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FWCA presents forest communities case to Major Event Review

Forest & Wood Communities Australia has presented the case for forest communities to the Major Event Review of the Victorian Regional Forest Agreements following the 2019-20 fires.

It was an opportunity to point out the value of the people who work in the forests and live in communities which are supported by employment in the timber industry. We’ve published our submission below.

We also participated in the Stakeholder Consultation process where we argued our case before the Major Event Review panel. We’re pleased to report that sitting on the panel was Dr Tony Bartlett who is an experienced forester and understands the value of the people who work in forestry.

There are still opportunities for individuals to participate in the Myrtleford and East Gippsland panel reviews, which will be held next week (September 13/14). https://www.delwp.vic.gov.au/futureforests/what-were-doing/the-major-event-review-of-regional-forest-agreements

The submission and consultation process is also a demonstration of the work FWCA does for our members and all people who support our sustainable timber industry which supports us.

We are balancing the argument against the outrage peddlers and activists who have made a business out of protesting against forestry. These people hijack public consultation processes such as this to put more pressure on the government to shut us down and it’s only when we present our side of the argument do we stand a chance.

To be more effective, we need to come together to stand up against the activists and show that we’ve had enough of the lies used to destroy our jobs and communities.

STAND WITH US for just $5 per year and help us become your voice.

 

Major Event Review of Regional Forest Agreements post 2019-20 bushfires

Submission by Forest & Wood Communities Australia

Introduction

The 2019-20 bushfires, which razed huge areas of the forest estate in Victoria and NSW, demonstrated the value of the people who work in the forests and the need to sustain their livelihoods. Forest & Wood Communities Australia (FWCA) has members who are among these people and we informally canvassed them to form our submission.

The one thing that comes through is that without the decades of expertise in understanding forests and fire behaviour among the hundreds of people who live and work in the fire-effected areas, and the machinery owned by forest contractors, there is no doubt the impacts of the 2019-20 event would have been much greater on local landowners and wildlife.

We have seen video of contractor crews in the fire itself, cutting fire breaks and access into the forests. We have heard of the long hours these forest workers put in to help clean up afterwards and remove dangerous trees from roadsides.

To speak directly with them is to hear people desperate to save the forests which sustain them, their communities and our society as we move to carbon-conscious alternatives to resources, which do not have the same biodiversity positive outcomes as native forestry.

There are many among our members and supporters who have been impacted directly by the 2019-20 event and who are still picking up the pieces after losing property and income. They saw first-hand the dangerous fuel loads building in unmanaged forests and issued warnings, which they feel were ignored. The inevitable fire came straight after the brutal blow of learning their livelihoods would be taken from them by the decision to end native forestry in Victoria.

These people should be seen as part of a fire-mitigation strategy which embraces native forestry for all its benefits.

Forest & Wood Communities Australia (FWCA) has read and supports the submission made by the Victorian Forest Products Association.

 

About Forest & Wood Communities Australia

FWCA is a not-for-profit association representing grassroots timber workers, their families and communities, and supporters of Australia’s world-certified timber industry.

  • We are a new association, having formed mid-2020 and have 346 full financial members and 1250 supporters.
  • We understand the mental impacts forest workers and their families suffer as a result of the relentless attacks on sustainable forestry.
  • We highlight the positive work our members do in times of crisis.
  • We recognise activism as deceptive and destructive and stand up to it without fear or favour.
  • We are a professionally run organisation with a board and an advisory council made up of representatives from our member base.

Foresters and fire

We represent members of the forest industry whose livelihoods depend on the ongoing sustainable management of our forests. FWCA has members who work in the plantation sector, which faced its own challenges following the 2019-20 fire event, however, we note this review is focused on the RFA management of the native timber sector.

Our members are cynical of the purpose of the Major Event Review and the implications on the current Victorian Government’s native timber policy. If you understand how the native timber industry has been decimated over the decades through what is perceived to be “political bastardry”, then it can be understood how our members might see this Review as an opportunity to bring forward the Victorian Government’s disastrous decision to end native forestry in Victoria.

In Powelltown, Gippsland, for instance, we have seen contractor crews shrink from around 40 in the mid-1990s to half a dozen. Each crew consists of 4-5 workers who each bring income to their families. Our members believe this has been the result of the growing influence of activist groups which have successfully monetised outrage and as a result become a powerful political lobby. We see this influence as an insidious blight on the political and environmental process.

The decision to end native forestry in Victoria is baffling and it is of some concern that requests from local government for information to discern the actual reasons behind the decision have failed.

