The Andrews Government’s development of new timber plantations and native forest allocations has been strongly criticised as inadequate, and as also undermining both the Regional Forest Agreement process and private investment in plantations. The Government announced last week that 550 hectares of Crown land in the Latrobe Valley would be planted to blue gums this winter, with another planting next year as part of its $110 million plantation program. Source: Philip Hopkins for Timberbiz
On site in the Latrobe Valley, the Minister for Agriculture and Regional Development, Jacinta Symes, told the Latrobe Valley Express that the Government would not rule out a transition from native forest logging.
She emphasised the importance of plantations for the long-term sustainability of the timber industry, with the new Valley plantations to be harvested in 10 to 15 years. VicForests said it looked forward to having a key role in working with the Government on the program.
The Government also released an Allocation Order (AO) for native forest timber, which allowed VicForests to release its Timber Release Plan (TRP). This provides detail on which coupes can be potentially harvested, subject to forest protection surveys, operational assessment and consultation with stakeholders. The AO reduces the overall area of native forest available for harvesting by 5000 hectares.
The Victorian Association of Forest Industries said the AO and TRP came nine months after the due date.
“That’s nine months that contractors, saw millers and workers in the native timber industry have endured frustration and been subject to extreme personal and financial pressures,” VAFI said.
The reduction of harvestable area by 5000 hectares also raised questions about VicForests’ ability to meet its existing contracts.
“Further reductions in timber supply only serves to undermine already vulnerable businesses… Our industry deserves better,” the association said.
The Opposition shadow assistant spokesman on forestry, Gary Blackwood, said while the TRP enabled VicForests to resume harvesting for the rest of the season, there was no guarantee sawmill customers would receive their full allocation by the end of June.
“Some sawmills will have to stand down employees when they run out of logs in September/October this year,” he said.
Mr Blackwood said removing another 5000 ha from production before the RFA review was completed made a mockery of the RFA.
“It’s another indication that the Minister for the Environment, Lily D’Ambrosio, is ignoring the scientific process and is instead taking direction from extreme Green groups,” he said.
Mr Blackwood said establishment of the 550ha plantation was too little too late.
“The $110 million has been on the table since 2017 and nothing has been done, which means Australian Paper could be dangerously exposed to a massive supply shortfall when their Legislated Supply Agreement expires in 2030, with no guarantee the plantation resource will be ready for harvest,” he said.
“The plantation plan will not provide a transition away from native forest harvesting for sawlogs as promised and continues to leave the industry exposed to the unwarranted demands of Green groups to end logging.”
VAFI said the plantation announcement raised serious questions that needed immediate answers. “VicForests is responsible for native forest management, not plantations,” the association said, questioning why the government’s state-owned enterprise was competing against private enterprise.
“Private plantation owners and managers have the technical expertise and access to capital markets. More importantly, it has the capability to leverage this money to attract more funds and contribute to the establishment of a significant, world-class plantation estate in Gippsland,” VAFI said.
“The proposed new plantations …cannot supply the high-quality hardwood timber that has been removed from state forest supply. The Victorian forest industry needs a long-term plan that integrates native and plantation timber.”
VAFI said the industry needed assurance that the RFA would not further reduce access to timber resources.
Ms Symes said the Government was providing certainty for the timber industry and the jobs it supports with the AO and the new plantations. The AO would ensure supply for the coming year “while a long-term sustainable industry pathway is developed”.
“Importantly, the order includes improves spatial data – boosting the capacity of the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning to enforce logging regulations and protect Victoria’s native forests,” she said.
Of the 7.1 million hectares of public forests in Australia, about 94% is protected in parks, reserves or is unsuitable for timber harvesting. VicForests harvests about 3000 ha per year, or 0.04% of that area. That is equivalent to four trees in 10,000.