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$270 M Annual Victorian Native Forest Logging Subsidies

We request an IBAC review of Victorian Auditor Generals Office audit ‘Managing Victoria's Native Forest Timber Resources’  on the following grounds:

In 2013, the Victorian Auditor General’s Office made the following statement: VicForests does not receive any government subsidies yet this paper shows that VicForests receives annual subsidies of Approximately $270+ million dollars per annum.

VicForests Annual Report 2006

VicForests Annual Report 2006

Global Decline in Large Old Trees

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Large old trees are among the biggest organisms on Earth. They are keystone structures in forests, woodlands, savan- nas, agricultural landscapes, and urban areas, playing unique ecological roles not provided by younger, smaller trees. However, popula- tions of large old trees are rapidly declining in many parts of the world, with serious implications for ecosystem integrity and biodiversity. 

Effects of Logging on Fire Regimes in Wet Forests

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Introduction

Does logging reduce the fire proneness of forests? This question is often posed after major wildfires, especially those marked by substantial loss of human life or infras- tructure, such as occurred in February 2009 in south east- ern Australia, the worst fires in Australia’s history with the loss of 173 lives and more than 3000 homes. In the wake of fires such as these, calls for forests to be logged to prevent major wildfires have been made by senior public officials (Tuckey 2001) and by a key lobby group (Na- tional Association of Forest Industries 2009a,b,c). Similar arguments have also characterized fire and forest man- agement debates in western North America (DellaSala et al. 2004; Odion et al. 2004). For example, Aber et al. (2000, p. 12) noted that “conversion of old growth forests in the Pacific Northwest [of the USA] has sometimes been justified on grounds that it reduced the potential for catastrophic fire.” They further stated that perceptions that managed (logged) landscapes are less susceptible to wildfire than unmanaged ones are “an article of faith.” Indeed, the opposite may be the case in some forests as

One Stop Chop: RFA Review

On Stop Chop

“One Stop Chop”

Regional Forest Agreements’ failure has broad lessons

State Governments have failed to manage precious forests and wildlife to the standard that would have been required if they had remained under Commonwealth control; Regional Forest Agreements should be scrapped; and moves to hand Commonwealth environmental protection powers to States should be abandoned once and for all.

These are the lessons from “One Stop Chop: How Regional Forest Agreements Streamline Environmental Destruction” a detailed legal review of the 15 year history of Regional Forest Agreements (RFAs) conducted by Environmental Defenders Offices on behalf of a coalition of environmental groups and released today.

“We have today written to the Prime Minister and the Premiers of the RFA states informing them that we are looking into legal options if they fail to fulfil their international environmental obligations, abandon the RFAs now as legally void agreements and never allow this to happen with our other environmental treasures,” said Sarah Rees, Director of My Environment.

“RFAs were supposedly about protecting the environment while supporting forestry workers, but this review shows that they’ve been used to prop up unprofitable logging companies at the expense of our precious forests and the wildlife they nurture,” said Jess Beckerling, of WA Forest Alliance.

“The Regional Forest Agreements are a fifteen year failed experiment in putting state governments in charge of environmental management,” said Lauren Caulfield, of Lawyers for Forests. “This damning report shows how state governments have systematically and deliberately mismanaged native forests after being handed control.”

“We need stronger national environment laws and we need to fix the forest mess by scrapping the RFAs and creating a new model of protection and management,” said Pepe Clarke, CEO of the Nature Conservation Council of NSW.

The EDO review examines the legal management of forests under RFAs, including state frameworks and court battles since they were established 15 years ago. It concludes that, with few exceptions, the regulations, standards, monitoring and compliance, and enforcement by State governments have been weaker than they would have been if managed in accordance with Commonwealth environmental laws.

In particular:

  • State protections for threatened species are grossly inadequate;
  • The ability to change forest management to account for new information or new conditions (such as global warming) is almost impossible;Reviews of the operation of the RFAs have been inadequate;
  • Monitoring, compliance and enforcement by States are inadequate; and
  • Public (third party) participation, often vital in environmental protection, is severely restricted.

“Our forests nurture iconic wildlife, like koalas and wedge-tailed eagles, as well as cleaning our water and air – but only as long as we take care of them. Tragically, it’s often left up to individuals to try to stop the damage being done and, under RFAs, our right to do so is often stripped away,” said Harriet Swift, of the South East Region Conservation Alliance.

