22 June, 2011

Plea for native forest jobs

Elizabeth Lord, journalism student at RMIT University in Melbourne
The Mercury, 22 June 2011

FORESTRY workers from across the state gathered outside Parliament yesterday with the message to keep native forests open.

Community leaders highlighted the social, economic and environmental benefits of the state's native forest industry to the 300-strong crowd.

The industry is reeling from the exit of struggling forest contractors, closure or impending closure of woodchip and sawmills, and the impacts of the global financial crisis and the Japanese earthquake.

Forestry workers called on politicians not to lock up the rest of Tasmania's native forests without an independent assessment that included community consultation.

Third-generation sawmiller Brett Mackay said the forestry industry was a major contributor to the state's economy with 15,000 people employed either directly or indirectly in the industry, most within the native forest sector.

"We love our work and we want to stay in the native forestry industry. It needs to be fully supported so that employment is maintained," Mr Mackay said.

He presented Premier Lara Giddings with a 15-point message that outlined the benefits of keeping the remainder of Tasmania's native forests open, including long-term sustainable jobs, community vitality and opportunities in bio-energy production and non-wood based industries.

Ms Giddings acknowledged that it was a difficult time for forest workers but told the crowd that the Labor Government would not back away from the industry.

"We are committed to a native forest and plantation forest industry in this state," Ms Giddings said.

"You can be assured we want to have a long-term industry in this state."

Opposition Leader Will Hodgman also pledged his support and said the Liberal Party would oppose any moves in Parliament to shut the forestry industry down.

"We believe in a strong, sustainable, viable forestry industry that will continue in this state forever," he said.

Greens forestry spokesman Kim Booth called on Ms Giddings to support the forestry contractors and their families and provide financial assistance to allow them to exit the industry.

20 June, 2011

Gains hard to price

Jeff Dickinson, Tecoma
Letter, The Age, 21 June 2011

VICFORESTS' David Walsh says that wood would have gone to waste had the trees killed or severely damaged in the 2009 bushfires not been harvested (''Call for inquiry as salvaged wood exported'', The Age, 20/6). What a profit-at-all-cost mentality.

Leaving fire-killed or damaged trees standing is not a waste. They create structure in the regenerating forest, sheltering new growth and providing homes to badly affected wildlife.
Leadbeater's possum, for example, will rely on the protection provided by the hollows created in these trees to recover their populations over the ensuing years. And these trees will continue to store the carbon they have absorbed from the atmosphere for years to come.

We all enjoy the benefits of a healthy natural environment, even though it is not always recognised by some as an economic benefit.

Ombudsman asked to investigate log exports

ABC News (Australian Broadcasting Corporation), 20 June 2011

VicForests is accused of assisting the export of thousands of tonnes of hardwood logs to China.

Victoria bans the export of whole logs as a way of protecting the local industry.

The Wilderness Society's Richard Hughes says an independent investigation is needed.

"We've complained to the ombudsman and what we've asked them to investigate and to ensure occurs is that there's immediate stop to the sale of whole log exports," he said.

"If it's occurred in this one situation, it may be open to occurring elsewhere and it's an issue that needs to be immediately investigated and dealt with.

Call for inquiry as salvaged wood exported

Josh Gordon
The Age, June 20, 2011

THE Ombudsman has been asked to investigate VicForests for allowing thousands of tonnes of wood salvaged from the Black Saturday bushfires to be exported to China in breach of a government contract.

The Wilderness Society has lodged a complaint with Ombudsman George Brouwer after VicForests confirmed a private company, Pinex Logging, had breached a contract to process the logs locally to protect jobs in the Victorian timber industry.

VicForests initially agreed to supply the company with 145,000 tonnes of logs to process in Victoria, an amount that was later cut to 50,000 tonnes.

A VicForests statement provided to The Age reveals VicForests has now suspended supplying logs to the company while it investigates how the breach occurred. The statement said the company was initially meeting contractual requirements for local processing.

''VicForests is clarifying the circumstances which led to the export of some logs before processing,'' the statement says. ''The customer [Pinex Logging] has indicated the increased value of the Australian dollar has put pressure on their operations in recent times.''

The Wilderness Society revealed tens of thousands of tonnes of hardwood logs were being loaded into shipping containers at a log yard in Melbourne's west and sent to China.

Wilderness Society campaigns manager Richard Hughes said an independent investigation was needed as ''VicForests has a serious conflict of interest in this matter''.

''VicForests sold the logs to the exporter for at least $3.5 million so they have profited from this venture and if it is stopped they will miss out on future timber royalties, adding to their current major financial problems,'' Mr Hughes said.

Mr Hughes said he found it difficult to believe VicForests was unaware the company was breaching the contract because it pays and directs the trucking contractors who have been delivering the timber to the export yard, where there are no timber processing facilities.

''It's not appropriate to have VicForests leading this investigation - they are are not an independent regulator, and there are grounds to suspect they have either been complicit in the export operation or negligent in not stopping it earlier,'' Mr Hughes said.

A spokeswoman for the Ombudsman would not comment on whether the issue would be the subject of an investigation. VicForests spokesman David Walsh said the wood would have gone to waste had the trees killed or severely damaged in the 2009 bushfires not been harvested.

15 June, 2011

Carbon credit pitch sunk

The Mercury, 15 June 2011

A PROPOSAL to keep Tasmania's native forests standing in exchange for billions in carbon credits has been rejected by the State Government, Liberal Opposition and Forestry Tasmania.

