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.

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