Global protests mount over Tasmanian forest felling

Posted: 6 March 2006

Demonstrators picketed Australian embassies and consulates in America, Canada, Japan and the United Kingdom today to protest against the destruction of old-growth forests in the country's island state of Tasmania by Forestry Tasmania and Gunns, Ltd., a billion-dollar logging giant whose practices rank among the world's worst according to recent reports. The IUCN compares Gunns' operations to rampant illegal logging in the Third World.

Tasmanian forest destruction protest. Photo: Mike Wells/treesnotgunns.org
Tasmanian forest destruction protest. Photo: Mike Wells/treesnotgunns.org
Protesters demonstrate outside the Australian Embassasy in London against the destruction of the Tasmania's virgin forests by the lumber company Gunns.© Mike Wells
Demonstrators delivered a letter signed by leading international sustainability groups to Prime Minister John Howard demanding that the government act in accordance with scientific recommendations to protect Tasmania's virgin forests from a well-documented arsenal of logging tactics deployed by Gunns and industry-controlled Forestry Tasmania. In the wake of massive clearcuts by Gunns, the industry routinely scorches the Earth with Napalm firebombs to eradicate all remaining life.

The Rainforest Alliance Network says that Gunns has also killed hundreds of thousands of native mammals using carrots poisoned with Compound 1080, a lethal super-toxin listed as a biological weapon by both the Canadian and US governments. Gunns CEO John Gay has publicly stated that it his company kills endangered animals because "there's too many of them."

Clearcutting of Tasmanian forest. Photo: treesnotgunns.org
Clearcutting of Tasmanian forest. Photo: treesnotgunns.org
Massive clearcutting of Tasmania's virgin forests leaves the landscape barren and scorched.© www.treesnotgunns.org
Tasmania's forests are currently being clear-cut at an unprecedented rate equivalent to approximately 44 football fields per day. The vast majority of Tasmania's ancient trees are being processed into woodchips by Gunns to make disposable paper products destined for landfills in America and Asia.

Scientific support

The worldwide call for action today echoed a dozen of Australia's leading scientists who signed a 2004 statement of support for the protection of Tasmania's forests calling for the "urgent need for Australian government intervention." The effort to protect Tasmania's forests is one of the largest environmental issues in Australian history, and according to a 2004 opinion poll by Newspoll, over 85 per cent of Australian citizens favour full protection for Tasmania's pristine forests.

Carrying signs reading "Stop Gunns" and "Save Tassie's Trees," the demonstraters protested with "GUNNS" taped over the mouths in solidarity with 20 silenced citizens in Australia who are currently being sued by Gunns for speaking out against the company's activities.

Likened to McDonald's "McLibel" lawsuit, websites like Gunns20.org and McGunns.com are part of of a global grassroots movement 'to protect free speech, reassert democracy and save old-growth forests'the organisers say. The Gunns 20 lawsuit has also been condemned by leading human rights lawyers in the UK. For the Tasmania Forest Campaign, Rainforest Action Network and its allies today launched TreesNotGunns.org to organize future worldwide action.

NGO letter

In London today, British MP and Deputy Environmental Minister Norman Baker met with the Deputy High Commissioner of Australia to deliver the NGO letter and spoke about the atrocities he witnessed on his visit to Tasmania last month. Over 100 members of the British Parliament recently signed a motion condemning Gunns' actions and calling for an international boycott of woodchips and paper sourced from Tasmania's old-growth forests.

The global protest comes just days before a March 9th hearing when lawyers will argue for the Gunns 20 case to be thrown out of court for a third time and two weeks before a March 18 Tasmanian election when an record Green vote may force the current government into a minority coalition or from office altogether.

According to the US National Cancer Institute, Tasmania-marketed to tourists as "The Island of Rejuvenation" has some of the highest overall cancer incidence rates in the world. According to a report by the University of Tasmania and the Tasmania Department of Health and Human Services, the age-standardized incidence of all cancers combined - excluding non-melanocytic skin cancers - increased 37.6 per cent in Tasmania during the 23-year period from 1978 to 2000.

