Victoria leads in logging – but is still in decline

This story appeared in Saturday’s Age and exposes the most ‘entitled’ industry our taxes have ever propped up.

Victoria has become the largest producer of wood from logging native forests in the country, following a dramatic contraction in Australia’s native timber industry over the past decade.

The industry’s decline, and Victoria’s rise to the top, is in large part a result of native timber losing its prized international woodchip markets, with domestic and international plantations now favoured by buyers in Japan and China.

Cutting down native forests is heavily contested by conservationists, who say it is a state-sponsored loss-making practice that hurts endangered species and other environmental values.

Over the past 10 years, the amount of logs produced from Australian native hardwood forests has collapsed from 10 million cubic metres a year to just 3.8 million as of 2012-13.

The most recent statistics from the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences also reveal Victoria processed 1.3 million cubic metres of timber from its native hardwood forests in 2012-13, two-thirds of what it did a decade ago.

But the Victorian decline has been nowhere near as steep as other major native timber states. Tasmania processed less than 800,000 cubic metres in 2012-13 from native hardwood forests, well below a peak of more than 5 million cubic metres last decade. NSW also fell from 1.9 million cubic metres a year to 930,000 on the latest ABARES numbers, which were released in May.

Victoria’s logging of native forests has held up better because pulp logs – smaller logs that cannot be used in sawmills – cut from its Central Highlands forests are being sold to the Maryvale paper mill in the Latrobe Valley, rather than being turned into woodchips for export.

Director of strategy at the state-owned timber company VicForests, Nathan Trushell, said Victoria had an established domestic processing industry.

‘‘And to some degree it has been the envy of the broader industry here in Australia. And we’ve felt very fortunate in that regard,’’ he said.

But volumes of the Victorian native timber harvest could take a further hit next year following the decision of a NSW woodchip exporter to no longer buy pulp logs from East Gippsland logging.

Mr Trushell said VicForests was looking at other ways to sell the pulp logs.

Environmentalists pointed to VicForests’ struggles to break even, with the Wilderness Society’s Amelia Young saying: ‘‘Logging native forests is clearly unsustainable and unprofitable.

‘‘Most of Victoria’s native forests are logged to supply Australian Paper’s Maryvale mill, yet there is more than enough plantation wood and recycled fibre to keep it operating,’’ she said.

A spokesman for Australian Paper, which owns the Maryvale mill, said a previous study found supplying all its timber from plantations would require a $31 million annual government subsidy to cover the extra costs of trucking from Western Victoria, where many of the plantations are established.

He said 65 per cent of the company’s wood needs were already coming from plantations and recycled sources, and it was promoting to governments the importance of establishing new plantations closer to the mill in Gippsland.

Ms Young said the $31 million figure was highly inflated and the trucking costs could be covered with a $5 million subsidy.

See also – Forestry industry out on a limb

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