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Committee Name:

Ecologically Sustainable Development Committee (1997 - 2001)


Legislative Council
Report Type:Report


Management of and Planning for the Use of State Forests in Western Australia - The Sustainability of Current Logging Practices
Report No:4
No of Pages:237
Physical Location:Legislative Council Committee Office

Presentation Date:

Related Report(s):Report No 2 - Report in relation to Management of and Planning for the Use of State Forests in Western Australia: The Regional Forest Agreement Process (27 Aug 1998)

Click here to view the report

Please find a Minority Report attached at the end of the Majority Report
Hide details for Executive Summary and RecommendationsExecutive Summary and Recommendations
      1.1 Executive Summary

The issue of whether logging practices in Western Australia are sustainable is complex. The Committee has sought to answer this question within the context of ecologically sustainable development ("ESD") principles. ESD is a national goal, its genesis being a 1992 Strategy agreed to by the Council of Australian Governments. The majority of the Committee agreed that the strategy for WA purposes, was a commitment on the part of the Western Australian government to protect old growth and wilderness forest values on public land. Ultimately the strategy found expression in all the Australian States’ Regional Forests Agreements.

Current forest management techniques in Western Australia are the subject of much debate. A number of witnesses endorsed the concept of the multiple use forest, but believed that the current management regime failed to achieve an appropriate balance where different uses were incompatible. Others took the extreme view that harvesting of timber is destructive to the point that it can never be ecologically sustainable.

The Committee decided that before determining whether logging practices are sustainable, a definition of "sustainability" would be useful. The Committee considered three definitions. The first is the lowest threshold, that is, sustaining gross bole volume of wood fibre. The second is a higher threshold, an even and long term yield of sawlogs of a consistent quality. The third is ecologically sustainable forest management ("ESFM"), that is, sustaining the eco-system. This is a relatively new refinement of sustainability developed internationally under what is known as the Montreal Process. Self - evidently ESFM requires that not only is the wood harvest sustainable but also that water quality, flora and fauna, soil characteristics and so forth are maintained.

Of these three definitions, Western Australia has only managed to achieve the first level. The majority of the Committee agreed that overcutting has made the second severely constrained to the detriment of future generations. However, it is to be acknowledged that low volume high value uses such as fine furniture forest products may be accommodated and offer significant employment opportunities. ESFM by contrast is in its infancy and is at this time, indeterminable due to the limited scientific knowledge available about the impacts of logging.

The majority of the Committee agreed that ESFM’s two main principles of intergenerational equity and the Precautionary Principle, in combination with Australia’s response to the Montreal Process, requires the development of complex environmental indicators. These indicators can determine whether logging practices impact upon the eco-system itself. The majority of the Committee agreed that ESFM is therefore the highest threshold of sustainability yet it cannot be evaluated at this time. The Western Australian community will appreciate its success or failure once the monitoring, first proposed by the Environmental Protection Authority ("EPA") in 1992, is finally in place and providing adequate scientific data. Progress on monitoring the range of data has been disappointingly slow.

This report investigates whether the management of timber harvesting in areas outside the forest reserve system are managed on a sustainable yield basis and whether the method of forest management production protects a whole range of environmental values. Of the many forest types which are being managed under the Forest Management Plan 1994-2003 ("FMP"), the Committee discovered a bewildering array of estimates of sustainable yields. The Committee was conscious of a requirement to examine sustainable yields within both a quantitative and qualitative sense, that is, whether we are maintaining not only the quantity but also the quality of saw logs. This is especially pertinent in the light of evidence from conservationists and scientists that reviews of harvest levels consistently identify overcutting.

Assessments of sustainable yields under the Meagher Report, the Barnett Report, the EPA Review of the proposal for the FMP, Dr Martin Rayner of CALM and the Comprehensive Regional Assessment ("CRA") all indicate that the current level of jarrah sawlog cut appears unsustainable in the long term.

