08 June, 2012

Tree-pronged attack as Abbott throws down gauntlet on logging

Adam Morton
The Age (article), 8 June 2012

Braving yesterday's bracing weather, locals protest against logging at Mount St Leonard, near Healesville. Photo: Michael Clayton-Jones

OPPOSITION Leader Tony Abbott has challenged Victoria's practice of clearfell logging native forests, saying few people would not be revolted by the damage it caused.

Speaking at a community forum at Mount Evelyn, east of Melbourne, Mr Abbott said he supported a sustainable native forestry industry, but took issue with clearfelling, in which a forest area is bulldozed, logged and the remains burned.

''I'm as much a conservationist as anyone, I'm as much a conservationist as Bob Brown,'' he told the forum. ''Do I support the clear felling of native forests? I would be most reluctant to do so. But do I want to ban all logging in native forests? No. I'd be very reluctant to do that.''

Mr Abbott said he supported sustainable logging of native forests, citing a Cape York program under which select trees were felled individually.

''You can't destroy the asset, but I do think the asset is there to be economically appreciated as well as aesthetically appreciated,'' he said.

His comments came as 31 people were arrested for blocking clearfell logging on the side of Mount St Leonard, near Healesville. About 70 local business owners and conservationists walked into a logging coupe early yesterday, some wearing masks with the face of Premier Ted Baillieu. Police said 31 were charged with failing to leave a public safety zone.

Protester organiser Chris Veenhuizen, owner of a local bed-and-breakfast and member of conservation group MyEnvironment, said visitors were being turned off by the destruction of clearly visible forest.
''The feedback we're getting from our visitors is they're not going to come back,'' she said. ''It's absolutely going to destroy the tourism business of this whole community.''

David Walsh, of government forestry agency VicForests, said timber from the Mount St Leonard area was crucial to it meeting demand for wood and wood products.

He said VicForests had previously responded to community concern by removing two coupes earmarked for logging and leaving a 50-metre forest buffer along a walking track.

''Timber harvesting has co-existed with tourism in the region for decades, and we believe both industries play an important role in the local economy,'' he said.

Victorian government media advisers did not return calls from The Age.

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