Timber industry pushes back

Gloves off as timber industry pushes back against tsunami of environmental protest

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Native hardwood logging on the NSW coast has been the target of anti-logging campaigns after breaches of strict harvest code.

Native hardwood logging on the NSW coast has been the target of anti-logging campaigns after breaches of strict harvest code.

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Private native forestry the 'soft target' in climate change debate says timber industry

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The soft target of carbon positive logging in NSW native forests is copping a quiver of arrows as momentum mounts for the creation of a great koala national park on the Mid North Coast.

Now the NSW timber industry is vowing "gloves off" in a bid to get its side of the story out to pundits, but to date the tide of public sympathy has been against it. And yet Australians continue to buy more timber from overseas than can be supplied domestically - a $2 billion shortfall.

This week protesters stopped harvesting operations in the Bagawa State Forest north-west of Coffs Harbour after Gumbaynggirr Conservation Group members suspended themselves in trees marked for harvest. Their concern is for forest untouched by last year's fires. On the surface, fears for the forests are valid, with the Environmental Protection Authority issuing fines and halting logging after breaches of code were discovered.

Last month at nearby Wild Cattle Creek, two "giant" brushbox trees were felled, and found to be half a metre in diameter too large for the licence. There were immediate protests, with one man locking on to an excavator, which required police rescue assistance. EPA suspended logging, but harvest had been completed.

Normally, trees are measured at the universally recognised height of 1.3m or breast height, making the log legal. However, new Coastal Integrated Forestry Operations Approval requires the diameter of "giant trees" to be measured 30cm from the ground.

"It is internationally recognised that it is impossible to accurately measure the diameter of trees with fluted, buttress roots, such as brushbox, especially with a conventional diameter tape, as the EPA had done," said Wauchope-based forest scientist and consultant Steve Dobbyns.

In late July at South Brooman State Forest north of Batemans Bay, the EPA alleged several trees bearing habitat hollows were felled and again stopped work and issued fines. Mr Dobbyns said those trees viewed from the ground may not have shown any visible hollows or indication of being hollow when inspected by a Forest Corp surveyor before harvesting.

A recent Federal Court ruling, amplified by green groups pushing for an end to logging, is why Bunnings has vowed not to buy timber from VicForests and they are being encouraged to do the same in NSW.

"There are just four trees out of 10,000 used in native forestry in Victoria and it is 100 per cent regrowth forestry," said Australian Forest Products Association CEO Ross Hampton. "It is certified to the world's largest global certification scheme. Old growth trees are protected. Every tree that is used is regenerated. It is completely sustainable environmentally and a vital driver of jobs."

There is no guarantee that plantation grown timber will meet the needs of the public. Fast growing plantation timber would not be able to meet demand for flooring, decking, window frames and stairwells because mature timber - from slower growing, multi-aged native forests - was what consumers wanted.

Ironically, environmental groups are also opposed to logging at Tarkeeth State Forest, near Bellingen, which is a native hardwood plantation created on an old dairy farm.

Timber NSW spokeswoman Maree McCaskill said anti-timber protesters were playing to an uninformed populace, who believed stories about clear felling when in fact that didn't happen in NSW native forests.

"It is time the industry took their gloves off," said Ms McCaskill, referring to the deep silence from smaller mill owners and contractors fearful of their future. "We've had enough of playing nice."

Mr Dobbyns said all these stories now played into the hands of Liberal politicians seeking to gain the inner city green vote while the National Party is not doing enough to back regional jobs.

"Matt Kean and Rob Stokes are running on a unity ticket," he said. "They are seeking to gain green votes for inner city Libs. The Koala SEPP was created under Rob Stokes and now the proposal for a great koala park could take the last remaining good state forest on the coast, despite the fact 83 per cent of moderate to high quality koala habitat on public land is already in national parks and reserves".

"They've had a great crack at killing koalas with a failed conservation strategy of lock it up and leave it and poor fire management," he said. "Now they want to take the timber industry and rural jobs as well."

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