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Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Locking in native forest logging: say goodbye to Victorian forest carbon sinks

The Victorian Coalition Government have given a green light to their logging mates by announcing the expansion of native forest logging and locking in to place much longer native forest logging contracts.

In a statement yesterday Agriculture and Food Security Minister National Party MP Peter Walsh released the Timber Industry Action Plan. Under the plan Vicforests would be able to harvest and sell timber through supply agreements of up to 20 years, instead of the current maximum five year period. VicForests will also be given the right to sell timber in a variety of ways, including both timber auctions and other sales arrangements. And contract clauses will be written in to provide compensation if there happens to be a change of government policy in the future (as sometimes happens in a democracy).

"Victoria has a magnificent and renewable resource in the form of native forest timber which has the potential to support a vibrant and profitable long term industry to provide jobs and investment in rural communities," Mr Walsh said.

"We will also review the Sustainable Forests (Timber) Act 2004 to simplify the legislative framework in which the industry operates and reduce its regulatory burden. The government will also introduce planning amendments to reinforce the right to use land for timber production in the Farming and Rural Activity Zones," Mr Walsh said.

Most timber harvested in Victoria comes from plantations. Further destruction of native forests places increasing burden on endangered species and destroys the carbon sink capacity at a time when we need to be maximising carbon storage to compensation for greenhouse gas emissions. Dr Judith Ajani, an economist at the ANU Fenner School of Environment and Society and the author of The Forest Wars (MUP 2007), makes a convincing case that native old growth forests should not be logged as they cannot give a return on carbon sequestration or emission reduction over the timeframe when the most action is required - the next 50 years.

The move comes on the heels of a Government announcement last month that Logging contractors will be able to seek exemptions from state environment laws protecting endangered species under proposed changes by the Baillieu state government. The Secretary of the Department of Sustainability and Environment would be able to exempt a logging project from the requirements of the Flora and Fauna Guarantee Act. Goodbye endangered species habitat!

The announcement was met by objections by Greens MP Greg Barber "Really, the way these Liberals and Nationals prop up logging with subsidies and other favourable terms, it's like the last vestige of a Stalinist central planning exercise you'll find anywhere in the world economy," he said.

Greg Barber highlighted that the Victorian temperate native forests at issue were found in a scientific study to be the most carbon dense ecosystem on earth.

"They're worth a lot more, standing up, for their water, wildlife and carbon value than they are subsidised and shipped off to the rubbish tips of Japan," he said in a Ninemsn report.

And if you think that forest reserves are safe, think again. The plan will allow "ecological thinning" of forests in reserves, parks and water catchments, according to a report in the Age.

"There is absolutely nothing sinister in this," Peter Walsh said. "It is about, in the areas that were going to be logged, giving certainty to the industry and making sure forests are managed appropriately."

One of the first moves by the Baillieu government was allowing cattle back into the high country Alpine National Park. A prominent organiser for this was Baillieu's brother in law and cattle grazier, Graeme Stoney, an executive officer of the cattlemen's association. The Age, in documents accessed under Freedom of Information, has revealed the close working relationship between Stoney and senior government bureaucrats in organising cattle grazing in the high country.

Mr Stoney has now been appointed to the board of VicForests who oversees timber harvesting in the state's public forests.

The ministerial announcement continues the subsidies and short term profits by selling our forests for a song, while we fail to act on climate change and neglect a chance to mitigate global warming through use of the forests as an effective carbon sink. In other anti-climate actions the Baillieu Government also brought in draconian planning regulations for wind farms, while locking in another 50 years for the Anglesea coal mine.

Old growth native forests are important to preserve for a raft of reasons that rise above the economic exploitation for wood pulp and timber:


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