17 May, 2006

ARTICLE: Forest industry can't see wood for the (imported) trees

Philip Hopkins
The Age, May 17 2006

Plantation hardwood woodchip exports increased significantly last financial year, but Australia is set to record another $2 billion trade deficit in forest products.

Log removals from eucalypt hardwood plantations — mostly blue gums — rose by 58 per cent to 2.9 million cubic metres last financial year, according to the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics in its latest report on forest and wood products. Sales of eucalypt sawlogs from native forests fell by 4 per cent, to 10 million cubic metres.

ABARE's executive director Brian Fisher said the logs were used for woodchip exports.

Exports of hardwood and softwood woodchips totalled a record $858 million last financial year. Woodchips were 40 per cent of Australian timber exports of $2.1 billion, but this was dwarfed by forest product imports of $4.1 billion.

About half the imports ($2.1 billion) were of paper and paperboard, with printing and writing paper ($1.4 billion) the main source. Figures for this financial year's first half show imports totalling $2.05 billion, and exports $1.02 billion.

Chief executive of the National Association of Forest Industries Catherine Murphy said the rise in plantation woodchip exports showed the effectiveness of the Federal Government's policy, which gives tax benefits to individual plantation investors.

"We have been able to build a strong plantation sector on this platform," she said.

Ms Murphy said plantations would form the basis of the pulp mills planned for Australia. Gunns aims to build a pulp mill in northern Tasmania, and pulp mills are planned for south-west Victoria and south-east South Australia, based on the regions' blue gum plantations.

The high level of paper imports showed the necessity to get such projects off the ground, she said. But Ms Murphy said the figures also underlined that the native forest sector could not be underestimated.

"It's still three times the size of the plantation hardwood sector," she said.

Sawn wood exports in both the September and December quarters remained just above $31 million, about 22 per cent higher than the same period the year before. Dr Fisher said the increase was driven by the rise in pine sawlog exports to Asia, particularly Chinese Taipei.

Original article

16 May, 2006

ABC: Tasmania suffers downturn in woodchip demand

The World Today
Tuesday, 16 May , 2006

Reporter: Tim Jeanes

ELEANOR HALL: In Tasmania today, the controversial proposal for a pulp mill in the state's north could be back on the table, in response to plummeting demand for Tasmanian woodchips.

The state's biggest timber company, Gunns Limited, is now cutting some timber contracts by up to 40 per cent.

And the Liberal Opposition and Tasmanian Greens are calling for a crisis meeting to help forest contractors.

Quotes from Greens Senator Bob Brown in the interview:

BOB BROWN: There must be a crisis meeting to deal with the pain that's being felt by so many contractors and workers in the industry who just 18 months ago were cheering John Howard and Paul Lennon in the run to the federal election. They're not cheering now.

BOB BROWN: Well, the one thing about the Greens is we've got a transition strategy, which would have saved the industry from this pain.

Let there be no doubt about this. The Greens and the environment movement, in particular the Wilderness Society, are going to continue to campaign to save Tasmania's old growth forests, because that's what we should doing for Australia's magnificent ecological resource in these remnant forests, but it's also the best long-term prospect as far as job creation and long-term, good quality job creation.

Through the hospitality and the tourism industries we won't have this boom and bust phenomenon.

Original article

15 May, 2006

ARTICLE: Timber sale gets strong price growth for coffers

Philip Hopkins

The Age, May 15, 2006

Cutting to the chase. Some in the timber industry believe the prices achieved have been manipulated.

VICFORESTS' first auction of native forest timber has dramatically increased the money going to Treasury's coffers, but has been strongly criticised by the timber industry.

The weighted average price of timber sold was 43 per cent higher than the prices paid by timber mills under the current licence system. Some wood lots were 118 per cent higher, while others were 22 per cent lower.

VicForests' sales director, Matthew Crapp, said the percentage increases were on top of the 10-20 per cent price rises for licensed timber brought in last year.

The auction was the first in the new timber sales system that VicForests, the State Government's commercial forestry arm, will progressively introduce over the next decade.

The current system, where sawmills receive long-term licences and VicForests sets the prices for the various sawlog grades, will be phased out.

All native forest timber will be sold at auction by 2015.

A total of 174,100 cubic metres of sawlogs in 47 lots was sold, with forward sales spread over all years until 2014-15. Revenue was $3 million higher over the 10 years than it would have been under the administered system.

Mr Crapp said the catalogue was small, but gave bidders the opportunity to use the new system. "The system worked well and is broadly accepted," he said.

The average lot size was 1610 cubic metres, with the largest 5000 cubic metres and the smallest 500 cubic metres. The 931 bids involved 14,000 different price calculations.

A total of 42 bidders qualified for the first two auctions, and 34 eventually placed bids, with 18 successful. All were Victorian domestic processors.

Mr Crapp said competition was strongest for the higher-grade lots, which was reflected in the higher prices.

"The higher-grade logs tended to go to the value-adding sawmills," he said.

"Bidding dropped during rounds three and four, when most lots went above the administrative price levels."

Mr Crapp said the specialised, mixed species lots from East Gippsland, such as yellow stringybark and silvertop ash, received the best prices.

Longer-term lots outperformed the shorter-term, and larger lots were also more popular. The prices would be more moderate in the long term, he said.

