‘Loss’ logging of native forests on NSW north coast could be extended by government
NSW Agriculture Minister has been urged to halt talks to extend North Coast timber supply deals, with critics saying native logging makes no environmental sense or economic after the bushfires and now the floods.
- Negotiations are underway to extend government timber supply contracts despite supply depletion in native forests
- Unfulfilled contracts could expose taxpayers to significant financial liability
- Critics call for an end to unprofitable indigenous logging and a transition to sustainable plantations
In this week’s budget forecast, Agriculture Minister Dugald Saunders admitted he had not read a Natural Resources Commission report leaked last year that found native forests were at risk of ” serious and irreversible damage…due to the cumulative effects of fires and harvesting”.
He confirmed that Forestry Corporation NSW, the state’s main supplier of native timber, had sent letters to logging companies on the north coast late last year saying negotiations had begun to extend their additional 5-year contracts.
If extended, the contracts would lock the Forestry Corporation into harvesting “existing annual quantities” of native trees in state forests.
Independent South Coast MP Justin Field quizzed Mr Saunders on the possibility of securing such volumes given the reduced viable timber supply in state forests after the Black Summer bushfires .
Saunders said Forestry Corporation manages wood supply on a 100-year sustainable yield model.
“State forests generate renewable wood products…in a carefully managed way so that forest values are preserved and forests continue to grow and produce renewable wood in perpetuity,” Saunders said.
But Mr Field argued there was no reason or imperative to renew the contracts.
The NRC report, commissioned by the government, determined that the supply volume of high quality timber on the North Coast has been reduced by almost 20%.
The report recommended a three-year suspension of all logging from February 2020 in extreme risk areas and restricted logging in high risk areas.
“Let’s see an official government response to [the NRC report] before [they] start signing wood supply contracts with the State that [they] may never be able to deliver.”
Taxpayers exposed to millions in financial liability
There are fears that the contracts are financially irresponsible as the government would have to pay compensation if it does not honor them.
“Imagine the state signing tens or even hundreds of millions of dollars worth of contracts that you can’t deliver,” Field said.
In 2014, the government paid Boral $8.5 million to buy back part of its timber allocations.
The Nature Conservation Council’s chief executive, Chris Gambian, said the state needed to make sure it didn’t “unwittingly sign pledges it won’t be able to meet”.
According to Green MP David Shoebridge, profits from the Forestry Corporation’s plantation operations subsidize “loss-making native logging operations” which recorded a loss of $20 million last year.
This figure only took into account the cost of logging and the bushfire recovery bill, and did not include the potential fallout from broken contracts or the missed opportunity to take advantage of carbon credits.
Forestry Corporation was also recently fined for illegal logging to meet its contractual obligations.
Logging contracts contradict the koala strategy
North East Forest Alliance chairman Dailan Pugh said extending logging contracts contradicted the government’s verbal commitments to double koala populations by 2050.
“We go into the forests regularly, we do surveys, we find areas where koalas have survived bushfires,” Mr Pugh said.
“The NRC has recommended that there be increased retention [of the largest trees] yet the government refuses to implement this advice.”