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WA forestry plan under fire from both sides

The newly released forest management plan has come under fire from both sides of the forestry debate as either going too far or not far enough. Source: The Donnybrook-Bridgetown Mail

The new framework will be used on 2.5 million hectares of land vested with the Conservation Commission of Western Australia for the next decade.

Environment Minister Albert Jacob said the Forest Management Plan 2014-23 struck the right balance between conservation and other activities.

“This new plan incorporates a number of management activities to ensure biodiversity and water catchments are protected, while at the same time
allowing for recreation and a sustainable native forest products industry,” he said.

“The plan is based on scientific knowledge, and the potential impact of climate change has been taken into account.”
WA Forest Alliance convener Jess Beckerling said it came as no surprise the environment minister had approved the plan.

“The Barnett government has shown nothing but contempt for the community and independent science on the issue of forest management in WA,”
Beckerling said.

“The campaign for forest and wildlife protection is gaining impressive momentum and we are confident we will protect WA’s remaining native forests with or without the Barnett government.

“Ordinary people will often tolerate some damage to the environment when there is a clear need or benefit, but in this case forests are being destroyed, iconic wildlife face increasing risk of extinction and tax payers are footing the bill.

“The minister and the Barnett government have made a grave error choosing to continue to prop up this destructive and costly industry when the alternatives are sustainable, profitable and offer better, more resilient employment to local communities as well as protection for our dwindling forest habitats.

“We will not rest until forest habitats are protected and the timber industry fully transitioned into sustainably grown plantations and farm forestry,” she said.

Under the plan, more than 334,000ha of old-growth forest will be protected.

There will be enhanced protection for large marri trees, which provide nesting and food for black cockatoos, increased retention of habitat logs for native animals, improved monitoring and reporting on the health and diversity of the forest and a new objective to protect and conserve the value of the land to Noongar culture and heritage.

Forest Industries Federation executive director Melissa Haslam said it was the most over-precautionary plan the industry had seen.

“Layer upon layer of environmental assessment, with little to no regard for the future of the timber industry, has produced a plan which will make it extremely difficult for our established businesses,” she said.

“The excessive environmental prescriptions will escalate the costs of harvesting and force us into a higher proportion of lower-yielding forest.

“We have no argument with a plan which meets all the environmental criteria, but where these requirements are being vastly exceeded to the detriment of the industry, this is unacceptable.

“There will be much pressure on the industry under these strict conditions, however for the thousands of people employed directly and indirectly by the timber industry, generating $1.6 billion annually for our economy, it is going to be essential we make this work.”

The Forest Products Commission supported the plan, but said its strict requirements would result in some significant challenges for the industry.

“The plan is based on long-term scientific research, and sets out harvesting limits that are well within sustainable levels. Under the new plan more than 62% of the state’s native forests is set aside in reserves, and all areas classified as old-growth forest are reserved and protected,” a spokeswoman said.

“It will see improved monitoring and reporting of forest health and biodiversity and will ensure forests are fully regenerated after harvest.”

However, she said under the new plan there would be challenges for the native timber industry.

“One of these will be to ensure the existing industry has ongoing access to suitable timber for processing and value-adding into furniture, joinery and flooring. There will also be higher costs of accessing the forest as a result of the increased protection of conservation values.

“In addition, areas available for harvesting contain a larger proportion of low yielding forests than under the previous plan,” she said.

“On the other hand, there are opportunities for the timber industry to develop with new technology in engineered wood products, biofuels and bioenergy.

“These initiatives require large investments and will have important regional socio-economic benefit if successful.

“In 2012-13 the FPC’s operating profit was $4.6 million and it paid $3.3 million in dividends to the state government. Since becoming a separate entity in 2000 the FPC has made a total operating profit of $61.3 million.”