Burning debate fires up over forest felling

What’s in a name? This column has asked itself that very question many times in the past couple of weeks. The answer would seem to be “plenty” if it’s anything to do with forests, clearing and incendiary methodologies.

In last month’s column I wrote that Gunns Ltd did not use napalm to clear felled forests. Soon after the February issue hit the streets, my inbox filled up more quickly than it does on a Monday morning with jokes from my cousin. But instead of aeronautical engineer gags, these were from green groups. With links to videos of helicopters dropping stuff onto cleared forests. And those forests are burning. Search YouTube with “napalm Tasmania” to see for yourself.

According to green spokespeople, when Gunns has said it doesn’t use napalm, it’s just playing with words.

On its website, Gunns says its “harvesting process seeks to… emulate the effect of fires that would normally shorten the ‘natural’ life span of a particular forest. In the case of dense forests growing in wetter climates, this often means clear-felling – emulating the hot, destructive fire which such forests are prone to in summer.”

So to get things straight, I went to Gunns and asked: what do you use on clear felled forests? Oddly enough, I was told that the best person to speak to the media was the chief executive’s PA. And she wasn’t in. At the time of going to press, there was still no comment from Gunns. Perhaps she was doing PA stuff instead.

Paul Oosting, a campaigner from The Wilderness Society, said I wasn’t the first to make the mistake about napalm being used on ancient Tasmania forests.

He claims Gunns has admitted to using “liquefied petroleum”, which confuses the issue. A French telly crew recently visited the region, he said, and got Forestry Tasmania to take them up in a helicopter to film another chopper dropping napalm on a clear-felled forest.

According to The World Book Encyclo-paedia, napalm is “jellied gasoline”. The Macquarie Dictionary has it as “a mixture of oleic, naphthenic and coconut fatty acids, mixed with petrol it forms a sticky gel”.

Frank Strie, president of the Timber Workers For Forests Inc, told me Gunns and Forestry Tasmania have “ignored and dismissed anyone [who does] not conform with their destructive approach to forestry”. He too alleged napalm use.

Environment Tasmania director Phill Pullinger said using “napalm – or liquefied petroleum – is standard practise in clear-fell logging activities of native forests in Tasmania, and occurs annually in expansive areas across the state”.

So if it walks like a duck, and talks like a duck, is it napalm?

Just like my inbox, forums on ProPrint’s website also sparked up a napalm-fuelled fire after the column was posted online.

Salamander245 said: “‘Liquefied diesel gel’ is commonly used to destroy the ruins of Tasmania’s forests after the logs are removed. This is commonly called napalm in Tasmania.”

I’d love to know your thoughts on this issue, so why not go to www.proprint.com.au and voice your opinion. Ongoing debate is vital for a healthy, vibrant Australian printing industry.

Samantha Schelling is a writer and editor, with a long-held interest in the environment and sustainability.

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