Walpole woman claims win for forest fighters

Shannon SmiithAlbany Advertiser
Forests For Life campaign director Jess Beckerling.
Camera IconForests For Life campaign director Jess Beckerling.

A Walpole woman has claimed a victory for a group of protesters committed to saving part of the Lewin Forest from logging.

WA Forest Alliance convener Jess Beckerling said she set up a forest blockade camp south-west of Manjimup after bulldozers moved into the area in June.

Since then, up to 300 people have camped with her, convinced that the area was an “old-growth forest” and should be protected.

Ms Beckerling said that on August 23, she was told the Forest Products Commission was cancelling logging plans. This weekend, the protesters will celebrate the outcome and take down the camp.

But ultimately, Ms Beckerling wants to see the State Government change its definition of old-growth forest.

She said the karri forest should have been protected in 2001 when WA became the first State in Australia to cease old-growth logging.

“If you imagine you are walking through a forest with massive 200-year-old karri and marri trees with nesting hollows for cockatoos and eventually you come across one stump from a logging operation maybe 150 years ago — that one stump disqualifies the two hectares of forest from old growth status when it should have been protected,” she said.

Ms Beckerling said logging operations were halted in the Lewin Forest in 2017, when the WA Government accepted her nomination for old growth assessment.

She said the Government found additional hectares that met their definition, leading to a reprieve.

“Then in June the loggers were back in quite unexpectedly,” Ms Beckerling said.

“We got in there as soon as we could and set up a defence camp.

“It hasn’t been fully protected so we will keep working on that until it is, but for the meantime it seems our message has been heard.”

A group of Forest for Life campaigners.
Camera IconA group of Forest for Life campaigners.

However FPC operations director Gavin Butcher said parts of the “Lewin 05/06 coupe” were available for harvest under the Forest Management Plan, and while there were no immediate plans to start logging, they remained on the harvest schedule.

He said 56 per cent of WA’s 1.9 million hectares of native forest was protected, including all stands of old-growth forest, as defined by the Department of Biodiversity, Conservation and Attractions.

“The total size of the coupe is 244ha and of this only about 32ha of forest is available for harvest,” Mr Butcher said.

“This harvest will predominately supply WA timber mills with high-grade sawlog and peeler billets for laminated veneer lumber.

“In the Lewin 05/06 coupe there are 52.5ha of old-growth identified through surveys which are not part of the approved harvest area.”

A DBCA spokesperson said a 2017 reassessment identified four patches of previously unmapped old-growth forest within the coupe.

The Lewin Forest was harvested during the 1970s, with patches of regrowth regenerated within the gaps created by felling the bigger trees.

Because of the history and intensity of previous harvesting, the area was not initially identified as old-growth forest.

“These patches were therefore excluded from the broader area available for timber harvest,” the spokesperson said.

Ms Beckerling said she founded Forests For Life to advocate for a transition to sustainably managed farm forestry and plantations.

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