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Sustainable Timber Tasmania - Giant Trees

Cassy O'Connor MP  -  Thursday, 1 December 2022

Tags: Native Forest Logging

Ms O'CONNOR - Thank you, Acting Chair. I was interested in what you were saying before about specialty timbers because I remember a trip I took up to the Plenty Valley with Tim Morris a couple of years ago to a coupe that had been logged. There were dozens of celery top trunks sitting there waiting to be burned. So, perhaps before government decides to go into any other reserves looking for rainforest timber species, they might have a look at some of the waste that's left on the forest floor. But I digress.

Minister, during the last Assembly estimates for this GBE, your predecessor claimed:

When giant trees occur in public production forests, STT proactively identifies and reserves them, ensuring they are protected and are not harvested.

Are you able to elaborate on the specifics on how these identified trees are protected?

Mr ELLIS - Ms O'Connor, you are right, the giant trees are managed and protected in Tasmania -

Ms O'CONNOR - I didn't say that.

Mr ELLIS - You and I spoke about this last week.

Ms O'CONNOR - I didn't say they were protected. You've misrepresented me. I did not say they are protected. Don't misrepresent me.

Mr ELLIS - Fair enough.

Ms O'CONNOR - Because there's a number of them that aren't.

Mr ELLIS - You can say whatever you want, Ms O'Connor, but we had a discussion around this in parliament last week. I think I gave a reasonably full account of the way that giant trees are managed by STT. It is, I have to say, a real credit to the way that the organisation does things. I am also aware of the long history that Tasmania and Tasmania's sawmilling families have in terms of protecting giant trees for the future. There's immense cultural value. I'm aware, of course, with your statements last week, Ms O'Connor, of their immense spiritual value too.

Ms O'CONNOR - It's nice to hear you recognise that.

Mr ELLIS - Not a problem. I might pass over to STT to outline how they manage giant trees on the PTPZ because it is an impressive body of work.

Ms O'CONNOR - The specific question is how are they protected?

Mr WHITELEY - They are protected. Having said that, some giant trees were lost in fires in the south, unfortunately. Sometimes there is a misconception about reservation versus management of risk. Clearly, we seek to protect giant trees, unequivocally. Unfortunately, in some circumstances, like an extensive wildfire, some are damaged and lost.

We've got a policy that's been in place. It was developed 15 or 20 years ago now. It's been consistently adopted from that time. Technology has improved, so, that has assisted us. LiDAR has made a huge difference into pre-emptively going out and helping people verify giant trees. We do that through our processes. There's a number of enthusiasts who equally do that and we really value their contribution in identifying specific trees and their location.

Ms O'CONNOR - That's okay, but what we're trying to determine is if there are contractual requirements on STT contractors to undertake identification for giant trees? Or if they come across a giant tree that STT has yet to identify, are they free to log it with no obligation to assess it? We are just trying to understand the mechanics of the policy and the obligations that that does or doesn't place on forestry Tasmania staff or contractors.

Mr ELLIS - Thanks, Ms O'Connor and I'll throw over to the STT team further on contractor arrangement but I echo the sentiment from the CEO. It's important, I think, for the community to understand that active landscape management as practised by STT is really important as part of these operations. As we know, they are one of our key firefighting capabilities, they manage landscape well and actively. That provides the best kind of protection for these trees, broadly. In terms of the contracts, Mr Whiteley?

Mr WHITELEY - Unequivocally, we wish to identify and protect giant trees through any and every means possible. We seek to do that well before a forest practices plan is approved. To the extent that something failed in the system, which I think is very unlikely because of the high level of interest, the other thing we are now including in forest practices plans generally is identification of large trees. These are 2.5 metres in diameter so I think there are failsafes there in terms of the question you have asked about giant trees. It is partly technology, partly general interest, partly awareness of all concerned about the inherent value of giant trees and our policy, strong desire and wish to protect every one of them.

Ms O'CONNOR - Thank you, Mr Whiteley. You would be aware of the work - through you, minister - of the Tree Project, a citizen science project which has a number of actual scientists working on it.

Mr ELLIS - Yes. Have they got peer reviewed yet?

Ms O'CONNOR - It's amazing to hear a plumber by training disrespect a biologist scientist.

Mr ELLIS - And it's amazing to hear the disrespect you have for plumbers. That was a nasty tone in your voice, Ms O'Connor, and I think it speaks to your approach in this debate.

Ms O'CONNOR - You constantly denigrate Dr Sanger. If we do not defend her no-one will. I couldn't care less what you think of me.

We understand, Mr Whiteley, that a representative of the Tree Project has contacted FT five times about the giant trees found in DN007B, the Grove of Giants, and has not had a response. Again, this goes to stakeholder relations but also respect for the science that is being done, even if the minister chooses not to respect it and then wonders why he has disrespect in response. Is it true that FT has not responded to the Tree Project about the giant trees found in this coupe, which is in the Huon Valley's Grove of Giants?

Mr ELLIS - Thanks, Ms O'Connor. I will pass over to STT in a tick, but I think our CEO has indicated that we welcome information coming from the public around sightings of giant trees. Obviously there is significant technology deployed and we spoke about LiDAR before, but the work around giant trees incorporates everyone. If information is available we will look into it. I will pass over to STT to add anything further.

Mr WHITELEY - As far as I am aware, the Tree Project is well known to us and is a registered stakeholder. We understand what the interests are and I think we have communicated with them at multiple levels directly and indirectly. If you have concern that we are not engaging with them, I can -

Ms O'CONNOR - There have been five contacts from the Tree Project about these coupes where they found the giant blue gum, Lathamus Discolor, they called it.

Mr ELLIS - Lathamus Keep - I think Lathamus discolor is the swift parrot.

Ms O'CONNOR - Thank you very much, Lathamus Keep - it is nice to know the minister has been paying attention - which is named in part after the swift parrot, Lathamus discolor. Our understanding is that the Tree Project scientists have been in touch with FT five times about these forests which are slated for logging, I think, in 2023. Can you confirm -

Mr WHITELEY - We do monitor that, so perhaps Suzette has some information about some more granularity around specific contact we have made with this group.

Ms WEEDING - To be specific, we have received quite a bit of information from this group and have acknowledged receipt of that information. We have a number of our officers meeting with both Jennifer Sanger and Steve Pearce, with a proposed meeting for 13 December to further that engagement around those particular trees. In terms of that particular coupe and locality, we have taken on board the information we have received and are looking to go out and assess those trees against our policy, in which case if they are giant trees we will put in place the management actions as per the policy.