“The evidence clearly shows that the states can’t be trusted to look after our nationally important forests, wildlife and precious places like national parks and the Great Barrier Reef” said Rob Fowler, President of Conservation South Australia.

“Mr Rudd and Mr Abbott need to commit to dropping all plans to turn our environment protection laws into the kind of One Stop Chop we’re seeing in our precious forests thanks to the RFAs,” said Susie Russell, of North Coast Environment Council.

“The Commonwealth has the power and responsibility for preserving our environmental wealth. It should use it,” concluded Felicity Millner, Principal Solicitor with the Environment Defenders Office, Victoria.

Forest Prescriptions - David Lindenmayer

Researchers at The Australian National University have worked in the montane ash forests of the Central Highlands of Victoria for 30 years. The work has spanned studies of the habitat requirements and population viability of arboreal marsupials (including Leadbeater’s Possum), populations of large old trees, forest dynamics, fire dynamics, logging impacts and numerous other investigations documented in more than 165 peer-reviewed scientific articles and seven books (reviewed in Lindenmayer 2009). The prescriptions in this report are based on that body of research, together with new data from on-going research on the impacts of the 2009 fires on Leadbeater’s Possum and its habitat in montane ash forests. 

Action Statement - Recommendation Letter

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This is a letter from the Federal Leadbeater's Possum Recovery Team to the Victorian government on the amendments that needed to be made to the Leadbeater's Possum Action Statement to prevent the Leadbeater's Possum from going extinct. It was ignored by government.

VicForests’ Relies on Loans and Over-states Equity to Conceal Poor Performance

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VicForests’ Relies on Loans and Over-states Equity to Conceal Poor Performance

VicForests, the state government’s native-forest logging agency, has incurred cash losses of $22.2 million since it commenced operating in 2004, says a new report, commissioned by volunteer group Healesville Environment Watch Inc. (HEWI). This equates to $1.50 for each cubic metre of wood (pulp and saw logs) it has sold. The report was conducted by the New Economics Advisory Service of the Australian Conservation Foundation. It involved examination of the company’s cash flows and balance sheets published in its Annual Financial Reports.

HEWI’s own analysis of the figures had previously revealed a large number of apparent discrepancies so it submitted its findings to the NEAS for a second opinion. The New Economics Advisory Service work not only confirmed HEWI’s original concerns but also identified additional issues with VicForests’ financial performance.

The report questions VicForests’ favourable methods for assigning values to its assets, including eucalypt seed, stored and standing timber and regenerating coupes and says they may not hold up to commercial due diligence. The result is over-statement of the equity of the company, which has accumulated interest-bearing debt of $26.8 million and appears to rely on low-interest government loans to fund operations. The report concludes there are significant questions about the viability of VicForests and the commercial sustainability of native forestry.

“We were disturbed that VicForests was not properly and accurately reporting its financial and environmental performance and had publicly raised concerns at the company’s failure to return dividends to Victorians who own these forests,” said HEWI chairman, Steve Meacher. “Now this new report shows that we were right to raise these questions and points to the inappropriate accounting methods VicForests has been using in an apparent attempt to conceal its poor performance.”

The NEAS recommends a thorough financial audit be undertaken by an independent agency that should also consider the significant environmental degradation caused by native forest logging.

The Victorian Auditor General’s Office is currently conducting an audit of the state’s timber industry, due to be tabled in Parliament in November. Last month the Legislative Council passed the government’s Sustainable Forests (Timber) Amendment Bill 2013. Bruce Atkinson (Lib) crossed the floor in support of a motion from John Lenders (Labor) that the bill be referred to committee so that advice could be obtained from the Auditor General. Mr Atkinson noted, “concerns about the fact that the legislation precedes the Auditor-General’s examination of VicForests”. With the vote tied at 18/18 the motion failed. The Bill passed in Council and is expected to progress to the Assembly next week. Passage of the Bill is likely to further erode government and public scrutiny of VicForests operations.

HEWI’s analysis has already been provided to VAGO and the new NEAS report will also be submitted.

Toolangi Draft Management Plan