Australia // Tasmania //

The environmental debate

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Tasmania’s recent history has been shaped not by the postwar industrialization and immigration that transformed the mainland but by a battle over natural resources. Forests and water, and the mountainous terrain and fast-flowing rivers meant that forestry and hydroelectricity schemes began early here, under the auspices of the Hydro Electricity Commission (HEC). The flooding of Lake Pedder in 1972 led to the formation of the Wilderness Society, a conservation organization whose successful Franklin Blockade in 1982 saved one of Tasmania’s last wild rivers. Bitter controversy over the best balance between conservation and exploitation of natural resources has long polarized the state’s population between “greenies” and “traditionalists”, the former infuriated that major political parties allow the clear-felling of old-growth forests (followed by incineration of the remnants with napalm). Most wood ends up as woodchips for export to Asian paper manufacturers; Tasmania is the only state in Australia that woodchips its rainforests. After thirty years of fighting, a breakthrough came in December 2010 when an interim moratorium on logging of high-conservation areas such as the Styx Valley, the nearby Weld and Upper Florentine valleys and the Blue Tier was announced, while a deal to phase out logging of native old-growth forest was negotiated. Possible compensation for the forestry industry remains an issue, but the move is widely seen as the first step towards ending logging of native forest throughout Australia.

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