Salvaged Timber?

Salvaged Timber Sign_s

I discovered this small inconspicuous sign in a business I recently visited in Hobart. I found the sign rather curious. Other customers also found the sign curious.

The sign says a great deal about the mixed, confused emotions and morals, and acute sensitivity that surround the special timbers industry in Tasmania.

The business, like many in Tasmania, features Tasmanian timber in the shop fittings.

So is the sign an explanation or an apology?

I’m not sure.

Or perhaps it is a statement of pride.

If so it leaves me confused.

Here’s what I think the sign is saying:

A patch of old growth native forest in North West Tasmania was clearfelled to feed the industrial forestry business model that dominates Tasmania. After the industrial clearfelling operation was completed, a second smaller operation recovered some craftwood from the site including the 400-year-old Myrtle stump. The logging coupe was then burnt and resown to native forest. Or perhaps the coupe was converted to plantation. The harvesting duo (industrial and craft) then moved on to the next old growth forest logging coupe to repeat the cycle of sin and redemption.

Is that what the sign is about? Sin and redemption!

It’s a pretty standard story about the fate of Tasmanian old growth forest.

Most people regard the clearfelling of Tasmanian old growth forest as unacceptable practice in the 21st century.

But somehow the idea of “salvaging” after the industrial clearfelling has finished attracts some crumb of virtue.

Why? Where is the virtue?

For the past 40 years the Tasmanian special timbers industry only existed because it was a minor subset of the industrial forestry business model. It needed the industrial harvesting to continue for its own existence.

But to improve its status and product differentiation from those industrial loggers the special timbers industry adopted the word “salvage”.

“Are’t we good people! We help save all that good special timber that would have been wasted.”

No that’s not quite true now is it?

Yes there has been plenty of waste. That’s to be expected when dealing with a low value commodity. But to call the special timbers craftwood operation a virtuous salvage is specious indeed.

No virtue attached at all.

Just a marketing con.

The old growth forest in North West Tasmania is gone. Where is the virtue in that?

But the market now believes the virtuous salvage story and continues to buy these special timbers.

So perhaps the sign could just as well read:

This timber veneer was harvested from a 400 year old Myrtle stump as part of an old growth forest clearfelling operation. It comes from North West Tasmania. The site was subsequently burnt, cleared and converted to eucalypt pulp plantation.

It would be just as informative and a lot more honest!

By the way what did happen to the 400-year-old Myrtle tree that sat upon the stump? Where did it end up?

A second point is that the word salvage should automatically imply to the reader there is no notion of sustainability. It’s a cleanup operation, that’s all! But in the forest industry you will sometimes see the phrase sustainable salvage being used. I don’t think so. Another marketing con job.

Now is there such a thing as genuine virtuous timber salvage?


The Hydrowood operation on the west coast comes close. Unfortunately it is wrapped up in the wrong marketing spin.

Dead, dying and storm-damaged trees can also be honestly salvaged. They do this under strict Government supervision and competitive tender on Crown Land in New Zealand:

And private property in Tasmania:

But a craftwood harvest that is part of regular industrial old growth forest clearfelling operations does not classify as salvage in my books. And certainly has no virtue!

Finally now that Gunns has gone industrial forestry in our native forests is looking pretty sick. But never mind, the mouse has now become the lion. The (public native forest dependent) special timbers industry now dominates and controls old growth forest policy in Tasmania, with the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area firmly in its sights. It will be wrapped up in a glossy “strategy” and the language of virtue, but don’t be fooled.

Customers need to understand the consequences of their purchase decisions.

Ask for special timbers that are grown on private property. Let’s give Tasmanian farmers the clear message that they can grow and supply the profitable, sustainable special timbers market.

What do you think?

Post your comments.

5 responses to “Salvaged Timber?

  1. …. Offensive comment deleted ….

    • Hello George,
      Reducing your comments down to pure hate mail does nothing at all for your cause.
      All I want is for the forest industry to grow up and become a real commercial industry, that enjoys the full confidence and backing of at least 98% of the community. Is that too much to ask?
      For some it clearly is.
      For myself I generally try and avoid using communication as a weapon to create hatred and anger. Far to much of that in Tasmania already.
      I want to focus on the problems and issues, the opportunities and the rewards.
      I’m not interested in starting fights.
      So kindly desist from your personal vitriol and instead help make the forest industry work.

  2. Maybe Robert Macmillan would like to comment on this?

  3. David Yacopetti

    There are no absolutes in this, as in most other situations. Obviously a sustainably grown and harvested operation, on private land or otherwise, is the ideal.
    But given the option of letting Forestry Tasmania napalm the minor species logs and pieces they have left behind, or rescuing some of that timber and adding value, I know what I’d prefer to see happen. Therein lies the “virtue”, relatively speaking.
    Not mutually exclusive to working and campaigning for sustainable public management and against the industrial model previously/currently employed by Gunns and Forestry Tas.
    I see the dilemma, the risk of supporting the clearfell model by implication, but high moral ground isn’t always as sharp up close as it appears from a distance.
    And I agree – let’s give Tasmanian farmers the clear message that they can grow and supply the profitable, sustainable special timbers market – buy private where you can.

  4. Hi David,
    Thanks for your reply.
    It seems to me to be a very fine line. I can look at it either way.
    I just thought the sign in the shop offered an opportunity to discuss the issue.
    And especially now that the special timbers industry are driving the policy to log the world heritage area at taxpayers expense, whilst we sack teachers and nurses.
    I definitely don’t see a fine line there. Plain black and white in my books.

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