Under the 1987 Timber Strategy the cut was to be reduced to a sustainable level over two stages, in 1990 and 1996. However, the reductions to achieve this sustainable level have not occurred. Moreover, jarrah and woodchip contracts set before required environmental assessment by the EPA took place in 1992 meant that a sustainable cut of jarrah could only be achieved by the State Government reneging these contracts. The Conservation and Land Management Act 1984 (WA) ("CALM Act") allows the Executive Director of CALM to enter into contracts without any reference to either the Minister or Parliament. The Government subsequently decided in 1993, not to follow this difficult option of changing the contractual commitments. For social and employment considerations, the FMP postponed the planned decrease to sustainable levels until 2003. Again this year, under the Regional Forest Agreement ("RFA"), reductions to the "Allowable Cut" (as set out in the Meagher Committee report) have been constrained by the requirements of existing contracts.

History suggests that at the time when the Allowable Cut will be re-considered, there will be pressure from industry to maintain the level of over-harvest for a further period. The government of the day will be tempted to allow this to occur, justifying the decision as a short term measure to assist the industry.

This Report is a response to an observable change in community attitudes towards forests during the last 20 years. This public interest in natural environments has led to a greater recognition of the non-economic value of forests and an increasing level of scrutiny of forest activities. Nowhere is this concern more evident than in information the Committee received about levels of waste from logging. Contractual commitments require 80% of the timber to be supplied as first grade. The majority of the Committee agreed that this bias confirms and explains the experience of the general public that extensive areas of jarrah forest are cut, the best timber removed, whilst large quantities of cut logs are left on site unused and eventually burnt.

Both conservationists and industry groups have accepted the necessity of shifting their thinking on biological resources away from a maximum yield approach towards ecologically sustainable yield. The conceptual differences between sustainable yield and ESFM must be overcome. This should give rise to a new set of relationships between conservationists and industry as they both argue for long term preservation of forests from different paradigms.

The Committee listened to the message from many witnesses that the whole issue of forest management, the future of the timber industry and the South-west is at a critical juncture. As a result of its investigations, the Committee has been confronted by very serious issues regarding the conflicts of interest inherent in the structure of CALM; its performance in achieving sustainable logging practice; and the evasion of accountability which has marked its corporate approach. Not only was the Allowable Cut for jarrah sawlogs set at an unsustainable level in 1993 because of the pressure of precipitous resource commitments, but also the Committee found, on the basis of the evidence provided by CALM, that the contracts for jarrah sawlogs since 1994 have exceeded that Allowable Cut. The Committee had great difficulty in determining this finding due to a lack of transparency in the information.

By driving its own agenda of self funded state corporatism, CALM has effectively made the hard task of resolving forest policy conflicts nearly impossible. The majority of the Committee agreed that CALM’s rhetoric that it extols the virtues of ESFM has been found wanting, particularly for example, in implementing Ministerial Conditions attached to Forest Management Plans and in risking exposing the salt risk zones of the Northern and Central jarrah forest to further environmental degradation.

The Committee has also cast a critical eye over CALM’s various roles in forest management, noting serious conflicts of interest between functions and responsibilities. Some credible witnesses did not perceive CALM being both conservator and regulator to be a problem, but the Committee believes that such a situation makes it inherently difficult for CALM to achieve objective decisions about forest management. Contemporary models of excellence in government advise against the combination of operational and regulatory functions in the one agency. The inevitable consequence of CALM performing both its operational and regulatory functions means that CALM is less accountable and responsible for its actions. The Committee believes that part of the solution is to separate these functions.

The majority of the Committee agreed that throughout the course of this inquiry, the Committee has been made aware of a culture of mistrust between CALM and the general public. There is a perceived lack of consultation between CALM and various community groups. Many submissions reflected a frustration with CALM that it had not consulted or had not fulfilled an obligation to consult. This, strictly speaking, is a mistaken perception because CALM has no statutory obligation to consult with any community sectors on an ongoing basis. Once a Forest Management Plan has been approved, there is no further impediment to CALM harvesting timber and entering into contracts to sell forest products as it sees fit. CALM’s consultation from that point is purely voluntary. The Committee has made suggestions to improve the relationship between CALM and community groups.
      1.2 Recommendations

Recommendation 1: That future proposals for Forest Management Plans be prepared by a body independent from the operator of forestry, with input from the operator of forestry and other groups as appropriate.

Recommendation 2: That the process for conversion from weight to volume measurement of timber should be made transparent and accountable.

Recommendation 3: That an alternative resource allocation system which is both more equitable and less wasteful be investigated and implemented as soon as is practicable.

