Woodchipping in Australia, an environmental disaster, or a major source of economic revenue?

Australia’s native forests have been the scene of a hard fought debate between the woodchip industry and environmentalists; it’s a battle that has proved to be a win-lose situation. On one hand is the forestry industry, and its need to harvest woodchips, for the lifestyle of workers and sustain a liable revenue for the economy, on the other, determined environmentalists hoping to put an end to what they believe is an unsustainable, ruthless industry, for the sake of keeping the environment and it’s creature intact for future generations. This essay will look at the forestry industry and the environmentalists and there contrasting views on the issue of woodchipping and furthermore what the Catholic Church has to say on the issue.

The fiery debate between the forestry workers and those concerned with the environment, really took off in 1995, when the issue was brought up by the government. (The age, 1995, pg 3) reports that a proposal was set forth by the Australian government to expand the woodchip industry by granting two more woodchip licenses to companies, thus meaning that ‘gross export would rise to 6.7 million tonnes a year’�. This was met by strong opposition and criticism from environmentalists and the public alike, “cultivate and care for God’s Creation” (Genesis 2:15).

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This contrasted with the forestry industry which praised the change, saying that the economic future of small towns depends on the decision being made, “Created in the image and likeness of God, we are granted dominion over the rest of Creation (Genesis 1:26-28). With an election approaching and the public opposing the increase in logging, the government had no choice but to drop the proposal in need of the public vote, this angered the timber workers, and as a result many protests were carried out by workers voicing a strong protest claiming the move would cost jobs in the timber industry.

The argument between the two sides still continues, and there is no way of determining which one is right or wrong, without examining each side of the story from not only a scientific approach but also from a catholic teaching point of view.

The Australian timber industry proposes an argument in favour of woodchipping, the industry has mounted strong public campaigns arguing that the woodchip industry is economically important for Australia, earning export income and creating jobs.

The industry claims that most woodchips are the result of waste wood that cannot be used for anything else and creates revenue for the government from a resource that would otherwise be wasted. Also with more development and clearing occurring worldwide, it is expected that the demand for woodchips is to increase, and Australia can be only be assured of taking advantage of the increase if the industry is given ample access to the native forests.

Closing down forest industries would result in enormous disruption to the economy since almost 500 million dollars is made each year through woodchips?.

One of the most concerning problems associated with woodchipping being stopped, is the fact that many woodchip mills are situated in small towns such as in Tasmania and South East N.S.W where a high proportion of the population is associated with the mill, in the form of a worker or the family of the worker and the closing down of the mill will force workers to look elsewhere for work, this may prove to a problem for the worker especially if they have no experience of anything outside of forestry, hence jeopardising the future of the worker and their family, “We must pay more attention to the one who works than to what the worker does. The self-realization of the human person is the measure of what is right and wrong”. (On human work, Donders translation #6).

Many sawmills have been owned and run by families for many generations and if they were to lose this source of income, it would mean the end of a long tradition and may spell the end of a small town that relies on forestry. “The worker must be paid, to support him and his family” (The fortieth year, #71)

The industry also claims that timber harvesting is carefully managed� with streamside vegetation kept in tact to avoid erosion of creeks and rivers, and most harvested areas are regenerated to attract birds and animals back. “To commit oneself to the promotion of a sound and healthy environment for all is to follow God’s plan for creation, a plan entrusted to us from the beginning.” (Sister Marjorie Keenan).

As much as there are people in favour of woodchipping, there is a strong voice against it. The catholic social teaching states that, “The earth is god’s gift and all species have a rightful place in it, Humans share this habitat with other kind and have a special duty to be stewards and trustees of the earth”. Those against woodchipping concern environmentalists and the general public worried about the environment, who don’t want to see large century old trees removed and animals put in danger because of that. God delights in all the creatures of the Earth (Proverbs 8:30-31).

The environmental side make a strong argument stating that some of the most ancient and beautiful forests of Australia are being exploited for woodchips including, the world heritage quality rainforest and old growth of Tasmania, huge mountain ash in Victoria and the very old woodland of eastern N.S.W.

Australian church groups have found the destruction of old growth forests as unethical. Father Paul Collins, a catholic priest, said according to (The age, 1995) that “To totally destroy some of the most extraordinary and most beautiful and unique images of God we have, like old growth forests, is totally unethical and even sinful and we as human beings do not have the right to destroy god’s creation”�. This is a unique argument as it is not from a scientific viewpoint.

According to conservationists woodchipping is not simply a use of waste material and ‘more woodchips are being produced than could possibly be accounted for from waste material’ (Pyers, 1996)�. They argue that a lot of large native forest is being torn down and predominately used for only woodchips; this is considered a terrible waste of timber, because woodchips are worth very little a tonne. “The church has affirmed that misuse of the world’s resources or appropriation of them by a minority of the world’s population betrays the gift of creation since whatever belongs to god belongs to all.” (Economic Justice for all, #34).

Conservationists argue that woodchipping is not a sustainable industry and that chips are low value exports at only $80 a tonne?. The revenue from the felling of publicly-owned timber was far less than the administration costs

Many of the trees that meet the needs of the woodchip industry are usually centuries old, and may have developed hollows splits and rotten centres, which are the characteristics of a perfect habitat for many birds and animals. Timber harvesting reduces water quality and quantity. During rain storms tonnes of earth from logging coupes are washed into streams, causing silitation, which in turn kills many fish and aquatic species. “To commit oneself to the promotion of a sound and healthy environment for all is to follow God’s plan for creation, a plan entrusted to us from the beginning.” (Sister Marjorie Keenan)

In conclusion it is evident that both sides voice a strong opinion for their side of the story, but the churches view aslso has to be taken into consideration. There is enough evidence that the church does support various aspects of both sides of the issues. However the church teachings because the environmentalists make up scientists and importantly the general public as appose to the industry which mostly makes up forestry workers and owners.

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