FORMER New South Wales Premier, Bob Carr, obviously has no idea when it comes to the history and ecology of river red gum forests in south western NSW. His misguided comments in The Land one week ago (“Forests or fenceposts”, July 30, pg 19) reflect the prejudices of someone born and breed in Sydney and trained as a journalist before becoming a career Labor politician, and more recently a handsomely paid roving representative for Macquarie Bank.
Mr Carr may have a deep knowledge of US political history, but he clearly doesn’t understand the history of the forests in his own land – Australia.
He wrote last week that if logging continues in the river red gum forests along the Murray the old trees will be all gone in 10 years and we will be left with only straggly regrowth. This is simply untrue. Almost all the old trees were logged out over 100 years ago, what is now growing along the river is regrowth and the timber industry that remains is selective in not taking the biggest and oldest trees.
What the red gum forests really need is a good drink, and thinning out, not Bob Carr’s idea of help.
During the late 1800s, large quantities of timber were cut to build and operate river boats, for gold mines and for rail sleepers. The extent of the logging, including along the entire river frontage to a distance of approximately three kilometres from the river bank, resulted in concern that the forest would be entirely cut out. So a conservation effort began based on the concept of multiple-use: that the forests be tended and encouraged to regrow for sustainable timber harvesting as well as conservation values.
Significant quantities of timber continued to be harvested from the remaining forests until twenty years ago and, of course, the trees re-grew along the river bank. And all this happened despite changed flow regimes, beginning with the construction of the Hume Dam in the 1930s.
But by the late 1980s the political balance had shifted almost completely from looking after the forests for their timber, as well as conservation value, to seeing them mainly as wildlife habitat. Large areas were listed as national parks and Ramsar sites because of their value as ‘wetlands of international importance’.
The push to lock up more forest as national park continued during the 1990s. In 2003 The Wentworth Group of Concerned Scientists, led by the late Peter Cullen, claimed that the forests needed to be protected because vast numbers of ancient red gums were dying along the entire length of the Murray River because of drought.
Clearly there were many stressed trees and there still are, but declaring more area national park is not going to make it rain.
The best way to protect these forests, particularly during drought, is through controlled thinning and getting more water into them, including through overbank pumping – both important management practices that armchair greenies like Bob Carr continue to oppose.
The picture shows two boys on a jet-ski on the Murray River and red gums just upstream of Koondrook, Central Murray Valley, in November 2007. Photograph taken by Jennifer Marohasy.
Jennifer Marohasy writes a fortnightly column for The Land newspaper. This article is republished from The Land of Thursday, August 6, entitled “Gumming up the works”.