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Free Case Study on Forest Resources

Case Study on Forest Resources

In recent years, there has been a growing awareness that we are part of a global ecosystem. This may indicate a real concern for the increasing effect of human impact on the environment and recognition of the importance of a sustainable forest resource base; where the exploitation, preservation and development of our forests are not compromised for future generations. Forests are much more than a collection of trees. They are dynamic systems containing incredible biodiversity and natural beauty. They also support a substantial industry, provide a home for our native fauna and flora and bring in millions of tourist dollars. Above all, they possess a major carbon storage function. Use of our forests has always been controversial, with disagreements over distribution and degree of environmental degradation.

Although there may be no consensus, it is suggested that the impact of forest degradation in Australia has been extensive since European occupation. Ultimately, the greatest pressure is the logging of our forests for a variety of wood products. Consequently, the current state of our forests is not good and it is suggested that it may be unsustainable. The Commonwealth Government needs to meet their global obligation and implement comprehensive and practical regulation. In doing so, be guided by a precautionary approach adopting sustainable development as the framework for their decision making processes.

Purpose of this case study
This case study uses the Pressure-State-Response (PSR) framework to identify the pressures on our native forest environment, with consideration to its current state and the responses to those human pressures. For the most part, it describes and evaluates these responses in an Australian context, focusing on environmental regulation of the Commonwealth government.

The PSR framework was developed by the OECD (Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development) and has been widely used to analyse environmental systems in government reports. The PSR framework is based on the concept of causality: the fact that human activities inevitably exert pressures on our environment changing its state or condition. Consequently, we respond to this changed state of our environment, influencing those activities that exert pressures on it.

The pressures on our native forests
Australia’s forest resources are influenced by a variety of pressures, which can be defined by the identification of human activities that directly affect the natural environment. These pressures are often defined, in terms of land-use, including forests as sources of timber and for agriculture, tourism, conservation and water catchments (Resource Assessment Commission, 1992). Other uses of our native forests include scientific study, recreation and the production of woodchips (Conacher, 2000). There are also more general pressures including population increase, changing land use practices (farming, mining and urbanisation), natural disasters, such as fire and disease and loss of global biodiversity.

The state of our forests
The pressures described above cause observable changes in our environment. These environmental indicators characterise the current condition of our forest environment. It has been predicted that only 18% of Australia’s eucalypt forests and 38% of rainforests are now unlogged (Resource Assessment Commission, 1992). Furthermore, some 140 Australian tree species are on the WWF/WCU endangered list, (Mercer, 2000).
To some degree, all land uses cause some form of land degradation.

However, commercial logging most greatly contributes to reduction in forest cover. To a lesser extent, most other environmental effects of land use caused by mining, agriculture, tourism and farming are similar to that caused by commercial forestry. That is they cause significant changes in forest density by clearing.

Commercial forestry is a crucial management practice (and controversial) affecting land cover. It is well established that human use of forests affects the habitats and population sizes of some forest dependent species and increases the risk of invasion by exotic species (Commonwealth of Australia 1996). Research indicates that koala numbers fell by 75% between 1989 and 1999 because of habitat destruction (Tanner, 1990 cited in Mercer, 2000). Commercial forestry also causes soil compaction and erosion as well as reductions in water quality (Yencken, 2000). Compaction is a common consequence of logging operations caused by the heavy logging machinery and equipment used. It results in lower soil permeability to water, which can increase water logging, run-off and topsoil removal that in turn contributes to the sediment load of streams and catchments. Soil structure decline and erosion also cause plant nutrient deficiencies. Approval for logging operations in local river catchments must be given careful assessment as the quality and quantity of drinking water provided by the river can be drastically affected. This was seen in the summer of 1998-99, when the Gippsland Lakes suffered extensive algal bloom due to breaches of the forestry code of practice in the Morwell River catchment by the US based Hancock Timber Resource Group (The Age, 24 March 1999 cited in Mercer).

