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Issues around phasing out native logging in Victoria

5 April 2023

Three years ago, the Labor Government of Victoria announced that it would be phasing out all native forest logging by 2030. Now both environmentalists and industry are worried that this plan is not going to work.

There were mixed feelings when the Government announced an end to native forest logging in November 2019. Anger permeated the industry, with concerns that it would lead to many people losing their jobs, businesses closing and the collapse of regional towns that rely on logging as their main industry. Environment groups were pleased to see a first step towards banning native forest logging, with concerns of their own that stopping native forest logging by 2030 was not fast enough.

The Victorian Forestry Plan (VFP) was created to map out the transition away from out of native forest logging. The plan stated: “The Victorian timber industry is transitioning due to a decrease in native timber resources because of fire, wildlife protection and consumer preferences.

There were mixed feelings when the Government announced an end to native forest logging in November 2019. “The Victorian Forestry Plan provides more than $200 million to support workers, businesses and communities to transition ahead of commercial native timber harvesting ending in 2030.

“To support future timber supply to the industry, the Victorian Government is investing in growing plantations and farmed timber…the native timber industry has a continued supply until 2024, then supply levels will step down until 2030 when native timber harvesting ceases.”

Under the VFP VicForests was to continue supplying 253,000m3 of sawlogs per year until mid-2024. VicForests’ 2021-2022 Annual Report stated that they did not meet their agreed supply targets.

In their report, VicForests highlighted legal proceedings as the main reason for both not meeting supply targets and their financial loss of AU$54.2 million over the 2021-22 financial year. There have been multiple court cases brought against VicForests, including by Environment East Gippsland, and the Friends of Leadbeater’s Possum. There is a court case currently underway between Wildlife of the Central Highlands (WOTCH) and VicForests.

Other issues have been flagged outside of the court system. There have been concerns that VicForests has illegally logged areas set aside to protect drinking water quality. Ecologists were worried about logging in areas that were burnt in the Black Summer fires because of the negative impact on wildlife and recovery. There are also concerns about the impacts of salvage logging in Wombat State Forest and the Dandenong Ranges National Park.

An assessment in April 2020 found that immediately ceasing native forest logging would save taxpayers AU$192 million. In February this year Nippon announced the closure of its Maryvale paper plant, which was a major customer of VicForests.

Amid the controversy, ForestWorks, an industry-owned not-for-profit has been busy providing support to Victorian forestry workers on behalf of the Victorian Department of Jobs, Skills, Industry and Regions. A spokesperson from the Department of Energy, Environment and Climate Action says “we have seen many businesses and communities act early and take advantage of the transition and innovation funding and make proactive changes.”

Hayley Forster, President of WOTCH, believes that continuing to log native forests will have serious consequences. However, Chris McEvoy, managing director of Radial Timber is worried about the impact that ending native forest logging will have on the industry.

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Source: cosmos magazine

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