Tasmania's new Liberal government to introduce legislation to repeal Tasmanian Forest Agreement; 400,000 hectares of native forests designated for permanent protection from October are expected to be set aside as production forest

, April 7, 2014 () – ALMOST 400,000ha of Tasmania’s most contentious native forest — earmarked for new national parks and permanent reserves — will instead be set aside for future harvesting.

The move — likely to outrage conservationists and risk rekindling the island’s forest wars — will be announced by the new Liberal state government today.

Legislation will be introduced to state parliament next month to repeal the Tasmanian Forest Agreement, which had granted phased permanent reserve status to 504,000ha of forests.

The Australian understands the tranches of reserves not yet gazetted — which were to be permanently enshrined from October — will instead be designated as deferred production forest. This area of almost 400,000ha will be intended for harvesting, despite being independent verified as having high conservation values.

However, logging will be deferred for six years, so as not to jeopardise a bid by state-owned Forestry Tasmania to achieve top-flight environmental certification by the Forest Stewardship Council. The moratorium will seek to blunt any bid by conservation groups to undermine FSC certification or to campaign against industry in sensitive markets only now rebuilding.

To “ring fence” Forestry Tasmania further from the inevitable backlash against the scrapping of the new national parks, the new future harvesting forests will continue to be owned by the state environment department.

After the moratorium on logging in the future production forests expires, the government will assess how much of the 400,000ha is needed for harvesting. This assessment would be based on demand and in particular on whether markets had been found for products sourced from these contested forest.

Premier Will Hodgman is expected to argue the policy delivers on his campaign promise to “tear up” the forest peace deal, legislated by the Labor-Greens government last year.

At the same time, it is designed to ensure industry can achieve FSC certification and retain environmentally aware customers in Japan and on the Australian mainland.

While not involving an immediate expansion of logging areas, it is designed to give industry confidence to grow in the knowledge a huge resource will be available if needed in six years. In the interim, it is understood logging will only be allowed in the 400,000ha if it is needed for special species timber producers. The government is understood to have concluded there is insufficient demand to open areas for immediate sawlog harvesting.The new policy will not have an impact on 120,000 ha of forests added to the World Heritage Area, 74,000ha of which the federal government is seeking to rescind and open to possible future logging.

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