The director of operations at the Victorian Association of Forest Industries, Nick Murray, said while industry accepted the auction model, it was not a true market-based system.

"It is conducted by a monopoly supplier that, with other parts of government, dictates the release of wood to the market in terms of volume and tenure," he said.

"It thus has the ability to manipulate both to extract the maximum price from buyers."

Mr Murray said despite the State Government's formal commitment to a sustainable yield of 560,000 cubic metres of sawlogs, industry remained uncertain about the total volume of wood available in the future. This uncertainty created an artificial market environment and helped explain why the auction prices were so high.

Mr Murray said the prices were much higher than administered prices for wood in other states. "These higher prices are not necessarily a reflection of the intrinsic commercial value of this wood," he said.

Mr Murray said bidders marginally costed the wood and offset this against wood supplied under the supply contracts.

The small catalogue lots also gave the market the chance to "cherry pick" prime lots, while other bidders used the auction to improve their wood quality so as to forfeit supply of lower-quality wood, he said.

Mr Murray said many big businesses did not win any wood, or only small volumes. This indicated the prices were unrealistic and uncommercial for business of scale, he said.

VicForests will hold a second auction this month for 680,000 cubic metres of sawlog. Mr Crapp said this would give an indication of what the future timber industry might look like.

Original article

03 May, 2006

ARTICLE: $6m to end clear-fell

The Mercury
3 May 2006

A NEW $6 million research program will focus on finding alternatives to the controversial dual issues of the clear-felling of ancient native forests and the use of 1080 poison in private forestry plantations.

Federal Forestry Minister Eric Abetz said the partnership between the Federal and State governments would ensure scientific rigour was added to the often heated and emotional debate surrounding these contentious forestry practices.

Announcing the research initiative in Hobart yesterday, Senator Abetz said it was important science determined the outcome of these issues, rather than the "shrill mantra of some in our community".

About $4m of the research by the Forestry Co-operative Research Centre, based at the University of Tasmania, has been flagged as part of the 2004 Regional Tasmanian Community Forest Agreement, while the State Government is contributing another $2 million.

Forests Minister Bryan Green is confident the alternatives to clear-felling developed by the Forestry CRC will allow all clear-felling of "old growth forests" to be eliminated by 2010.

The State Government has already committed to this.

However, Mr Green said that, in practice, this clear-felling of native forests termed as "old growth" by Forestry Tasmania only accounted for 300 to 400 hectares a year.

But the conservation movement claims this figure is playing with statistics because Forestry Tasmania labels any ancient forest that has had a natural wildfire through it as regrowth to be clear-felled, rather than old growth.

"A lot of this is recycling announcements and commitments that have already been made, and muddying the water with confusing statistics," the Wilderness Society's Vica Bayley said last night.

Also announced yesterday was a renewed commitment by both the State and Federal governments to seek an alternative to the use of 1080 poison on farms and in private plantations.

The use of 1080 to kill browsing native animals that harm crops and young tree seedlings was stopped last year by Forestry Tasmania in the face of a growing international storm about the mass and cruel killings of species such as wallabies, Tasmanian devils, bandicoots and paddymelons.

Original article

02 May, 2006

ARTICLE: Forest protest flap

Warrnambool Standard

2 May 2006

A PROTEST to save the Cobboboonee forest near Portland and the state's remaining old-growth forest took a windy turn at a Warrnambool landmark yesterday.

Protesters scaled the dizzy heights of the Fletcher Jones water tower in the early hours

The first said in colourful writing `Save the Cobboboonee' and the second `Save Our Old Growth Forests' in black and white. Students from Deakin University and University of Melbourne launched the protest to stop clear-fell logging,
sparking outrage from Warrnambool City Council.

The council hired a crane to take down the banners later in the morning at a ``significant cost'' out of fears for the public's safety.

Warrnambool conservationist and protest member Piers Johnson said that in the past 100 years 95 per cent of the Portland forest management area and Cobboboonee forest had been cleared.

he area was home to endangered species such as the red-tailed black cockatoo and is under threat of land clearing, forest burning and general habitat destruction because of logging, Mr Johnson said.

``Actions will continue until (Premier) Bracks acts to protect remaining forests and declare them part of the existing Glenelg National Park,'' he said.

University of Melbourne student union environment officer Julia Dehm said the State Government vowed to stop logging in state forests at the last election but had continued to assign contracts to logging companies.

She said state parks like Cobboboonee should be declared national parks for future protection.

``Nothing has been done to stop it. We are hoping to put more pressure on the Government to ensure it is protected,'' she said.

Two protesters fitted with professional climbing apparatus scaled the rusted tower ladder at 2am yesterday and didn't abseil down until 5.30am.

Ms Dehm said the prominence of the site made it ideal to stage the protest.

``I think a lot of people support us. They are passionate about protecting their forest,'' she said.

Warrnambool City Council economic development director Andrew Minack said the banners were put up illegally and in a very dangerous site.

``Because of occupational health and safety we had to get a crane in to do anything. It was at a significant cost,'' he said.

``Council staff are forbidden to go up there. There are parts of the ladder rusted off.''

He said the banners were weighted down by bags filled with bricks and sand which had the potential to fall through the Fletcher Jones building roof onto TAFE students or pedestrians on paths. ``I understand people feeling passionate
about old-growth forests, but I don't think this is an appropriate way of displaying or promoting it,'' Mr Minack said.

Original article