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".

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