State Government to axe forest logging
■ With no firewood or natural gas, and coal power on the black list, Mansfield appears to be losing its heating options
THE logging of all native trees will be phased out in Victoria over the next decade under a shock new policy that was announced by the State Government last week.
They also announced an immediate ban on logging in old growth forests and for all native timber logging to cease by 2030 under the policy.
The Victorian Association of Forestry Industries estimates more than 21,000 people work in forestry and the wood products sector, and other studies have shown the native timber sector employs around 2200 people.
“There will be pain and there will be challenges in this, but we will stand with every single community to provide the certainty and the support to make it through this tough transition,” Premier Daniel Andrews said.
“Essentially, we are going to replace those jobs currently employed with native timber, with jobs in planting, cutting down and hauling, and processing plantation timber.
“That's the way this transition will be managed.”
Environment Minister Lily D'Ambrosio visited the Strathbogie Forest last week with the announcement, which was met with much cheer from the Save Our Strathbogie Forest group.
However, with many in the district employed in forestry, and without any natural gas for heating, some locals feel the outlook to be a lot direr.
Rob Kirley is a third generation Mansfield forester and supplies locals with firewood through his business Wob’s Wood Works.
He buys the low grade wood from logging coupes and turns it into firewood to sell locally, which won’t be an option soon.
“I grew up doing this, both sides of my family did,” he said.
“But In a few years, there will be no more firewood.”
He is already in the process of sourcing firewood to truck from NSW and Queensland to Mansfield.
“All the firewood will be coming from interstate, as we won’t be able to get it locally,” Rob said.
He predicts firewood prices will increase by about 50 per cent.
And though Rob currently employs five more people, he said he will have to drop back to just one.
“So, that’s four locals out of work, just in my little business and there’s a lot more in the town,” he said.
He estimates that between himself and Barwite Sawmill, they supply 80 per cent of the district with firewood.
“I don’t know what people are going to do,” said Rob.
“It’s going to be the pensioners and lower income households that are going to suffer – they put money aside all year to get their metre of wood.
“We try to look after them, but if it’s dearer for me to buy, I have my hands tied.”
With the increase in prices, it will be a lot more expensive to heat a house in Mansfield.
“It’s even more puzzling as it will undoubtedly raise power consumption, as Mansfield has a very high percentage of wood fire heating - so they will be burning more coal for electricity if they switch, or using a lot more petrol and diesel for transport if they stick with wood,” he said.
Many have also pointed out that it will cause a mass importation of timbers from unregulated countries, such as Malaysia, where rainforests are being completely wiped out.
“We’ll be sitting in Mansfield with timber all around us, that will be burning up in bushfires and rotting on the ground while we have to ship it all from NSW or overseas,” Rob said.
“I’ve logged coupes that my father logged - they do regenerate, but you can’t get through to some people.”
He said the news came as a complete shock.
“The forests around Mansfield have been logged and regenerated for 150 years, and it’s still there,” he said.
“It’s just to get the Green vote; there is no common sense in it.”
VicForests, which runs several coupes in the local area and is propped up by the State Government, told the Mansfield Courier that total harvest levels will be maintained at around current levels until 2024, then reduced by around 25 per cent in 2025, and a further 25 per cent from 2026 to 2030.
VicForests chief executive officer, Monique Dawson, said that, while challenging, the decision provides opportunities for VicForests to develop and trial new species for plantations and new approaches to growing trees to support better timber products and respond to the future impact of climate change.
“We plan to play a significant role in carbon farming and to contribute to the development of new products to make the most of our high-quality timber and the unique and valuable skillset of VicForests’ workforce,” Ms Dawson said.
Ms Dawson said VicForests was already contributing to this gradual shift through the establishment of new Blue Gum plantations.
Federal Agriculture Minister, and North East native, Bridget McKenzie, condemned the Andrews Government's plans, arguing the industry is sustainable.
“It's a clean, green, sustainable, well-managed resource,” Senator McKenzie said.
“The decision shows that the Victorian Government doesn't care about these families in regional towns, 4700 people will be out of work and this will have serious flow-on effects for the state's regional economy.
“Our beautiful natural hardwood is in demand and for good reason.
“It's a sustainable resource when managed well.
“The short-sightedness of this Labor Government is breathtaking.”
Those views were echoed by Victorian Nationals leader Peter Walsh.
“This will be absolutely devastating for many country communities,” he said.
“Daniel Andrews is sacrificing country jobs just to keep his city voters happy.”
WARM AND FUZZY: Environment Minister Lily D’Ambrosio being hugged by members of Save Our Strathbogie Forest group during her visit to the area last week with the announcement of the end to logging.