Victoria to phase out logging of native forests and shift towards plantation

Native forest logging will be phased out in Victoria by 2030 and logging of old growth forests will cease immediately under a plan to transition to a plantations-based timber industry.

Announcing the plan on 7 November, the Andrews government said it would provide $120mil in financial assistance to the sector, which has been under increasing pressure in recent years, reported The Guardian.

The government will extend existing forestry agreements until 2024, after which native timber supply will be reduced before ending in 2030. The industry will be transitioned to plantation-based supply.

The premier, Daniel Andrews, said an immediate halt to the logging of old growth forests would protect about 90,000 hectares.

The government says another 96,000 hectares of Victorian forest is protected from logging in order to preserve habitat for several threatened species.

The $120m package for workers will include money for training programmes, employment assistance and top-ups to redundancy payments.

“This industry is going through a transition. It means it’s not good enough for us to merely cross our fingers and hope for the best. We need a plan to support workers and support jobs,” Andrews said.

The state’s timber sector has been under increasing pressure in recent years due to declining sustainable timber supply.

Environment groups have opposed the continued logging of native forests, which has destroyed habitat for native species including Victoria’s faunal emblem, the critically endangered Leadbeater’s possum.

VicForests would have lost money for the past three years if not for the skyrocketing payments from the government not to log areas where the Leadbeater’s possum is found, the company’s annual reports show.

VicForests declared a profit before tax of $4mil in the 2018-19 financial year but would have made a loss of almost $7mil if it were not for $11mil in government payments not to log possum habitat.

The possum subsidy was almost double the $5.5m in taxpayer’s money handed over the previous year.

And last year’s handout showed an almost tenfold growth from the $1.3 mil contribution in 2015, the year VicForests first started accounting for payments under the possum programme.

Thursday’s announcement is expected to meet with opposition from the industry.

The Australia Forest Products Association said it would lead to “the loss of thousands of jobs and the withdrawal of key investment in many regional and rural centres across the state”.

“The Andrews Government has also seriously underestimated the pride most Australians, including those in our cities, have in our primary industry sector,” the association’s chief executive, Ross Hampton, said.

Environment groups say the plan is a welcome first step but the end of native forest logging should come sooner than 2030.

In other regions of Australia, logging is still allowed, such as in Queensland where thousands of hectares of forest in Noosa are logged.

In New South Wales, there have been calls to open the Murray Valley national park to logging and the government has been looking at remapping old growth forest to potentially open up new areas to industry.