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Maryvale mill a victim of Victorian timber harvesting halt

The Latrobe Valley’s biggest employer, the Maryvale Paper Mill, has warned a halt to timber harvesting jeopardises critical supplies of hardwood pulp logs to the site. Source: Weekly Times

Opal, which employs 850 workers at its Maryvale Australian Paper mill, issued a statement saying “we appreciate that VicForests is currently experiencing a range of operational difficulties, which are likely to impact future deliveries of state wood.

“Opal is continuing to work closely with VicForests and the Victorian government to manage supply challenges. We remain fully committed to keeping our Maryvale team members updated on the supply situation as it continues to develop.

“Secure, long term, certified wood supply is crucial to Opal’s Maryvale Mill operations.”

Australian Paper and Victoria’s 12 sawmills were already facing a critical shortage of native forest hardwood logs, due to injunctions Supreme Court Justice Melinda Richards had placed on coupes where greater glider possums had been sighted.

But VicForests warned it had only been able to deliver a week’s worth of pulp logs to Maryvale and that supplies were set to dry up completely, after it was forced to halt harvesting yesterday in response to last week’s Supreme Court ruling.

VicForests ordered the stand-down, after Justice Melinda Richards ruled the state-owned enterprise’s pre-harvest surveys were inadequate and it was not doing enough to protect two possum species – greater and yellow-bellied gliders.

The ruling forces VicForests to resurvey hundreds of coupes, which it confirmed would take months to complete and would leave harvest and haulage contractors without work and exacerbate a sawlog shortage that has already led to the closure of one mill.

Justice Richards also ruled that VicForests had failed to meet its obligations to retain enough vegetation on coupes to protect gliders, under the precautionary principle of the Code of Practice for Timber Production.

Justice Richards left it to the parties in the case to negotiate what final orders the court should impose today, but made it clear her preference was to retain 3ha around a possum sighting and retain 60 per cent of the trees in the rest of the coupe.

The Victorian Government has a legislated obligation to supply the Opal mill with 350,000 cubic metres of mountain forest pulpwood – mountain, alpine and silvertop ash – each year, until 2030.

That volume was wound back to 256,000 cubic metres after the 2009 Black Saturday fires swept through Victoria, but VicForests has reported constant legal challenges and injunctions from environment groups have meant it has struggled to maintain supplies.

The Andrews government promised in 2017 to spend $110 million to planting out

50,000ha of plantations – 10,000ha of hardwood and 40,000ha of pine plantations – as a means of transitioning workers out of native forests and into plantation forestry.

But just 550ha of trees have been planted to date and a recent contract awarded.

Agriculture Minister Gayle Tierney finally struck a $120 million deal with Hancock Victorian Plantations to plant 14,000ha, which she said would underpin 2000 new and existing jobs in regional Victoria.

But plantation industry experts say it will be at least 12 to 15 years before the pine plantations can be thinned for pulp logs and 25 years before they yield sawlogs.

HVP said timber harvesting in Victoria within the plantation sector has not been impacted and continues to operate and supply wood to many local and interstate customers.