FOBIF has made a reluctant submission to the current government consultation on forest management. Our reluctance is based on two concerns:
- These consultations increasingly look like popularity polls, along the lines of the Herald Sun’s daily polls on subjects like, ‘Are the young people of today irresponsible?’ In any case, being voluntary, they’re not necessarily a reflection of the community’s views.
- The questions in this consultation are either patronising or they try to force respondents into expressing preferences they may not want to express: for example, they ask respondents to ‘prioritise’ ‘conserving plants and animals’ and ‘providing jobs’. This is the old ‘jobs versus the environment’ hoax, and we don’t accept it.
Nevertheless, we had a go. Here is the substance of our submission. The questions are the ones provided by the consultation, and are in italics:
1 How can we protect and improve our forests for all Victorians?
By properly resourcing forest managers, and having them well advised by good research.
2 What benefits do you want future generations to gain or enjoy from Victoria’s forests?
Victorians should be able to benefit from the role of our forests in catchment protection and water supply; they should also be able to enjoy the beauty and biodiversity of our forests. Governments should vigorously pursue plantation timber, to obviate the need to log our native forests.
3 This question asked respondents to choose from a number of photos and ‘write your vision inspired by it’. It also asked respondents to identify one particular place they valued:
This is a group submission. We do not see one area of our forest land as ‘better’ than the rest. There is no premiership list of forest sites. We are concerned for the health of the whole bushland area of the parks, reserves and state forests of north central Victoria. Nor is it possible to establish a meaningful priority among the options in the question below. Many of the actions listed are absolutely interdependent: to choose one over the other is a cop out. The request to ‘rank in order of priority’ is meaningless.
4 What should our forests be managed for?
This question asked respondents to prioritise in order of importance the actions below:
- Conserving plants and animals
- Maintaining water and catchment health
- Maintaining natural landscapes
- Storing carbon and mitigating climate change impacts
- Protecting Traditional Owner cultural heritage and living values
- Protecting historic places
- Providing opportunities for recreation and other visitor experiences
- Providing jobs and economic benefits from timber and wood products
- Providing jobs and economic benefits from non-timber forest based industries such as tourism and beekeeping
- Providing firewood and other natural resources for communities
- Providing health and wellbeing benefits to communities
We refused to prioritise this list, arguing that it is not possible to establish a meaningful priority among the options. Many of the actions listed are absolutely interdependent: to choose one over the other is a cop out. The request to ‘rank in order of priority’ is meaningless.
5 What are we currently doing well, regarding forest management in Victoria?
Please tick all relevant boxes.
Providing access and facilities for activities you enjoy
Protection of traditional and/or cultural heritage
Protection of our flora and fauna
Emphasis on jobs, income and economic benefits
Managing bushfire risk and/or fuel loads
Maximising opportunities to use the resources our forests produce
Providing Victorian communities with an opportunity to have their say
Being adaptive to a changing environment, climate and major bushfires
We ticked ‘other’ in this question, arguing that DELWP’s performance is uneven: there are strengths and weaknesses in all the above categories. The weaknesses mostly come down to under resourcing, poor research support and ignorant or gormless political direction.
6 What concerns you most about the way we are currently managing our forests?
This question asked repondents to rank the elements below. We refused to do this.
- Insufficient opportunities for Traditional Owners to manage our forests
- Limited access to or facilities for the activities I enjoy
- Inadequate protection of Traditional Owner values
- Inadequate protection of historic places
- Insufficient protection of flora and fauna
- Loss of jobs or income for people
- Inadequate management of bushfire risk
- Victorian communities unable to have a say in how forests are managed
- Forest management not adaptive to climate change or major bushfires
- Limited opportunities for accessing resources our forests produce
Again, we refused to prioritise these categories, arguing that DELWP has an uneven record in all of them: in some it has improved significantly; in others it is hampered by poor staffing and inability or unwillingness to access good science. This question tries to force respondents to make false decisions about priorities: for example, to make us choose between jobs and flora and fauna, or between indigenous values and resource management. It’s DELWP’s job to try to achieve all of these objectives, and to explain its strategies properly to the public. (Interestingly, the recently released State of the Environment report for Victoria gives land management practices a rating of ‘fair’.)
7 What could be done to alleviate your concerns and improve the things you most value about our forests?
Stronger focus on biodiversity conservation
Stronger focus on the health and structure of our forests
Stronger focus on reducing risk of bushfire
Improved protection of ecosystem services
More or different opportunities for people to appreciate and connect with nature
Prioritising traditional, heritage and/or cultural values and activities
More or different opportunities for recreational use and/or tourism activities
More or different opportunities for jobs, income and economic benefits from timber and wood products
More or different opportunities for jobs, income and economic benefits from non-timber forest industries such as tourism and beekeeping
Increased opportunities for Traditional Owners to manage our forests
Improving opportunities to access the natural resources our forests produce such as firewood
Victorian communities having more say regarding forest management
Other (please specify)
Although we are not keen on the present situation regarding resource use and firewood collection in the forests, we ticked all these boxes to try to emphasise the point that it is the Department’s responsibility to find an approach to management which does not pit interest groups against each other.
8 How do you see your role in future forest management?
We would like to work with managers to produce the preferred results, guided by the best scientific knowledge. We would like to repeat that we do not accept the kind of prioritisation enforced in some of the questions above: all have their value, and the idea that some should be sacrificed for the others is thinking on the cheap. The questionnnaires seem designed to invite particular interest groups to push their barrows: this is not real environmental leadership.