24 November, 2010

Broken forest promises

Labor has broken their 2006 election promise to protect the last significant stands of old growth forest available to logging.  Only 11,000 hectares of the paltry 40,000 hectares they eventually protected this year is actually old growth.  

Brown Mountain and other old growth forests have subsequently been logged with the government actually in the logging business via their agency VicForests.  Most of the forest logged ends up as low value woodchips. not timber.

Logging in Melbourne's water catchments also continues despite clear scientific evidence it is decreasing Melbourne's water supplies and the logging industry is still keen to keep logging native forests despite dwindling jobs in the sector (Age 22/11).

The best John Brumby can do is to offer to facilitate "peace talks", while the Liberals have committed to continued logging that will destroy our remaining forests.  Labor and the Coalition have both abdicated responsibililty to save our remaining native forests and protect their biodiversity, despite overwhelming community support for this.

Its no suprise then that support is rising for the Greens, who have committed to an immediate logging industry transition to plantations. We need a referendum on protecting our native forests, not more broken promises and subterfuge from our governments.

22 November, 2010

Native forest logging doomed, says industry boss

Adam Morton and Royce Millar
The Age (article), November 22, 2010

VICTORIA'S most senior timber industry figure has declared that an end to native forest logging in Victoria is "inevitable", regardless of who wins the state election.

Bob Humphreys, president of the Victorian Association of Forest Industries and owner of a sawmill at Cann River in East Gippsland, said it was "fairyland" to think timber companies, unions and environmentalists could reach agreement under Tasmanian-style peace talks proposed by Labor.

But he said years of cuts to the amount of native forest timber allocated to the industry meant it could not continue on its current path and have a viable future. "The writing is on the wall - we are not going to survive," Mr Humphreys said.

"For the 30 years I have been involved in this we have sat around the table at various times, and every time we have gone to the table we have walked away with less than we arrived. That will just continue to happen until there is nothing left."

Mr Humphreys said he preferred the Coalition's forestry policy - guaranteeing the industry long-term access to current levels of native forest timber - but described it as "almost palliative care" and not the expansion of native forest harvesting needed.

"I don't see what is going to invigorate us," he said. "I don't see anyone coming along and saying this industry is worthwhile and supports a lot of small communities and does more good than harm."

He said it was unlikely that he could negotiate with environment groups over the industry's future. "I don't believe that I could bring myself to sit around the table with the Wilderness Society and the Australian Conservation Foundation and all those other environment groups and try to thrash out an agreement between us because we don't agree," he said.

The environment movement and forestry industry lobby are split over how quickly a transition could be made from native forests to plantations.

An analysis released by environmentalists last week found at least 70 per cent of timber from native forests - the low-grade timber for woodchips, pulp and paper - could be sourced completely from plantations in the state's south-west within five years. It found most sawn timber could be drawn from plantations by 2020.

Mr Humphreys said there was no such thing as a "plantation panacea" for the Victorian hardwood industry.

He said a shift out of native forestry would inevitably kill Gippsland forestry communities such as Cann River because the replacement plantations had been grown near ports in the west of the state, hundreds of kilometres away.

Wilderness Society forest campaigner Luke Chamberlain said policy direction in Victoria had not been good for jobs or forest protection for decades.

''The only secure future is to utilise the existing plantation estate and then grow smaller but high-value sawn timber plantations for the appearance-grade wood that has historically come from native forest,'' he said.

Chipping away

Royce Millar and Adam Morton
The Age (article), November 22, 2010

BOB Brown could have scripted John Brumby's passionate address to an adoring anti-logging rally in Treasury Gardens in 1995. ''An end to native forest woodchips, the protection of our high-conservation value forest areas and an industry which is based in the future on plantations. That's what we want.''

Standing on stage with a head-banded hippie, Brumby, then Victoria's opposition leader, slammed the ''bizarre'' policy that allowed state-owned native trees to be sold for peanuts, chipped, shipped to Japan and sent back as expensive paper. ''It's bad economics, it's bad industry policy, and it's appalling environment policy.'' There is a widespread view, including within the government, that little has changed.

In 2010 the total take of wood from the state's native forests is almost as much as it was 15 years ago - about 4000 Melbourne Cricket Grounds worth. What has changed is that the proportion of that timber sold for woodchips has increased dramatically. Of the 1.8 million tonnes of timber logged in eastern Victoria each year, more than 70 per cent is sold as export woodchips for as little as $2.50 a tonne.

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Labor's plan to address the problem did not match the rhetoric of 1995. Instead, warring parties - industry representatives, unions and environmentalists - will be brought together for peace talks.

Modelled on this year's breakthrough Tasmanian forestry peace process, Brumby's stakeholder forum is a major disappointment for some environmentalists and scientists. Australian National University ecologist Professor David Lindenmayer, dismisses it as a ''Clayton's'' forest policy that ignores the biodiversity crisis facing the forests after the bushfires of the past decade.

But government insiders insist the policy is no cop-out. The Tasmanian draft agreement represents a serious breakthrough on a national scale, they say, and Brumby is keen to exploit it.

Despite the mixed response, industry and environment groups have welcomed the proposed Victorian talks. To that extent, they acknowledge that Brumby may mean business.

But if progress in the 30-year Victorian forest conflict is in the offing, it is likely to be driven more by economics than concern for the endangered Leadbeater's possums or the potential value of the bush as a carbon sink. The timber industry is struggling and keen for help.

Seasoned commentators warn that if real change is to flow from the forum, it is unlikely to come cheap; taxpayers will be asked to foot a substantial part of the bill, and environmentalists will likely be held responsible.

In Tasmania, the controversial Gunns timber firm was the key industry player in the Apple Isle draft agreement to move out of native forests and into plantations. The Gunns' announcement followed a 98 per cent collapse of profits in the second half of 2009, and a push by large institutional shareholders for a withdrawal from forests.

Gunns also faced pressure from Japanese paper makers who boycotted woodchips that lacked forest-stewardship accreditation or were taken from high-conservation-value native forests. The company's Swedish finance partners also demanded it use plantation timber in its proposed Tamar Valley pulp mill.

The ''pot of gold at the end of the Tasmanian rainbow'', as one senior industry figure describes it, is a $2.2 billion pulp mill and probably a big lick of Commonwealth money to ease the transition. ''My personal view is that Tasmania may not have gotten to this point without a pulp mill underpinning the transition,'' says Philip Dalidakis, chief executive of the Victorian Association of Forest Industries.

However, Victorian timber companies are quick to point out that the industry here is a different beast. Gunns operates in Victoria, but is focused on producing timber for housing, not woodchips. The international customers of Victorian woodchips have not applied the same pressure to the state's big exporters, Midway and South East Fibre Exports. And the Victorian talks will not have a pulp mill on the table, removing the key ingredient that gave environmentalists leverage in Tasmania.

Gunns has flagged its intention to eventually move out of native forests in Victoria, but chief executive Greg L'Estrange says this is difficult because most of the state's plantation timber is in the far south-west, a long way from its mills in Alexandra in the Central Highlands and Heyfield in Gippsland.

Distance, however, is not the only disincentive. Timber from publicly owned native forests is much cheaper. Environmentalists say forestry in Victoria remains a classic example of old-fashioned feather-bedding. The government provides the land, grows the trees and contracts the workers to cut and cart the timber. The price paid for publicly owned trees does not factor in the true long-term capital cost of managing the forest and producing the trees.

A state parliamentary committee report shows that government timber agency VicForests, was paid between $2.50 and $6.50 a cubic metre for its trees in 2008. This compares with about $50 from commercial plantations.

