Sustained unsustainability? An evaluation of evidence for a history of overcutting in the jarrah forests of Western Australia and its consequences for fauna conservation
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In 1996, Government directives began a transition to conform logging in Western Australia's State forests to principles of ecologically sustainable forest management (ESFM). To place this in a historical context, we reviewed the history of the logging of jarrah Eucalyptus marginata forests to determine whether the volume of timber extracted and the main forest management practices employed was consistent with components of ESFM. While quantitative assessment proved difficult, usually the timber cut considerably exceeded the estimated annual increment of forested lands. Overcutting often distressed professionals, who strove to regulate logging despite social, political and economic pressures. Furthermore, despite recent major reductions in permissible timber cut, areas of productive State forest have declined after conversion to alternative vestings. Thus it is important to prevent overcutting continuing in the remaining production forests.Too few data exist on the health or condition of forest ecosystems before logging to document subtle impacts. However, overcutting has interacted with broad-scale threatening processes in their impacts on forest fauna. These changes are all associated with reluctance to invoke effective adaptive management in association with the precautionary principle. The historical survey suggests that ESFM cannot be achieved without a socio-political will to assert long-term sustainable practice in the face of short-term goals. This could be achieved in the current preparation of a new forest management plan for Western Australia.
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