Machinery clearing hazardous trees from forests and roadsides in East Gippsland. (Supplied: Brett Robins)
East Gippsland sawmills are calling on authorities to allow timber felled in national parks to be salvaged in a bid to boost the local economy.
- Burnt trees posing a risk to safety in national parks are currently being removed from forests and alongside roadsides
- Some fear this is causing increased fire risk and sawmills are calling for the timber to be salvaged
- Gippsland’s forestry industry has been dramatically affected by loss of natural forest and plantations
VicForests and the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning are currently in the process of removing burnt trees from forests and along roadsides.
“All East Gippsland harvest crews, and some other VicForests staff, are diverted to the fire effort, supporting firefighting, emergency road clearance and firebreak construction,” a VicForests spokesperson said.
“Road clearance removes trees that pose a threat of falling and trees killed by fire, under the direction of the chief fire officer, Forest Fire Management Victoria.”
Brett Robin is a fifth-generation timber worker removing hazardous trees and conducting fire-break clean ups in East Gippsland.
“The highway, due to the extent of the fire, has created a lot of hazardous trees and a lot of issues that should have been cleaned up over the last few years,” he said.
“It’s a long, slow process, removing the dangerous trees and widening the road which will be a great thing for the future safety of the road.”
Good timber ‘left to rot or burn’
Mr Robin said cutting down hazardous trees and leaving them in the forests or by roadsides was creating further fire risks.
The Victorian Government estimates more than 40 per cent of Gippsland’s timber-producing trees have been burnt. (Supplied: State Government of Victoria)
“Obviously the risk, leaving it in national parks, is that it increases the fuel load,” he said.
“We should be going in there harvesting it and regenerating it and that way, there is a healthy biodiversity and ecosystem of multi-stage forests which is beneficial to both the timber industry and the environment.”
Federal Member for Gippsland, Darren Chester, agrees.
“I have several worries,” he said.
“One is that we will leave that fuel on the forest floor to be burnt in future fires but also, we’ll waste the opportunity to salvage logs that could be used for timber mills.
“It’s a question now of removing any red tape that may exist to allow a proper salvage operation to occur.
“I’ve written to both the state and federal ministers to encourage them to work their way through any issues around the red tape.
“The real question right now is, as the recovery unfolds, how do we keep people in work, how do we keep the economy moving, and how do we make sure we’re reducing fuel loads to prevent future fires?”
Millions of dollars going to waste
The Victorian Government estimates more than 40 per cent of timber-producing trees in the region have been burnt.
Mr Chester said Gippsland’s forestry industry had been dramatically affected by the loss of native forests and plantations in the bushfires, which are still burning.
“We’ve got millions of dollars’ worth of timber out there that has now been damaged,” he said.
“There are opportunities here to salvage some of it to make sure that people can keep working through this difficult recovery.
“Rather than have timber go to waste, we need to salvage it and create local jobs and support the local economy.
“And then we need to revisit the whole question of the State Government trying to ban native timber harvesting in the first place.”
Speedy timber recovery needed
Mr Robin said the timber needed to be recovered before it deteriorated.
“The timber in East Gippsland is some of the highest quality in the world; we should be utilising the stuff that’s standing at the moment,” he said.
“If we just leave it the way it is all the trees will be in survival mode, they’ll grow epicormics on them.”
But Mr Robin said getting permission to remove the timber from national parks for re-use had been problematic in the past.
“Whether it’s fire breaks or hazard tree removal, there are always issues trying to recover it,” he said.
“No one can take it for firewood, or timber, or anything like that.
“We’ve got so many restricted areas with gates on them, but I’d like to see everybody be able to utilise what we’ve got in this great country.”
The Victorian Government said it was working on a plan to assess how timber would be used and removed from burnt areas.
“There will be significant impacts on the forestry industry and preliminary assessments of fire impacts are continuing,” a spokesperson said.
“Once it is safe to do so, VicForests and the Office of the Conservation Regulator will conduct detailed in-field assessments of all [timber] coupes on the current Timber Release Plan impacted by fires.”
Environmental group the Wilderness Society are urging the Victorian Government not to allow salvage logging in the state forests.
“The state government need to protect and restore the forest habitat where [endangered] species need to return too,” Victoria’s campaign manager, Amelia Young said.
Ms Young said in addition to the announced changes to the timber industry from the government, salvage logging should be banned.
“We’d like to see an immediate guarantee that they won’t open up National Parks to logging, also that they won’t be allowing damaging salvage logging in east Gippsland,” she said.
“These are still living forests despite the fact that they’ve been so badly affected by the bushfires.
“Forests need to be supported to recover so we can return wildlife back into their natural environment.”
These concerns have been echoed in an opinion piece by Professor David Lindenmayer, who said logging forests after bushfires increases future fire risk.