Recommendation 4: That a key criteria on which contracts or licences are allocated be on the basis of improved saw mill utilisation of lower grade logs and higher recovery rates.

Recommendation 5: That the allocation system improve access for small scale users of forest products.

Recommendation 6: That the silvicultural objective of logging practices should be to maintain a sustainable yield of quality sawlogs.

Recommendation 7: That the use of gross bole volume measurement not be allowed to substitute for log quality indicators which are consistent over time.

Recommendation 8: That where issues of serious or irreversible harm to the environment in situations of scientific uncertainty arise, forest managers should apply the Precautionary Principle.

Recommendation 9: That the government continue to conduct trials and research as appropriate into estimating sustainable jarrah and karri yields, to inform the findings of the proposed State Expert Panel which will determine the long-term Allowable Cut for inclusion in future Forest Management Plans.

Recommendation 10: That the proposed State Expert Panel’s terms of reference and organisational arrangements should be such as to deliver a clearly independent, scientifically credible and transparent outcome.

Recommendation 11: That the proposed State Expert Panel’s terms of reference and organisational arrangements be made public.

Recommendation 12: That the objectives of the model used to determine the long term sustainable yield should incorporate the principles of ecologically sustainable forest management.

Recommendation 13: That management changes be required to implement ecologically sustainable forest management before non declining yields are calculated.

Recommendation 14: That the Conservation and Land Management Act 1984 (WA) be amended to require forest management to be conducted on ecologically sustainable forest management principles.

Recommendation 15: That a representative range of baseline indicators as set out in the Montreal Process be established and incorporated in the regulation of forest management in Western Australia.

Recommendation 16: That an inquiry be conducted into the economic and social impacts of phasing out clearfelling of native forests, within sufficient time so as to allow for consideration of phasing out clearfelling in the new Forest Management Plan.

Recommendation 17: That the Minister adopt the recommendations of the Environmental Protection Authority in regard to the establishment of an independent Forest Systems Research Advisory Committee.

Recommendation 18: That CALM’s scientific literature be publicly available and subject to peer review.

Recommendation 19: That the Codd Report recommendations be fully implemented.

Recommendation 20: That the Executive Director of CALM apply Ministerial Conditions and Policy.

Recommendation 21: That the Forest Management Plan and Ministerial Conditions be varied to set clear parameters about areas of harvestable forest and silvicultural prescriptions.

Recommendation 22: That a system of pre-logging fauna assessment be established as a matter of priority.

Recommendation 23: That in order to restore public confidence in the integrity of forest management, the government should remove CALM’s current conflicting interests of conservation and resource utilisation; and bind CALM to Ministerial Conditions and management plans imposed on either it or its subcontractors.

Recommendation 24: That CALM’s regulatory functions be separated from its operational function.

Recommendation 25: That CALM’s officers be excluded from membership positions on the National Parks and Nature Conservation Authority and the Lands and Forest Commission.

Recommendation 26: That an independent auditor for the forest industry be established and effectively resourced.

Recommendation 27: That the government adopt a licensing system for the extraction of forest resources.

Recommendation 28: That the Wildlife Conservation Act 1950 be amended or replaced with legislation which binds CALM in respect of fauna.

Recommendation 29: That such legislation provide for reasonable exemptions to allow for the extraction of forest resources.

Recommendation 30: That any system of exemption from having to adhere to the Wildlife Conservation Act 1950 be tabled in Parliament for the purposes of scrutiny.

Recommendation 31: That the government urgently review the Conservation and Land Management Act 1984 (WA) to provide regulation of forest management under the control of the responsible Minister, and that the process of forest management be independent of involvement in the sale of forest products.

Recommendation 32: That there be a separate Minister for Conservation from the Minister responsible for the extraction of forest resources.

Recommendation 33: That advisory documents prepared by statutory bodies under the Conservation and Land Management Act 1984 (WA) for the purpose of advising the Minister be subject to a general requirement of publication.

Recommendation 34: That ways should be investigated to improve local consultation and participation in forest management in forthcoming amendments to the Conservation and Land Management Act 1984 (WA).

Recommendation 35: That forest management and planning take into account Aboriginal sites of significance, and enhance Aboriginal employment opportunities by considering Aboriginal conservation and land management skills and knowledge.

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