In a report for environment groups released last week, the National Institute for Industry and Economic Research estimated that if Victoria's public forests were run on the same basis as commercial plantations, the state would receive income of $200 million per year from the sale of wood. In the five years to 2010, VicForests made a total loss before tax of $627,000.

Government support for forestry is not a new phenomenon. Commonwealth and state governments have played an active role for 100 years, initially by setting aside forest reserves to protect the industry from advancing land-clearing for agriculture and later, under former prime minister Robert Menzies, by encouraging dramatic clearing of native forests for softwood plantings.

When this policy ran foul of the environment lobby, tax breaks were introduced for private plantations, prompting the creation of managed investment schemes, including the now troubled Timbercorp and Great Southern - the companies behind the bulk of blue gum farms in south-west Victoria.

The upshot was that the state's major timber export companies enjoyed profits that were the envy of other industries. In more recent years, however, returns have been in a tailspin. Victoria's timber industries have taken a pounding from the global financial crisis, the depressed US housing market, declining Japanese demand for pulp, and lower than expected uptake of timber products by the surging Chinese economy.

Earnings per share for South East Fibre Exports for the year to December 2009 were one-third of the year before, and before-tax profit was down from $15 million to $5.3 million. Victoria's traditional mills are closing as the industry rapidly consolidates and shifts focus from high-end sawlog products to woodchips.

As in Tasmania, jobs are haemorrhaging out of timber - so much so that the forestry division of the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union last month described the industry nationally as in ''crisis''.

Nationals leader Peter Ryan last month said there were 19,500 workers in the Victorian timber industry, a figure that includes plantation labour. Green groups claim the true native forest workforce is in the hundreds.

CFMEU national secretary Michael O'Connor is a central and controversial player in the forestry debate. He made a watershed concession after a dogged 20-year defence of native forestry workers. Commenting on Tasmania's draft peace agreement, he said it signalled a way forward for the industry in other states. ''We want the best possible future for our members and their families and if that can be achieved by peace, not war, then let's talk, not fight,'' he said.

These words may well prove pivotal as warring parties sit down to negotiate John Brumby's proposed peace plan.

O'Connor belongs to a small but influential left grouping within the ALP faction that includes Prime Minister Julia Gillard and Resources Minister Martin Ferguson, as well as senior advisers to both Premier Brumby and Victorian Agriculture Minister Joe Helper.

His change of heart has given Labor the cover it needs to propose Tasmanian-style peace talks for Victoria.

Also important to both the economics and politics of the Victorian industry's future is Labor's announcement last week that it was scrapping its timber trading arm VicForests, and replacing it with a body with a broader forest management remit than just selling wood.

VicForests has few friends, having been widely criticised for its logging practices and lack of economic viability. Judith Ajani, a Victorian government forest policy adviser turned Australian National University academic, says the abolition of VicForests is crucial if real change is to be achieved.

Ahead of this week's state poll, the industry association made clear that it prefers the unapologetically pro-forest position of Ted Baillieu's Coalition.

A Baillieu government would maintain the current level of native forest logging and change contract arrangements to give the industry longer-term certainty.

But, after determined lobbying, forestry industry leaders are also relieved that Labor has opted for peace talks over the preference of some others within government - a unilateral decision to end logging in Melbourne's water catchments.

Philip Dalidakis acknowledges the Tasmanian deal has the potential to ''establish a precedent in the public mind'' about withdrawal from native forests.

In a sign of growing confidence, boosted by progress in Tasmania, most environment groups also back the peace talks over the Melbourne catchment ban. The Wilderness Society and the Australian Conservation Foundation have opted to roll the dice on Labor's forum delivering more fundamental change.

But not everyone is supportive. Bob Humphreys, industry association president and owner of a timber mill at Cann River in East Gippsland, says the talks are unrealistic.

''I don't believe that I could bring myself to sit around the table with … all those environmental groups and try to thrash out an agreement between us because we don't agree,'' he says.

''They are going to keep pushing until there is a total cessation of native forest logging. I will keep pushing until we keep surviving.''

John Brumby says he will not dictate terms to the forestry forum, but under questioning, he confirmed that he expected a shift out of forests and into plantations.

If the parties are able to reach in-principle agreement on such a transition, the question will inevitably become: who pays?

Brumby says he would expect his forum to nut out a joint plan for the future, and the federal government would then be asked for funding to carry out reforms.

Can the differences between the industry and green groups be bridged without a government weighing in?

The industry association maintains there must be a future for both native forest timber and plantations as they provide different products.

Dalidakis says the existing plantations are devoted almost exclusively to wood chips, and that the predominantly blue gum timber grown in the south-west is inadequate for higher value sawlog uses, such as flooring and joinery.

He says a best-case scenario would involve plantations providing timber for domestic flooring in 35 to 60 years. Corporate backing for such a long-term gamble would be non-existent.

''If government is serious about pursuing this policy, then they would have to do it because the resource is not going to come from anywhere else,'' he says.

Environment groups instead emphasise how quickly the shift to plantations can be made.

The recent consultant's report on their behalf found that most of Victoria's native forest logging could be replaced by plantations within five years. It suggested plantations could meet demand for wood for lesser-value products such as woodchips and pulp by plantations by 2015, and most sawn timber for structural products within a decade. Some of the top-end wood products - the floorboards and joinery that make up to 10 per cent of wood from native forests - would take longer.

Judith Ajani sees the Tasmanian model as a positive move, but says governments should not be fooled into paying more than necessary.

''What we're seeing now in these negotiations is an industry push for more government money … That is, business as usual,'' she says. ''It's time to take stock and find out what this industry really is and to let market realities drive plantation investment.''

20 November, 2010

Tasmanian forest industry waits for emergency funds

Sid Maher
The Australian (article), 20 November 2010

An emergency rescue package for the Tasmanian native forest industry promised during the federal election campaign is yet to be delivered.

The delay has sparked fears it could jeopardise an industry restructure that has won the overwhelming support of workers.

A ballot of CFMEU Tasmanian forestry division workers overwhelmingly supported a peace deal between conservationists, the industry and the union, with 97 per cent voting in favour of the industry restructure.

But CFMEU forestry division national president Jane Calvert said concern was growing at the Gillard government's failure to deliver the promised $20 million in emergency assistance to the industry.

Ms Calvert said the funds were to have been earmarked for about 1300 people involved in harvesting and haulage who had been hit hard by the current state of the industry.

She said that, unless the money for the emergency rescue package was delivered shortly, "there will be panic around our industry".

Ms Calvert said the government's procrastination could spark a loss of confidence in the process even though the union ballot vote had delivered a strong mandate for the process to begin.

More than 55 per cent of eligible members voted in the ballot -- about twice the normal turnout -- and 95 per cent endorsed the union's position for a just transition for workers, their families and communities.

On another question, 94 per cent voted for a future ballot on whether to endorse the continued implementation of the restructure.

The overwhelming endorsement of the "statement of principles" struck between environmental organisations, the industry and the union will spur talks on a moratorium on logging in high-conservation areas and, ultimately, a shift away from native forests and into plantation timber.

The CFMEU wants the green lobby and governments to secure the industry's long-term survival around the nation by agreeing to a dramatic expansion of plantation forestry.

Forestry Minister Joe Ludwig said the government would meet its election commitment to help forest contractors and their employees meet the challenges facing the native forest sector in Tasmania. "We recognise that contractors in Tasmania are facing difficulties. I will be making an announcement on the details of this package shortly and offers will be made to successful applicants before Christmas," Senator Ludwig said.

