Shock in Heyfield over native timber shut-down

Last weeks announcement that the state government plants to shut down the native timber industry by 2030 has sent shockwaves through Gippsland, particularly Heyfield.
Last weeks announcement that the state government plants to shut down the native timber industry by 2030 has sent shockwaves through Gippsland, particularly Heyfield.

SHOCK waves have rippled through Gippsland following last week's state government announcement to close the native forestry industry by 2030 - a sensation all too familiar for the residents of Heyfield.

The town's Australian Sustainable Hardwoods manufacturing mill is again staring down the barrel of an unviable native log supply - in that there will be none, come 2030.

The state government's ban will bring a halt to harvesting timber from state forests, the lifeblood of the mill and broader Heyfield for decades.

Speaking with the Gippsland Times, ASH managing director Vince Hurley said he was extremely disappointed.

"For us here, it's obviously really disheartening," he said.

"We're trying to attract young professionals, engineers and people like that, to our business - how's that going to happen now?

"The decision's just nonsensical ... misinformation has contributed to this outcome."

Despite the state government buying a large share of the company as a result of the 2017 hardship, Mr Hurley found out about the ban via the media.

"There's a little bit of breathing space, but we need to work hard in the meantime to make sure we get on top of it," he said.

It will be business as usual at ASH for the next five years.

Following that, VicForests' total harvest levels reduce by about 25 per cent in 2025, and an additional 25 per cent from 2026 to 2030, becoming available on a competitive tender process.

Mr Hurley said the business intended to compete to continue its current volume.

"We'll still be around [in 2030], but we'll be a fraction of the business we are if we don't have sawlogs," he said.

"While we've been investing big in manufacturing, and bringing American oak in and silvertop, jarrah and all these other things, the native logs still underpin our business."

Mr Hurley met with VicForests chief executive Monique Dawson on site on Thursday evening, and plans to meet with members of cabinet individually.

In a memo given to the company's 250 staff on Friday, Mr Hurley underscored the business would be working hard to ensure saw logs were made available after 2030.

"Ten years is a long time in the political world and decisions can be changed," it said.

"ASH is continuing to purchase plantation sawlog from HVP and farm forestry, and this will continue beyond 2030.

"Similarly, ASH is continuing purchase oak and other species and will beyond 2030."

The decision to ban native timber harvesting by 2030 casts an unwelcome shadow over a business that is otherwise firing on all cylinders.

Recovering quickly after the 2017 saga and under new ownership, the company is just weeks off opening two new high tech manufacturing plants which will broaden the species and size of sawlogs that can be processed.

VicForests released a statement post-announcement, claiming the closure will "drive VicForests to transform its business and support diversification and innovation in the native timber sector".

The state government body claimed the 10-year transition period would "provide clarity" for contractors, mills and processors during the phase-out, and "enable them to retain highly skilled employees".

VicForests' role will now include supporting the expansion of private plantations, "from large industrial scale plantings to tree crops managed and sold by farmers".

VicForests chief executive Monique Dawson said that, while challenging, the decision would provide opportunities for VicForests to develop and trial new species for plantations and new approaches to growing trees to support better timber products and respond to the future impact of climate change.

"We are excited about the role we will play in supporting the future development of the Victorian timber industry," it said.

How much native forest is available for harvesting?

There are 7.1 million hectares of public native forests across Victoria, about 94 per cent of which are protected in parks, reserves or are unsuitable for native timber harvesting.

VicForests harvests about 3000 hectares per year (0.04 per cent of the total publicly-owned forest in the state).

Available forest is harvested on an 80-year rotation.

There has been a significant decline in the amount of harvesting in Victoria's forests in recent years, and VicForests is currently harvesting less than at any other time in our history.