The Age (article), 13 March 2012
UP TO 90 per cent of timber logged in long-contested east Gippsland native forests over the next two decades could be woodchipped or burnt by electricity companies to generate power, government documents show.
|Woodchips and biomass are being put before endangered species, the Wilderness Society claims. Photo: Louie Douvis|
Of this, tender documents indicate 451,000 tonnes a year could come from mixed species forests in Tambo and east Gippsland — the site of Victoria's most heated disputes between timber workers and environmentalists.
But forecasts show that until 2030 the same forests will yield just 50,000 tonnes a year of high-quality sawlog timber used in furniture and construction.
Across the state nearly 30 per cent of logged native timber is considered high-quality, but the documents show that in east Gippsland it could be as little as 10 per cent.
The rest is considered suitable for woodchipping, conversion into low-value wood products such as chipboard or burning as fuel by a new renewable energy industry. Conservationists said it was evidence that these forests were logged to make cheap goods that could come from timber plantations — or in the case of power generation, other sources altogether.
"The government is choosing to put woodchips and biomass [power generation] ahead of Victoria's endangered species," Wilderness Society campaigns manager Luke Chamberlain said.
State-owned forestry agency VicForests said east Gippsland remained one of the largest producers of high-quality sawlogs in Australia.
VicForests spokesman David Walsh said the amount of high-quality timber available for logging in the region had fallen, in part due to the creation of old-growth reserves, but would increase as forests matured after 2030.
"In the short-term, this timber remains vital in supporting local manufacturing and providing much-needed jobs in rural Victoria, as well as reducing our need to import wood products from developing nations," he said.
The tender process is a key part of the Baillieu government's promise to encourage investment in the native forestry industry.
The Coalition guaranteed the industry's long-term future prior to the 2010 election. By contrast, Labor wanted "peace talks" between the industry, unions and conservationists with a goal of reducing logging.
A Saturday Age investigation last month revealed Labor considered shutting down the industry altogether, but ultimately rejected the idea. Some industry leaders warned it was in terminal decline due to a combination of economic, environmental and political pressures.
But Victorian Association of Forest Industries chief executive Lisa Marty said native forestry still generated about $150 million a year in east Gippsland, directly supporting about 2000 people.
Mr Walsh said the plan to sell logging waste previously left or burnt on the forest floor would "impact on sawlog ratios, but will result in a more efficient use of our forest resources". About 80 per cent of forestry revenue comes from sawlogs.
Mr Chamberlain said an efficient industry driven by high-value goods would stop clearfelling forest areas and instead fell only select trees for sawlogs. He said selling logging waste for power generation was effectively "tree mining".