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Logging Perspective

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When Victoria shut down the native timber industry on January 1 last year it was seen as a great victory for the environment. A long campaign had been waged on behalf of the endangered Leadbeater’s Possum. Government listened and the harvesting of native timber was stopped abruptly throughout Victoria, seven years earlier than expected. There are many factors threatening the possum, including urban development, infrastructure (roads etc) farming and pests but forestry was singled out.

It sounds like an environmental success story and a great victory – but is it? The need for hardwood hasn’t stopped and harvesting of native forest hardwood continues and endangered species are still endangered. What the shutdown achieved was to transfer the problems to Tasmania and some Tasmanians are not happy.

The need for hardwood logs in Victoria didn’t magically stop the day logging was banned. Hardwood logs are still being milled in Gippsland but the logs are coming in from Tasmania (and elsewhere).

Hundreds of truck-loads of logs are coming across Bass Strait on the Spirit of Tasmania and the Searoad Mersey. As many as six log trucks have been on the Spirit at any one crossing and that is causing some frustration as trucks are crowding out tourist cars and campervans and the Tasmanian tourism industry isn’t happy with that.

A spokesman for the Bob Brown Foundation told Traf District News that they have been told that all the logs coming out of Tasmania are coming from privately owned plantations but former Tasmanian Greens Senator, Paul O’Halloran, who actively tracks these logging movements, suggests some of the logs are coming from the pristine Meunna and Tarkine areas which is a breeding ground for the threatened Swift Parrot. The parrot breeds in Tasmania and crosses Bass Strait to Southern Victoria every year.

There are an estimated 500 birds left in the wild and this number could be as low as 100 by 2031 if present trends continue. Is the Swift Parrot any less valuable than the Leadbeater’s Possum? Is putting one species at risk to save another myopic and short-term thinking?

What this article is trying to point out is that closing down an industry in order to save a species, only to transfer that issue elsewhere and in so doing, adding significant financial and environmental costs to the timber industry, is not an ideal solution.

The world is worried about CO2 emissions and transport adds significant emissions, so consider this equation.

Let’s look at the environmental cost of transporting logs from Tasmania to a mill in Gippsland, compared to bringing logs from within Gippsland to a mill in Gippsland.

A log truck emits between 2.5kg and 3.5kg of greenhouse gases per kilometre travelled and, of course, it depends on the condition of the truck, size, weight, and many other factors, but for this exercise we will use the lower figure of 2.5kg.

Gippsland to Gippsland. Let’s say 50k one-way trip. Greenhouse gasses emitted = 125kg.
Tasmania: Logging coupe to Devonport Ferry Terminal estimate 100 kilometres = 250kg of CO2. Geelong Ferry Terminal to Gippsland estimated 300 kilometres = 750kg; total 1,000kg of greenhouse gas emissions. It is very difficult to calculate the greenhouse gas emissions of the overnight ferry trip but it would add significantly to the total greenhouse gas emissions because a ferry uses tonnes of heavy fuel per hour.

Summary: On a simple one-way trip analysis, logs coming from Tasmania release at least four times more greenhouse gas emissions than local delivery. Of course, the trucks run both ways so these figures could be nearly doubled.

By closing our local industry, we have shifted the environmental species threat from Victoria to Tasmania and we have added significantly to the cost to the environment through increased greenhouse gas emissions.

But it doesn’t end there. Traf District News has been told that 80-year-old Tasmanian hardwood logs are being shipped to Sarawak to be trimmed and cleaned and then returned to Victoria. That involves a shipping distance of approximately 17,000 kilometres. It is anyone’s guess how much greenhouse gas is dumped into the atmosphere because of this transportation.

There is no guarantee that Gippsland will be able to continue to buy logs from Tasmania in the long term. Before Victoria closed its native timber forest industry there were strong moves in Tasmania to similarly ban logging and that mood persists.

The issue in Tasmania is heating up. On one side, the industry is asking the government to open up more logging coupes in the Tarkine and other currently no-go areas and the government indicates it is keen to assist. On the other side, the environmentalists are seeking an end to native forest logging. Victorian mills, cashed up with an estimated $200 million government transition package and buying up Tasmanian logs, are putting further pressure on Tasmania’s timber resources.

This newspaper is not making an argument for the return of native forest harvesting in Victoria as it was before January 1. What we are pointing out is that the closure was based on environmental grounds and that has achieved very little.

We are still milling hardwood in Gippsland because it is needed, but by closing our local industry we have added significantly to the environmental and monetary cost of doing business.

Late last year a young Gippsland forestry worker spoke at a Traralgon rally about recently harvesting a logging coupe his grandfather had planted fifty years earlier. That is sustainable and responsible forestry and that perhaps makes more sense than closing a $770 million dollar industry to save a possum, potentially at the expense of a parrot.

Closing the industry in Victoria hasn’t ended the need for hardwoods and if there is no guarantee we will be able to buy logs from Tassie in the long term, perhaps it is time to find a way to properly develop a sustainable industry in Gippsland.

A forestry scientist is now harvesting hardwood for milling which he planted in the Otways thirty years ago, so it may be possible to shorten the growing period.
If we need hardwood then perhaps we need to revisit how we produce

The author: Devoted fifteen years and some fifteen thousand hours to Landcare including starting Landcare groups, serving on district Landcare boards and at committee level with Landcare Victoria Inc. He believes there is a distinction between the Landcare movement and the extreme green activists whose actions often appear more political than environmental.

Information sources: NRM South, Birdlife Australia, ABC, Traf District News, Bob Brown Foundation, Australian Wood Review, Margules Groome.
Photo Credits: All pictures supplied by the Bob Brown Foundation

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