Forests on pri­vate land a cli­mate fix

Tim Payne says Tas­ma­nian forests can store car­bon and help stop cli­mate change

Mercury (Hobart) - - TALKING POINT - Tim Payne was a sheep farmer on the East Coast and held a teach­ing role in a ru­ral district high school.

DIS­MISS­ING the im­pact of global warm­ing on fu­ture gen­er­a­tions is akin to par­ents deny­ing their chil­dren dis­ease vac­ci­na­tions but on an astro­nom­i­cal scale.

Tas­ma­ni­ans can­not alone solve global warm­ing, but we can ac­knowl­edge shared re­spon­si­bil­ity and take ac­tions that model con­struc­tive ex­am­ples for oth­ers to fol­low.

Many peo­ple fer­vently be­lieve the har­vest­ing of trees from na­tive forests has played a dev­as­tat­ing part, and have sought to­tal preser­va­tion of all na­tive veg­e­ta­tion to re­duce at­mo­spheric car­bon, with a view to re­duc­ing global warm­ing. They have suc­ceeded in this preser­va­tion to the ex­tent the Aus­tralian Bureau of Agri­cul­tural and Re­source Eco­nom­ics and Sciences re­ported in 2018 the net area avail­able for har­vest­ing of Aus­tralia’s mul­ti­ple-use public na­tive forests is 14 per cent of that to­tal for­est area.

Mod­el­ling re­veals this pol­icy is counter-pro­duc­tive. In non-com­mer­cial forests, where trees reach ma­tu­rity, the car­bon stor­age ca­pac­ity of the young trees is matched by a de­cline of stor­age within older trees, and by the re­lease of car­bon from rot­ting trees.

Re­search shows max­i­mum car­bon re­ten­tion de­pends not just on the ex­is­tence of for­est but on the age and vi­tal­ity of trees in it. The fun­da­men­tal prin­ci­ple of sus­tain­able man­age­ment that Tas­ma­ni­ans must un­der­stand and act on is that har­vest­ing ma­ture trees al­lows younger ones to max­imise the for­est’s car­bon re­ten­tion.

The se­lec­tive har­vest­ing un­der care­ful su­per­vi­sion would yield a re­turn that would dis­cour­age farm­ers from seek­ing to con­vert what they re­gard as the worth­less 40ha of for­est an­nu­ally that is now per­mis­si­ble.

But in terms of lock­ing up car­bon, the har­vest­ing of ma­ture trees in Aus­tralian na­tive forests is just one ad­van­tage. When that tim­ber is put to long-term use, the car­bon re­tain­ing value is sub­stan­tially raised. Firstly, tim­ber used in struc­tures and fur­ni­ture locks up the car­bon within it in­def­i­nitely.

Sec­ondly, us­ing tim­ber means that the need for plas­tic, steel, or alu­minium is avoided, and the car­bon emis­sions from their pro­duc­tion is saved.

Farm­ers will gain from tim­ber sales, which is im­por­tant be­cause th­ese forests are re­garded a li­a­bil­ity. If forested ar­eas were to have value in fu­ture, fire pro­tec­tion would fea­ture sig­nif­i­cantly in farm op­er­a­tions. With­out that, the wild­fires of to­day are just a hint of what must in­evitably come.

What must hap­pen? Nationally, some ac­tion has been taken. Land own­ers can re­ceive car­bon cred­its to es­tab­lish plan­ta­tions, pro­vid­ing value along with the prof­its from the sale of the tim­ber. But plan­ta­tions cover less than 2 per cent of the Aus­tralian land un­der nat­u­ral for­est, which means this is lit­tle more than to­kenism.

To have a worth­while im­pact, pri­vate for­est in Tas­ma­nia must be as­sessed by pro­fes­sional foresters where the own­ers ac­cept stew­ard­ship re­spon­si­bil­i­ties, and re­ceive car­bon cred­its in re­turn as do plan­ta­tion own­ers.

How can this hap­pen?

Politi­cians must play a lead role by re­spond­ing to the ad­vice re­searchers have pub­lished to en­sure Tas­ma­ni­ans are guided by sci­ence and not sen­ti­ment, and those politi­cians must con­fer nationally to re­quire large emit­ting com­pa­nies to sus­tain and im­prove car­bon se­ques­tra­tion by min­imis­ing emis­sions and en­sur­ing they pay car­bon cred­its.

Farm­ers must com­mit to the role as stew­ards, and man­age their forests’ com­mer­cial and car­bon re­ten­tion val­ues.

Ur­ban dwellers must shoul­der most blame for global warm­ing in Tas­ma­nia. We pro­duce more car­bon than ru­ral ar­eas could ever match, and much of what we ex­port is pro­cessed in ways that adds to global warm­ing. We are liv­ing be­yond our at­mo­spheric means.

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