The forest industry is subject to regular commentary about its sustainability and methods.
As the peak Victorian body for the industry, it’s important for VAFI to set the record straight about some common misconceptions.
Please see the information below on a number of important forest industry issues.
Myth #1: The last remaining old-growth forests in Victoria are under threat from timber harvesting.
Victoria has over 670,000 hectares of old-growth forest. The majority (68%) of these forests are either contained in National Parks and other conservation/management reserves, or unsuitable for harvesting due to the landscape.
VicForests, the state body responsible for timber harvesting, harvests approximately 100 hectares (0.015%) of old growth forest in Victoria each year.
Most of this harvesting takes place in East Gippsland.
Severe bushfires have been, and will continue to be, the greatest threat to Victoria’s old growth forests and have reduced their extent by around 20% since 2003.
Myth #2: Harvested forests are not regenerated.
In Victoria, native forests are regenerated either by natural seedfall from retained seed-trees or by artificial sowing using seed collected from felled trees during the harvest.
This mimics the way that forests naturally regenerate after severe bushfires. The seeds used are sourced in a way which ensures the trees which grow back match the mix of species that existed on the site prior to harvesting.
Regenerating areas are assessed to ensure that acceptable coverage is achieved, and understocked areas are surveyed and re-treated as soon as practicable.
In a typical year, VicForests regenerates over 2,000 hectares of harvested areas.
Myth #3: Tourism can replace the forest products industry.
Victoria’s forest and wood products industry is an essential part of the Victorian economy. It employs around 21,000 Victorians, many in regional areas, supports another 40,000 and 50,000 local jobs, and generates almost a billion dollars in export income for Victoria.
Forestry is the lifeblood of many regional communities, underpinning their economic and social wellbeing. Reducing or stopping native forestry would mean the loss of regional jobs and businesses, affecting local communities and all Victorians.
The tourism and forest product industries have operated side-by-side in Victoria for more than a century – it is not a case of one or the other. Diverse industries such as these keep local economies healthy, creating a productive mix of visitors and local businesses.
Myth #4: Timber harvesting affects Victoria’s water supply.
Timber harvesting is excluded from many of Victoria’s domestic water catchments, and is only a proportionally minor activity within those catchments where it is permitted. Harvesting takes place in around 200 hectares (0.14% of catchment area) per year.
Large scale bushfire remains the biggest threat to water supply and quality in Melbourne’s catchment areas. The 2009 Black Saturday fires impacted around 30% of Melbourne’s water catchments – two and a half times greater than the forest area harvested for timber within these catchments, over an 80-year period.
Myth #5: The forest products industry can be transitioned out of native forests into plantations.
Both native forest and plantations are vital to the forest and wood industry in Victoria – it is not simply a case of substituting one for the other.
The timber produced by softwood plantations, hardwood plantations and native forests varies depending on the species, the manner in which the trees are grown and the age at which they are harvested. Different timber is used for different purposes and both native and plantation timber are in demand from consumers.
Timber harvesting in our native forests is designed to maximise the amount of high quality sawlog, used to produce hardwood timber products such as flooring, decking, furniture and structural timber. This also replaces hardwood timber imports from developing countries where environmental controls are far weaker than Australia.
Softwood plantations provide a range of sawn timber, wood and composite wood products, and pulp for paper manufacture; whereas hardwood (eucalypt) plantations provide mostly woodchips for export or domestic paper-making.
Myth #6: Locking up forests from timber harvesting is the best way to minimise carbon emissions.
Research by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has found that the active management of natural forests and the sustainable production and use of wood products is one of the best ways to minimise carbon emissions.
The IPCC states that ‘in the long term, a sustainable forest management strategy aimed at maintaining or increasing forest carbon stocks while producing an annual yield of timber, fibre or energy from the forest, will generate the largest sustained mitigation benefit.’
This is achieved by storing carbon in wood products which both minimises carbon losses from future bushfires and produces renewable, low emissions materials.
Trees in forests and plantations typically sequester carbon at a maximum rate between ten and 20 to 30 years old. After this age, if the trees are not harvested, the sequestration rate slows until maturity at about 80 to 100 years of age. Reforesting cleared areas will create carbon sinks to counteract greenhouse gas emissions, and will also assist in controlling salinity and creation of wildlife habitat.
Timber is also one of the most sustainable building materials, reducing carbon emissions by 7 times compared to the equivalent quantity of concrete.