Major change prompts protection of thousands of Aussie trees: 'Biggest win in a decade'

The tiny addition to the policy has wide reaching impact on Tasmania's precious state's forests.

Australia has one of the highest deforestation rates in the world, and footage of massive trees being felled and trucked out of Tasmanian forests have made international headlines. But a simple stroke of a pen by bureaucrats in one state could lead to thousands of hectares of forest becoming protected from loggers.

Formerly trees higher than 85 metres or with a volume of 280 cubic metres could not be felled in Tasmania. But in February, state owned logging agency Sustainable Timber Australia (STT) quietly made a tiny change to its policy, and added trees that are wider than 4 metres.

After it became aware of the update, conservation group Wilderness Society issued a statement on Wednesday, calling the decision “probably the biggest win that we have had for forests in the last decade" in Tasmania.

Background - a logging coup in Tasmania with a felled tree in the foreground. Inset - the document showing the policy change.
Trees wider than 4m in diameter at breast height on the uphill side will be protected by the new policy. Source: STT/Wilderness Society

RELATED: Shock discovery after photographing rare swift parrots in remote forest

STT’s general manager of conservation Suzette Weeding told Yahoo the decision was simply made as part of its “standard review process”.

“For more than 20 years, Sustainable Timber Tasmania’s Giant Tree Policy has been in place to protect live giant trees in Tasmania’s public production forests,” she said. “Sustainable Timber Tasmania actively searches for live giant trees in areas of forest planned for harvest. All giant trees identified during these searches of harvest areas are protected and not cut down.”

Reads 'What on Earth? Australia is the only developed nation identified as a “deforestation front” by WWF with a collage of a truck, foliage and wood.
Discover more of our environment coverage.

Conservationist's cautious message after tree protection change

STT confirmed that the policy change is a voluntary policy aimed to protect giant trees in Tasmania’s public production forests. So although it has been celebrated, the Wilderness Society cautioned that surveys will be required of all logging coups by conservationists to ensure Giant Trees are actually protected.

"As the Giant Tree Policy is an internal policy, there are no accountability mechanisms available to the forestry regulator, the Forest Practices Authority,” campaigner Alice Hardinge said.

“We need to see Forestry Tasmania really walk the talk if this change is going to actually protect the forest Giants. In a dual climate and biodiversity crisis, paying lip service to protecting native forest is not going to be enough.”

Love Australia's weird and wonderful environment? Get our new newsletter showcasing the week’s best stories.