Forest conservationists fear union wants logging to return

    About 70 people from eight environmental groups in central Victoria gathered at a salvage logging coupe in Bullarto on Sunday to oppose plans for further logging. Photo: Sandy Scheltema

    An alliance of local conservation groups has condemned a proposal made by the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union to source sawlogs for paper production from the Wombat State Forest.

    In an open letter to the Opal Paper Mill in Maryvale, Gippsland, the union states “We understand there are potentially viable options for alternative timber supply via the Wombat Forest…”.

    Environmental groups fear the union is seeking to log by stealth under the guise of using fallen timber in salvage works.

    “Recent court cases have established that VicForests has been illegally logging and has fewer options for obtaining timber, hence the proposal to further exploit the Wombat Forest,” Wombat Forestcare spokesperson Gayle Osborne said.

    “What is being proposed by the CFMEU would compromise the very values that ensured the forest was designated to become National Park.”
    But the CFMEU has denied it is advocating for the return of sawlog harvesting.

    CFMEU manufacturing division national secretary, Michael O’Connor, said it was not about reintroducing logging to the forest.

    “We know there is still a lot of wind-fallen timber in the forest and we also think there is a range of work that is needed to remove that fire risk and restore the health of the forest,” Mr O’Connor said.

    “There’s no doubt that some of that forest should be thinned, both from a fire mitigation perspective and making sure that we have a vibrant healthy forest, and if that work that needs to be done produces wood fibre then it would be great to see that not being wasted.

    “And if that work supports the jobs of workers in regional Victoria, we think most people would think that’s a good thing,” he said.

    Despite the union’s assurance, Ballarat and Castlemaine Field Naturalists Clubs joined with the Moorabool Environment Group, Ballarat Wildlife Rehabilitation and Conservation, Bacchus Marsh Platypus Alliance, Actively Conserving Trentham and Wombat Forestcarers on Sunday to show their support for the campaign to oppose sawlog harvesting and halt the salvage works in the Wombat Forest.

    Elspeth Swan said members of the Ballarat Field Naturalists Club were disappointed that the promised new national parks and reserves had not yet been legislated and delivered and that logging was continuing.

    “Scientific investigations have highlighted the need for greater protection for key areas in Victoria’s central west,” she said.

    “It is difficult to understand why a range of threatened species is being put at further risk by continuing to ‘log’ in some areas.

    “The continued destruction of habitat values is unsustainable.”

    Ms Osborne said it was hard to believe this could be happening in a forest that was designated to be a national park.

    “In June 2017, the then Minister for the Environment, Lily D’Ambrosio, wrote to us to assure the group that VicForests would not undertake sawlog harvesting in the Wombat Forest,” she said.

    “VicForests are trucking our logs to Maryvale, a 520-kilometre round trip, to produce paper, much of it destined for overseas markets.
    “Opal, a Japanese-owned company, proudly states that they export to over 70 countries. There are no benefits for the local community, all the contractors are from elsewhere.

    “Our iconic threatened species such as the greater glider and powerful owls, already under pressure due to loss of habitat from last year’s storm and current ‘salvage logging’, will be further compromised.

    “With Australia having one of the worst extinction rates in the world, do we want these special animals found in the Wombat to join the list?”

    The groups are calling on the Andrews government to act quickly to legislate the proposed Wombat-Lerderderg National Park and immediately halt all savage and logging operations in the Wombat Forest.