COMMENT: Better to engage, even if to debate negative

Mention native forest management anywhere in the South East and you’re bound to discover just how divisive an issue it can be.

Even more so in Eden where that divide appears strongly weighted towards the pro-industry camp.

Forestry, fishing and farming have been the mainstays of this region’s economic outlook and employment for generations.

In Eden, conservationists are often looked on with disdain and occasionally outright hatred as if they potentially threaten the welfare of many Eden families and businesses that rely on the timber industry for their livelihoods.

This week, Eden hosted a public drop-in session as well as a number of stakeholder meetings to discuss Regional Forestry Agreements (RFA).

The current agreements are coming to the end of their 20-year life and the state government is looking to the community for input on how to move forward in forest management.

There was talk of protest action by an anti-logging campaign group, while it’s understood conservationist groups boycotted the invitation-only stakeholder meeting.

There was also media sent out referring to the RFA consultation process as “a sham” and “a foregone conclusion”.

Is it better to protest and decry all activity by the timber industry; or engage in meaningful dialogue even if that’s to highlight the negatives?

It was encouraging to see several locals with an environmental bent take Tuesday’s opportunity to engage with the process, joining the stakeholder meetings with representatives from the DPI, EPA, Department of Agriculture and Water Resources, and the Department of Environment and Energy.

There’s little doubt the RFAs have their pros and cons, supporters and detractors.

The timber industry claims to have environmental safeguards as a key priority built into the RFA, but there have also been lapses pursued by the EPA.

As an alternative, some conservationists would have the industry shut down entirely and our forests left alone. But is this really a viable “management” option when considering fire threats for example?

Do our regional fire authorities or National Parks have the expertise and manpower to handle the additional workload?

Given recent “management” changes in those sectors one would have to think not.