Forest files: ecologist at loggerheads with industry

In a dedicated drawer in his office at the Australian National University, David Lindenmayer has an "avalanche of hate mail" filed away.

It's a reminder of just how personal the attacks have been over his 41 year career.

"I've received many, many hundreds of nasty emails, pretty ordinary phone calls, I've had assault threats in the forest," he told AAP.

At home he keeps a private number, while for years the professor in forest ecology avoided talking about his work when in the field.

"I was mindful that a lot of people are threatened by what I was doing and a lot of people weren't happy with the scientific results."

Professor David Lindenmayer
David Lindenmayer's opposition to the logging of native forest has ruffled feathers.

He's among the most highly cited scientists in the world after more than four decades of forest research.

And after concluding logging makes native forests more prone to fire, he's also an opponent of native logging in Australia.

"It's no longer sustainable," he said.

A low point came in 2021, when a former private investigator rang and told him he'd been recruited by VicForests to "spy on him".

"I thought VicForests was supposed to be an agency responsible for managing forests, not basically acting as an arm of ASIO - I was stunned."

Victoria's information commissioner later found that, in 2010 or 2011, VicForests hired a private investigator to conduct covert surveillance on two environmentalists and a university professor – to gain information to discredit them.

VicForests rejected the findings.

Far from dampening his passion, Professor Lindenmayer says his love of the environment is stronger now than ever.

And he has written a book exploring 37 "myths" around native forest logging.

The Forest Wars: The Ugly Truth About What's Happening In Our Tall Forests, says Australia has become a deforestation hotspot.

Logging in Australia, which is the responsibility of the states, remains a highly contested space and Prof Lindenmayer's research has put him at loggerheads with the industry.

Michelle Freeman, who heads up Forestry Australia, insists "appropriate, regulated harvesting of native forests followed by regeneration is compatible with conservation efforts".

"There is no universally accepted evidence that ending native forest harvesting in Australia will provide biodiversity protection, reduce catastrophic bushfire risk or ensure our forests are more resilient to impacts from climate change," Dr Freeman, who holds a double degree in Science and Forestry, said.

The Victorian government ended native timber harvesting in January 2024, with VicForests to shut down on June 30.

The decision followed a series of costly court actions against the state owned logging company for environmental breaches and multi-million dollar losses.

The West Australian and South Australian industries are now plantation based. 

In Tasmania and NSW, there are no plans to transition out of native forests.

While the hate mail from his critics gathers dust, Prof Lindenmayer said it serves as a record of his work and a reminder to keep going.

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