19 November, 2010

Planting the future

Chris Owens, Lysterfield South
The Age (letter), 19 November 2010

TIM Cleary might like to deride those who care about the natural environment, but the forestry industry will never have ''certainty'' until it gets out of old-growth, high-conservation-value forests (Letters, 18/11).

Australia has the world's worst extinction record in the past 200 years. Environmentalists cannot accept the logging of these forests - habitat for rare and endangered species and a publicly owned asset - at a net loss to the taxpayer.Certainty for the industry means plantations.

As the Brown Mountain court case demonstrated, neither VicForests nor the Department for Sustainability and the Environment was undertaking fauna surveys before the chainsaws were sent in. It was left to volunteer organisations to find rare and endangered species then take legal action to protect them. If Mr Cleary had any regard for endangered wildlife, he would not try to ridicule volunteers doing the job of governments.

18 November, 2010

VoteForests 2010 - Life depends on it

The 2010 state election is nigh and the forest policies have been announced by the major parties. The stakes are high for the seats of Seymour and Gembrook as the parties forest policy will be a key determination on who will rule these bedrock Labor seats. Seymour hangs in with a 6% Labor lead and Gembrook ‘s candidate will be decided by a meagre 400 votes, currently held by Labor leader Tammy Lobato. These two seats carry the responsibility for the water supply to millions of people, they house a multitude of endangered species and condition Melbourne’s air quality. They are also the heartland for some of Victoria’s biggest woodchip contracts and supply Japans Nippon Paper with millions of tonnes of woodchips every year.

A coalition of regional environment groups have come together to develop a scorecard for the parties to make it easy for voters to asses the parties based on their environmental policies.

Final Scores:
Labor: 30%
Greens: 90%
Coalition: 0.5%

Today an appeal is being made to regional voters to cast their feelings about the current forest logging at the ballot box on the 27th of November. This is our last chance to save tree’s such as the tree featured above, thought to be 500 years old in the Toolangi state forests.

Appeal: Why Vote Forests?

What are our native forests worth? What value do we place on fresh air, clean water and climate stability? And what will happen to our ecosystems when species are disappearing at such fast rates?
These are the questions we are meant to be asking ourselves in 2010, the International Year of Biodiversity. According to the United Nations, biodiversity is essential to sustaining the living networks and systems that provide us all with health, wealth, food, fuel and vital services our lives depend on. 
Forests are biologically diverse systems, representing some of the richest biological areas on Earth. They offer a variety of habitats for plants, animals and micro-organisms. However, forest biodiversity is increasingly threatened as a result of deforestation. 

Yet Australia is one of a handful of countries, including Brazil and Indonesia, losing more than 500,000 hectares of native forest a year since 2005. All over the world, other countries are beginning to realise the value of native forests to protect our biodiversity and our heritage. 

We all know the value of protecting our heritage buildings, even if it comes at a great cost, not only in capital expenditure but also in loss of commercial activities. Successive Victorian government’s have spent have spent more than 20 million dollars over the last few years protecting the state’s architectural heritage. At the same time, State Government forest policy has allowed logging in forests that date back to when Leonado Da Vinci painted the ‘Last Supper’, the 'Mona Lisa' and Boticelli painted the ‘Birth of Venus.’ These legacies are Victoria’s history, the artefacts of our natural heritage.
Victoria is the most land-cleared state in Australia and yet houses more forest than any other state, including Queensland. Our forests are home to the critically endangered Leadbeater’s possum, sooty and powerful owls, great gliders and small native fish like the Barred Galaxias.

The Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics estimates that up to 85 per cent of wood coming from the Central Highlands Forest is being sold to Japanese pulp and paper company Nippon for as little as $12 per tonne. 

We, the undersigned, are calling on concerned residents of Seymour and Gembrook to let the major parties understand the value of our native forests - vote forests. Let them know that native forests are not just trees. They are the lifeblood of this planet - our history and our future. 

We the undersigned support an end to native forest logging:

My Environment Inc
Healesville Environment Watch
Communities Combating Climate Change (C4)
Environment East Gippsland
Friends of the Leadbeater’s Possum
Warburton Environment Inc

Vote forests, life depends on it.

Thank you,
Sarah Rees & the MyEnvironment Team.

When talk is cheap

Tim Cleary, Werribee
The Age (letter), 18 November 2010

ONE of the reasons the Tasmanian forest peace plan got so far was because it was initiated by the participants. The state government stayed out of it until the last minute.

In contrast, the Victorian ALP has committed to getting loggers to talk with greenies from the outset (''Loggers, greenies arguing already'', The Age 17/11). The last time this happened was during the regional forest agreements of the 1990s, which provided no certainty for either side - that's why they are still arguing.

Another possible solution is for the Victorian native forest industry to attain certification to the Forest Stewardship Council standard. This would mean that the loggers would need to improve their standards, and the domestic environmentalists would need to recognise international best practice, not be stuck on commie-hippie-greenie-nimbyism.

17 November, 2010

New study shows a way out of native forests for Victorian timber industry

Media Release - The Wilderness Society and Australian Conservation Foundation
Wednesday, 17 November 2010                    
An independent report commissioned by The Wilderness Society and the Australian Conservation Foundation outlines how the Victorian forestry and wood products sector can achieve real resource security by making a smooth and rapid transition from native forests into plantations, paving the way for an end to Victoria’s long running forest disputes.

The report by the National Institute of Economic and Industry Research (NIEIR), ‘Opportunities, issues and implications for a transition of the Victorian wood products industry from native forest into plantations’ outlines a path for the native forest industry to shift into Victoria’s now huge plantation resource, Australia’s largest, starting immediately.

“So far this election, the Coalition has committed to intensify native forest logging, and the ALP has said they’ll convene talks between the industry & conservationists. Neither party has promised to properly protect our precious native forests, but this report shows it is possible and can be done very quickly,” said The Wilderness Society’s Victorian Forest Campaigner Luke Chamberlain.

“Victoria’s extensive plantations, mainly in Western Victoria, can provide an additional 3.5 million cubic metres of eucalypt hardwood a year – almost three times the volume of low-value logs currently harvested from public native forests.”

According to the study, the vast majority of the wood currently extracted from native forests (mostly woodchips and low value products) can be replaced with plantation timber now, while higher grade wood for joinery and flooring can be sourced from native forests until suitable wood is available in plantations.

“The coming on stream of Victoria’s plantation resource fundamentally shifts the forest debate. It is no longer a case of jobs versus the environment,” said Lindsay Hesketh, Forest Campaign Coordinator for the Australian Conservation Foundation.

“We can protect our native forests and have a vibrant plantation based wood products industry with more jobs, and well positioned to take advantage of growth export markets into Asia.”

“It leaves open the opportunity to leave native forests to do what they do best – store carbon, supply water and protect biodiversity, while using existing plantations for what they do best – wood production.” he concluded.

The report finds:

  • just as the housing and construction industry has made a transition to plantation based softwood products, it is now possible for the woodchip, pulp and paper sectors to move to a plantation-based resource 
  • the newly restructured wood industry would have security of supply and be based on leading-edge technology
  • Victoria could become a world leader in forest-based carbon stores, helping the state address climate change 
  • if Victoria’s native forest estate competed with the hardwood plantation sector in a commercially neutral manner, it would generate a return to taxpayers of between $200 and $300 million per year
  • the transition to plantation-based forestry will create real financial incentives to invest in the State’s plantation estate and improved processing technology without the need for ongoing State and Federal Government subsidies.

