In a major announcement, the Andrews government has stated that it will ‘immediately’ protect all remaining old growth forest on the east of the state as part of a plan to phase out native forest logging and protect 96,000 hectares of forests. The old growth areas amounts to 90,000 hectares of mountain and foothill forests.

Environmental groups such as Goongerah Environment Centre (GECO) and Friends of the Earth (FoE) have welcomed the announcement and also called for the release of extra detail and maps to ensure the announcement results in lasting and effective protection.

This outcome is especially good news for the heartland of remaining old growth – the hill country of East Gippsland.

FoE/GECO spokesperson Ed Hill said “the government needs to clearly articulate a plan for how today’s announcement of 96,00 hectares of protected areas will actually protect forests into the long term, the government must move quickly to legislate formal protection in new national parks or secure conservation reserves.”

“Minister D’Ambrosio is to be congratulated on her work to secure protection for an additional 90,000 hectares of mapped old growth forest, however clarification about where these forests are located and how this policy will be implemented is urgently need. Several areas of old growth forest are being targeted for logging on VicForests current schedule, VicForest much immediately withdraw these areas from their plans and confirm that they will comply with government policy.”

Ed says: “This means 96,000 hectares of forest protected across the state and, in addition to that, 90,000 ha of mapped old growth will be off limits to logging. Most of the mapped old growth (90,000) was already in reserves but about 25,000 of it in East Gippsland was not. But this means no more logging in mapped old growth forest everywhere including in areas outside of the 96,000 hectares of new protected areas. Its good but government needs to stick to it”.

The government has also stated that it will end all native forest logging by 2030. This means that regrowth areas in places like the Central Highlands, and large sections of Melbourne’s drinking water catchments will continue to be logged for the foreseeable future. These areas will need to be regenerated and hence take more than 100 years to return to an old growth phase. Given the possibility that Mountain Ash forest communities could face ecosystem collapse, the continued logging of these forests is of great concern.

In a statement, the premier said

‘The Andrews Labor Government has today acted to ensure a long-term and sustainable future for Victoria’s forestry industry – and for the Victorian workers who rely on it.

As Australian Paper moves away from using native timber in its paper production and with a reduction in available native timber resources due to fire and wildlife protection, the Labor Government has unveiled a new 30-year plan to support the sector as it transitions.

As part of the plan, $120 million will be set aside to ensure the industry is fully supported, backing long-term sustainable jobs and giving local workers confidence about their future.

VicForests will extend existing timber supply agreements until 2024, after which native timber supply will be stepped down before ending in 2030’.

However, green groups feel that in order to deliver the protection that our forests need wood volumes to the Australian Paper mill urgently need to be reduced before the proposed date of 2030 when native forest logging is to be phased out. “Our forest and wildlife don’t have time to spare.”

The premier says:

‘The plan includes the release of the Greater Glider Action Statement, which makes another 96,000 hectares of forest across Victoria immediately exempt from logging in order to protect this iconic marsupial and other threatened species’.

Errinundra and WA May 2017In response, FoE and GECO say “while protection of some habitat for the threatened Greater Glider is welcome, until the details of the legally required Action Statement are released there is little evidence that this species will be afforded the protection required to prevent further its extinction.”

“We hold grave fears for how continued logging will operate in areas of high quality habitat that are not placed into protected areas. Key habitat on the Errinundra plateau and in the Bendoc state forest needs to be protected to conserve these Greater Glider hotspots in East Gippsland.”

“While a lot more needs to be done, these are welcome first steps that form the building blocks of the Emerald Link reserve system in East Gippsland and the Great Forest National Park in the Central Highlands and we look forward to working with the government to deliver these proposals whilst a transition is underway.”

Transition plan

The announcement includes a commitment to support timber dependent communities as a full transition out of native forests occurs. The following comes from the premier’s media release:

“To assist businesses as they prepare for this transition, the Labor Government will provide dedicated funding to help local mills invest in new equipment that will allow them to process alternative timbers and support local jobs.

That includes Australian Paper, which will be supported to transition to a full plantation-based supply, ensuring it operates until at least 2050 – providing support to its almost 1,000-strong workforce and stability to its customers.

Additional funding will go to ensure industry employees are afforded the certainty and security they deserve, with support for impacted workers to access re-employment and re-training services. The plan will also help fund community projects that support local businesses and help create local jobs.

Today’s announcement builds on the Government’s existing efforts to increase our state’s supply of plantation timber, with a record $110 million allocated in the Victorian Budget 2017/18 to help ensure ongoing access to affordable, locally-produced paper products.

The first of those plantation trees – 250,000 blue gum seedlings – were planted near Australian Paper’s Maryvale mill earlier this year.