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TAS Country : June 14th 2012
14 Tasmanian Country Friday, June 15, 2012 Opinion TFGA Farmers are being skinned alive TFGA matters with Jan Davis STUNTED OUTLOOK: Private forest holders have no say. THE Regional Forests Agreement signed in 1997 recognised there were significant areas with high-value con- servation forest on private land. One of the outcomes of the forest agreement was the introduction of the voluntary CAR reserve system to protect those areas. At the time, independent assessment put the value of those privately owned areas at $300 million. The Government, however, allocated only $50 million to fund acquisitions. While clearly inadequate, this was the only time there has been any actual compensation for the hundreds of millions of dollars of direct income and reduced asset value that private forest owners have suffered as a result of decisions made about the public forest estate that have had inevitable flow-on effects for them. To receive a one-off payment as a CAR reserve, a private forest area had to meet these values: Comprehensive -- covering a full range of different forest communities Adequate -- with areas large enough to sustain, in the long term, the survival of animal and plant populations Representative -- reflecting the diversity of life in the forest. One of our farmers offered a 299ha parcel of mainly forested land in the North-East for inclusion in the CAR scheme but it ultimately was rejected. He subsequently has done an assess- ment based on real costs and historical returns for all land management op- tions for that block. It makes salutary reading. If his parcel of land had been approved as a CAR reserve, he would have received a one-off payment of $61,500. He also would have needed to manage that land in perpetuity for no further return: pay the rates and the mortgage; keep the fences in good order; manage weeds and pests; and institute appropriate fire control measures. In the event, however, he managed the forest for timber production and other farm enterprise activities. Over a 35-year period, he estimates he would have received $2.6 million for the regenerated timber he harvested, income from meat production (cattle grazing and sheltering in forested areas), created 20 man-year jobs and produced sawmill timber and pulp- wood with a processed value of about $13.1 million. Private Forests Tasmania is a statu- tory body that collects a levy of $15 per hectare on private forest areas ap- proved for harvesting under forest practises plans. It recently provided up-to-date data on levy collections and it shows private forest activities have fallen off a cliff in the past two years. In 2008/9, before the current forestry discussions, Private Forests Tasmania levies amounted to $465,831. In 2011/12 it is estimated the levies will be $40,000. The expectation for next year is that this amount will fall even more. This means there will be almost no contribution to farm incomes from forest enterprises. I cite this data because it demon- strates the significant economic cost to farmers (and to the state economy) of depriving private foresters of the ability to manage their own land in an environment of such uncertainty. This is why we have been arguing that, despite what everyone else has been saying, the current intergovern- mental agreement will have a financial impact on private foresters. Yet, these foresters have no seat at the table that seeks to put numbers in proposed state legislation to enact the intergovernmental forestry agreement with the Australian Government. Though the talks are ostensibly about the future use of Tasmania's public forests, any outcome will have profound effects on the market for private forest products from here. To use a Warren Buffett expression, ''it means we have skin in this game''. We have money riding on the decision. Yet we have no say. The State Government and Forestry Tasmania, which also has our money invested in the game, also have no say. Yet those who sit around the peace table largely have no skin in the game, apart from their own jobs. They have received significant amounts of compensation. Is it any wonder then that those sitting outside the tent remain pessi- mistic of an outcome that will be acceptable to anyone other than the players inside the tent? Essentially, farmers and private for- esters are not opposed to an agreement being reached. The theory is sound but the process has been flawed because those with skin at stake have not been heard, and those with no personal investment at stake are playing out the game. We need a lasting peace agreement in our forests because it might enable us all to look to the future, instead of being mired in the past. It also might open the doors for future investment in the industry. There is a chance for a new-look and sustainable forest industry to be estab- lished if agreement can be reached with the major conservation groups who carry weight internationally. Without an agreement, those who would bring the industry completely to its knees will resume their flights to Asia and Europe to kill our markets; the dark greens will continue to oppose opportunities for new products such as biomass and biofuels. I suppose we are always going to have the ratbags on the side, but the major groups can help to marginalise them. The tragedy for the private forest owners is that not only have they lost significant income over recent years as a result of the battles, but they also have had in effect considerable asset value stolen from them with no com- pensation. No other section of the community would have accepted such an outcome. The tragedy for all of us is that this situation is a reflection of the closed- for-business NIMBY attitude that is having such a significant impact on our economy and on the wellbeing of all Tasmanians. The resilience of our farmers, how- ever, is reflected in a comment that the farmer mentioned above made to me recently when we were once again despairing the lack of visionary leader- ship over this situation. In edited version, he said: ''The trees don't know this battle is going on,'' he said. ''They will continue to grow no matter what happens and, in time, perhaps people will come to their senses.'' EASY DOES IT AIT FA H HFI 7 1157/TC T C FAIT FAI A HFI F I I1157 157/TC TC g d g d d F . g, g g d , F g g g . www.fiskars.com
June 7th 2012
June 21st 2012