Tasmania is grappling with the paradox of saving its environment in the face of massive job losses. While Green activists are fighting for the protection of old growth forests, there are thousands of forestry-related jobs at risk. The ABC  reported the state is projected to lose about $1.4 billion dollar from its wood industry while thousands of people have been thrown out of jobs.

Tasmanians fear economic downturn and joblessness

For a small state such as Tasmania, many people’s livelihoods depend on forestry, agriculture and mining. Tasmania is the sixth and smallest state in Australia, an archipelago of more than 300 islands, 240 kilometres (150 miles) south-east of the mainland.

Green activism has intensified in the region over the last few years in the wake of alleged forest destruction made by Malaysia-owned Ta Ann Group. Civic groups have accused the contractor of exploiting the state’s old-growth forests. The same contractor, they claim, has ravaged the jungle of Borneo in Sarawak.

Penan man standing next to a Shin Yang Timber passing truck loaded with logs (Photo: Greenpeace)

Ta Ann won an award as an emerging exporter in the Tasmanian Export Exports Awards in 2008 only to alert environmentalists of the impending catastrophe wrought on the state’s old growth forests.

Last year, the Huon Valley Environment Centre (HVEC) accused Ta Ann of receiving wood from old growth forests as defined by the Tasmanian Regional Forest Agreement on at least 35 occasions during 2009-2011. HVEC claimed the contractor is processing wood acquired from the logging of old growth forests, high conservation value forests, and forests with recognised world heritage values in Tasmania.

“Ta Ann’s demand for native forest wood and its large wood supply contract is driving logging in some of Tasmania’s most important and contentious forest areas….  Ta Ann’s operations here in Tasmania are far from eco-friendly and must rank amongst the worst logging practices globally…” HVEC claimed.

Activists have campaigned the government to prevent further logging in the disputed conservation area. The Observer Tree launched a vigil early this year to press Prime Minister Julia Gillard to stop the Ta Ann Group from further logging in the last remaining old-growth forests.

An intensified campaign against Ta Ann in Tasmania (Photo:HVEC)

The Observer Tree is one among the guardians of Tasmanian forests along with The Last Stand which have been involved in direct action and campaigns related to nukes, forests, refugees, human rights, whaling and climate change, among other causes. These groups support similar causes advocated by Friends of the Earth, Kanuguba, Rising Tide, Huon Valley Environment Centre, Still Wild Still Threatened, the Greens and the Wilderness Society, GetUp!, Market Watch, and other civic groups.

In 2011, the Gillard Government came up with a plan to protect Tasmania’s forest by signing a pact that covers the protection 570,00 hectares of forest lands. About 430,000 hectares belong to the high degree of conservation while the remaining 143, 000 hectares was allotted to help the state honour its logging contracts. Gillard also signed a $172 package to fund the transition from native forest to plantation forest.

This historic deal, however, did not stop tensions already disrupting the forestry business. Green activists are apprehensive that Ta Ann’s contract will continue to destroy old growth forests.

Tasmanian forests in ruins

Activists have also directly lobbied consumers and clients of Ta Ann to stop buying logs from the company.

While jobs have to go, however, it becomes clearer that the Government has no option but to kowtow importers to buy Tasmania’s logging industry.

Tasmania’s Deputy Premiere Bryan Green has embarked on a $24,000 trade mission to Singapore, China, and Japan over the past week to promote the state as open for business.

Green said the trade mission was not solely focus on the wood industry but an opportunity to forge stronger trade relations with East Asia.

“We have a robust economy which we need to continue to grow and diversify to attract investment and jobs… The Government has faith in the Tasmanian brand and the opportunities that it can provide in sectors like agriculture, renewable energy, mining and forestry, “ the vice premiere’s website noted.

The Last Stand crew, along with the HVEC and Code Green, welcomed the vice premiere back upon his arrival at the airport. They, however ridiculed the trade mission and created a new name for Ta Ann as the huge walking, talking Pinocchio. The crew said the wood products are far from “eco-friendly” contrary to the advertising claims of Ta Ann.

A Green activist is sending a message to Ta Ann's Japanese buyers

In an email loop accessed by Asian Correspondent, the crew said:

“Ta Ann, one of Malaysia’s biggest wood cartels is ripping through the Tasmanian wilderness, sourcing wood that comes from the destruction of high conservation value forests and selling it in Japan as ‘eco-friendly’ plywood.”

The group solidifies its resolve to recruit more supporters to write letters to existing and prospective clients of Ta Ann urging them to stop buying wood sourced out from Tasmania’s old growth forests.