Category Archives: Politics

Forestry is the issue that dare not speak its name


This is an excellent article in The Guardian yesterday about the Tasmanian State election campaign. Compared to the last election in 2014, forestry has been completely off the agenda by all parties in 2018. The elephant in the room waiting to reek havoc on the Tasmanian community once more.

We are on track to waste even more $100 millions of taxpayer dollars over the next Government term on the bankrupt forest industry, because of our failed political system.

Well worth reading!


Heartwood: The art and science of growing trees for conservation and profit


Fellow forester Rowan Reid recently wrote this book which has been getting a lot of media coverage. I thought I’d write a review.

Rowan is passionate about trees and farm forestry. And like me he’s pretty critical of the policies and practices of State and Federal Governments and the forest industry. As such Heartwood says very little about past and current industry and Government policies and practices to thwart or encourage farm forestry.

In one respect I can see why he has avoided discussing the current Government, industry and market context. Rowan obviously wants to keep the book positive. The problem is when it comes time to sell your cherished sawlogs you have to deal with that context, and it’s often not a positive experience.

One of the first things I do with a new book is look at the contents page to get an overview of the books structure.

Here’s the Contents page from Heartwood:


With Heartwood that didn’t work. I quickly discovered there was content not shown in the Contents page. So I’ve made a list of the other Contents:

Quartersawn, backwsawn and shrinkage 34
The components of a tree trunk 52
Basic tree felling 53
How to grow tall trees 70
How much space does a tree need to grow? 88
Geotropic and phototropic growth in trees 108
Attracting wildlife to your farm 124
Measuring moisture content and wood density 144
Wood density and tree age 145
Reaction wood: tension wood and compression wood 162
Hardwood sawing patterns for a horizontal bandsaw 178
Tree foliage for supplementary fodder 200
Pruning trees for sawlogs 220
Durability of timber 240
Growing shitake mushrooms on logs 258
Shelterbelt design 276
How to plant a tree 294

Heartwood contains a wealth of information and knowledge about trees and farm forestry written in a personal and engaging style. Rowan’s view of farm forestry extends beyond commercial wood production (although that is clearly his main focus, as you can see from the other Contents page). His vision is to reintegrate trees back into the rural landscape to achieve multiple benefits.

If you want a head start in how to grow these trees this is a good place to begin.

The question remains – what are the commercial risks associated with planting these species? After all, the book’s title does include the word PROFIT!

And here’s where I start to have problems with the book.

How do we start a conversation in Australia about profitable tree growing?

Certainly Governments and the forest industry take great efforts in avoiding discussing profitable tree growing. To them it is anathema. Such discussion would inevitably put the spotlight on the failings of public native forestry, and they are at pains to avoid that.

Heartwood avoids any serious discussion about end uses, markets, costs and prices, so it’s hard to see where the profits come from. There’s also no discussion about laws and regulations pertaining to farm forestry. Rowan’s desire to avoid the current “context” and remain positive starts to feel awkward.

Some of the species in the book are quality appearance-grade timber species. In theory they are high value. Appearance grade timbers in Australia have historically either been imported or have come from public native forests. With public native forestry in Australia traditionally run as a community service rather than a business, proper commercial markets for quality timber have never developed.

One example of weak/non-existent markets is the steady stream of phone calls I get from people who have stashes of Australian Red Cedar timber hidden in back sheds for decades. They now want to sell, but can’t find buyers. At the time these sheds full of Red Cedar were seen as a guaranteed investment. But after 100 years the market for Red Cedar has moved on leaving these “stranded assets”.

And yet there are people today planting and growing Red Cedar hoping to revive this long dormant market. Will they succeed?

Heartwood is full of optimism and hope. The forest industry has a long history of unrealised optimism.

Most of the appearance grade species in Heartwood would be destined for the furniture, flooring and cabinetry markets (office and shop fit-outs, etc.); or for the export market. The Australian furniture industry is well aware that it faces a looming timber supply crisis as evident in this recent media article:

But the furniture industry has no plans to address this crisis besides appeals to Governments. The furniture industry could be supporting and encouraging private tree growers, but so far there is no evidence of this.

Rowan has been working hard for decades promoting farm forestry in Australia but governments, industry, markets and farmer groups have pretty much ignored his efforts.

Heartwood will fundamentally change the way people think about the future of forestry and in doing so it will encourage more landholders to grow more trees for the benefit of their land and all that depend on it.

I’m not sure that statement is true because most of the change/reform that is needed has to happen in the marketplace and with Government policy as much as with landowners.

I see no indication that the marketplace or Governments understand what reform is needed to realise Rowan’s dream; his Third Wave!

By all means get yourself a copy of Heartwood. It is an enjoyable read.

The book is as relevant to furniture and cabinet makers as it is to farmers/landowners. Maybe a few policy makers and forest industry leaders could learn a thing or two.

Thanks Rowan!

Standing Tall?


What can you say about Tasmania farmers trying to grow trees for profit in what must be one of the most hostile marketplaces in the world for growing trees.

Why hostile? Tasmania is equivalent to the forest industry Middle East – a political/commercial/social war zone for the past 35 years with no peace in sight.

Are they deluded? Are they brave? Are they profitable?

They are certainly dedicated and passionate.

These farmers need to be wearing full body armour.

The ABC rural program Landline recently did a segment of farm forestry in Tasmania.

As demand for timber outstrips local supply, the CSIRO is encouraging Tasmanian farmers and private landowners to join the agroforestry sector.

Even that one promotion sentence by the ABC is enough to make me despair.

