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Tuesday, Feb. 15, 2005

Japan firms taken to task over Tasmania logging

Staff writer

KYOTO -- Despite promises from Japanese corporations to halt logging in Tasmania's ancient forests, destruction of giant eucalyptus trees and one of the world's most unique ecosystems continues, a member of the Australian Green Party warned Sunday.

Bob Brown, a senator since 1996 and one of Australia's most well-known environmental activists, has been fighting to stop the logging of Tasmania's giant eucalyptus trees, which can soar to more than 90 meters in height and are often more than 18 meters in diameter.

The trees, in Tasmania's Styx Valley, protect a diverse ecosystem on the forest floor, including many rare and endangered plants and animals.

Scientists estimate there could be hundreds of undiscovered species living in the forest, while the more romantically inclined wonder if the Tasmanian tiger, supposedly extinct since 1936, might still be lurking in remote areas of the valley.

"Each year, 5 million tons of Tasmanian forest are logged and turned into wood chips that are sold to paper mills in Japan, South Korea and China," Brown said. Only trees more than 85 meters tall are protected.

Mitsubishi Paper Mills Ltd., Oji Paper Co., and Nippon Paper Industries Co. purchase nearly 90 percent of that amount from Gunns Ltd., the Australian company that does the actual logging. There is currently a suit, in which Brown is involved, against Gunns to halt the logging.

Last year, in a letter to international environmental nongovernmental organizations, Mitsubishi Paper promised to stop buying Tasmanian wood chips. Brown, however, said that promise has yet to be carried out.

Brown wrote to all three firms in mid-January, seeking a meeting this week in Tokyo.

In their written replies, Nippon Paper President Takahiko Miyoshi and Oji Paper public relations manger Masayuki Yada turned him down, saying that due to the current lawsuit against Gunns, it would not be appropriate to meet.

A letter from Minoru Akita, general manager of Mitsubishi Paper's environmental and social responsibility office, also said a meeting would be declined because of the lawsuit, although he requested that Brown keep the firm updated by mail of any materials he thought they would be interested in.

"Logging is incredibly wasteful. Figures from the Australian government show that as little as 4 percent of Tasmania's public forests actually end up as sawn timber," Brown said. "The entire ecosystem is being destroyed for the benefit of a few Japanese companies."

Various government and media-sponsored polls show that 70 percent to 80 percent of Australians oppose the logging.

International pressure on the three Japanese companies to halt their purchases is meanwhile growing.

Since 2002, more than 100,000 e-mail messages have been sent to the three companies urging them to cease logging, in response to an international campaign organized by entities that include Greenpeace, according to the environmental watchdog.

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