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Up Swift Creek without a paddle

Driving through the towering forests of Tasmania’s South East late last year, Dejan Stojanovic, an ANU researcher at the forefront of Swift Parrot conservation for a decade, approached Tyler’s Hill, a remote spot south of Dover, where he’d been monitoring breeding Swifties for the past ten years. What he saw when he got there made his heart sink. In the depths of this old-growth eucalypt forest—prime habitat for feeding and nesting parrots—was a scene of utter devastation. All but a single tree had been felled, standing like a lonely sentinel among the ruin.

“We told them [Forestry Tasmania] that there was habitat there, we told them there were breeding birds, but when we do it doesn’t matter. They just say, ‘We protected the tree where the GPS signal was.’ I’m glad that they’ve protected one tree, but what about the rest of the forest? The evidence of the failure of policy and legislation is that the forest got smashed. It was a literal forest of nest trees. In contrast, they view the protection of one tree as a win,” Dejan says. “Is the only way to protect these trees to GPS mark every single one in Tasmania? In the absence of a strategic approach from government, regulators and industry it’s devolved into a tree-by-tree argument.”

That this habitat destruction can continue, when the Swift Parrot has fewer than 1,000 pairs left in the wild and is predicted to go extinct in the next 14 years, is stark evidence of the failure of our environment laws.

Regional Forestry Agreements, the 20-year plans between state and federal governments that allow for native timber harvesting, are exempt from national environment protection law—an inexcusable loophole that could sanction the extinction of this Critically Endangered bird. Even worse, the Tasmanian agreement was re-signed in August last year, with no amendments, and with no consideration for the decades of scientific research that show how and when Swift Parrots use the forests. Dejan says the governments’ failure to take this into account is tantamount to a death sentence.

“Swift Parrots are now one of the best-studied threatened species in Australia,” says Dejan. “Our knowledge is now so great that it is an active choice to ignore the science and our advice and accept that Swift Parrots are done for.”

What frustrates Dejan is the hyper-politicisation of the innocent birds as part of Tasmania’s long-running ‘forestry wars’. “There is a way through—what we’re talking about isn’t hard. It’s about protecting seed and nest trees throughout the birds’ range—but not every stick. And it’s in the interest of the forest industry that they protect Swift Parrots so that they can gain FSC certification [Forestry Stewardship Certification, an international standard of sustainable forestry practices]. It’s good for business and it’s not a left-wing conspiracy; their product will be worth more. But we need political will, we need calm, we need rational discussion, we need to figure out a way to do it better, and soon.”


Photo: Swift Parrot by Andrew Silcocks