For decades, the clear felling of old-growth forests plagued the island of lutruwita/Tasmania. Driven in large part by a now defunct company – Gunns Ltd – much of the thousands of hectares of old-growth ended up being fed through woodchip mills in Triabunna and Bell Bay. Though things have changed since the Tasmanian Forestry Agreement in 2014, the loss of old growth forests, including clearfelling, continues in lutruwita/Tasmania.
What is “old-growth” forest?
Defining “old growth forest” has been a point of contention for many decades, given its definition has clear implications for the protection of vast swathes of forest. According to Sustainable Timber Tasmania (formerly Forestry Tasmania):
“Old growth forests are mature forests where the effects of any previous
disturbance is now negligible. Old growth forests have many special
values which the forest management system and forest managers seek
Many would argue that forest managers are not seeking to ‘balance’ the values of old-growth forests, but are tasked with logging as much timber as they can legally and socially get away with. It is our belief that old-growth forests should be immediately protected from logging, a belief shared right across the island.
Old-growth forests are generally between 150-200 years, with many areas of old-growth available for logging untouched since before European invasion of lutruwita. The ecosystems in these areas support trees many centuries old, and are rich stores of carbon and provide critical habitat for wildlife in their many intricate hollows.
Are old-growth forests still logged in lutruwita/Tasmania?
The short and definitive is yes. Even more so, old-growth forests are still clear felled on this island despite the climate and biodiversity crises confronting us.
Perhaps due to the downturn in forestry activities since the Tasmanian Forestry Agreement, many people mistakenly believe that old growth forest is fully protected, or at the very least is no longer subject to clear felling. The reality is that the logging and clear felling of old growth is still standard practice.
The industry and its supporters will often declare that clear felling of old growth forest has ended, however that is not the truth. Clear felling of old-growth continues in coupes that contain less than 25% old-growth . For example, if a logging coupe is comprised of mixed-age forest of which only 24% is old-growth, then it can be clear felled. If a logging coupe contains 25% or more of old-growth, it will logged using alternative methods, usually a method called “aggregate retention”. No matter the method of logging used, it results in less old-growth forest on this island.
As it stands, there is more than 35 000 hectares of recognized old-growth forest available for logging on this island in 2021.