For further comment contact:

Luke Chamberlain, The Wilderness Society                          0424 098 729
Lindsay Hesketh, Australian Conservation Foundation         0418 655 551

Loggers, greenies arguing already

Adam Morton and Royce Millar
The Age (article), November 17, 2010

PREMIER John Brumby's proposed Tasmanian-style forest peace plan is under pressure just days after being announced, with environmentalists and timber bosses at loggerheads over a new study into the industry's future.

Research to be released today suggests most of Victoria's native forest logging could be replaced with timber from plantations within five years.

Commissioned by the Conservation Foundation and the Wilderness Society, it found that the demand for wood for lesser-value products such as woodchips and pulp could be met entirely by plantations by 2015. Most higher-grade sawlogs used for floorboards and joinery would come from plantations within a decade.

The study was immediately challenged by Victorian Association of Forest Industries head Philip Dalidakis, who warned he would struggle to negotiate with the Wilderness Society unless it took a more conciliatory approach.

The clash followed Mr Brumby last week promising talks between forestry companies, unions and green groups in a bid to reach consensus over the timber industry's long-term future.

The study, by the National Institute of Economic and Industry Research, found there was growing pressure on the government to charge the industry the true cost of native forest timber and put comparatively expensive plantations on a level playing field.

Woodchips from native forest sell for between $2.50 and $6 per cubic metre, compared with about $52 from commercial plantations.

The proportion of native forest timber sold as low-value pulp logs had increased from 50 per cent up to 70 per cent over the past decade. Just 30 per cent becomes saw logs for higher-value uses.

The consultants' report said ''extremely conservative'' assumptions suggested a transition to plantation-based forestry would lead to the industry employing more people than now within five years.

Wilderness Society campaigner Luke Chamberlain said the report showed the vast majority of wood extracted from native forests could be immediately replaced with plantation timber, mostly from western Victoria.

''Political leaders of all parties need to look closely at the historic opportunity we now have to resolve perhaps the longest running and controversial environmental issue in Victoria,'' he said.

Australian Conservation Foundation campaign co-ordinator Lindsay Hesketh said the underpricing of native forest timber had left the industry ''stuck in the past, reliant on subsidies, unable to progress''.

It is believed some in the state government have not been persuaded by the report. The Age understands the government commissioned its own analysis by consultants Fifth Estate. The results of the second study have not been released.

Mr Dalidakis said the environment groups' study was based on flawed modelling and assumptions that undervalued the native forest industry, overestimated the supply from plantations and underestimated the costs of transporting plantation timber from south-west Victoria to a mill at Maryvale, in Gippsland.

12 November, 2010

The Wilderness Society responds to Labor’s forest package

MEDIA RELEASE, The Wilderness Society
12 November 2010

The Wilderness Society has cautiously welcomed the Labor Party’s promise to support and fund a stakeholder negotiation process to resolve the state’s long-running forest disputes.

“However we are disappointed that this announcement fails to listen to community concerns to protect of our high conservation value native forests and puts the onus on stakeholders in the debate to solve the issue,” said The Wilderness Society’s Victorian Forest Campaigner Luke Chamberlain.

“We welcome the recognition from the Brumby government that just like in Tasmania, the Victorian native forest logging industry is in crisis and needs reform.”

“As in Tasmania, we will take up the challenge and enter these negotiations in good faith,”

“However this does not alter the expectation we have always held that the state government immediately stop logging in Victoria’s high conservation value forests, rule out the burning of native forests for power generation and help move the industry into Victoria’s plantation resource."

“Our native forests are facing a biodiversity crisis after years of over-logging. Our willingness to enter into talks does not absolve the state government of responsibility to show leadership in protecting Victoria’s forests.”

“The commitment to abolish VicForests is a welcome acknowledgment that the agency has failed both economically and environmentally, and that non-timber values such as carbon, water and biodiversity must be prioritised by the new agency.”

“Reinstating pre-logging surveys for East Gippsland is also a good decision, but it must be enacted immediately, and should apply to the whole state, not just one region.

For further comment contact:  Luke Chamberlain m: 0424 098 729
Gavan McFadzean m: 0417 754 023

Brumby makes pledge on state forests

Adam Morton and Royce Millar
The Age (article), November 12, 2010

PREMIER John Brumby will today promise ''Tasmanian-style'' peace talks between loggers, unions and environmentalists in a bid to resolve decades of conflict over the forestry industry in Victoria.

A returned Labor state government would also abolish VicForests, the government agency that has faced accusations over its logging practices and economic viability.

But Mr Brumby has not guaranteed that the process will lead to greater protection of the state's old-growth forests.

He said a ''stakeholder forum'' would follow the Tasmanian model, in which timber companies, unions and green groups met for several months before submitting a joint recommendation to the government.

The federal government would then be asked for funding to carry out proposed reforms, including possibly helping workers and communities who lost their jobs.

"We have been encouraged by the approach taken in Tasmania and we hope that stakeholders in Victoria can also put forward a strong and sustainable consensus vision for the timber and forest products industry," Mr Brumby said.

"The key is to provide a fair process where all the parties feel comfortable negotiating and discussing possible solutions, without the government having a predetermined view."

10 November, 2010

Government pursues Brown Mountain protest charges

Magistrates Court at Melbourne, Wednesday 10 November 2011

In August 2010 the Supreme Court of Victoria found that logging at Brown Mountain was unlawful.
Concerned members of the community protested against logging at Brown Mountain as surveys revealed the existence of threatened species.  The government criminally charged these individuals for protesting and their charges have come before the Court today.

Lawyer for the individuals charged, Vanessa Bleyer, invited the government to withdraw the charges.

“Minister Jennings and Premier Brumby should do the right thing and withdraw the charges against those individuals who were taking steps to stop the government breaking the law,” Ms Bleyer said “particularly when their purpose has effectively been vindicated by the Supreme Court”.

“The government refused to withdraw the charges despite the Supreme Court finding that logging at Brown Mountain would be unlawful” she said.

“The individuals are now put to the time and expense of defending the charges against them in the Magistrates’ Court” she continued.

Today, the Court will determine when the matters will next be listed in Court before the final hearing.

For further information contact Vanessa Bleyer on 03 9600 4224 or 0412 58 68 48.

Want to save the world? Plant a tree

Steven Katsineris, Hurstbridge
The Age (letter), 10 November 2010

SINCE the fires of 2009 there has been an increase in clearing of trees and other native vegetation around Melbourne. In the past 200 years we have cleared billions of trees for agriculture, grazing and human habitation. The loss of these trees and other vegetation has brought about many of the environmental problems we now face in south-eastern Australia.

We need to nurture and maintain trees; by conserving and replanting them we combat climate change, filter and purify our water, cool the earth, stop soil erosion, control salinity, provide shade and shelter, preserve habitat and wildlife.

We all want to protect our families and communities, but rather than helping, cutting down more trees will probably make things worse.

Every tree saved makes a difference to retaining a healthy environment.

09 November, 2010

Be selective

Ian Davidson, Wangaratta
The Age (letter), 9 November 2010

THE end of old-growth logging in Tasmania, and in other states hopefully, is terrific news; but the Greens proposal to end all logging on public land is simplistic and provides conservation no great long-term advantage.

As an independent wildlife biologist with nearly 30 years' experience, I have come to recognise that high-value selection logging, which retains large trees in native forest, is the only land use that maintains all flora and fauna in the long term. I have been in healthy rainforests teeming with wildlife in Borneo where high-quality forest management is practised and many people are still involved and employed, without public expense.

All land requires management to control weeds and feral pests, let alone thinning our many dense regrowth forests - who will pay? By all means stop bad forestry practices, but promote uses of native vegetation that retain wildlife and ecological health, especially if they can be self-funding.

