22 June, 2012

Native forest logs 'torched'

Leslie White
Weekly Times Now22 June 2012   

HUNDREDS of tonnes of native forest logs harvested for timber have instead been "torched''.

They have been torched by a government agency, eyewitnesses say. And the locals question the viability of the Victorian Government logging agency.

VicForests harvested coupes near Genoa last year.

Locals say logs good enough for timber products – known as sawlogs – were not removed from the site, instead being pushed into piles and burned.

And a local firewood business is fuming - it says between 400 and 600 tonnes of logs it was negotiating to buy have been reduced to ash.

But VicForests says it used the wood available within the coupe.

Genoa firewood business owner Fred Becker, who along with his brother had run a sawmill in the area for decades, said he'd monitored local VicForests' coupes near his business for months.

"We offered to buy and process the logs onsite,'' Mr Becker said.

"We had meetings with them. It had been logged about nine months, the logs were just sitting there. There was between 400 and 600 tonnes. It could have sustained us for two or three years.

"We checked it out (again) after they torched it. I feel sick in the guts."

Rather than allow his business to use the logs, the government had instead assigned his business a new "green" coupe to log, he said.

This meant a new coupe would be logged unnecessarily and the wood he'd get from the new coupe would have to be dried over summer before it was ready to sell, Mr Becker said.

A VicForests spokesman said all timber "which could be supplied to customers was recovered'', "with firewood delivered to a customer holding an existing firewood contract with VicForests''.

A regeneration burn was completed to re-establish forest on the site, he said.

A local who would not be named said log trucks had to be dragged out of the coupes by bulldozers because conditions during harvest were so wet.

Wallagaraugh landowner Tony Brindley said VicForests shouldn't "go to all that trouble and then burn it".

"They were C grade (saw) logs, I know for a fact," Mr Brindley said.

"There were hundreds, not half a dozen.

"It's been done disgracefully. (Silt) is washing into the gullies and the Wallegrah River. Environmentally, it's a frigging disaster," Mr Brindley said.

"There's no money in it for anyone, but . . . they run a weird dole system where they employ people just to keep the thing ticking over," Mr Brindley said.

VicForests logs about $130 million worth of native forest a year.

It reported a profit of $2.3 million in the financial year ending 2011, a profit of $3.6 million in 2010, a loss of $5 million in 2009, a profit of $538,000 in 2008 and a loss of $17,000 in 2007.

It has not paid any dividend to government in the past four years.

Its 2011 annual report stated "net cash flow from operating activities remained negative as a major sawlog customer delayed payments" – and "total liabilities increased from $36.8 million in 2010 to $42.5 million".

The Auditor General has never completed a report on VicForests.

But the VicForests spokesman said the government body was "part of a broader timber industry which contributes more than $1 billion to Victoria's economy each year".

"In addition to posting a profit of $2.3 million last year, VicForests allocated contracts worth more than $100 million to small and medium sized businesses across regional Victoria," the spokesman said.

"Another $7 million was spent maintaining and upgrading the road network in Victoria's State forests. All harvesting operations comply with the Code of Forest Practice."

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