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VicForests responds to ABC story on forest regeneration

A statement by VicForests’ was released as a response to an ABC report this week saying that: “The ABC can also reveal an official government investigation concluded that forests had not been regrown as required by the law — but decided it couldn’t take any action.” Source: Timberbiz

VicForest stated that its responsibility is to regenerate harvested forests to the standard of the Code of Practice for Timber Production 2014 (as amended November 2021) and the associated Management Standards and Procedures for timber harvesting operations in Victoria’s State forests 2021.

Most of the time, areas are regenerated within three years but there is no set timeframe. Let’s be clear, we continue to regenerate our coupes until they are successfully regenerated in accordance with our obligations under the Code and the MSPs.  Our obligations are not complete, and coupes are not removed from the Timber Release Plan, until the Code regeneration standards are met, the statement said.

Every year VicForests provides the Secretary of Department of Jobs, Precincts and Jobs with an Annual Harvest and Regeneration Report, which includes a finalised list of successfully regenerated coupes.

Following that, when the next change to the Timber Release Plan occurs, VicForests proposes coupes that have been successfully regenerated to be removed.  That goes out for public consultation where feedback is sought from stakeholders.  Following consultation on the proposed changes to the Timber Release Plan, successfully regenerated coupes are removed from the Timber Release Plan.

Any questions about the state of the coupes mentioned in the ABC story should be directed to DELWP, as it is their accountability for managing regeneration of the associated research site.

Even though VicForests’ legal obligations are over once responsibility for a coupe has been regenerated and removed from the Timber Release Plan, VicForests is happy to continue to work with DELWP as the land manager to provide our forestry expertise in regenerating areas that may have been impacted by other agents such as deer browsing or bushfire.

VicForests continues to work with DELWP as the forest manager to undertake any identified active forest management activities such as the recent unprecedented re-seeding program following the 2019-20 bushfires as well as revegetation and reforestation programs.

The journalist was provided with the following background information ahead of publishing the story:

When monitoring indicates the regeneration process has been successful, coupes may be removed from the Timber Release Plan.

Successfully regenerated areas, successfully regenerated coupes and coupe finalisation lists are all different things. The difference between these is the result of how coupes are managed, and some examples are listed below:

Coupes may be harvested over multiple seasons (financial years) and individual harvesting events may be seasons apart. Harvesting over multiple years can be a result of waiting for appropriate DELWP approvals to access an area, a previously inaccessible area can now be accessed from an adjacent coupe, or a court injunction has been lifted etc. This results in multiple regeneration events in the one coupe. For example, a coupe may have 15ha harvested in Feb 2011. This area is burnt and sown and 15 months or later a regeneration survey finds the harvested area is successfully regenerated. However, the coupe has a remaining harvestable area of 10ha which is planned to be harvested at a later date. Therefore, this coupe is not listed as finalised, but the harvested area is successfully regenerated within the first three years. A coupe may be harvested and successfully regenerated but is required to have a road built through it to an adjacent area. This means the coupe is not listed as finalised until that occurs. A coupe may be harvested and regenerated, but the regen survey finds a discrete unstocked area as defined in the MSPs. Despite 95% of the coupe being stocked, the unstocked area must be regenerated and surveyed before the coupe can be finalised.

Where a survey finds a discrete unstocked area as defined in the MSPs, VicForests regenerates and surveys before the coupe can be finalised.

Factors contributing to a drop in stock levels include animal browsing, weather, climatic influence and more recently the 2019-20 bushfires. For example, audit results in Mt Delusion, show that trees were being impacted by animal browsing and competition from dense grass cover and blackberry. In these instances, VicForests works with and provides expertise to DELWP to plan and assist in any active forest management that may be required.

The regulator has not found any direct evidence that VicForests’ regeneration stocking surveys were not an accurate reflection of the regeneration status of the coupes when surveys were undertaken, or that regeneration did not comply with the Code and MSP requirements.