South Gippsland Shire Council gave a resounding thumbs down to the VicForests’ (VF) intention to log three coupes near Mirboo North.
On March 28, councillors were unimpressed by the presentation VF delivered to council and subsequently carried a motion to advocate strongly against logging in Mirboo North.
It is surprising then that VF have paid little heed to the reasons the councillors took this position. The councillors were swayed by the Preserve our Forests (PoF) presentations delivered by experts and local business proprietors who stated the economy, amenity and biodiversity in Mirboo North would be negatively impacted by logging of these native forests.
In a recent media release, VF’s General Manager Corporate Affairs, Alex Messina, extols the benefits of logging to the Gippsland economy, however it was noted by Cr Andrew McEwen, when referring to the VF presentation to council on March 21 that the numbers quoted on jobs in the this industry included those employed by the plantation timber sector. Samantha Dunn, in her Minority Report to the Victorian Parliamentary Inquiry into VicForests, also states this fact. (p77 Inquiry into VicForests Operations report).
No breakdown of these figures has been supplied by VF; we can only conclude that their figures are not to be trusted as only native forest logging employment is pertinent in this instance.
In a sweeping generalisation VF, quoting Tim Johnston, CEO Victorian Association of Forest Industries (VAFI), who has a vested interest in native forest logging said, “Timber harvesting and tourism have co-existed for many years in Victoria including in many regional communities and we look forward to this continuing.”
This certainly indicates a lack of concern and empathy for the true struggles facing logging communities. We need only look at the tiny, historic township of Noojee facing the clear fell logging of a coupe only 200 metres from their town, destroying critical biodiversity, exacerbating the fire risk and creating an eyesore that will detract from tourism.
This tiny community has mounted strong opposition, but VF has done little to act on this and will still go ahead with logging.
In the case of Mirboo North, a large driver of our economy is tourism, with $16m p.a. being contributed to the South Gippsland economy.
We rely significantly on eco-tourism; our native forests are assets that need to be kept intact if we are to continue to maintain and grow this sector. Messrs Johnston and Messina would do well to investigate Mirboo North’s true position; we are not a logging town and do not co-exist with the native forest logging industry.
Mr Messina talks of “good faith” and “respectful outcomes”, but VF has hardly earned this as we see them charged with illegal logging of rainforest in East Gippsland after a two year investigation by the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning (DELWP) and investigations on breaches of the Sustainable Forests Act in the Central Highlands.
In fact, there are 27 alleged forest breaches by VF under investigation. This indicates serious issues concerning VF’s operations and do not engender trust in this corporation.
Ian Cornthwaite, indigenous plant expert and proprietor Strzelecki Plant Farm, said “VicForests have not been respectful so far; polite perhaps, but not respectful. Their public consultation has been abysmal and their “harvesting” intentions are arrogant at best. Their lack of proper ecological assessment to date is disrespectful from both environmental and public perspectives”.
VF is not actively engaging. In fact, they are reacting to what PoF is saying in the media. They have not responded in a meaningful way to the PoF Amended Timber Release Plan submission, nor have they advised PoF in writing of the proposed revision to the plans, rather they make announcements via the media.
Mr Johnston states that “Many of our members use the quality hardwood harvested from state forests to process into sought-after appearance grade furniture along with timber for use in home-building”.
Local Stephen Koci asks, “Is our timber the ‘quality hardwood’ desired for high quality furniture or home building? Is this guaranteed? Or are our trees a value-less commodity destined for pulping at Australian Paper to be used locally or shipped overseas?”
The majority of forest material harvested in Gippsland can be shown to be headed for the pulp industry; this is a poor outcome for native forests that are the result of millions of years of ecological development with extremely complex systems underpinning the balances so important for their long-term, sustainable survival and uniqueness.
“The attractiveness of Mirboo North to VicForests lies in its convenient location to the paper mill at Morwell; something they have admitted,” states Ian Cornthwaite.
PoF have been undertaking surveys to ascertain how people feel about the prospect of logging in Mirboo North.
The level of concern shown by locals and visitors alike has been overwhelming as shown by some of the comments received in the surveys…
“I am deeply concerned for the wildlife and the loss of the beautiful natural area we currently enjoy”.
And others, “I often mooch around this area – logging means I will have one less area to be in, I’m in distress about diversity and species disappearing when we have so little left”.
Mirboo North has more than paid its dues to the timber industry, either by regular logging or by logging and then turning these areas into plantations.
Our forests are not linked by bush corridors to the few remaining pockets of forest left in the Strzelecki Ranges; it is critical that these forests remain intact to provide vital ecological systems for flora and fauna, threatened species and biodiversity. This will also ensure the amenity enjoyed by residents and visitors and will increase Mirboo North’s economic potential.
Marg Thomas, chair, Preserve our Forests Steering Committee.