Australia suffered devastating fires between September 2019 and February 2020. About 7.4 million hectares of forest was burned, mainly in New South Wales and Victoria. The fires released 830 million tonnes of carbon dioxide – significantly more than the 530 million tonnes of CO2 that the country emits each year.
Environmentalists are now worried that logging of native forests is continuing during the Coronavirus lockdown when protests are impossible. Susie Russell, of the North East Forest Alliance, was part of a protest against logging in the Comboyne State Forest in New South Wales, before the lockdown started.
Last week, Russell told Al Jazeera that,
“The government is opening up areas that were burned, logging areas that were not, all sorts of approvals which are damaging to the environment are happening during this time. We feel angry and frustrated at not being able to get out there.
Environmental groups are calling for a halt to logging in native forests, at least until the ecological damage from the fires can be properly assessed and the information released to the public.
Predictably enough, the Forest Stewardship Council has taken the side of the logging industry – against the environmentalists and the forests.
In early April 2020, the West Australia Forest Alliance posted a letter on its Facebook page from Australia’s two forest certification schemes, Responsible Wood and FSC, to Australia’s prime minister, Scott Morrison. The letter urges Morrison to “identify the wood products industries as essential services”. The letter says nothing about the impact of the fires on the forests. It doesn’t even mention certification.
The West Australia Forest Alliance describes the letter as “a stunning new low for FSC”, and comments,
“If the letter wanted to point to certified plantations it could have. Instead it took a broad approach supporting logging of all forests, whether under certified conditions or not. FSC should be ashamed of themselves supporting all logging everywhere rather than focusing on their business which is encouraging certification.”
Dear Prime Minister,
This is clearly a uniquely challenging moment for our country as we face the unprecedented health, social and economic impact of COVID-19. You and the National Cabinet have the full support of Australia’s two forest certification schemes, Responsible Wood and the Forest Stewardship Council, in leading our proud nation through this crisis.
While we recognise and fully support the strong suite of measures introduced by the National Cabinet to curtail the spread of COVID-19, we urge you to identify the wood products industries as essential services in the nation’s response to the coronavirus pandemic should further restrictions be placed on Australia’s businesses.
The wood products industries supply a raft of critical products required to ensure the security and resilience of the nation’s critical infrastructure during the response to the pandemic. With products ranging from toilet paper and face masks to high-quality wood products to aid in the construction of potential emergency housing and healthcare facilities, the wood products industries are really the glue that holds the nation together.
The consequences of a perceived shortage of critical products has been abundantly clear recently in Australia’s supermarkets. We implore you to avoid further turmoil by exempting the forest product supply chain from future mitigation efforts.
Finally, shutting down the wood products industries will significantly delay the economic recovery in the wake of the crisis as many of the sectors that will drive the rebounding economy are reliant on Australian forest products.
With your support the nation’s wood products industries can continue its steady supply of critical products needed by the Australian public during and after this crisis.
PHOTO Credit: Susie Russell via Al Jazeera.