Forestry under threat?

Forestry under threat?

Are government decisions threatening the future economic viability of Orbost and district?

This is a question put by experienced forest management planner and former Regional Manager for the Department of Natural Resources and Environment, Garry Squires, who now operates locally as a forestry consultant.

“There are a number of current government processes that are concerning for the future of the economy of Orbost and district, “Mr Squires said.

“The first is the joint Commonwealth and State government review of the East Gippsland Regional Forest Agreement. These agreements are meant to strike a balance between the environmental, social and economic use of forests. Hence it would be assumed that the future viability of dependent communities should be a major consideration.

“Other processes make you wonder whether the future of communities is high on government’s agenda at present.

“A couple of months ago we saw an announcement from the government of funding of $1.5 million towards a proposed new 120-kilometre walking trail from Bemm River to Mt Ellery called the Sea to Summit walk. Then recently the government announced that 48,000 hectares of East Gippsland forest that was previously potentially available for harvesting operations, now and into the future, had been incorporated into an ‘immediate protection area’, which means that they are no longer available for harvesting.”

Mr Squires says much of that 48,000 hectares is centred on the route of the proposed Sea to Summit walk and contains many coupes that had been scheduled for harvesting.

“This is already causing issues for the local harvesting crews and will cause more issues into the future,” he said.

“In addition Goongerah Environment Centre (GECO) and the Wilderness Society have been lobbying government for a linkage of forest between Errinundra National Park and the Cape Conran Coastal Park at Bemm River, which they call the Emerald Link.

“The forests of East Gippsland have traditionally been managed under a comprehensive management plan that allows for multiple use of the forest on a landscape scale.

“While there are restrictions on activities permitted in parks and reserves, the state forest areas have been managed very successfully for a range of benefits including a wide variety of recreational uses and dispersed harvesting operations.”

Mr Squires said any move to reduce the area potentially available for harvesting will have disastrous impacts on the economy of the district.

“A recent survey shows that there are currently 114 full time jobs directly within the timber industry in our district (mill workers, harvesting and haulage contractors, VicForests personnel etc.). This represents an estimated 24 per cent of all the full time jobs in the district. When the flow on effects are included the figure becomes almost 40 per cent of all full time jobs in the district are directly or indirectly related to the continuation of the timber industry at its current levels.

“The addition of a new walking track to add to the activities available in the forests of East Gippsland is to be welcomed, but not if it is to be part of a major removal of area potentially available for harvesting operations.

“It is possible to continue to have harvesting and tourism within our forests.”

Mr Squires said key questions the community needs to ask include: Why have 48,000 hectares been removed from the potential area available for harvesting? Is it the intention to permanently remove the areas? How could such decisions be made while there is a review of the RFAs?

“Our community needs to get answers as to what the government has planned,” Mr Squires said.

“We also need to get actively involved in the various review processes if we are to influence the final outcomes and retain a viable economy in our region.

“If you care about the future of our community, get active and vocal now. We can only be sure of one thing - once the government makes decisions they will not reverse them.”

In gaining clarification from VicForests, the Snowy River Mail was advised earlier this week that the amended Timber Release Plan, released by VicForests on April 24, 2019, does not identify any areas of planned harvesting in the vicinity of the proposed Sea to Summit trail.

Any coupes that remain in the vicinity are for purposes other than harvest, for example regeneration activities.

The Victorian Government has committed $1.5 million to get the planning right on the proposed route for the Sea to Summit trail in East Gippsland.

Planning for the trail’s route is underway but more work is required. A range of factors are being considered in making appropriate use of the landscape to meet both the needs of walkers, and deliver the right outcome for the local community.

The final trail and tourism investment will be finalised in consultation with local government, tourism bodies, the timber industry, recreational users and environment groups.

“The available area for harvesting in state forests is determined by the Allocation Order,” a Victorian Government spokesperson said.

“The current Allocation Order, released on April 24, 2019, reduced the area available for harvesting by 5000 hectares compared to the Allocation Order made in 2013.

“To put the reduction into context, in 2013 1,820,000 hectares of state forests were available on the Allocation Order compared to 1,815,000 hectares in 2019.

“The reduction in area of state forests available for harvesting is largely a reflection of recent fires and actions taken since 2013 to protect threatened species and does not interfere with the current ongoing review of the Regional Forest Agreements.”

HAVE YOUR SAY

Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning conducted a drop-in session in Orbost on Monday to provide an opportunity for members of the public to find out more about the Gippsland and East Gippsland RFAs and the modernisation of the forests program. Another will be held on Monday, June 24, from 11am to 1pm at the Orbost Neighbourhood House.

“This is an opportunity for the local community to have a say and in particular to stress the importance of local industry based on the forests to the economy of the town and district,” Mr Squires said.

“If we do not fight for the economic and social future of our town, no one else will.”

PICTURED: Orbost-based forestry consultant, Garry Squires, is concerned that decisions affecting the future of forestry in the region are being taken out of the community’s hands.


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