Forestry venture will 'destroy wildlife'

Buyers of the Main Camp tea tree plantation south of Casino have denied tea tree industry claims that their hardwood forestry venture will ruin the environment.

The 4,800 hectare property comprises grazing land, forest, wetlands, a large dam and a tea tree plantation. The buyers, Great Southern Plantations, plan to plough in the tea tree plantation and plant eucalyptus trees on 2,000 hectares of land for pulp and paper production.

According to Christopher Dean, founder of TP Health and chairman of the Australian Tea Tree Industry Associations technical and safety committee, the loss of the plantation will be a major blow to the tea tree industry and to biodiversity.

This land has extraordinary wildlife including breeding pairs of rare Jabiru storks, he said. Over 75 per cent of the last remaining Great Eastern Emus have thrived on Main Camp under the enlightened policy of sustainable biodiversity that has been practiced there.

Mr Dean has asked Environment Minister Bob Debus to intervene in the sale so the land can be bought and preserved by American philanthropist and tea tree investor Frank Vandersloot.

Mr Vandersloot is believed to have made an offer for Main Camp equivalent to that of Great Southern Plantations, who have also bought the property next door.

Mr Dean said Great Southern Plantations were using helicopters on the adjoining property to spray it with herbicide in a blitzkrieg total chemical assault.

Habitat is being destroyed, he said. Food for wildlife is killed. At Main Camp, the dam and wetlands will be filled in and planted with trees.

However, while Great Southern Plantation spokesman David Ikin admitted that helicopters had been used on the adjoining property to spray a heavy weed burden, he denied it was a blitzkrieg approach.

We will be planting around 2,000 hectares of former tea tree and pasture to hardwood, Mr Ikin said. The rest bushland, wetlands and a 35 hectare dam will be preserved. We regard the dam as a great asset. Nothing will be changed in terms of the wildlife.

Mr Ikin said the eucalyptus trees would be harvested after 10 years by cutting them off at the stump (coppicing) and the strongest re-growth shoots would form the next harvest in another 10 years.

This is a long-term sustainable industry for woodchips to be exported for pulp and paper. It is vastly preferable to grow a plantation forest than to harvest old growth forests, he said. We will use local contractors and well be buying the two million seedlings needed from local suppliers. The plantation will create long term employment opportunities.

However, Mr Dean maintained the plantation will deal a severe blow to the industry and the environment.

This is an environmental catastrophe, and an irreplaceable loss to the tea tree industry that could force purchasers to seek oil outside Australia and destroy a great agricultural heritage, Mr Dean said.

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