In a recent letter to the Tasmanian Times, local farmer Paul de Burgh-Day wrote, "I came to live in Tasmania with my family largely because I believed the 'Clean and Green' marketing image. We have been here long enough now to realize that this is, sadly, no more than illusion...I have no doubt that Tasmania and its people could thrive if it set about becoming what the slogan implies."

Global coalition

Led by the Rainforst Alliance, the worldwide day of protest expands one of the largest environmental protection campaigns in Australian history to global economic centres including Houston, London, Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco, Tokyo, Vancouver and Washington, D.C.

The letter to Prime Minister Howard was signed by coalition of US and European-based groups including Forest Ethics (ForestEthics.org), Friends of the Earth International (FOE.org), Global Exchange (GlobalExchange.org), Global Response (GlobalResponse.org), International Forum on Globalization (IFG.org), Native Forest Network (NativeForest.org), Pacific Environment (PacificEnvironment.org), Rainforest Action Network (RAN.org), Ruckus Society (Ruckus.org) and the Sierra Club (SierraClub.org).

Gunns' record

With annual revenue of over $700 million in 2005, Gunns is the largest logging company in Australia, where it holds a virtual monopoly in Tasmania. Gunns operations have resulted in convictions and fines for breaching the Forest Practices Code and causing major environmental damage to a Tasman Peninsula waterway.

Napalm burns started by Forestry Tasmania and Gunns have incinerated areas of national parks, World Heritage sites and private land, and are intense enough to create massive mushroom clouds typically associated only with atomic weapons. Under the legal protection of special exemptions from national and state laws granted by the government's Regional Forest Agreement, Gunns has routinely ordered the destruction of pristine areas identified for permanent protection by the United Nations World Heritage Bureau. Under current Tasmanian law, the company is not required to file environmental impact statements.

The revolving door between Gunns and the government includes former Tasmanian Premier Robin Gray who currently sits on the company's board of directors. Gunns collusion with Forestry Tasmania has essentially eliminated citizen oversight and has led to a breakdown of democracy in the state. Despite being Tasmania's largest landowner, less the 15 per cent of the company's record profits stay in Australia's poorest state. Gunns largest customers are Japanese paper companies Nippon, Oji, and Daio and major recipients from products of its old-growth woodchips with US markets include Fuji-Xerox, Ricoh and Canon.

Compound 1080

Compound 1080 (sodium monofluoroacetate), a super-toxin with no known antidote, was first developed by Nazi military chemists for biological warfare during World War II. The FBI and Air Force as well as the Canadian Security Intelligence Service have publicly listed Compound 1080 as a chemical agent terrorists could use to poison water supplies. A new CIA report includes photographic evidence that Compound 1080 was recently recovered by coalition forces in Iraq. Because of its danger to humans, Compound 1080 has been banned in Brazil since 1982. One teaspoon of the tasteless, odorless white power is enough to kill 100 people.

"Gunns operations are more like chemical warfare than logging," said Brant Olson, director of the Old Growth Campaign at Rainforest Action Network. "The world is witnessing a total breakdown of democracy in Tasmania resulting in the wholesale destruction of the island state's priceless primordial forests.

"Despite tens of thousands of Australians taking to the street in protest and polls showing that a vast majority favour full protection, the government still continues to support and subsidize Gunns wholesale conversion of Tasmania's life giving natural forests into deadly toxic tree farms."

David Lee, a campaigner with the Tasmanian Forest Campaign at Rainforest Action Network said, "Tasmania's world-class trees like the giant Eucalyptus-the tallest hardwoods in the world-are up there with the Great Barrier Reef and the Galapagos Islands and worth far more to humanity as forests than woodchips. Gunns is trashing a global treasure in Tasmania to make disposable paper products and turning paradise into a toxic Hell on Earth in the process."

For more information on the Tasmania Forest Campaign, visit: www.TreesNotGunns.org