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VEAC’s draft proposals ignore real issues in Central West

Victorian Environment Assessment Council (VEAC) draft forestry proposals for Central West Victoria slug the region’s timber industry, while ignoring its economic importance and its role in fighting fires and maintaining biodiversity, according to the state’s peak forestry body. The draft recommendations of the VEAC reduce the area of state forests in the region by 79,000 hectares – equivalent to 88% of the total state forest area in the region, according to the Victorian Association of Forest Industries. Source: Philip Hopkins for Timberbiz

VAFI chief executive Tim Johnston said local businesses that rely on timber from state forests may have supply cut by up to 35% in some cases.

“Community access to firewood will also be significantly limited,” he said in VAFI’s submission to the VEAC Central West investigation.

There had been substantial public opposition to the draft recommendations, particularly on limits to recreational access and firewood collection.

“This indicates broad community satisfaction with current management and access arrangements,” he said.

Mr Johnston said VEAC had overlooked crucial issues. These included:

*The existing conservation reserve network, which complies with international standards, is not considered. Current conservation management is also ignored.

*VEAC does not show that state forests are in a different condition from national parks and does not explain how creating new parks will improve forest condition.

*Key impacts on forest health such as fire and climate change are not considered in depth.

*The role of forest workers in fire fighting is ignored.

*The investigation does not include a sufficient economic assessment, as directed by the Terms of Reference.

*The investigation misrepresents the current scale and impact of timber harvesting in Mount Cole and Pyrenees Range State forests.

Mr Johnston said Victoria’s Comprehensive, Adequate and Representative (CAR) reserve system met the international definition for reserves areas, as reflected in the Regional Forest Agreement (RFA) process.

The West Victoria RFA CAR reserves had been independently reviewed for five-year periods and “found to have achieved the agreed goals for protected areas and forest management”, he said.

The West Victoria RFA area greatly exceeded the minimum 15% and comfortably met VEAC’s proposed target of 17%.

Also, VEAC effectively excluded Special Management Zones (SMZ), where harvesting is restricted, in its analysis, thus distorting its CAR shortfall claims.

Mr Johnston said VEAC’s approach was driven by an underlying position that timber harvesting was fundamentally incompatible with natural and social values.

“As a result, the draft recommendations area overly simplistic,” he said, ignoring the wider complexities of public land management.

In fact, Mr Johnston said appropriate state forest management provided a sustainable timber resource and contributed to environmental benefits.

These included control of pest plants and animals, mitigating fire risk by reducing the fine fuel load and controlling stand density.

“Retaining commercial forestry will also maintain the skills base and machinery that are a key element of rapid response to and control of bushfires,” he said.

Mr Johnston said VEAC’s economic analysis was completely inadequate. In western Victoria, VicForests supplied timber to 70 customers, but the value-added was far more than the value of sales generated by VicForests. The hardwood timber was used in high-value products such as furniture, flooring and cabinetry.

“The complete value of the timber resource is far greater than just the stumpage or mill door value,” he said.

Summing up, Mr Johnston said VEAC should retain State forests “as they are”. VEAC should “make recommendations that balance the full suite of social, economic, cultural and natural values and benefits drawn from public forests,” he said.