The Victorian Government has been accused of deliberately delaying the release of timber burned in the catastrophic January bushfires in north-east Victoria and Gippsland. The burnt timber will be saved from going to waste through a grants program funded by the Federal Government and the Victorian State Government. Source: Timberbiz
The $2.5 million Bushfire Recovery Timber Storage Grants, established to support the storage of 125,000 green tonnes of salvage timber, will be available to Victorian timber and forestry businesses which apply for funding to support the storage of the salvaged timber.
The 2019-20 bushfires saw significant damage to softwood plantations and native forests in eastern Victoria, with more than 1.2 million hectares of public native forest estate burnt as well as 6400 hectares of pine plantations in the North East.
But Shadow Minister for Agriculture and for Bushfire Recovery Peter Walsh said that despite calls from industry to release coupes as assessments were finalised through the year, Agriculture Minister Jaclyn Symes has withheld the release of harvestable timber.
He said the government, in announcing the grants, had failed to commit to fast-tracking assessment and approval of the grants, raising questions on whether it will just be another tactic to destroy the industry by stealth.
In February, the Nationals Member for Eastern Victoria Region, Melina Bath, called on Ms Symes in State Parliament to prioritise the burned timber for salvage log harvesting in East Gippsland.
“Instead Minister Symes abandoned timber workers and their families with her protracted delay in responding to a desperate situation,” Ms Bath said.
“Labor’s inaction is inexcusable and can only be described as unnecessarily cruel.
“These workers were desperate for work in February, starved of income and under enormous financial and mental pressure and Labor’s Agriculture Minister Jaclyn Symes chose to withhold the release of harvestable timber.”
Eligible businesses can apply for grants of up to $500,000 to support the costs associated with storing timber above their usual volumes from 1 January 2020 to 30 June 2021.
The grants will cover a range of activities that help keep unprocessed and processed wood viable or expand existing storage capacity, including rental or leasing costs, equipment hire and additional costs for water.
Mr Walsh said the government needed to immediately release coupes that have been deemed viable.
“The Andrews Labor Government’s policies have savaged Victoria’s timber industry, but Daniel Andrews and Jaclyn Symes are saying they should be thankful,” Mr Walsh said.
“It’s a cruel slap in the face to every hard-working Victorian family whose livelihood will be destroyed by Labor’s policy to ban the native timber industry by 2030.
“Families and small communities in Gippsland and north-east Victoria that rely on the timber industry to survive will never forgive Daniel Andrews and Jaclyn Symes for the carnage Labor’s policies have inflicted,’’ he said.
“These families have worked in the industry for generations. It’s more than a job – it’s a family legacy.
“Victoria’s sustainable, world-class timber industry deserves our support, and the Liberal Nationals will keep standing up and fighting for you.”
No harvesting of unburnt areas within the fire footprint will take place in 2020, with current salvage harvesting primarily focused on fire-killed ash, fire-killed plantations and other severely burnt forest areas. Salvage occurs within existing harvesting areas and the volumes allocated.
Salvage harvesting is subject to additional environmental regulations, over and above operations in unburnt forests. The Conservation Regulator will continue monitoring salvage operations including using protocols to protect unburnt areas and the retention of dead large hollow bearing trees and wildlife corridors.
Applications will be open until 16 December 2020. For more information and to apply visit www.rdv.vic.gov.au/timber-storage-grants