Swift parrot… feeding on blue gum nectar.

TASMANIA’S forest industry has been operating efficiently and sustainably since a peace deal to ‘cool’ the conflict between the sector and environmentalists was struck in 2012.

After the Liberal government put a symbolic end to the pact in 2014, a new calm descended among forest communities as they went about selectively harvesting certified timber and enjoying the security of hard-earned jobs.

But the tide has turned – again. This time a 25 cm red-faced parrot is opening up a new battleground – and war zone – in the island state.

Former Greens leader Bob Brown says the forestry industry had failed to protect the critically endangered swift parrot, a migratory species that breeds in Tasmania’s old-growth forests.

Sustainable Timber Tasmania has included forest areas used by the parrot in its harvesting plans for the next three years. It will undertake comprehensive planning to inform how it manages habitats.

Meantime, STT is working with the Forest Practices Authority, the Department of Primary Industries, Parks, Water and Environment and species experts to find ways to reduce the potential impact of harvesting operations on the parrot, while retaining the ability to meet legislated and contractual production requirements.

A major step forward in the management of the parrot’s habitat was the acceptance of a Public Authority Management Agreement finalised between STT and the Department of Primary Industries, Parks, Water and Environment.

The PAMA includes the identification and exclusion from production of 10,000 ha of potential swift parrot nesting habitat. In those areas not excluded from production, forest harvesting operations can continue to be planned and implemented in a manner that meets obligations under the forest practices system and Forest Management Act 2014.

STT supports third party certification, both FSC and PEFC (Responsible Wood), as a means of providing confidence to consumers that the forest from which their products are sourced are managed responsibly.

Obtaining FSC certification may potentially enable the government agency to broaden its market for forest products. The 2019 FSC audit report highlighted that STT complies with most of the required criteria of the FSC standard, with a further refinement of three complex issues: the management of swift parrots; greater retention of habitat trees in harvest areas; and better understanding the impact of fire and other disturbances on old growth.

Sustainable Timber Tasmania is taking action to address these issues.

Land management general manager Suzette Weeding says STT is “fully committed to obtaining FSC certification and was not ruling out extending the 10,000 ha protected area”.

A similar issue dogged the forestry industry in the Conondales in the Queensland Sunshine Coast hinterland in the 1980s when environmentalists claimed timber harvesting had decimated the habitat of the gastric-brooding or platypus frog, the only frog to give birth through its mouth.  “The frog has disappeared,” they moaned, but later they cheered as sawmills closed and jobs were lost.

Then, a few years later, before the region was turned into a national park, Rheobatrachus popped up in great numbers. An amphibian research professor on holiday from Finland explained that the “super-sleeper” species hibernates at different times only to return from beneath mud and water a year or so later, using its ability to breathe through its skin to remain out of sight as nature’s Rip Van Winkle. I remember the professor as a little bloke with a goatee who was also an expert on fleas.

Of interest also I am sure, science tells us the genitalia of the male and female frog is housed within their bodies; boy frogs technically have no penis and females have no vagina. Instead, both release their sex cells through holes located in their bodies (for this specific purpose). The amplexus embrace between frogs stimulates the female to release her eggs which she expels in the form of a gelatinous mass. So there you have it – no intercourse, just lots of rubbing (an idea in these Covid-19 times?).

Interestingly, the swift parrot (Lathamus discolour) is a migratory bird that flies out of Tasmania – at great speed (88 km an hour) every year to spend most of the winter mating in southeast Australia, returning to the spring breeding season to feed on the nectar of blue gums (Eucalyptus globulus).

As spring progresses, expect to see many of them as they fly back to the forests in great numbers and at speed to face their major threat – predation by sugar gliders and mortality of adults through collisions with man-made structures such as windows, chain-link fences and wind farms.