good environmental outcome but which by default is exactly what the Bob Brown protesters are promoting.

In fact, a recent survey of Tasmanian’s revealed that 76% of Tasmanian’s know that timber is an essential product that is renewable and environmentally friendly.

The Tasmanian Government has recognised the best advice from international climate experts and responded with Australia’s first Wood Encouragement Policy.

 The policy ensures sustainably sourced wood is fully considered in Tasmanian Government procurement, particularly for new buildings and refurbishment projects.

The IPCC report clearly states that it is better for the environment to have well managed multiple–use forests that continue to produce renewable forest products that store carbon and bioproducts that substitute for fossil fuels–based alternatives, than leave forests untouched.

The latest IPCC report also states:

Sustainable forest management aimed at providing timber, fibre, biomass, non–timber resources and other ecosystem functions and services, can lower GHG emissions and can contribute to adaptation.” B5.3.

The timber product that Britton Timbers has been requested to produce by a leading architectural firm, is high quality veneer panels for the ceiling of a high–profile development in Hobart.

Veneer provides the best recovery possible from the log – maximising recovery and respecting the resource as it deserves.

The placement of the timber in a high–end project means that it will be utilised in a way where it can be displayed in the highest possible application and truly appreciated.

Britton Timbers also makes their production as sustainable as possible with their Smithton mill powered 25% by its own biofuel residues and 25% solar power, with the remainder coming from the Hydroelectric grid. 

Forestry Replants Forests for the Future 

Forestry is a sustainable system. Every tree that is harvested in Tasmania is replanted or regrown. In fact, the sector is working with private landowners to find more area to plant trees.

The processing sector has teamed up with the University of Tasmania and Sustainable Timber Tasmania to conduct nearly two decades of research into the development of hardwood products from plantation grown species.

Due to the recognition of timber as The Ultimate Renewable, demand for timber is expected to quadruple by 2050. The federal government have introduced a policy to plant a billion trees by 2030. These will need to go onto private land, as Tasmania’s public forests are already regenerated to their full capacity.

Forestry and farming are both vital to the food we eat, the air we breathe and the homes we live in.

Forest Management Ensures Biodiversity and Species Conservation

The tract of forest that these trees will be selectively harvested from is beautiful – you wouldn’t know it has already been selectively harvested around 70 years ago and is a mix of older and regenerated forest – but that is because we are very good at sustainable forest management in Tasmania.

Planning for the scheduled harvest in the north west commenced 10 years ago. The Forest Practices Code, overseen by the independent Forest Practices Authority requires detailed searches to ensure flora and fauna are protected and essential habitat is retained.

We Need to Work Together

The Bob Brown Foundation is not on the same page as the global climate change experts – but if we are to take up the fight against climate change, we need to follow the best advice – and that is that timber is The Ultimate Renewable Building material. This is the scientific consensus.

Now is a time that the community needs to work together to make a difference for the climate. And I think we are all trying to do that, but it doesn’t help to confuse people and have them misplace their energies.

The Bob Brown Foundation shouldn’t confuse the community by ignoring the unequivocal scientific opinion that sustainable use of our forests for production of society’s needs will generate the largest sustained carbon mitigation benefit.

Shawn Britton is Managing Director of Britton Timbers, a Tasmanian timber processing business that has been operating in the state’s north west region for 113 years.

Links:

https://ausfpa.com.au/media–releases/ipcc–report–backs–sustainable–forest–industries–to–help–tackle–climate-change/

https://www.stategrowth.tas.gov.au/energy_and_resources/forestry/tasmanian_wood_encouragement_policy

https://www.woodsolutions.com.au/articles/carbon-storage

https://www.agriculture.gov.au/abares/forestsaustralia/fast–forest-facts