Phasing out native logging in Victoria is creating headaches

Phasing out native logging in Victoria is creating headaches

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 workersbusinesses 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 (enough to fill over 100 Olympic-size swimming pools) per year until mid 2024.

Read more: The end of native forest logging.

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 $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.

A leadbeater's possum on  a tree stump
Finding a Leadbeater’s Possum can help WOTCH protect areas of forest from logging. Credit: Justin Cally

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 $192 million. In February this year Nippon announced the closure of its Maryvale paper plant, which was a major customer of VicForests.

“We have seen many businesses and communities act early and take advantage of the transition and innovation funding and make proactive changes.”

Spokesperson from the Department of Energy, Environment and Climate Action

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.

An environmentalist’s perspective

WOTCH is a volunteer based group using citizen science to protect native forests in Victoria. Dedicated volunteers search for threatened species like Leadbeater’s Possums and Greater Gliders in areas slated for logging. If they can find and record these threatened species, they can protect areas of forest.

Forster is concerned about the impacts that logging is having on the environment.

“There’s so many reasons why it should be stopping as soon as possible. Logging the most carbon dense forest in the world doesn’t make sense. Costing millions of dollars every year, it doesn’t make sense. Logging in our water catchments doesn’t make sense. Sending species into extinction doesn’t make sense.”

Volunteers shine red light into the trees searching for threatened species
The dedicated volunteers of WOTCH searching for threatened species. Credit: Sean Paris

Passionate volunteers spend 1-2 nights a week out in the forest, searching for these nocturnal threatened species with spotlights. Volunteers must search at night, sometimes for many hours, trying to find them.

“Sometimes it feels like there’s a lot of pressure to try and find something and sometimes, when you can’t see a way that that area would get protected, it can be pretty nerve wracking and scary, and sad.

“Even just one singular animal can sometimes mean the protection of a number of hectares of forest that will hopefully be protected for ever.”

“There’s so many reasons why it should be stopping as soon as possible. Logging the most carbon dense forest in the world doesn’t make sense.”

Hayley Forster

WOTCH has taken VicForests to court because they are concerned that timber harvesting in areas of the Central Highlands and East Gippsland is unlawful. They believe the status of threatened species, severely impacted by the Black Summer fires in 2019-2020, should be reassessed and no logging should take place in their habitat until this is complete.

Forster is hopeful that there will be more native forest protected in Victoria this year.

An industry perspective

Chris McEvoy is the managing director of Radial Timber and has owned the business for 20 years. They mill and distribute high value hardwood timber products like cladding and decking, using both plantation and native forest trees.

Sustainability is important to McEvoy. His business has been establishing its own plantations since 2004.

“Sustainability is not just about the here and now and ourselves, it’s about the future. I think every business should be looking at their carbon footprint, at how they do things like treat employees.”

Back view of a man operating heavy machinery sawing logs
Radial Timber invest in new technology to help them become more sustainable. Credit: Radial Timber

Radial Timber has been investing in new technology, including a machine that cut logs like a cake, reducing the amount of waste in the process. They are also investigating new technology that will allow them to use smaller trees and are establishing a renewable energy park at their timber mill.

McEvoy is a strong believer that innovation is important, but he is concerned that the transition away from native forest logging will leave industry without a resource to apply this innovation to.

McEvoy believes that native forests could be managed in a more sustainable way and by-products could be used from that process. He says this would be a more effective way to manage parks and reserves, because the profits generated could be used to control pest plants and animals that are running rampart.

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“What needs to really happen is any production in native forest should be to benefit that native forest, to improve its biodiversity, to improve its health, to improve its resilience.”

“I honestly believe it needs to be a combination of plantations and ecological thinning or environmental management. A lot of people won’t agree.”

McEvoy is concerned that even another seven years of native forest production wouldn’t be enough for the industry to transition. He is even more concerned about what it would mean for his business if native forest logging were to end sooner. McEvoy’s business has benefited from government support, but he is worried that the government hasn’t done enough to create more plantations before native forest logging ceases.

A plantation with tall trees and cows grazing between them
A plantation established by Radial Timber. Credit: Radial Timber

“It still is a bit of a worry actually. While we’ve been heavily planting trees for 20 years we have still been using native forest material.”

“You can’t plant the tree and start producing from it overnight. A properly planned transition is required.”

While both sides have very different opinions about native forest logging, they agree on one thing. The current transition plan out of native forest logging is not working. Is it time to rethink the issue?

20/03/23: Clarification. Professor David Lindemayer has not brought any court cases against VicForests. We removed the reference.

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