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ABC reports on illegal logging misleading and irresponsible says VicForests

Thomson Dam

VicForests has again been forced to defend itself over allegations that it is conducting illegal logging and putting Melbourne’s water catchment at risk. The ABC reported yesterday on alleged illegal logging in Melbourne’s Thomson dam catchment. Source: Timberbiz

The ABC yesterday also reported claims that Victoria’s Office of the Conservation Regulator is failing to keep the logging industry in line.

The ABC reported similar claims in April.

The ABC in the April report relied on a report authored by two academics from the Fenner School at the Australian National University (ANU). The ANU report refers to research undertaken in 2019 within the Upper Goulburn catchment area. The Upper Goulburn is not within Melbourne’s water catchment area.

The OCR investigated the matters alleged within the ANU report and determined that no systemic and widespread breaches of slope prescriptions had taken place and that there was no evidence of impact on water supply protection area values.

When the ABC asked the OCR about the latest allegation, its chief conservation regulator Kate Gavens said the regulator had conducted inspections in the Thomson catchment last October and found operations were “compliant”.

VicForests described this week’s ABC story as “false, irresponsible and absurd”.

VicForests says that the Office of the Conservation Regulator inspected the operation in question in October 2020 and did not report any significant issues with management of slope.

“There are very small areas identified that exceed 30 degrees of the coupe however, the combined total of the small patches is within the previously accepted tolerance that applied at the time,” VicForests said in a statement.

“A range of protections, including all buffers, were put in place in this coupe to protect water quality.  The total area that exceeded 30 degrees in this coupe equals 1 hectare out of a catchment of 156,000 hectares.  That is, 0.0006%.  Suggestions that this could have any impact on water in the catchment have no basis and are scientifically and mathematically absurd.”

After receiving updated guidance from the regulator last year, VicForests no longer applies the 10% flexibility for any catchment areas. VicForests has since implemented a more detailed slope model using granular LiDAR modelling to guide planning of timber harvesting operations.

VicForests puts in a place a range of protections in its harvesting operations to protect water quality. This includes several planning controls, such as stream buffers, pursuant to rigorous regulatory requirements.

VicForests says that all timber harvesting and regeneration operations must be conducted in line with Victoria’s strict environmental regulations and the State’s Forest Management Zoning scheme.

VicForests said it welcomed scrutiny of its operations, but that continued misleading reports on this issue by the ABC on this matter was irresponsible and had the potential to cause community concern without any reasonable foundation.