Conservationist Miranda Gibson has spent weeks sitting 60 meters above the ground, at the top of a tree in the middle of Tasmania’s south-western wilderness. Miranda made the commitment to remain on her tree-top platform until the area of forest receives the protection that was promised by State and Federal governments in August 2011.
The Tasmanian Forest Inter-Governmental Agreement (IGA) was signed after over a year-and-a-half of negotiations between forestry industry, unions and environment groups. The negotiations were aimed at transforming the forest industry in Tasmania in order to create a sustainable future for communities and the environment.
In August 2011 Prime Minister Julia Gillard and Tasmanian Premier Lara Giddings put their signatures to the IGA, which promised an “immediate conservation agreement” would be placed over 430,000 hectares of native forest in Tasmania. The protection would last until a verification process had been completed to confirm the conservation values of the area, then the process would begin to secure formal reserve status. However, the so-called “forest peace deal” has failed to bring peace to the forests. Logging has continued regardless of the agreement. Three weeks ago, logging began in the contentious forest area at the base of Mount Mueller in the South West of the state.
Conservation group Still Wild Still Threatened responded with a new high tech approach, placing a platform at the top of a tree and equipping it with solar panel, computer, camera and internet access. The project, known as “The Observer Tree” is quite literally keeping an eye on this section of forest and has helped draw attention to the issue, generating media coverage not only in Tasmania, but internationally as well.
Miranda Gibson, author of Flora and Fauna Guide to the Upper Florentine Valley, has been involved a program to survey wildlife in threatened forests. Through this program, Still Wild Still Threatened have been monitoring the forests of Mount Mueller for the past six months, finding evidence of endangered species including Tasmanian devils, spotted tail quolls and white goshawks. The group set up hidden remote sensor cameras in the forest, as a non-invasive form of monitoring. The cameras have captured footage of several healthy Tasmanian devils.
On the 12th of December 2011, the day before logging began in the area, a devil was seen on camera carrying food in it’s mouth. Colette Harmsen, a veterinarian with a special interest in Tasmanian wildlife, who has worked with devils for the past 5 years, said this indicates that the devil is a mother taking food to pups in the den.
The Observer Tree project continues to track wildlife populations in the area and footage of animals seen on the remote sensor cameras is uploaded to the website regularly.
“It is important to track data of healthy devil populations in these forests,” said Ms Harmsen. “Unfortunately, forestry operations are exempt from endangered species legislation set out in the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act (1999). This means that despite the Tasmanian devil being listed as endangered in the EPBC Act and the Tasmanian Threatened Species Protection Act (1995) so that it is now considered wholly protected, logging is still occurring in areas where devils are denning. There is no doubt that infant devils die in dens, as they are buried during logging operations.”
Miranda ascended The Observer Tree on December 14th. One year since the original Statement of Principles was signed, promising a moratorium on 572,000 hectares of forest, which is now looking hollow. This time Miranda has made a commitment to ensure that any forest lost will not go unnoticed by the rest of the world.
“While logging operations occur in this area they will be watched not only by me, but by the whole world as I stream images live over the internet” Miranda explained. “Julia Gillard can no longer hide the truth of what her broken promise really means. The destruction of pristine native forest usually takes place out of public view, however this project will expose these practices to the people of Australia and the international community.”
From her tree-top perch Miranda has been updating an online blog daily, giving talks at community forums over the internet, speaking to the public at market stalls through Skype, and taking part in press conferences via phone link-up.
“These forests here were recommended by the World Heritage Committee and the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) in 2008 to be included in the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area. They are of world-class value. And as we have documented, provide crucial habitat for endangered and threatened species,” Ms Gibson said. “Julia Gillard has made a promise to protect these forests. Now she is allowing them to be irreparably damaged, in order to feed timber to Malaysian company Ta Ann. This company has a horrendous track record of human rights abuses and environmental destruction internationally,” added Ms Gibson.
Still Wild Still Threatened have been inspired by the recent announcement by UK company International Plywood that their contract for timber from Ta Ann has been suspended and will not be resumed unless the company changes it’s environmentally destructive practices.
“This announcement is encouraging and it shows the concern of the global community for protecting the last remaining areas of old growth forest around the world. The Observer Tree project is aiming put pressure on the Australian government and companies like Ta Ann in order to bring about the protection that was promised through the IGA, for these unique world class forests,” said Ms Gibson.
Only time will tell how long Miranda will end up staying on the tree top platform, and how the government will respond to the exposure of this apparent breach of the IGA. In the meantime, you can keep up to date on Miranda’s tree top experiences through her blog at www.observertree.org