Chip backflip

Kath Gannaway
Upper Yarra Mail (article), 9th November 2010

Ray Lewis wants a halt to clear-fell logging of native forests for wood chips.

TOOLANGI resident Ray Lewis is calling on John Brumby to keep the pre-election promise he made in 2005 to ban wood chipping of native forests timber.

He wants the Premier to stand by the election pledge to end native forest woodchipping exports.

However, last week the Premier's office issued a statement saying the government backed the industry's woodchip paper deal.

As Victorians head to the polls, Mr Lewis said he wanted all political parties to commit to ditching clear-fell logging in state forests, and in particular in the water catchments.

And, keep those promises.

“I'm not a greenie, and I have no objection to selective logging, but what you see here is just ripping the guts out of the forest,” Mr Lewis said looking from the hill above his home to a coupe of Silvia Creek Road.

It was at a pre-election rally in Melbourne fifteen years ago that John Brumby, as Leader of the Opposition labelled wood chipping of native forests “a total disaster” in terms of the economic return and the environment.

Slating the Kennett Government for its record on the export woodchip industry before the surprise ALP win, Mr Brumby said: “We need a new direction, we have the opportunity to head in a new direction, a new direction that says no export woodchips from our native forests.”

Mr Lewis says it's time that promise was honoured and that the time is right, with the Tasmanian timber industry's recent announcement they plan to move out of native forests in favour of plantation timber, for all Victorian politicians to bite the bullet on an industry he says sends more native timber overseas as woodchip than it turns into high quality timber products.

While the Department of Sustainability in August reduced the number of coupes approved in its Timber Release Plans by 47 in the Marysville District which includes Toolangi, he says it is not enough.

“They are clearing remnant forest, untouched by the Black Saturday bushfires and when you challenge VicForests or DSE they just tell you they regenerate it,” he said. “You only have to go up to the Monda Track (Toolangi) and see what's been done there. When they clear-fell they take everything, including tree-ferns, some decades old. You can't reseed them.

“They left a buffer zone, but months later came back and cut it all down resulting in damage to trees and ferns on the other side of the road.

A VicForests spokesman in response to questions put to the organisation in July in relation to logging in Toolangi told the Mail while in some instances the Forest Management Plan requires a scenic buffer of specific roads there was no requirement for one on the Monda Track coupe.

He said the section, which Mr Lewis refers to as a buffer, was not logged during the initial harvesting in 2008/09 but was cut in 2009/10 as planned.

In relation to tree-ferns, he said “VicForests does not remove tree ferns from the forest as part of its operations”, but added that “not all ferns survive the harvesting process”.

03 November, 2010

Call to end native woodchipping

Leslie White
The Weekly Times, November 3, 2010

A contractor for government logging agency VicForests has called for the end of woodchipping of native forests for export.

The contractor, who asked not be named, also said the agency was sending some timber-quality "sawlogs" to the woodchipper and was carting timber from the Central Highlands to East Gippsland for a taxpayer-funded loss of more than $1000 a truckload.

The news comes as Premier John Brumby, who as opposition leader had promised to end wood chipping for export and base the industry on plantations, is under pressure to release a forest policy.

WATCH THE VIDEO: John Brumby promises - back in 1995 - to end wood chipping for export

The contractor said East Gippsland coupes were producing as little as one in 12 truckloads of sawlogs and that the woodchips in the remaining loads were being "given away".

"It's ridiculous - the stuff should just be left standing," the contractor said.

"(Prices paid for woodchips are) supposed to be confidential, but it's around $65 (a cubic metre), and it costs that."

Much of VicForests' operations were based on selling massive volumes of pulp at very small return, he said.

VicForests' annual reports state it has harvested about 1.8 million metres cubic metres of timber in each of the past two years.

The Weekly Times understands Midway and Japanese-owned South East Fibre near Eden, export 900,000 cubic metres of this as woodchips to Japan.

VicForests' biggest customer, the Maryvale Mill, is also Japanese-owned.

The contractor also accused VicForests of converting native forest to "plantation" by "clearing multi-aged species to get a single-aged crop in there" which was easier to harvest.

A spokesman for VicForests said logs were sold at online auctions and that it liaised "closely with sawmill owners" to ensure as many sawlogs as possible were purchased.

VicForests aimed to maximise the number of sawlogs it took from the bush, he said.

VicForests delivered timber across to state "to meet its contractual obligations", he said.

The spokesman said prices paid for wood chips were commercial-in-confidence.

"VicForests actively regenerates all areas which it harvests to enhance the quality of Victoria's forests, and improve the long-term sustainability of the native timber industry," he said.

A spokeswoman for Mr Brumby said the Government had "a strong record in balancing the sustainability of Victoria's timber industry" with "the need to protect biodiversity".

Coalition's forest vow slammed

Adam Morton
The Age (article), November 3, 2010

Environment groups have attacked the opposition's forestry policy, accusing it of planning to intensify logging to a rate that could turn Central Highlands native forests into plantations.

The Coalition says it will guarantee the forestry industry's long-term future by promising current levels of native forest logging could continue. It would also review the frequency at which forests of fast-growing native species are logged.

The Wilderness Society and Australian Conservation Foundation said the Coalition's policy was at odds with a push for employers, unions and environmentalists to follow Tasmania's lead in working on a joint peace deal.

The forestry union has joined activists in calling for a similar process in Victoria.

Coalition agriculture spokesman Peter Walsh said logging rates would only be changed if it was backed by scientists from the Department of Sustainability and Environment.

30 October, 2010

In Eden lies knowledge of trees

Paddy Manning
Sydney Morning Herald, October 30, 2010
Also published in WA Today

''Clearing forests may enrich those who are doing it, but over the long run it impoverishes the planet as a whole.'' That's not tree-hugging blather, but a leader in The Economist a few weeks ago.

The magazine wants governments to ''move fast'' to save the world's forests, describing them as ''purveyors of water, consumers of carbon, treasure-houses of species … ecological miracles''.

''Without a serious effort to solve this problem,'' the leader concluded, ''the risk from climate change will be vastly increased and the planet will lose one of its most valuable, and most beautiful, assets. That would be a tragedy.''

A map of the world, inside the magazine's special report, coloured Australia bright red - one of a handful of countries, including Brazil and Indonesia, losing more than 500,000 hectares of forest a year since 2005.

As climate change accelerates, it makes no sense to be chopping down native forest - the cheapest, largest-scale carbon sequestration available. Land-use change (mostly deforestation) accounts for about 15 to 17 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions - more than all the world's ships, cars, trains and planes.

Afforestation, reforestation and reduced agricultural emissions could, the magazine reported, sequester 40 parts per million of greenhouse gas from the at osphere by 2050. (We are at 450 ppm and rising; we need to get back to 350 ppm.) Old growth forest may be especially significant in its ability to suck up carbon.

Which is one reason there has been an ecstatic reaction to the peace deal negotiated this month to phase out native forest logging in Tasmania.

A lot of detail needs to be fleshed out, and there is plenty of scope for backsliding, but the immediate focus has switched to the mainland. Can a similar coup be achieved here?

Talks are beginning, but it looks hard. At Eden, on the NSW south coast, the Japanese-owned South East Fibre Export woodchip mill is locked in a 40-year fight for survival against conservationists.

Its chief executive, Peter Mitchell, says that SEFE, unlike Gunns, does not have the option of switching to plantation. Too much nearby forest is protected, or is state forest which cannot be converted to plantation.

Woodchip prices are down. A value-adding pulp mill is not an option - the region does not have enough water and, at roughly a million tonnes a year, throughput is too small to justify the investment needed.