These councils are concerned because the decision will condemn their shires to further fire catastrophe, unemployment and the decay of communities.

An independent study of the implications on their communities (Economic Analysis of the Timber Industry – Specialised industry sector analysis for the Wellington and East Gippsland region) showed that the cost of ending the native timber industry in Victoria will cost 1100 jobs and $311 million in just these two LGAs.

At a broader scale, the decision to end native forestry will strip the region of decades of hands-on forest and fire management knowledge, which you do not get from desktop modelling or other incidence response experience. It will see thousands of kilometres of forest roads, which are paid for and maintained by forestry, fall into neglect and hamper direct access in times of fire crisis. It will condemn our forests to even greater wildfire events by seeing managed forests locked into the poorly managed reserve system, which has resulted so far in the incineration of billions of native animals.

To speak directly to the Review parameter of remedial works, removing effective forest management reduces the forest’s chance to regenerate. For instance, our members who work in the forests report how intense fire hardens the soil to almost bitumen consistency. Water runs off this hard crust, which is around 2cm deep, and seed has no chance of penetrating the soil.

Harvesting in these fire affected areas helps to break up this hardened soil as machines run over it, while the dead and dying trees can be used for sawlogs, pulp and firewood.

There are also safety implications of leaving dead trees standing. These trees are prone to spontaneously falling or dropping branches, and are known among our members as ‘widow makers’.

Ultimately, the purpose of harvesting in fire-affected forests is to promote regeneration for future forest resource, and leaving dead trees standing creates competition for soil and light for new growth. This in turn reduces feed stock for native animals, which thrive on young regrowth.

It is our understanding that modern studies of Leadbeater’s Possum using LiDAR, for instance, shows that the species thrives in forests aged at around 30 years. Koalas are also well documented to have been detected primarily in regrowing forests where they prefer younger leaves, particularly in areas where their preferred eucalypt feed species is not available.

Our members report frequent encounters with wildlife in areas which have been previously harvested and are bewildered why they are reported to be endangered. They are especially concerned that these thriving species are used as levers to attack their jobs.

Regrowing forest is also less prone to fire. FWCA members whose families have worked in the forests for generations, say that a lightning strike in a 10-year-old forest did not lead to more than a small, affected area, while the results of a similar strike in a dense, unmanaged forest was demonstrated by the 2019-20 event.

 

Forest science

We speak for our members who provide anecdotal evidence through practical experience of being in the forests nearly every day of their working lives.

For more formal scientific evidence of the benefits of forestry, we defer to the Institute of Foresters of Australia/Australian Forest Growers, which represents 1000 forest scientists and experts.

In its position paper on Bushfire Recovery Harvesting Operations, the IFA/AFG notes:

“Following major bushfires, burnt forests can be harvested to salvage wood from fire-affected trees before it decays and is no longer suitable for use. Post-fire recovery harvesting operations have been conducted in Australia for at least 80 years, within both burnt native forests and plantations.

“The IFA/AFG recognises the contentious nature of bushfire recovery harvesting; but considers many of the concerns raised to be based on misunderstanding and misinformation.”

FWCA believes that recent social media activity shows that the failed Great Forest National Park campaign is still high on the agenda among the environmental activist sector, which trades in outrage. This perceived push for a Greens political platform has been supported by a slew of high-profile academic reports which all seem to focus on ending native timber harvesting.

These views have been promulgated in such a fashion that the time and resource-poor media is easily able to use this false outrage to create news cycle headlines and ignore the big picture of native timber harvesting and its positive environmental and socio-economic impacts. The end result is poor government policy, which seeks to placate the ignorant rather than achieve true environmental outcomes, and Victoria’s regional communities become the collateral damage.

 

Summary

Our members were directly impacted by the 2019-20 fire event. Some lost machinery and property, many lost incomes due to the 75% reduction in available timber stocks following the fire. These are people who were on the front line during the fires, defending the forest and their communities.

They are consistently made to feel guilty for working in an industry which has been globally recognised as a means to mitigate climate change and reduce the risk of fire. The emotional and psychological stress of all these factors can not be underestimated.

Instead, our members and all of those who work in Victoria’s native timber sector should be celebrated as people who are directly achieving positive environmental outcomes for the State and the global community.

The simple truths are that carbon is stored in products they create from just 4 trees in 10,000 they harvest from Victoria’s native forests, more carbon is sequestered by young regrowth and at a much higher rate than the trees they replace. Renewable timber is a significantly more environmentally friendly material than plastic, concrete and steel.

It’s time the short-sighted, politically motivated decision to end the native forestry in Victoria was overturned to give forest communities hope for the future.


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