29 January, 2001

Victorian woodchip exports down but far from out

Philip Hopkins,
The Age (article),  29/1/2001

Victorian woodchip exports dropped slightly in value to $133.46 million in 1999-2000, according to the latest figures.

Of this total, the state's softwood woodchip exports were valued at $86.72 million and the hardwood woodchip exports at $46.75 million, the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics reported last week.

In the previous three financial years, Victoria's total woodchip exports had been respectively $135.57 million, $124.76 million and $90.77 million.

Victoria's softwood woodchip exports in 1999-2000 ($86.77 million) represented 60 per cent of the value of national softwood woodchip exports ($143.33 million). The 1999-00 national total was a 7.4 per cent drop on the previous year's figure of $94.08 million, despite a slight rise in volume, reflecting poorer prices.

The $46.77 million in Victorian hardwood chip exports was higher than the previous three years; in 1998-99 they were valued at $41.57million, up from $40.57 million in 1997-98 and $25.37 million in 1996-97.

The latest ABARE hardwood figure was an estimate, because statistics on the value and volume of hardwood woodchip exports from the states are no longer available on the ground of commercial confidence.

Figures on the country of destination of hardwood woodchip exports will also not be available. Only national hardwood woodchip export figures will be published.

All softwood woodchip export figures will continue to be available.

These changes are due to an agreement between the Australian Bureau of Statistics and commercial operators that are key exporters of hardwood woodchips. The ABS declined to say whether one or more companies was involved.

Companies maintain that publication of the state hardwood statistics makes them easily recognisable and undermines their commercial operations.

Nationally, ABARE estimated that the volume of Australian woodchip exports in 1999-2000 rose 20 per cent to more than 4.67 million tonnes.

This was the highest annual level recorded and consisted of 3.6 million tonnes of hardwood and 1.04 million softwood chips. More than half the latter (651,700 tonnes) came from Victoria.

ABARE said the largest rises were in hardwood woodchip exports to Japan and Indonesia, with softwood woodchip exports increasing only slightly.

A fall in the average unit price of woodchip exports to Japan and exports of lower-valued woodchips to other Asian countries partly offset the large rise in volume.  Despite lower prices, the higher volumes pushed the value of national woodchip exports up 10 per cent to $647 million - $504 million for hardwood (up 16 per cent) and $143 million for softwood.  ABARE said the rise in woodchip exports was due to a 3.6 per cent increase in Japanese domestic demand for paper in the first six months of 2000. Australia became the major supplier of both hardwood and softwood woodchips to Japan in 1999-2000, as woodchip imports from the United States fell.

Despite the increase in woodchip exports, Australia's trade deficit in forest products increased to $2.2 billion in 1999-2000 from $1.96 billion the previous financial year.

The value of forest products imports rose by 16 per cent to about $3.8 billion, while the value of exports rose by 22 per cent to $1.58 billion.

ABARE said imports were boosted by strong economic growth and the upturn in the housing industry. This was the third consecutive year of import growth.

The biggest contributor to imports was paper and paperboard, whose value rose by 14 per cent ($242 million) to almost $2 billion.

The total value of sawnwood imports rose by 32 per cent ($131 million) to $548 million due to the rise in housing construction. Victoria's share of the total was $146 million.

The value of imports of miscellaneous forest products, such as doors and mouldings, rose by 20 per cent to $476 million, of which Victoria's share was $84.5 million.

Victoria's other main forest products imports in 1999-2000 were veneers ($9.4 million), plywood ($32.4 million), particleboard ($2.19 million), medium-density fibreboard ($23.8 million) and softboard ($6.16 million).

ABARE said Victorian and Australian roundwood exports had more than doubled in recent years. In 1999-2000, Australian exports of roundwood were 1.2 million cubic metres, a record annual level, of which Victoria's share was nearly half - 535,000 cubic metres. In 1997-98, Victoria's roundwood exports were 193,980 cubic metres.

However, the average unit value of roundwood exports continued to decline, with falls of 11-15 per cent. Overall, the value of Australian roundwood exports rose by 43 per cent to about $70 million, of which Victoria's share was $26.3 million.