The mill is a major employer in the Eden area, whose economy the federal Labor MP Mike Kelly - also the parliamentary secretary for forestry - describes as tenuous. Parliamentary library research he's done confirms SEFE can't move to a wholly plantation base.

A bright spot for SEFE was a proposal, now before the NSW government, to build a five megawatts biomass plant to burn so-called fines - residues from their own mill, and from nearby sawmills - to generate renewable electricity. At the moment the residues either help power the Bega Cheese factory or are sold as mulch and carted away. Some is wasted.

The plant would power the mill and, if excess power was sold on and renewable energy certificates (RECs) generated, it could be a nice little earner.

SEFE estimates that on top of turnover of about $70 million a year, if the biomass plant generated its forecast 31,000MWh a year, sold on at $80/MWh (based on a REC price of $35 and a wholesale electricity price of 5.5¢/kWh) it would pull in about $2.5 million.

Which is not make-or-break - SEFE will survive if the plant does not get up. A key question is whether the local retailer Country Energy, the only logical buyer, will buy power from a controversial project. Mitchell says Country offered SEFE an indicative price a year ago.

''They'll buy it,'' he says, ''but they wouldn't sell it as Green Power.'' Country dodged the question this week, saying it has all the renewable energy it needs for now.

Conservationists fear the Eden biomass proposal is a test case, the thin end of the wedge, which would provide a vast new market to prop up native forest logging, just as the economic case for traditional woodchip operations is unravelling. It may seem crazy to log native forest for renewable energy now, but if a carbon price is brought in, and it rises as expected, dragging REC prices up with it, what now seems uneconomic could soon become a major industry. It is a deal-breaker for the environment movement if native forest can be burnt to generate ''renewable'' energy.

''It's the number-one conspiracy theory we get thrown at us,'' says Mitchell, adding that the REC regime incorporates a ''high value test'' that prevents logging for the primary purpose of generating energy. NSW environment protection laws prevent use of forest residues for power generation. Mill residues are OK.

Kelly, whose seat of Eden-Monaro takes in both the Snowy Hydro scheme and Infigen's Capital wind farm at Bungendore, wants the region to be Australia's renewable energy flagship and is working with the Clean Energy for Eternity movement, which promotes a ''50/50 by 2020'' emissions reduction target.

Kelly is a cautious supporter of the SEFE project as long as it does not use native forest waste, although he supports native forest logging in the region.

The forestry division national secretary of the Construction Forestry Mining and Energy Union, Michael O'Connor, is equally guarded. The union's position will depend on the outcome of collective agreement negotiations at SEFE. ''We're not going to support any employer … if they don't have good, safe union jobs. It's a bit like someone you live next door to. If they're rude to you, you're less likely to help them out.''


29 October, 2010

Road to extinction

Jill Sanguinetti, Narbethong
The Age (letter), 29 October 2010

ENVIRONMENT Minister Tony Burke's newly released biodiversity plan (''Biodiversity plan to lock up land'', The Age, 27/10) is woefully inadequate given the biodiversity crisis upon us.

The UN Global Biodiversity Outlook 3 report released in May found that the target set by the UN in 2002, to significantly reduce the rate of biodiversity loss by 2010, was not met. In fact, the rate of extinctions and habitat loss has significantly accelerated since 2002. The report calls for urgent, direct action to reverse a projected dramatic loss of biodiversity in the next 10 years.

If Tony Burke is listening he will call for an immediate halt to clear-fell logging in remaining pockets of ecologically mature, mixed-age forests that are home to vulnerable and culturally valued species.

In the central highlands of Victoria, species such as spotted quoll, Leadbeater's possum, greater glider and sooty and powerful owl are facing local or absolute extinction; floral species are being lost to clear-felling and monocultural plantation; and the habitat of iconic species such as superb lyrebirds and wallabies is being erased at an unprecedented rate. A five-year plan to meet biodiversity targets is way too slow.

28 October, 2010

No forest quick fix: union

Adam Morton
The Age (article), October 28, 2010

THE forestry workers' union has warned the Brumby government not to make a quick-fix election commitment on native forests to woo the green vote, saying it would kill any chance of a Tasmanian-style peace deal for Victoria.

The Construction Forestry Mining and Energy Union has called for forestry peace talks for Victoria similar to those in Tasmania, where the timber industry and environment groups last week agreed to a framework deal to phase out the majority of native forest logging.

Michael O'Connor - the CFMEU forestry division national secretary who will lead the entire union from January - said Victorian timber companies had already been approached about joining talks on the industry's future.

But he said this did not mean the union supported an end to native forest logging in Victoria, and cautioned against the state government promising a ''five-minute fix'' before the November 27 poll.

It is understood Labor figures have been considering an election forestry commitment, with ending logging in Melbourne's water catchments a likely priority.

Mr O'Connor said: ''My view is, if the government wanted to play around the edges with this issue they probably would kill off instantly any chance of a similar process as Tasmania ever happening.

''People who are advocating certain positions about the forestry issue just because there is an election around the corner, shouldn't let the blood rush to their head.''

Mr O'Connor said the native forest industry was in crisis, and that peace talks were the best way to give security to forestry workers and towns. In the meantime, he called for the forest area available for logging to remain unchanged and timber contracts overhauled to protect workers' rights.

Wilderness Society forests campaigner Luke Chamberlain called on the government to commit to supporting Victorian peace talks. He said they would need to protect native forests and give the logging industry a secure future in plantations.

Victorian Association of Forest Industries chief executive Philip Dalidakis said the association would expect to be involved if talks went ahead, but they would have to be on a different basis to Tasmania's.

Environment Minister Gavin Jennings said the government would talk to all parties before any decisions.

Opposition spokesman Peter Walsh said a Coalition government would give security to the timber industry by guaranteeing ongoing access to forests. It would support peace talks if they had industry backing, but said it was ''very early days''.

26 October, 2010

Pulpwood uses

Peter Sheehan, Camberwell
The Age (letter), 26 October 2010

Judith Wakeman (Letters, 24/10) correctly observes that by volume, sawlogs comprise only about one third of a native forest harvest. By her argument, fertiliser must be the main purpose of cattle farming. After all, only about a third of an animal ends up as saleable meat.

Pulpwood is not just a low-value downfall product. Converted to particle and fibre boards, it comprises an increasing proportion of expensive ''solid'' timber products like flooring and furniture. Further, we all use an awful lot of paper.

25 October, 2010

Call time on subsidies

John Hermans, Clifton Creek
The Age (letter), October 25, 2010

NOT only are we losing our biodiversity, carbon stores, water runoff, honey production and tourism from our publicly owned native forests in Victoria, but taxpayers are subsidising this industry. I think, Premier Brumby, its time is up.

Tamar Valley wrong place

Anne Layton-Bennett, Swan Bay, TasThe Age (letter), October 25, 2010

GUNNS withdrew the proposed pulp mill project from the independent Resource Planning and Development Authority in 2007 knowing full well it had been judged ''critically non-compliant''. When the project then received the government rubber stamp of approval in the fast-tracked and shameful approval process that followed, little attempt had been made to tackle any of these ''critically non-compliant'' aspects properly.

It is therefore disappointing that Gunns chief executive Greg L'Estrange is continuing to spruik this flawed and deeply unpopular pulp mill to potential investors. Hopefully they will have realised the Tamar Valley is, and always will be, the wrong place to build a pulp mill. And perhaps they have also reached the conclusion, correctly, that it will never receive the ''social licence'' - community acceptance - so crucial to Gunns' requirements. Mr L'Estrange now needs to accept this.