The logging of “old growth” forests causes irreplaceable losses of biodiversity because they represent a complex and mature ecosystem containing trees over a wide range of ages, which has not been significantly affected by unnatural disturbance. Secondly, because they hold such huge amounts of organic carbon, logging them releases this into the atmosphere. The 1998 Sate of the Forests Report stated that an estimated 13.1 billion tones of carbon are stored in Australia’s forests and that forest clearance results in annual carbon dioxide releases of around 75 million tones.

Human Responses
Public concern about the state of our native forests and the increasing pressures exerting on them have led to a variety of human responses from government, industry and the general public. These responses reflect the social attitudes and national priorities of the time. Fortunately, today we are seeing a resurgence of the issue of sustainability and forest resource development. Whatever the reasons for this, sustainability is gradually being integrated into the business portfolio and everybody wants to be involved in the decision making process. Responses aim to affect the future condition by relieving pressures on our forests or by directly altering their current state. They include regulatory responses by governments, inputs from individuals and conservation groups as well as the forestry industry and private landowners. In Australia, it has been regulation that has been the most dominant response, fundamentally because over 75% of our forests are in the public domain. Consequently, most decisions concerning the use and distribution of forest resources are ultimately political ones.

Commonwealth Regulation
In an historical perspective, the state governments have taken the greatest role in environmental policy and management. The Commonwealth government is seen as taking a secondary role (Young, 1996). However, in recent years the Commonwealth powers have been given a wider jurisdiction by the courts with regards to environmental issues. Today, the Commonwealth has a responsibility and interest in relation to the development and implementation of a number of national initiatives, and under at least 17 international forest related agreements.

National Forest Policy Statement (NFPS)
One of the most significant national initiatives has been the NFPS, which is intended to address the issue of sustainable forest use (Commonwealth of Australia, 1992). A central feature of the NFPS is the Regional Forest Agreement (RFA) process. In theory, they involve the formation of agreements between the Commonwealth and State governments for the future management of specific forest areas. They are supposed to take into account economic opportunities, conservation and heritage values and the social impact of various economic strategies (Coakes 1998 cited in Mercer 2000). Although the RFA’s are supposed to provide compromise over competing forest uses, many have clearly failed to do so. Although the RFA process has defined 12 new national parks in WA, most of these are of low conservation significance and still allow logging of old-growth forests and some existing reserves (Reardon, 1999 cited in Mercer). Much to the embarrassment of the Court government, it was subsequently revealed that, as part of the RFA process, 350,000 hectares of new forest reserves in reality consisted of sand dunes and cleared land (Lekakis, 1999 cited in Mercer, 2000).

Other strategies, which have been implemented to build upon the RFA process, include the Wood and Paper Industry Strategy (1995), (WAPIS). This strategy aims to facilitate a positive environment for investment in downstream processing based on resources from sustainably managed native forests and plantations. The WAPIS is complemented by the Forest Industry Structural Adjustment program. Under the NFPS, the Commonwealth has also established two plantation initiatives: the Farm Forestry Program and the Community Rainforest Reforestation Program (CRRP). The FFP aims to promote commercial wood production on cleared agricultural land to provide an additional reliable, high-quality wood resource for sustainable regional industries, as well as to diversify farm incomes. The FFP also promotes tree planting for the production of non-wood products with an emphasis on developing commercial uses of native species, while addressing problems of land degradation.

International forest related agreements
The main international agreements, signed by the Commonwealth, include the Rio Statement of Forest Principles, the International Tropical Timbers Agreement, the Report of the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Forests and Agenda 21, Montreal Process and Santiago Declaration (1995). Many of these international agreements are essential for the protection of our forests as sources of biodiversity (Dargavel, 1995). On a global level, forest degradation is one of the greatest threats to our sustainability and it is extremely important on the world stage that Australia takes adequate responsibility. International agreements as interpreted by international law are imposed with typical shortcomings. Even though the Montreal Process is considered one of the most important, it has no legal force. Regardless the process aims to identify measurable indicators and assess the sustainable management of the world’s temperate and boreal forests. In a political context, the agreement should have a strong influence on government domestic policy, at all levels. Consequently, Australia released its First Approximation Report (1997) on Criteria and Indicators for the Conservation and Sustainable Management of Temperate and Boreal Forests. Data for the report were drawn from the National Forest Inventory as well as Commonwealth, State and Territory agencies. Support of such international agreements is a positive and mandatory step for Commonwealth Government policy and management in this country.