Sabine Falls win a reprieve

Claire Miller, Environment Reporter
The Age (article), 29/1/2001

The Victorian Government has put on hold controversial plans to clearfell the forest surrounding the Sabine Falls in the Otway Ranges this summer.

Logging has been deferred pending a review by the community-based Regional Forest Reference Group for the Otways. The group, convened by the government in the face of mounting opposition to logging in the Otways, consists of 16 representatives from conservation groups, universities, local government, tourism bodies, water authorities and the timber industry.

Environment and Conservation Minister Sherryl Garbutt said in a statement that immediate plans to log the area around the falls were on hold while the group considered the issue of clearfelling and the development of the area for tourism and walking tracks.

The 130-metre Sabine Falls - the highest in the Otways - have become a rallying cause for a broad coalition of conservationists, bushwalkers, doctors, councillors and local business people alarmed at the impact of clearfelling on water catchments, tourism and wildlife.

The government's handling of forest issues is also causing increasing disquiet in ALP ranks, with about 100 people yesterday attending a meeting of the ALP Otways Ranges Interest Group in Airey's Inlet.

This group, formed last year as a non-factional network, seeks an end to clearfelling in the Otways, implementation of ALP eco-tourism policies and monitoring of future native forest industry developments in the region.

Yesterday's meeting at Airey's Inlet attracted representatives from country and Melbourne branches, including marginal regions such as Geelong, Bendigo and Ballarat. Speakers included Geoff Kennedy, president of the Otways Ranges Walking Track Association, and Peter Loney, ALP member for Geelong North. It was followed by a picnic at Sabine Falls.

The group's representatives declined to comment yesterday, but Mr Kennedy said the network was a positive move on behalf of the ALP grassroots. "From our point of view, it can only help our cause," he said. "It has been a battle for us and other groups to be heard by the minister, and this group is hoping to influence her."

The Otways Ranges Walking Track Association wants a 70-kilometre Trans Otway Walk. It would link the Surf Coast Walk, ending at Lorne, and the Great Ocean Walk starting at Apollo Bay. The government supports such flagship walks to promote nature-based tourism along the Great Ocean Road.

But clearfelling 77 hectares across the Sabine Falls' headwaters and down a ridge to its west would cut a swath through the only possible route for the Trans-Otway Walk in that section. It would also destroy the view for proposed short walks through the Sabine area's gorges.

18 January, 2001

Powerful owl spurs protesters to forceful campaign

Dorothy Cook
The Age (article), 18/1/01

Two grandmothers chained themselves to a door during a protest yesterday against logging in the Wombat State Forest near Trentham, which threatens to destroy the habitat of a pair of rare owls. About 40 environmentalists picketed outside the Daylesford office of the Department of Natural Resources and Environment.

The department this week approved the immediate logging of 76 hectares of mainly old-growth eucalypt forest in the habitat of the powerful owl, an endangered species under the Flora and Fauna Guarantee Act. As part of the protest, Trentham grandmothers Margaret Thorpe, 58 and Lori Victorsen, 62 chained themselves to the doors of the department's office in Daylesford.

"We've written nice letters and nothing's happened so we have decided we wanted to do this. We are quite willing to be arrested because it's so important to us," Mrs Victorsen said. The Actively Conserving Trentham conservation group, which took part in the protest, said about 500 pairs of powerful owls were left in Victoria. Group spokesman Mark Cowie said by allowing logging to destroy the powerful owl's habitat, the government was breaching its own wildlife regulations.

These regulations said that a minimum of 25 pairs of powerful owls must be protected in the Midlands region, which includes Trentham. Mr Cowie said only 16 pairs of owls were protected in the Midlands.

It was highly likely the Trentham breeding pair - which last year had two chicks in a tree hollow 1000metres from the block ap- proved for logging - would flee or die if the logging went ahead, Mr Cowie said.

A spokesman for Environment Minister Sherryl Garbutt said scientific advice from powerful-owl experts was that a 500-hectare special protection zone in place for the owls was adequate. "(The logging) doesn't appear to be a threat to the owls," the spokesman said. "If it turns out to be a threat then we have advice from experts that the mater will be reviewed then."