Peter Weekes, The Age
January 20, 2008
Most of the trees logged in Victoria's native forests last year ended up as pulp, much of it exported to Japan to become photocopying paper. More than 85% of the 1.59 million cubic metres of the state's native forest logged last financial year — the equivalent of 4745 MCGs — was turned into woodchips, sawdust and waste.
The figures were released after a freedom-of-information request. They show that despite claims the industry is based on providing sawlogs for the state's building needs, this type of wood accounted for only 11.9% of the amount logged, with the remaining 2.8% turned into shipping pallets.
VicForests, the quasi-government agency charged with commercialising the state's forests, said the figures were only indicative as it does not keep records on how the wood is used, but are based on "our industry knowledge".
Luke Chamberlain, of the Wilderness Society, said poor industry practice meant vast areas of forest were being logged for a small amount of sawlog.
He said plantation wood could supply most of the state's needs, other than the highest-quality sawlogs, which he argues should be logged selectively rather than the current practice of clear-felling large coupes of native forest.
"These figures prove that logging of our native forest is not driven by the need for sawlogs, but for woodchips," he said.
"Under the national competition policy and the rules under which VicForests was established, it must be commercially viable and obviously it isn't."
The Sunday Age reported in December that VicForests sold last year's harvest for $99 million but reported a $17,000 loss. Last year, pulp fetched about $10 a metric tonne, while high-quality sawlogs fetched more than $70.
Two of the three big mills that bought the timber — Australian Paper, a subsidiary of PaperlinX and Japanese-owned South East Fibre Exports — posted a combined profit of $87 million last financial year, the Australian Securities Exchange and Australian Securities and Investments Commission filings show.
The privately held Midway did not release its profit.
David Pollard, chief executive of VicForests, said the "proportional and total sawlog level was lower than previous years because of bushfires and subsequent low sawlog-producing fire-salvage operation".
"The amount of pulp log produced in any year is about twice the amount of sawlogs."
Mr Chamberlain said this could not be independently verified as the volume of differing types of wood is not provided in VicForests' annual report or on its website.
Mr Pollard said paper manufacture from pulp was "one of the highest value-adding industries in Australia" and that the pulp industry helps to keep the price of sawlog timber lower.