After half a century of continuous community efforts to protect Western Australia’s forests, an end-of-logging announcement by the state government has left conservation activists hopeful but wary, writes Gerry Georgatos.
WE DEPEND on forests for our survival, especially in terms of the quality of the air we breathe.
According to science, forests purify the air we breathe, filter the water we drink, prevent erosion and act as an important buffer against climate change.
Millions of hectares are lost every year to deforestation, primarily to provide non-essential disposable wood products.
We toil like we’re knee-deep in mud and know no peace for a loaf of bread, tearing down our house. We go to bed and get up and do the same, possibly for half a loaf, as our house crumbles. What do we say to our children – to those who have not taken their eyes off us – and to their children?
Ten years ago I lived for three years in the center of the mighty heartland of South West Western Australia, Bridgetownwhere I met the organizer of the Western Australian Forest Alliance Jess Beckerling “I’ve known her for over a decade.
Beckerling tells Independent AAustralia:
“It has been almost a year since the Prime Minister made the major announcement that Western Australia would end indigenous logging and complete the transition from the timber industry to plantations.”
“After half a century of continuous effort by the community to sound the alarm and finally protect the forests, this was a huge breakthrough.”
However, our peace remains brief – until billions of heartbeats quicken and grow stronger, we remain in a treacherous alien transit.
“Until the forests are safely protected, Western Australians would be ill-advised to avert their eyes from the pledges. The forests of southwestern WA have been cut down, cleared and burned with impunity since Europeans invaded this beautiful part of the world.
Only 200 years ago, the forests along the southwest coasts were seamlessly connected to the Wandoo Forests. Numbats, cockatoos, phascogales, chuditch and a myriad of other wild animals moved between forests and woods. Rivers and streams flowed, connected, crystal clear, through the landscapes to the ocean. Intact forests have moderated rainfall and the climate has become balanced over millennia.
During the nearly two-century-old British invasion, more than 80% of the forests in the southwest were cleared. Unquestionably, this rapid destruction of the environment has led to the drying of our southwest and a regional climatic temperature increase at one of the fastest rates in the world – reduced precipitation, atmospheric fallout and aberration, including the tumult of the ozone hole.
Our mortal home – the Earth – is made up of three layers: the crust, the mantle and its core. He is volatile in his vulnerabilities.
The Earth is not an unchanging solid rock in a celestial web of permanence. It is an imperfect storm of low-density rock, basalt and granite overlaid on hot rocks that temper above the molten rocks, where at Earth’s central temperatures reach up to 50,000°C.
Earth has had enough of its own bumps and tumultuous storms as it orbits the sun and makes its daily rotation in a galaxy moving endlessly through a universe – also moving endlessly through an infinite cosmos. It can do without many of the deaf and blind noises of the human species which disturb and hurt and which in turn make our own lungs grate.
Its dry surface; the the seas are warmer and rising, and what we are doing for the planet lithosphere below us is not yet fully understood. But we know what we do to the Earth’s filament – the surface of its crust and the remnants of the oceans, seas and rivers – and its atmospheric strands.
Jess Beckerling remains hopeful:
“After all this loss, it was a balm for the soul to hear our Prime Minister say that we have cut far too much and by ending logging of native forests and protecting at least 400,000 hectares of forest who would otherwise have been shot down, we are working to right what was a terrible historical mistake.
But she also warns:
Yet today, until this policy change takes effect at the end of 2023, ten football pitches of forest are cut down every day for logging or mining in the South West and most of the timber is sold under form of wood chips, firewood and charcoal. We still see giant ancient trees being trucked in the southwest. When this finally ends, the relief will be palpable.
Because similar promises are nothing new, says Beckerling:
The community has already heard great promises and then seen the injustices continue as climate change worsens and biodiversity decline accelerates. In 2001 WA ended logging of old growth forest, but under an artificial definition of old growth forest – logging of old growth forest with all the structure and function of old growth continued. The only places that have been protected – and fortunately still exist today – are the 230,000 hectares of officially protected forests in national parks and nature reserves.
Beckerling further explains:
If logging had continued at the same rate as in the 1990s, all of this forest would have already been logged. The only way to protect forests for the climate [benefit] and biodiversity, and future generations, as promised by the Prime Minister, are national parks and nature reserves where they will be safe from logging, mining and policy changes.
In recent months, we have heard complaints from interest groups and their spokespersons who do not want to see forests protected. We’ve heard crazy suggestions about how mining forests can miraculously be a climate solution. We’ve been asked to pity people who admit to being bored with climate change and whose first concern is their suburban homes.
The Western Australian Forest Alliance coordinator also pointed out:
I have always supported a just transition. Good to see the WA government taking this seriously, but let’s keep it real and proportionate. At a time when action so depends on action, but public policy fails to keep up with science and overwhelming community expectations, state government recognition of the climate and biodiversity values of forests and its commitment to safely protect an additional 400,000 hectares is a beacon of hope.
“The next few weeks really matter – as the next 10-year forest management plan is being drafted.”
Last year, around 17,000 West Australians contributed to a multi-faceted investigation that ultimately called on the WA State Government to protect the native forests of the South West. On this occasion, the government listened.
The next few weeks really matter, as the next ten-year forest management plan is being written. Everyone is waiting to see promises kept on climate and biodiversity — the Just transition plan. The optimism that the Prime Minister instilled in the entire community almost a year ago was significant. We must ensure the integrity of this vital environmental policy, with at least 400,000 hectares – which would otherwise have been exploited – safely protected.
This contest is a testament to a loving heart and meaning. He cannot return old wounds but disturbs the Earth the least. There will always be unfinished business and long-standing debts, but, above all, seemingly nameless people in otherwise endless twilights have not come to terms with helplessness.
Gerry Georgatos is a suicide and poverty prevention researcher with an experiential focus on social justice. You can follow Gerry on Twitter @GerryGeorgatos.
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