Pulp mill still on agenda

John Hayward, Weegena, Tas
The Age (letter), October 25, 2010

THOSE applauding Tasmania's ''in principle'' forestry agreement should use no more than one hand. Gunns still plans the third-largest pulp mill in the world. While now vowing to source all of the mill's 4.5 million tonne input from plantations, it is refusing to surrender the 1.5 million tonnes a year allocation of very cheap public forest wood it was earlier promised under the mill's wood supply agreement. The company has also spoken of demanding $200 million compensation for abandoning further inroads into state forests.

Other native forest loggers are demanding 30 years to exit the industry, which, at present logging rates, will render the preservation issue entirely academic. When seeking models of progressive governance, Tassie belongs among your last stops.

Woodchips are the main game

Judith Wakeman, Templestowe
The Age (letter), October 25, 2010

ACCORDING to the most recent Monitoring Annual Harvest Performance report, published by the Department of Sustainability and the Environment (August 2008), 1,667,600 cubic metres of commercial timber was harvested from Victoria's state forests in 2006-07. Of this, 24.7 per cent became sawlogs and 68.5 per cent became woodchips. (In fire salvage areas, 11.5 per cent became sawlogs and 75 per cent became woodchips.) It would seem that sawlog production has become a byproduct of the woodchip industry. There has to be a better way to produce paper.

The same report stated that ''sufficient information on regeneration and thinning operations [within Victoria's state forests] was not provided to allow adequate reporting'' of regeneration operations. Surely it is not possible to regenerate 600-year-old trees in 120 years. And it is certainly not possible to regenerate extinct wildlife.

23 October, 2010

CFMEU declares forests war is over

Matthew Franklin, Chief political correspondentThe Australian (article),  October 23, 2010

CFMEU forestry division national secretary Michael O'Connor in parklands in North Melbourne. Picture: Aaron Francis Source: The Australian
The union representing forestry workers has conceded logging in the nation's natural forests must stop.

It has declared an armistice in its 30-year war with the environmental movement.

But the Construction Forestry Mining and Energy Union now wants the green lobby and governments to secure the industry's long-term survival by agreeing to a dramatic expansion of plantation forestry.

The CFMEU also wants a new focus on value-adding through investment in sectors such as pulp and paper, and veneer board. "Our industry is on the verge of collapse," CFMEU forestry division national secretary Michael O'Connor told The Weekend Australian yesterday.

"We've got to come up with a solution. The only way to do that was really to sit down with people we've been opposed to for 30 years and see if we could come up with one."

Mr O'Connor's comments, welcomed by the Australian Conservation Foundation, the Australian Greens and the Gillard government, represent a fundamental shift after years of often physical conflict over logging in native forests, particularly in Tasmania.

They suggest his union will dig in over its support for the proposed Gunns pulp mill in the Tamar Valley, strongly opposed by conservationists.

Last week Tasmanian environmentalists and loggers agreed to begin talks over a moratorium on logging in high-conservation areas and, ultimately, a shift out of all native forests and into plantation timber.

Yesterday, Mr O'Connor broke with employer groups to call for the Tasmanian deal to be treated as a template for nation-wide reform to provide a lifeline for more than 100,000 Australians employed in the timber industry.

"The hard truth is that the native forest industry in every state is in crisis," he said in his first interview about the Tasmanian deal.

Mr O'Connor is well known for his union-first stance and came to prominence in 2004 by making a forestry deal with John Howard to protect jobs.

Yesterday, he said successful activism by the green lobby had "trashed" the Japanese wood chip market and the hardwood sector was in deep trouble. His union had decided the best way to help its members was to secure green backing for an expansion of plantation forestry and encourage investment in value-adding projects.

"If we require a comprehensive plantation strategy that's going to increase the amount of saw logs available to the industry, perhaps the environmental movement will support us in a proposal about that.

"Maybe we can harness their effective political machine for an outcome."

Australian Conservation Foundation executive director Don Henry welcomed the CFMEU's shift and promised to help.

"This is a unique opportunity to lay down our arms and work respectfully together to build a strong and sustainable value-adding industry based on plantations," he said.

"The ACF is a strong supporter of plantation forestry and value-adding at world's best practice."

Greens leader Bob Brown, a veteran of Tasmania's forest wars, was not available yesterday but deputy leader Christine Milne said Mr O'Connor's comments were a cause for celebration because it meant forests would be protected.

"The Greens have always supported an assisted transition for forestry workers out of native forest logging, and we have always been confident that the transition will bring benefits to workers, industry and community," Senator Milne said.

Sustainability Minister Tony Burke said he was not certain other states could mirror the Tasmanian agreement, which was linked to the building of a pulp mill and involved high-value forest areas such as the Styx and the Tarkine.

He said he was pleased the warring parties had found their own agreements rather than having deals imposed by the government, but warned change would not happen overnight.

Mr O'Connor called for an immediate change in the way logging volumes are determined. Under the existing regional forestry agreement process, governments took submissions from employers and unions as well as environmentalists and then acted as umpire.

"It didn't work," Mr O'Connor said. "We are saying why don't we see if we can get an agreed position with the environment movement and take that to government?"

Asked how his members would feel about the sudden change in tactics, Mr O'Connor said his job was to secure the best outcome for his members. "I think we've got a track record showing that we're not scared of a fight," he said.

"But if a better outcome can be achieved by negotiating or having dialogue with people we've traditionally been opposed to, then certainly we take that path.

"This next stage is going to be critical. But really the implementation of anything that comes out of it could be over a 15- or 20-year period. This will probably outlast the rest of my working life."

Mr O'Connor's comments come ahead of a union ballot next month to approve the Tasmanian deal.

22 October, 2010

The Magic Pudding industry?

Jill Redwood, Coordinator, Environment East Gippsland Inc
Letter to editor, Snowy River Mail (not published yet).

Regarding “Cuts remove six contractors” on last week’s front page.

In 1986, there was a strong warning given that unless the annual cut of sawlogs was reduced by four fifths the local industry would not survive. Overcutting was rife. The report by NIEIS was ignored by both government and industry.

The cut was then 370,000m3 a year. Through the 90s it was 280,000 m3 a year and about 110,000m3 this decade. This didn’t include about 300,000 m3 of woodchips a year that have fed the Japanese export mill at Eden.

Politicians like Craig Ingram and his rival, the National Party candidate Tim Bull, are repeating history. They proudly state they support the ever shrinking logging industry, righteously demanding more and more access to something that just isn’t there.

Rather than relying on Magic Pudding planning, to pander to a few voters, maybe our politicians should look to the recent Tasmanian solution.

VicForests own figures show that 85% of what is trucked out of our forests is now woodchipped (and sold for less that we are charged to cut our own firewood). Tasmania has suffered the same fate with overcutting and woodchipping.

The industry has always operated on a ‘cut-out and get-out’ basis. Yet conservationists and endangered wildlife cop the blame.

The recently declared 45,000 ha of forest for protection was almost entirely forest that was:

  • Inaccessible or too steep,
  • was already logged
  • was already protected under the RFA, or
  • too scruffy and degraded for even woodchipping.

 And as for Craig Ingram’s claim that the government is about to protect an additional 114,000 ha, our local pollie should do some basic homework.

These scattered patches of forest have been the minimal protection zones for rare and endangered wildlife since 1997. They are critical habitat for forest owls and marsupial quolls (which are almost extinct in Victoria now), rainforests and rare plants. But we were told by Craig Ingram that they are draft new reserves to “further restrict the industry”.

Thanks to the logging bosses and their political mates demanding that reserves be clearfelled, these patches are now in line to be sacrificed for clearfelling without any surveys or assessments. Hardly a deal being done with the Greens as claimed by Mr Ingram.

