23 April, 2011

Forest protests tighten woodchip pressure

Graham Lloyd, Environment editor
The Australian April 23, 2011 12:00AM

NATIVE forest campaigners have stepped up pressure on woodchipping operations in a bid to stop logging in state reserves and force the industry to follow Gunns in Tasmania and restructure around plantation timber.

Mock funerals were held in Sydney and Melbourne this week to mourn the demise of the Leadbeater's possum, Victoria's animal emblem, which is threatened with extinction by the logging of forests to produce Reflex Paper.

Protest groups in NSW seized on the release of the South East Fibre Exports accounts for the Eden chip mill to argue that the industry was marginal financially and that forest operations were environmentally unsustainable.

Conservation groups have also put their case to federal Environment Minister Tony Burke, and Climate Change Minister Greg Combet to stop logging and have native forests included in an emissions trading scheme.

NSW forest campaigner Harriett Swift said the South East Fibre Exports financial accounts showed the Japanese-owned Eden mill had dramatically increased its forest harvest to maintain a small profit.

The profit from NSW woodchips was still less than the loss recorded by taxpayers in supplying the timber through Forests NSW, Ms Swift said.

The company, which employs 75 people, said demand for the company's products waned in the first half of the year and then recovered strongly in the second half. The high value of the dollar had also reduced profitability.

Accounts lodged with the Australian Securities & Investments Commission for last calendar year show South East Fibre exported 1.03 million tonnes of woodchips (up 29.6 per cent) to make a profit of $4.33 million (up 11.4 per cent).

In 2007, the company exported a similar quantity of woodchips, 1.07 million tonnes, but made more than twice its latest profit, $9.06m.

"The problem is made worse by the fact that official figures from Forests NSW show that the productivity of the forests has also been steadily declining, with bigger areas of forest being logged to produce the same amount of wood," Ms Swift said.

"This all means that SEFE must export more and more chips to get the same financial return."

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