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Monday, 8 April, 2002, 21:41 GMT 22:41 UK
Tasmania's forests 'at growing risk'
Forest   1999 EyeWire, Inc.
Tasmania's land clearance rates rival those of developing countries

Conservationists have accused the timber industry of squandering the biological wealth of Tasmania's forests.

They say that land clearance rates across Australia are as high as those in poor tropical countries.

Outside nature reserves, the campaigners say, logging is not sustainably managed. And they fear for the survival of some of the unique species still found in the island's forests.

Their fears are reported in a film, Paper Tiger, made by the Television Trust for the Environment (TVE) and shown in the Trust's Earth Report series on BBC World.

Click here to read the Broadcasting Standards Commission ruling on this story.

Long gone

The pace of timber felling for woodchip in Tasmania has doubled over the last ten years.

 Click here to watch BBC World and its report on Tasmania's forests.

For some of the island's wildlife it is already too late. The last Tasmanian tiger, a wolf-like marsupial, died in a zoo in 1936.

Tasmanian tiger   TVE
Tasmanian tiger: Extinct for 66 years
Conservationists say their battle now is to make sure that other species do not go the same way.

They believe they have managed to protect the giant velvet worm, which likes damp habitats and rotting timber.

Defined as "a kind of in-between, neither worm nor insect", the worm has remained unchanged for hundreds of millions of years.

Its last refuge is tiny patches of forest in northern Tasmania, and a recent legal ruling has saved it.

Booming market

But concern remains over another unique species, the burrowing crayfish, found only in one small pocket of forest.

Velvet worm   TVE
The velvet worm survives in Tasmania
The Wilderness Society believes the tallest flowering tree in the world, the towering eucalyptus, may also survive in the forests, though many have already been logged.

Tasmania exports more woodchips than the rest of Australia, but the state forestry agency, Forestry Tasmania, says its policy is sustainable. The exports have doubled since 1997.

It says it is providing essential jobs in Australia's poorest state, with its workers observing a voluntary code to protect the environment.

Burrowing crayfish   TVE
Burrowing crayfish: Under threat
But last year there was only one prosecution for breaking the regulations, and the Earth Report crew say they found logged areas where the code had been completely flouted.

The forestry agency says cleared forest will grow back if left to its own devices.

But Paper Tiger says much of the cleared area is firebombed and then poisoned with a chemical, known as 1080, "banned virtually everywhere else in the world", to be turned into eucalyptus plantations.

Forests 'ignored'

The campaigners say Forestry Tasmania puts down carrots dipped in the poison, and wild creatures that eat them die agonising deaths.

The state government points out that 40% of Tasmania is protected already - more than eight times as much as Switzerland, it says.

But the conservationists say only a third of the protected area is forested, and 87% of the unprotected forest has been logged.

See also:

01 Apr 02 | Science/Nature
09 Feb 01 | Asia-Pacific
14 Feb 00 | Asia-Pacific
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