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Possible fire sale for SA forests

Councils and communities have major concerns of widespread job losses and impacts to economic growth in mid-north South Australia, as the future of the forests region is considered. Source: ABC Rural

The State Government has released an expression of interest for the potential long-term use of land devastated by the bushfires in 2013 and 2014.

The Bangor blaze burnt 80% of the Wirrabara Forest in the southern Flinders Ranges, while 30% of pine plantations were wiped out in the Bundaleer Forest.

The month-long EOI is open and proposals are being received on a range of land use options for the region.

Ruth Whittle, Mayor for the District Council Peterborough said it was a short-term approach and could spell the end of the timber industry in the area.

“I’m appalled and very concerned,” she said. “People from my area, from Peterborough go over there and work, so they’re part of that community as well.

“Anything that affects a neighbouring council generally has a knock on effect and affects our council as well.

“I’m also concerned the government promises it’s trying very hard to find employment outlets and industries in which regional industries can find employment.

“Here we are we’ve got an industry, it’s up and running, it’s sitting there, and people from all around the community is going over there and working and the government’s going to sell part of it off.

“I can’t fathom what their thinking is.”

The State Government has committed to replanting 150 hectares of pine trees in the Bundaleer Forest and the EOI process will help determine what happens with the rest of the land. But the State Government argues the move is not a fire sale.

Rob Robinson, Acting Executive Director of Forestry with PIRSA, said they have been listening and consulting with stakeholders on the issue for months.

“We haven’t made any decisions on the future of the land,” he said. “What we’re looking to do with the expression of interest phase is to have some of those ideas put up as well considered proposals that the government can consider to help inform its decision about the future.”

Mr Robinson said it was not clear what the land would be best used for at this stage.

“It might be commercial forestry, there may be commercial forestry officers operators who are very interested in the land. It has a long well documented history of timber production,” he said.

“But there may be alternatives that may be better for the community, clearly it’s at the heart of South Australia’s cropping and livestock industry.

“I’d like to think there could be a whole mix of opportunities.

“There may be methods of continuing to have public access and public use, recreation and tourism developments on an alternative or existing land use.”

The expression of interest process is open until 28th August.