Here’s a news story the ABC did about the Landline feature:

It’s not a story I find very encouraging. In fact if I was a farmer reading this I’d be having a quiet laugh over my coffee.

As a forester I’ve been reading stories like these for the past 40 years whilst watching the forest industry march to oblivion. It’s the same old story, which hasn’t changed in 40 years. Obviously the story doesn’t work. Why?

One of the problems for these farmers is that they have no power in the political, social or commercial marketplace. They have no voice. No one represents their interests.

Notionally the Tasmanian Farmers and Graziers Association (TFGA) is supposed to represent the interests of farm forestry, but they do nothing. Why? Because doing something means standing up to the politicians and a sycophantic industry.

The TFGA can’t even create a farm forestry vision for the future. Not a single policy.

So farmers like Graham and Roger are in No Man’s Land, caught between warring parties.

The ONLY basis for a successful forest industry is profitable tree growers, with minimal political and community conflict.

Tasmania is a very long way from that objective.

Has one act changed our course forever?


Kevin Lyons (Tasmanian deputy premier 1969 – 1972)

This excellent short article in last Saturdays Mercury (5/8/2017) newspaper provides interesting background to how first the Hydro and then the forest industry became willing participants in the environmental wars that have dominated Tasmanian politics for the past 45 years.

The alleged bribing of a State MP and the bringing down of an elected Government provided the spark that went on to become first the dam wars (1970-1983) and then the forestry wars/crisis (1983-present).

The arrival of a party (the United Tasmania Group that went on to become the Greens) focused on the environment was a double-edged sword. It delivered victories for the natural world, and attracted support from disaffected Labor and Liberal voters.

However, without a mandate to govern, the presence of the Greens has helped marginalise the environment as a party-political issue rather than as a matter that should be front and centre of all human endeavour.

Anti-Green sentiment is now a factor in the voting patterns of a cohort of Tasmanians large enough to deliver power to whichever major party is prepared to harvest the negativity.

It is a vicious cycle. Divisions in our community are amplified by major parties competing for the anti-Green vote. Governing parties incite this conflict to maintain power. We have seen it all the way through from premiers such as Reece to Robin Gray and Paul Lennon, with overt displays of aggression and ridicule to green ideas in a bid to firm their voter base.

The forest industry is not mentioned specifically but any Tasmanian knows immediately what the author is talking about. Up until 2011 the forest industry was a more-than-willing participant in these high-stakes political games.

But the only winners in political games are the politicians. Everyone else loses!

And so many Tasmanians still believe the political rhetoric as if it was gospel. Finger pointing has become a Tasmanian obsession.

A vicious and destructive cycle indeed!

Recommended reading.

Special Timbers Welfare State


A mere 7 years after the last special species management plan was produced by Forestry Tasmania in 2010 comes another attempt at failed forest policy in Tasmania.

This new Plan will open up 420,000 ha of pristine public native rainforest and oldgrowth for taxpayer funded plundering by the special timbers industry. This includes 225,000 ha of rainforest and oldgrowth in conservation reserves.

The Plan is essentially a help-yourself DIY approach to public forest management, with an Open Season on the last of Tasmania’s rainforest and oldgrowth.

After the Executive Summary the Plan begins by trying to tell us how important the special timbers industry is; total industry employment, total value, etc.

It’s like the Government telling us that Centrelink is a commercial business not welfare.

The Tasmanian Government believes in Welfare State Forestry, even whilst in competition with private tree growers! So profitability, good commercial management and responsible forest management are out the door.

This draft Plan is not a business plan.

This draft special timbers management plan begins with the premise that Tasmania’s last remaining oldgrowth and rainforests exist to be plundered…….at taxpayers expense……for the exclusive benefit of a handful of local woodworkers!

This draft special timbers management plan does not begin with the premise that Tasmania’s premium timbers should be sold into competitive open markets to help fund schools, roads and hospitals.

Nor does the Plan even consider whether these forests are more valuable left untouched.

In 2010 the special timbers industry was formally admitted into Tasmania’s Welfare State. This new draft management plan now takes that Welfare State to a whole new level of plunder, waste and welfare.

The only basis for a successful forest industry is profitable tree growing.

This Plan represents the exact opposite. It’s a disaster for current and potential private blackwood growers.

The draft Plan is open for submissions until 9am Monday 28 August 2017. Submissions can be sent directly to the Department of State Growth by emailing:

The Plan will become law once it is signed and gazetted by the Minister.

It can’t be “fixed”!


This excellent article in today’s Mercury newspaper succinctly captures the pain suffering and the high cost to Tasmania of the failures of the last 35 years.

But I certainly don’t agree with the authors final note that the political system can somehow find a solution to the problem.

The one fundamental lesson of the last 35 years is that Tasmania’s political system cannot solve the forestry crisis.

Whilst we continue to log public native forest there will always be politics, conflict, corruption and waste.

That is the fundamental lesson.

This is true not just in Tasmania, which provides the most extreme case, but in all Australian States where public native forest is logged.

Putting our hopes in the political system again, when all indications are that the forthcoming State election will be a bitter and divisive contest with forestry once more a major issue, is sheer lunacy; a classic example of Einstein’s definition of insanity.

No political party (Liberal, Labor or Greens) has a plan to resolve Tasmania’s forestry crisis.

It is time to stop the endless madness.

It is time for the Tasmanian community to speak.

Insanity …


Here’s an excellent article by economist Graeme Wells on the failures and incredible waste of past and present Government forest policy in Tasmania. It makes for sober reading.

Unfortunately Tasmania’s political system only exacerbates the problem.

When will Tasmania get a fully commercial, profitable forest industry?