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Snap decision to end WA native forestry done without consultation

Premier Mark McGowan, Dave Kelly Minister for Forestry and Jade Sanderson Minister for Environment

WA’s forestry industry has been blindsided by the State Government’s sudden decision to end the native forestry sector by 2024. The announcement came yesterday morning with no industry consultation, leaving businesses, employees and regional communities shocked. Source: Timberbiz

The industry employs more than 500 people and contributes more than $220 million to the WA economy each year, as well as underpinning many small businesses, suppliers and service providers.

The move has been condemned by the Forest Industries Federation WA and the Australian Forest Products Association.

Forest Industries Federation WA executive director Melissa Haslam described it as heartbreaking.

Opposition forestry spokesman Steve Martin said he was alarmed by a lack of consultation on the ban.

“We will need to see the fine print and the detail on this announcement, but this industry has been an important job creator in WA for decades and now faces a very uncertain future,” he said.

“Those communities where mills and other timber businesses have invested will be rocked by this news.”

The State Government says it made the decision to “protect the State’s native forests”.

It says it will invest a record $350 million to expand Western Australia’s softwood timber plantations to create and support sustainable WA jobs.

Forestry Minister Dave Kelly anticipate between 300 and 400 workers would lose their jobs under the change.

“We are very sympathetic to those families who will be impacted,” he told reporters.

“We want to work with industry … to assist those workers through that transition.”

The Government said the decision to end logging of native forests in the upcoming Forest Management Plan 2024-33 will preserve at least an additional 400,000 hectares of karri, jarrah and wandoo forests.

Mr McGowan said existing contracts would be honoured through to their natural close at the end of 2023.

“We understand that ending logging of native forests will cause uncertainty and disruption for workers and communities. This is not a decision we have taken lightly,” he said.

About 9000 hectares of high conservation-value karri will also receive immediate protection, with other high value forest areas to be recommended for national park status.

From 2024, timber taken from WA’s native forests will be limited to forest management activities that improve forest health and clearing for approved mining operations.

The 2021-22 State Budget includes a record $350 million investment over 10 years in new softwood plantations across the South-West, which will create and support WA forestry jobs.

WA Premier Mark McGowan said this investment would provide at least an additional 33,000 hectares of softwood timber plantation. Up to 50 million pine trees would be planted, sequestering between 7.9 and 9.5 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent.

It will also create about 140 timber industry jobs, protect about 1980 existing jobs, mostly in the South-West timber industry, and support the many thousands of jobs in the State’s construction industry that depend upon the reliable supply of softwood timber.

Mr McGowan said the Government would support workers, businesses and communities in the South-West with links to the forestry industry through a $50 million Just Transition Plan. This plan would provide support to affected workers and businesses, drive further diversification of local economies and assist in identifying and securing sustainable job opportunities.

Mr McGowan said existing contracts would be honoured through to their natural close at the end of 2023.

“We understand that ending logging of native forests will cause uncertainty and disruption for workers and communities. This is not a decision we have taken lightly,” he said.

However, Forest Industries Federation WA executive director Melissa Haslam said the $50 million Just Transition Plan was miniscule compared with the level of investment in the sector.

Mrs Haslam said one company alone had invested well over $50 million in the past two years and there was a further $100 million of investment pending, which would now be lost.

“This is heartbreaking for our industry, and the biggest initial impact is likely to be felt in our regional communities,” she said.

“But this will impact most West Australians – anyone who enjoys products from timber furniture right through to firewood.

“We are shocked at this rushed and bizarre decision, which came without any consultation.

“The irony is this does not even protect our forests; forest management protects our forests,” Mrs Haslam said.

“For forests to cope with a drying climate, to control and minimise dangerous wildfires, they still need to be thinned and managed. This will now come at a huge cost to taxpayers where previously the costs were offset by timber production.”

Mrs Haslam said while industry welcomed the $350 million investment in the plantation sector, that investment would do nothing to help the native timber sector, as the two were not interchangeable.

“This decision will result in an increase in timber imports from countries which do not share our high environmental and management standards,” she said.

“Right now, we need more detail about what comes next for these businesses, who have been shattered by a reckless decision.”

AFPA chief executive officer Ross Hampton said WA was using less than one tree in 1000 for forest products in a completely sustainable way, ensuring any tree used was replaced by careful regeneration.

“Internationally the world is increasingly turning to sustainably sourced tree-fibre to replace plastics and to construct carbon storing timber buildings. The world needs more certified, environmentally careful forestry – such as occurs in WA – not less.

“The WA Government has cynically attempted to cloak the devastating impact this decision will have on timber supply for WA by also announcing at the same time a $350 million fund to expand plantations,” Mr Hampton said.

“AFPA has been pleading for plantation growth for years, repeatedly pointing to the shortage in softwood for house framing and roof trusses.”

The announcement of a renewed investment in more softwood trees was therefore very welcome, however the State Government needed to be honest with West Australians.

The trees planted in plantations did not provide the hardwood timber which is used for floors, stairs, and windows.

“That timber will have to be imported into WA in future years,” Mr Hampton said.

“There is no surplus in Eastern states so it will mostly come from overseas where often the same high levels of environmental control are not operating.

“Furthermore – the Government says the industry will close in 2024, barely three years from now ignoring the fact that trees take decades to grow. The Government must also answer serious questions about the future livelihoods of all those who rely on WA native hardwood industries for employment and who were participating in good faith in a review of the industry commenced only months ago. They will be feeling betrayed today.”