VicForests opportunism at hazardous levels during bushfires

This was clearly open to rorting by VicForests. DELWP contracted VicForests to remove ‘hazardous trees’ along East Gippsland’s roadsides where there were more lucrative, quality logs to be sold on. As part of this contract with DELWP, VicForests conveniently had all rights to sell any trees it felled.

A VicForests promotional photo, happy about this load of sawlogs and pulpwood from clearing the Princes Hwy.

VicForests said trees it removed were used for supplying its usual customers. That’d be the Eden woodchip mill, Nippon’s paper mill and a small number of sawmills. No one knows exactly where or how much, as neither VicForests nor the Minister have answered questions on the volumes or the buyers.

Demands from industry buyers increased the felling of quality trees under the guise of roadside ‘hazardous tree clearing’ operations. Only a small proportion of trees cut down were in fact hazardous, according to independent arborists.

The clearing of historic treed roadsides, much loved by the local communities, has always been extremely controversial, but the 2020 summer fires allowed this ruthless demolition of landscape to reach a level never before seen. We are unsure if contractors were paid per tree and were free to make their own assessments.

The scale and speed of the operations caused community outrage, fragmentation of forest ecosystems and destruction of a vast number of sound, healthy habitat trees.

The swathe of tree removal along the Princes Hwy for instance was permanent clearing of native forests and must be offset by protecting or restoring other areas. But will it happen?

The Princes Hwy and hundreds of kilometers of roads and tracks were cleared during and immediately after the fires with little oversight or adherence to environmental regulations and as yet no offsets for the permanent clearing off native forest.

Thousands of kilometres of tracks and roads were ‘treated’. Some trees were clearly a danger but thousands of healthy solid trees, many with important habitat and feed value were felled, some unburnt but with financial value to VicForests. Quality logs were stacked and sold on, while others were left to add fire-fuel to roadsides. This happened on both main roads and little used side tracks.

Unburnt, no threat but cleared regardless.

Arborists are not engaged in 99% of cases to assess genuine hazard, and none with the required qualifications (QTRA) to determine the level of threat. It appears that trees in some areas were given the ‘X’ (fell) death sentence based more on their economic value to VicForests.

Those who do have proper qualifications have been stunned by the rampant destruction of perfectly healthy, solid trees along roads and tracks – some a great distance from the road itself.

The Office of the Conservation Regulator (OCR) is a new office established under DELWP, some say to deflect complaints and bury them. The OCR has supposedly been investigating detailed complaints of the carnage across Gippsland, in both burnt and unburnt areas, but since February, this ‘investigative authority’ has been totally silent on any outcome despite requests for updates (as of Oct/Nov 2020).

As we all know, after these horrendous fires and the loss of habitat, intact, mature and connecting forests are more valuable than ever. This has all the appearances of shameless capitalising on a disaster – the term ‘looting’ comes to mind. Will the perpetrators be again protected by their creators (govt)?

Read the full article here at The Age.

‘Hazardous tree’ removal.

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