Last year almost a third of the native forest logs that came from East Gippsland was sold to the Geelong-based export woodchipper Midway. The state-owned logging enterprise, VicForests, sold them as dirt cheap, low-grade pulp logs.
Recently, a Freedom of Information request of VicForests showed that at least 85% of our native forests are used for cheap throw-away paper and cardboard. The last VicForests Annual Report revealed that we tax payers are aiding the industry to log our native forests. This is on top of their existing subsidies. Now we learn that almost 4,745 MCGs of Victoria’s native forests (9,000 ha) are lost to chainsaws every year and most is woodchipped.
In 2006, the then premier, Steve Bracks, made a promise to protect all significant stands of old growth currently available for logging. This, with several other areas called icon forests amounted to about 41,000 ha. However, he also promised there would be no impact on the logging industry - an impossible undertaking.
The headline in the Sunday Age in early December 2007 was 'How to turn $99 million worth of trees into a $17,000 loss'. VicForests was exposed as incompetent economic managers of our public forests. Even with a state government gift of tens of millions of dollars to get it set up, it's still not profitable to cut down native forests.
A new era has begun. We have the combined trilogy of; 1) serious climate shift, 2) plantation wood in abundance and 3) a logging industry that continues to rely on public welfare to make a profit.
David Pollard, VicForests CEO, was the Commissioner of State Revenue, from 1997 until 2002. Any wonder that he was very defensive when questioned on radio in early December about the loss he'd made for Victorian's.
After three years as the new semi-corporate arm of the government logging agency, VicForests was going down the economic gurgler.
For the first two years after its creation, VicForests was given an easy run with DSE picking up the tab for many costs, but year three was to see it 'off the dole' and making a profit. To balance their books we saw Vic-Forests planning to cut corners and costs. Unfortunately, this also meant cutting their obligations to look after public lands.
VicForests oversees the logging of public forests and is meant to make a profit. In the past, forest agencies (of various names) have relied on hand-outs to operate. Now VicForests' plans to reduce overheads to stay in business could cost the environment dearly.
Auctioning sawlogs brings in some revenue, especially now it asks for a half-decent price for them. But sawmills aren't needing as many logs these days as there is decreasing demand for hardwood timber. However, thousands of tonnes of smoke-damaged ash forests were being knocked down as 'salvage' at ten times the normal rate. Solid logs were split to sell as woodchip fodder at a reduced price. Despite this 'fire sale', the bills were still mounting.
The latest bundle of propaganda to come from VicForests, in mid August, announced the new Sustainable Forest Management System Project for Forest Certification. Don't all those big words sound impressive? Sadly, its just another expensive publicity fraud.
When the new VicForests office took over the native forest logging 'shop', they came in with a nice new broom. Mill owners will have to compete for logs by bidding for them when their license runs out over the next few years. Meanwhile their current license for logs has had a 17-25% price increase. This has come as a real shock to some mills and we're hearing very loud squeals of protest.