Ethical Traveler

New hope for Australia’s old-growth forests

Earth Island News

In October 2004, Ethical Traveler launched a letter-writing campaign to protect endangered old-growth forests in Tasmania, Australia. Recent elections in Australia have led to pledges of government protection for some of these ancient forests. However, delays are causing concern among conservationists, who urge supporters to continue pressing the Australian government to implement its promises.

Giant Eucalyptus Regnans in Styx Valley, Tasmania. Scheduled for clear cutting and cable logging in 2025. Geoff Law/The Wilderness Society Photo.
Giant Eucalyptus Regnans in Styx Valley, Tasmania. Scheduled for clear cutting and
cable logging in 2005. Geoff Law/The Wilderness Society Photo.

Australia has some of the world’s tallest hardwood forests, with trees reaching nearly 300 feet. The state of Tasmania hosts Australia’‘s greatest tract of temperate rainforest. The forests are home to rare and threatened species such as the wedge-tailed eagle and the giant freshwater crayfish. New roads, logging, burning, and poisoning are destroying these natural assets.

Tasmania is the site of some of Australia’’s most voracious logging. About 50,000 acres of native forest are clearcut and burned each year. Much of this destruction is subsidized by Australian taxpayers.

Logging is destroying significant areas of Tasmania’’s forests and driving some species toward local extinction. Pressure from the Australian public has helped to protect some Tasmanian old-growth forests, but more than 500,000 acres still face destruction. Environmental groups have proposed a number of new conservation areas to protect these forests.

Ethical Traveler launched its old-growth protection campaign in partnership with The Wilderness Society, an organization dedicated to protecting, promoting, and restoring wilderness across Australia. Tourism is an important part of the region’s economic base. Reports show tourism to Tasmania growing 30 percent in the last fiscal year. Tourism-based employment grew as well. The partner groups view their joint environmentalist-traveler campaign as a logical next step in protecting these extraordinary forests.

The campaigns seem to be making a difference. Old-growth forests were one of the top environmental issues in Australia’s recent national elections. A few weeks before election day, The Australian called the election a “forests showdown.”

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“In the dying days of the election, the government swung towards the Timber Industry – despite old-growth forests winning the forests referendum in Tasmania,” said the Wilderness Society’s Tasmanian Campaign Coordinator Geoff Law. “While the outcome fell far short of expectations, industry pressure is being placed on Prime Minister John Howard to back away from his promise to protect a further 170,000 hectares of old-growth forests.… We are expecting a decision by the end of the year.”

To a certain extent, the new Australian government seems to be moving to protect the endangered forests. Since the campaign, re-elected Prime Minister John Howard has agreed to save large areas of old-growth. The plan, though delayed, is to be implemented in coming months. Environmentalists will be watching. Ethical Traveler’s Executive Director Jeff Greenwald emphasizes that “Ethical Traveler, along with our partners, will continue to monitor this situation to ensure that the Australian government holds to its promises.”

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