17 November, 2010

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.

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