21 September, 2013

Green anger at go-ahead for state forest logging

Tom Arup, Environment editor
The Age, September 21, 2013

The Napthine government will reopen commercial logging in the Mount Cole state forest near Ararat in the first significant step towards increased timber cutting in western Victoria.

Agriculture Minister Peter Walsh on Friday announced he was seeking expressions of interest from foresters to harvest 3000 cubic metres of sawlogs in the Mount Cole forests over three years.

The decision follows a one-year harvesting ''trial'' at Mount Cole launched in late 2012 that allowed 600 cubic metres of wood to be taken through silvicultural harvesting and the salvaging of trees felled by storms.
Mr Walsh said the new Mount Cole logging licence was small-scale, but would create ongoing jobs in harvesting, hauling and processing of timber. He said 20 of the 4000 hectares of forest in the region that was suitable for sawlogs would be harvested each year. Before last year's trial, logging had not occurred at Mount Cole since 2004.

The government has also recently completed a tender for increased logging in ironbark and sugar gum forests near Bendigo, and will issue new licences for sawlogs in the red gum forests of the Mid Murray and Horsham regions when old ones lapse.

It follows the recommendations of a government-commissioned review into logging rates in western Victoria, also released on Friday.

Green groups hit out at the decision, with Nick Roberts, a campaigner with the Victorian National Parks Association, saying the report was a wish list from local timber interests wanting access to western Victorian forests.

''The industry was paid millions to exit these forests 10 years ago,'' he said.

''Expanding logging in high-conservation-value forests is not supported by most Victorians. This announcement shows the Napthine government is not listening.''

But the timber industry welcomed the move, with Victorian Association of Forest Industries chief executive Lisa Marty saying that allowing harvesting at two-thirds of the sustainable level of Mount Cole was ''a good example of setting a balance between ecological, social and economic values''.

Much of the large-scale commercial native timber logging in Victoria takes place east of the Hume Highway in the forests of Gippsland and the Central Highlands.

Large-scale logging in western Victoria - notably in the Otways forests - was phased out by the previous state Labor government, with plantations and a handful of native firewood cutters remaining.

But since coming to power in 2010, the Coalition-led state government has flagged it wanted to see a boosted timber industry in western Victoria. An internal note from the former Department of Primary Industries, seen by Fairfax Media, says after timber harvesting was scaled down in the early 2000s, several areas in western Victoria had been left ''underutilised''.

The review identifies other areas that could be opened up to small increases in logging, including the Otways, although that would not occur until the timber industry is re-established at Mount Cole.

But Mr Walsh said: ''While the review assessed potential sawlog yields in timber production areas across western Victoria's state forests, there are no plans for new sawlog allocations aside from those mentioned above.

''The Victorian Coalition government will not consider any expansion outside of existing timber-production areas.''

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