Other government initiatives
The Commonwealth Government has initiated a number of forest inventories including the National Forest Inventory (NFI), National Plantation Inventory (NPI) and the National Farm Forest Inventory (NFFI). The Commonwealth Government has also released an International Tropical Forest Conservation and Sustainable Land Use Policy. A key aspect of the policy is a commitment to the year 2000 target set by the International Tropical Timber Organisation (ITTO). The government has created a number of initiatives in the area of research and development. The Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSRIO), a valuable research resource, has a Forestry, Wood and Paper Industries Sector that is concerned with sustainable commercial production and processing of wood. Consequently, important developments have been made concerning native eucalypt forests, and plantations of eucalypts and softwoods. Furthermore, the CSRIO Divisions of Wildlife and Ecology and Plant Industry study rainforest ecology from the Tropical Forest Research Centre at Atherton, Queensland.

Evaluation of Commonwealth responses

Although the management of forests is largely the responsibility of the States and Territories, in recent years the Commonwealth governments jurisdiction has increased considerably. In addition to the Acts of Parliament enacted by the States, the Commonwealth has created many joint ventures such as the comprehensive regional assessments (CRAs) across many parts of the national forest estate. This has led to the negotiation of many regional forest agreements (RFAs), which were completed in March 2000. Generally, the Commonwealths responsibility in terms of Australia’s international obligations, enactment of Commonwealth legislation and policy formation is expected to become increasingly significant in the future. To be successful it is suggested that current policy analysis should focus less upon policy formation and more upon implementation.

Although early in their development it is suggested that the RFA process has not met the community expectations. Not only are they being conducted very slowly, but the right to challenge RFA’s in NSW has also been effectively blocked by the State’s legislation. Too many of the Commonwealth’s responses to forestry conflicts have been considered “soft options”. We are now beyond recommendations for action, which tend only tend to recycle information and provide no practical response to the achievement of sustainable forest resource development.

The impact of forest degradation in Australia has been extensive. Historically this was due to the clearing of our forests to support the agriculture and infrastructure needs of a growing population and to develop an export market, especially in wool. Today, even though forest protection has been highly regulated by the State and Commonwealth, there are still great concerns about sustainable forest resource development. Forestry practices are now in the public arena and many different stakeholders have become concerned parties. The advantage of this is that decisions about human response become more scrutinised and undergo greater public and political debate.

Many of the government reports available so far have highlighted the need for greater scientific information about forest impacts, reflecting lack of research and monitoring of our land. Consequently, the only way to move forward is for the nation to adopt the precautionary principle and support maximum conservation of forest resources. Forest reserves need better protection than as currently provided by RFA. If we are to achieve sustainability, in the future it remains clear that “all remaining native forest and woodland in Australia should be preserved” (Kilpatrick, 1990). What are needed are innovative policies involving forest biota in and outside reserves across different property tenures. Reserves have to guarantee the protection of native fauna and flora and clearly limit exploitation from mining, logging and other competing uses. Most of all the “forest resource system” needs to provide a comprehensive and adequate representation of ecologically viable protected areas, including old growth forests.

We need a policy approach that is going to produce less logging in native eucalypt forests as well as meeting current timber demands. This suggests a transition to a plantation-based forestry sector – planting eucalypt plantations on a large scale, and the phasing out of logging in native forests. So far, the record of planting hardwoods has not been good. Commonwealth legislation may need to be implemented that removes current obstacles to plantation forestry, supports development of faster growing hardwoods and the removal of subsidies for the harvesting of native forests.

Australia may be at the crossroads in terms of its sustainability of forest resource development. The Commonwealth Government needs to meet their global obligation and implement comprehensive and practical regulation. In doing so, be guided by a precautionary approach adopting sustainable development as the framework for their decision making processes (Harding, 1998). Furthermore, we need to consider market driven forces, extend our information base and develop a formal process for monitoring human impact. Policy and management responses need to balance environmental concerns with economic growth. They need to include public involvement and be influenced by market driven forces.

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