Tasmania: one forest, two camps

In the Weld Valley, large areas of forest have been protected. Environmental activists and the timber industry are in a standoff over extending that reach.

By , Staff photographer

The hills of the Weld Valley in southern Tasmania, Australia, are blanketed with forests. Their value to the economy of the remote region is both in their beauty, which attracts tourists, as well as the raw material that is vital to a timber industry that employs 8,000 people in the state. Passions run high on both sides of the debate about conservation and logging.

Thousands of acres of forests have already been protected as the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area. But environmentalists have identified other sections of forests that they believe should be taken off the chopping block. The activists have made a stand on a new road being constructed into a 4,900 tract of the Weld Valley bordering Southwest National Park, which is part of the World Heritage area.

The blockade of the road is elaborate - and illegal. A tall barricade marks the entrance to Weld Camp, where environmentalists from Australia and overseas have stopped progress on a logging-access road for more than a year. Past the first blockade rises what seems like an apparition - a pirate ship in the forest. The Weld Ark is the second of three roadblocks, and has attracted curious - and skeptical - local residents to the camp, where protesters share their views with them. High in the oldest trees are platforms ready to be occupied by environmentalists to thwart logging.

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The activists have vowed that they will stay as long as it takes to get protection for the area. Authorities have tolerated the blockade but could move to expel the protesters at any time.

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