However, it reads well for a politician who only seems to value the votes of some of his constituents, and who works to protect the profit margins of the Japanese Nippon paper company. If he truly wanted to help this region and its future, it might be time he considered other options. Tasmania has finally seen the light. Will East Gippsland be next?

Irreplaceable wood

David Pollard, VicForests, Melbourne
The Age (letter), 22 October 2010

CINZIA Mariolini (Letters, 21/10) claims that plantations can already provide 98 per cent of Victoria's timber and paper products. Plantations in Victoria are grown primarily to produce pulp and paper products, or pine timber for light construction. Victoria's hardwood native forests are harvested and regenerated every 70 to 120 years to allow this timber to develop vital properties such as strength, durability and visual appearance.

This native hardwood can't be replaced by softwood or the short-rotation hardwood plantations that exist in Victoria.

The Australian Bureau of Agriculture and Regional Economics says Australia already has a $2 billion trade deficit in wood and wood products.

To suggest we could lock up our native forests and not affect the supply of wood and wood products in Victoria is incorrect.

21 October, 2010

In forestry's future

Cinzia Mariolini, Marlo
The Age (article), 21 October 2010

A HISTORIC decision has just been made by the Tasmanian timber industry, with Gunns finally moving out of native forests and agreeing to process only plantation wood.

The industry also agreed not to use native forest wood ''waste'' to burn for electricity - another significant decision.

Let's now see how long it will take for its Victorian counterparts to show similar courage and long-term vision.

With proper management and careful placement, plantations in Victoria can already meet 98 per cent of the total timber and woodchip/paper market demand. So there is really no excuse to continue clear-felling and industrial-scale logging in native forests.

Given the irreversible (and incontrovertible) environmental damage caused by native forest clear-felling and the fact that just a fraction of the Victorian workforce is employed by the logging industry, there is no justification left for the government to allow the destruction of everyone's precious environmental assets for the exclusive profit of a minority group.

20 October, 2010

Stop the Chop - protest at Joe Helper's office

Please attend this action if you can.  Minister for VicForests Joe Helper and the Brumby government need to hear that we don't want VicForests to keep destroying our native forests.

Still wild, Tassie forest now also less threatened

Andrew Darby
The Age (article), October 20, 2010

IT'S been on for young and old in the Upper Florentine for so long now that activists find it hard to believe their battle could be won.

Surrounded on three sides by the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area, this is a valley dominated by giant eucalypts, where a loose protest camp has run most of the past four years.

The camp has been been torn down, dozens of people arrested, protesters abused and assaulted, and their cars torched at night.

Yet the young people of Still Wild Still Threatened came back repeatedly to build intricate tree sits, protected by a spider's web of cables. And older local people who walked on to prohibited public forest coupes dubbed themselves ''Faces of the Florentine''.

Yesterday, with a road map unveiled to a final deal on protecting high-conservation-value forests, Bridie McEntee, 27, and Maggie Cashman Bailes, 70, went to the Upper Florentine to take stock.

Ms McEntee, a community worker, has spent two years with Still Wild Still Threatened, because she is moved by the Upper Florentine's environment.

''I love that it is a really intricate ecosystem, intact for thousands of years,'' she said.

She has blockaded, walked on to active clearfells to stop work, protested in Hobart, and been arrested for trespass. Yesterday she was hopeful the day of protection was close.

''To think in a few short months the Upper Florentine will be safe,'' she said. ''It would be a pretty amazing day.''

Ms Cashman Bailes, a bird expert alarmed at the rate nearby old-growth forests were being clearfelled, found herself increasingly immersed in a local residents' protest group.

She found it a ''scary thing'' to walk in to a coupe and meet a line of police. ''But it had to be done,'' Ms Cashman Bailes said.

Despite the agreement released yesterday, it gave her little comfort. ''I'm nervous about anything being signed, because a lot of those people I do not trust one bit.''

Without politicians

Ed McKinley, Thornbury

The Age (letter), 20 October 2010

YOUR story about the peace deal for wild forests in Tasmania offers the following gem: ''parties to the talks … all strenuously rejected the involvement of politicians in the negotiations''. This implies that they thought they would get a better result if they sorted it out among themselves. This issue has been so protracted and so bitter, yet they have found their own way forward.

I bet it was well facilitated, and I bet that all parties felt well heard - as opposed to what we see unfolding regarding the Murray-Darling Basin.

I would dearly love to hear more about why they were all so determined that it would go better without the politicians.

Tasmania leads, Victoria must follow

Justin Tutty, Darwin, NT
The Age (letter), 20 October 2010

THE end of Tasmania's forest wars comes down to nothing more bizarre than a hard-headed business decision by Gunns to switch to plantations (''Historic deal on forests'', The Age, 19/10).

The Tasmanian government has fallen into line because the economic argument is compelling. Global financial pressures have hit the contentious export of native forest woodchips, and the rise of demand for certified plantation timber combines to dictate that if there is to be a future for the industry, it must be in well-managed plantations.

Yet in Victoria, where the parameters are the same and the industry is in decline, policy makers have yet to heed the writing on the wall. Instead, we see further conflict provoked as diminishing native forest resources lead government to move loggers into contentious areas.

Victoria must follow Tasmania's lead, and put an end to native forest destruction. Rather than holding on until the last bitter woodchip, it's time for government to lead a transition out of our ancient native forests into existing plantations. By partnering with industry to fund retooling, retraining and relocation, the Brumby government has a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to save jobs and trees.

Greens seek quick start to logging ban

Andrew Darby, Hobart
The Age (article), October 20, 2010

THE Greens are pressing the Tasmanian government to begin rolling out a ban on logging in the island's old-growth forests, amid signs protection could still be some time away.

The moratorium is a cornerstone of the landmark forests peace plan unveiled yesterday, which is hoped to end a generation of conflict.

A statement of principles, negotiated in secret by industry and green groups over five months, includes a transition from native forest logging, and support for timber processing, including a pulp mill.

About 200,000 hectares of public forests eventually could be covered by the high-conservation-value ban, the Tasmanian Greens' forests spokesman, Kim Booth, said yesterday. But he said coupes about to be logged could be spared if the state agency Forestry Tasmania was prepared to reschedule its work.

''We are very strongly of the view that high-conservation-value forests are being deliberately targeted and they should be immediately withdrawn,'' Mr Booth said.

The deal between industry and environmentalists provides for ''immediate'' protection of high-conservation-value native forests, and outlines a means for a moratorium, commencing in 30 days and completed over three months.

But Tasmanian Premier David Bartlett said he believed the 30-day period had not yet started, and he might need to reach agreement first with Prime Minister Julia Gillard.

''We will be moving as rapidly as possible to start that clock ticking,'' he said.

The deal, described by Mr Bartlett as a ''fragile foundation'', holds the promise of ending decades of bitter conflict in Tasmania, and restructuring a troubled industry.

Apart from protecting the state's ancient tall eucalypts, and other forests with high conservation value, it provides for a transition by ''commodity'' logging such as woodchipping out of another 450,000 hectares of public native forests.

Federal funding is being sought for the revamp, and Mr Bartlett said the Gillard government's help would be needed to vary the state's Regional Forests Agreement.

The industry will contest some of the green groups' demands for protection.

''Just because a forest is nominated doesn't by itself make it a high-conservation-value forest,'' said Terry Edwards, chief executive of the Forest Industries Association of Tasmania.

He said it could take 30 years to complete the transition out of some native forests. But Forestry Tasmania is confident that it would be able to meet demands for sawlogs while introducing a moratorium on high-conservation-value trees.