International complaints against Victorian logging

The story has been updated to include comments from VicForests.

AN Australian environmentalist group has filed formal complaints with international enforcement agencies to “prevent illegal logging” in Victoria’s forests, after a recent Federal Court decision found VicForests in breach of state and federal law.

The move has left forestry peak bodies furious at the trivialisation of illegal logging and “callous disregard” for essential workers during a global pandemic.

The Wilderness Society has appealed to enforcement agencies in Germany, Denmark and the United States to prevent illegal logging in Victoria’s “fire-affected forests and wildlife habitats”.

Paper and cardboard, produced by Nippon Paper Group owned Opal Australian Paper, is sold through its German and United States subsidiaries, and the environmentalist group has subsequently filed formal complaints for breach of each country’s illegal logging laws with their relevant authorities.

The Federal Court decision is being appealed by VicForests.

Wilderness Society markets campaign manager Peter Cooper said after last summer’s bushfires, the remaining unburnt habitat for threatened wildlife must be protected, not logged.

“If Australia’s environmental regulators were effective, then we wouldn’t need to call for international help. But this is not the case,” he said.

“The Wilderness Society is calling on European and American help to strengthen our forest governance and reverse the downward trajectory of our endangered forest-dependent wildlife.

“The United States and European Union have illegal logging laws that exist to protect their citizens from exposure to illegally logged products … and to provide a market incentive to countries with failing forest governance to clean up their own act.”

The Australian Forest Products Association and Victorian Association of Forest Industries have slammed the move, saying it trivialised the global scourge of illegal logging and encouraged protesters to disrupt legal timber harvesting when the economy was already at a devastating low.

Australian Forest Products Association chief executive Ross Hampton said on the same day the Victorian government announced the economy would likely be in a deep recession with potentially tens of thousands of job losses, the Wilderness Society had taken its campaign against the state’s sustainably-managed native forest industries to an international audience, and trivialised the global scourge of illegal logging.

“It seems to be lost on The Wilderness Society that amid the unprecedented lockdown in Victoria and the devastating impact on the state’s economy, Victoria’s native forest industries continue to operate to produce essential products like packaging, timber products for the building industry, pallets for supermarket deliveries, and firewood,” Mr Hampton said.

“These are vital jobs producing essential products in a lawful, sustainable industry that a vocal minority of extremists want to close down – most Victorians would be rightly horrified by The Wilderness Society’s conduct.”

Victorian Association of Forest Industries chief executive Tim Johnston added actions like this emboldened protestors who choose to disrupt legal timber harvesting operations and put themselves and others at risk.

Mr Hampton said it was also wrong of the Wilderness Society to be equating VicForests’ tightly regulated harvesting operations with the global illegal logging trade.

“The Wilderness Society effectively trivialises the global criminal trade in illegally logged forest products that leads to deforestation, poor working conditions and environmental vandalism, and it undermines the huge efforts of global agencies like Interpol in combating this scourge,” he said.

“Australia’s illegal logging laws are designed to prevent the importation and domestic harvesting of timber outside of legitimate regulatory frameworks.

“Australia is part of a global effort to stamp out the theft, laundering and trade of illegal timber, often by organised crime syndicates, particularly in developing countries.

“The Wilderness Society should not undermine these efforts for the sake of a cheap headline.”

Mr Hampton said it should also be noted the Federal Court decision, which is being appealed, only related to a handful of forest coupes harvested between 2016 and 2018.

The Australian Forest Products Association represents forest growers, harvesters, and manufacturers of timber and paper products.

“VicForests uses the equivalent of just four trees out of 10,000 every year, and old growth trees are protected,” Mr Hampton said.

“It is certified to the world’s largest global certification scheme called PEFC (known as Responsible Wood in Australia).

“Every tree that is used is regenerated.

“It is completely sustainable environmentally and a vital driver of jobs in many regional Victorian towns.

“The Wilderness Society should not have to be told that now is not the time to be trying to close down an essential industry in Victoria.”

A VicForests spokesperson said the state government-owned business was committed to complying with or exceeding regulatory controls to ensure the sustainable management of forest areas.

“The Victorian native forestry industry is highly regulated and VicForests is subject to oversight by an independent regulator,” they said.

“We will be appealing the recent court decision, once final orders are made by the court.”