Bandethra caves by Aidan Watters
Forests add value to our lives in so many ways.
They clean our air and water, promote rain formation and protect soils from salinity and erosion.
They are a source of a rich variety of foods, especially for indigenous peoples, as well as bioactive compounds for modern medicines, including plants whose potential medicinal and nutritional value is yet to be determined.
They have multiple health benefits, with some studies showing that spending time in a forest lowers blood pressure, cortisol levels and feelings of stress.
Importantly, they provide indispensable carbon storage – vital in helping to combat climate change, the biggest global health threat this century.
With so many benefits, protecting our public forests is a no brainer.
However, for the past 20 years, Regional Forest Agreements that were introduced in Victoria, New South Wales, Tasmania and Western Australia to conserve Australia’s forests while permitting logging have failed to deliver.
Initially, RFAs were set up to be reviewed every five years, but the failure to implement this has seen the loss of forests and sustainable jobs for forestry workers.
The NSW government has also proposed new logging laws called Integrated Forestry Operations Approvals.
These would be a disaster as previously protected areas will be logged, animal habitats destroyed and even more impacts to biodiversity.
With the NSW government asking for feedback on these laws and RFAs in most states due to end shortly, we now have the opportunity to shift from destructive logging practices to conservation.
Individuals have the opportunity to enter submissions to government that demand both forests and biodiversity have improved preservation.
If more people make submissions and support forest protection, local members of parliament and government will be pressured to act.
Encouraging statewide campaigns can also help.
The National Parks Association’s “Forests For All” proposal has created an alliance of regional communities, doctors, environment, business and outdoor recreation groups who support the sustainable management of forests across the country.
Not only do campaigns like this help protect forests but they also increase public access to recreation, nature-based tourism, therapeutic opportunities and education therefore, ensuring regional communities thrive.
Meanwhile, maintaining healthy forests will be vital in our bid to reduce the impacts of climate change over the next century.
With so many benefits arising from our forests, protecting them is a win for all.
First published in The Examiner on 1 July 2018
Dr John Van Der Kallen is a rheumatologist and member of Doctors for the Environment Australia.