Redd Forests Pty Ltd has written to Forestry Tasmania suggesting it adopt the "commercially proven" model.

The company's Tasmanian-based project manager, Jarrah Vercoe, said Redd Forests had made $450,000 by selling just under 30,000ha of privately owned native forest to international carbon buyers.

Mr Vercoe said, unlike native forest woodchips, there was a growing demand for carbon credits.

"Based on the value of recent carbon credit sales and conservative figures on timber volumes, our proposition is that Tasmania can generate in excess of $50 million per annum from these avoided emissions," he said.

"This works, it is proven. We could do this tomorrow."

Redd Forests was incorporated in NSW in 2008 and has Chickenfeed owner Jan Cameron as a non-executive director.

Forestry Tasmania spokesman Ken Jeffreys said FT believed the carbon offset plan would deliver less money and employ fewer people than the existing timber industry.

"Last year alone, the final value of products produced from these forests was $563 million and kept about 3400 people employed," Mr Jeffreys said.

Premier Lara Giddings said getting benefits from carbon was a key part of the forestry peace talks' Statement of Principles and the Government would consider creating new reserves for this purpose.

But the Premier said she did not believe Redd Forests' proposal was in the best interests of the state because it failed to acknowledge the thousands currently employed in the Tasmanian forestry industry.


11 June, 2011

VicForests investigates timber claim

Jared Lynch and Ben Butler
The Age, June 11, 2011

Harvested from Victoria's bushfire-damaged native forests, these valuable logs have been stored in a Brooklyn timber yard.

A TIMBER merchant has been accused of putting Victorian jobs at risk by sending thousands of tonnes of wood salvaged after the deadly Black Saturday fires overseas for processing.

The state government's commercial forestry arm, VicForests, confirmed yesterday it was investigating Robert Brudenell, of Pinex Logging, over a suspected breach of contract.

VicForests initially agreed to supply Mr Brudenell 145,000 tonnes of bushfire-affected timber on its standard contract condition that the logs be processed in Victoria to protect the state's timber industry, which is battling softening demand from manufacturing and construction, and the high Australian dollar.

VicForests spokesman David Walsh said yesterday Mr Brudenell's contract had been slashed to fewer than 50,000 tonnes by ''mutual agreement''.

''The implication potentially is that we've caught this guy out doing the wrong thing and we have stopped supplying him the volume of timber that we said we'd do in the first place,'' Mr Walsh said. ''But I can assure you that this was not the case.''

Mr Walsh declined to reveal the exact reason why the contract was reduced, citing confidentiality.

Mr Brudenell could not be reached for comment.

He will be asked to prove that he is processing the logs in Victoria when he faces representatives from VicForests on Tuesday.

Mr Walsh said VicForests received evidence of a potential contract breach on Thursday after having earlier visited Mr Brudenell's operations.

The logs have been sawed to length in a timber yard behind a woolshed in Brooklyn before being loaded into shipping containers.

Wilderness Society spokesman Richard Hughes claimed Mr Brudenell was shipping the logs overseas, probably to China.

''To have thousands of tonnes of logs out of native forests being exported is a disaster for the environment, it's a disaster for the timber industry and jobs, and it's a disaster for the local communities,'' he said.

''All it's doing is creating a quick buck for a few people trading in logging. There is no value-adding; there is no real Australian employment being created.''

Under VicForests' contract rules, timber harvested from native forests must be processed in Victoria by being peeled, sliced, chipped or sawed on four sides.

The timber supplied to Mr Brudenell is for high-end use, such as quality laminate timber for furniture or flooring, which attracts a high price.

If he is found to have breached his contract, VicForests will cease supply to Mr Brudenell.

Mr Walsh said the 50,000 tonnes supplied represents 2 per cent of VicForests' annual production.

He said the wood would have otherwise been left to rot, from trees that were killed or severely damaged by the 2009 fires.

''These operations have taken place in approximately 3000 hectares of the 400,000 hectares burnt by the fires,'' he said.

Victoria accused of secretly exporting timber

Australian Broadcasting Commission, 11 June 2011

The Wilderness Society says whole Victorian sawlogs are being secretly exported to China in breach of State Government policy.

The society claims timber is being taken from bushfire-affected areas around Healesville, loaded into shipping containers at Tottenham in Melbourne's west, and then shipped overseas.

Campaign manager Richard Hughes says the Victorian Timber Industry Strategy requires sawlogs to be processed locally.

"For years, governments of all stripes have been saying that these forests needed to be logged for sawn timber and for the jobs that they provided," he said.

"And now we're seeing whole saw logs being exported overseas without any processing in Australia, so there is no value to the Australian timber industry."

Mr Hughes says thousands of tonnes of sawlogs have been shipped to China in recent months.

"This is the first time we're seeing whole logs being exported out of Victoria," he said.

"The agency that was responsible for overseeing that ban on log exports, VicForests, has utterly failed in that duty."

VicForests spokesman David Walsh says it has one contract that allows unprocessed logs to be exported and the practice has economic benefits.

"There are a number of jobs which are associated with the production of this timber, from harvesting jobs, haulage jobs, processing jobs and exporting jobs," he said.

Mr Walsh says nothing secretive is going on but it is being investigated.

"This is basically the only customer VicForests has that is undertaking this kind of operation at the moment," he said.

"This contract is winding down at this stage of the game and there are no other contracts with other customers along these lines."

See also 
Controversial exports of Victorian timber (link to video)