Commercial timber production in Victorian native forests is highly regulated, well managed and restricted to just 0.1% of state forests. Sustainable forestry and good management is essential for the health of the industry.
VAFI works to ensure security of supply for members in terms of land management and resource regulations, for the benefit of the economy and community in a sustainable way.
VAFI has a commitment to the sustainability and biodiversity of Victorian forests.
Importantly, wood is also the more environmentally sustainable natural resource. Timber products are renewable, store carbon and use less energy to produce than other materials.
Climate Change and Carbon
The carbon sequestration opportunities from forestry and timber are one of the industry’s most important attributes.
Wood is a renewable resource that stores carbon. As forests grow, they take carbon out of the atmosphere through the carbon cycle. When the wood is harvested and used to make wood products, the carbon remains locked in the wood for the life of the product. Some 50 per cent of the dry weight of wood is carbon. By using more responsibly sourced wood in our built environment over carbon intensive materials such as aluminium, steel or concrete, we can reduce carbon emissions and store carbon through this renewable resource. Substituting sustainably sourced wood products for carbon intensive products could reduce the embodied emissions of a typical house by up to 18 tonnes over its life. Increasingly, consumers of forest products understand and seek these advantages.
A 2014 Yale University-led study has found that using more wood and less steel and concrete in building and bridge construction would substantially reduce global carbon dioxide emissions and fossil fuel consumption.
Despite a forest conservation theory holding that tree harvesting should be strictly minimised to prevent the loss of biodiversity and to maintain carbon storage capacity, this new study shows that sustainable management of wood resources can achieve both goals while also reducing fossil fuel burning.
The Victorian Forest Monitoring Programme, which commenced in 2011, has enabled the publication of Victorian forests’ carbon related statistics for the first time. The total forest biomass and total carbon in Victorian Public Forests is 2.05 billion tonnes (above ground) and 1.02 billion tonnes (below ground). It is estimated that these numbers have experienced almost no change since 1988 despite natural disturbance by fire, drought and flood.
Regeneration is at the heart of sustainable forest management in Victoria. Regrowing our forests after harvesting is a vital component of industry operations. VicForests regrow the forests harvested to ensure that they can be enjoyed by future generations of the public and sustainably managed by the forest management leaders of tomorrow.
Replacing the older, harvested forest with a younger, growing forest ensures the maintenance of forest cover, biodiversity and habitat across the landscape. All commercial forestry operators must comply with the Code of Practice for Timber Production in order to fulfil their obligations to regenerate harvested coupes.
In 2015-16 VicForests regenerated 2,426 hectares of harvested areas. The majority was regenerated by seed, with the rest planted by hand. VicForests aims to replicate natural regeneration processes as closely as possible
Conservation of biodiversity, and in particular threatened species, is vital for sustainable forest management. The Victorian forest and wood products industry is focused on ensuring forest conservation values are maintained in the forests in which it operates.
Koala (Phascolarctos cinereus) populations have been actively influenced and managed by Governments for more than 100 years through large scale relocation programs and overabundance pressures.
The establishment of commercial blue gum plantations on private land in south west Victoria from the late 1990’s, has seen koalas migrate from State Forests and National Parks. Koalas now inhabit the plantations and in some locations are in high densities. This creates a risk of koala incidents during the harvesting operations, making koala welfare a key issue for plantation owners and managers.
The timber and forest industry in the region has been a leader in the development of voluntary guidelines and has taken an active approach to working with local stakeholders and State Government departments to develop processes and operational techniques aimed at mitigating harm to koalas. Industry and the State Government have established a Koala Management Leadership Group.
Through a widespread program of spotter engagement and training, research and modifications to operations, the industry has actively and collaboratively responded to any incidents, working closely with local wildlife carers and the State Government to develop and continuously improve an industry-wide policy and guidelines to ensure the welfare of koalas in plantations in the region.
The first guidelines were voluntarily introduced in October 2013 and represent a clear commitment by industry to improve outcomes for koala welfare in plantations. Since then industry has worked actively with the relevant stakeholders to review and update the guidelines as new information about koala populations and habits has come to light. Industry has commissioned research into the distribution and density of koalas across the estate and the impacts of harvesting operations on koalas living in a plantation. In 2015 the existing voluntary procedures were formalised as mandatory standards, with extensive input from experts, wildlife rehabilitators and Traditional Owners.
Since 2017, owners and managers of all blue-gum plantations located in the koala zone of south west Victoria have required an authorisation under the Wildlife Act 1975 to disturb koalas during plantation management operations. To receive an authorisation, companies must develop an approved Koala Management Plan, operate to best practice standards, and adopt innovative approaches to minimise impacts on koalas during harvesting. Since the introduction of authorisations to disturb the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning (DELWP) also requires mandatory reporting of koala incidents and has been actively monitoring compliance. To date, there have been no issues that contravene the standards nor penalties imposed.
A key concern for industry remains ensuring that wildlife management is assessed across the whole landscape rather than focusing on a single land use such as plantations.
In April 2015 the Federal Minister for the Environment, Greg Hunt MP, announced his decision to upgrade the listing of the Leadbeater’s possum to ‘critically endangered’. The Minister made the announcement following advice from the Threatened Species Scientific Committee.
In 2013 VAFI co-convened the Leadbeater’s Possum Advisory Group with Zoos Victoria, with representation from Parks Victoria, VicForests and the Leadbeater’s Possum Recovery Team. All 13 recommendations were accepted by the Government, and are currently being implemented.
VicForests has replaced Clearfelling Harvesting with Regrowth Retention Harvesting in more than 50% of the Ash forest harvested within the Leadbeater’s Possum home range, as well as implementing a number of other changes in line with the outcomes of the Leadbeater’s Possum Advisory Group.
Currently 69% of the potential habitat within the Leadbeater’s Possum’s range is located in formal national parks and conservation reserves, Special Protection Zones in State forest or areas excluded from timber harvesting.
VAFI continues to work with the relevant bodies to ensure the recovery and survival of the Leadbeater’s Possum, while maintaining a sustainable timber industry.
Forest Management and Certification
Victoria’s forests are managed within a Sustainable Forest Management System to meet the requirements of the Sustainable Forests (Timber) Act 2004 (Vic) including a wide range of instructions and controls to ensure the regulatory requirements are met by VicForests and DELWP. Internal and external audits are rigorously undertaken to ensure compliance with the Code of Practice for Timber Production, Management Plans, Action Statements and internal requirements.
Victoria’s criteria and indicators for sustainable forest management are consistent with the criteria defined through the 1995 Montreal Process, and complement the Framework of Regional (Sub-National) Level Criteria and Indicators of Sustainable Forest Management in Australia. The 45 indicators inform Victorians on progress toward sustainable forest management. Performance against each indicator is reported on a five-yearly basis through Victoria’s State of the Forests Report.
Independent, third-party certification is conducted every three years under the Australian Forestry Standard (aligned to the global Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification, the world’s largest forest certification scheme). The Australian Forestry Standard was amended in 2012/13 to account for stakeholder expectations, new scientific and technological information, and changes to international expectations relating to sustainable forest management.
VicForests is certified to the Australian Forestry Standard, and undertakes surveillance audits every six months. Regulatory Forest Audit Program (“FAP”) audits are also performed each year as well as internal audits conducted by VicForests.
The Department focus on three key areas in conducting audit projects to assess the range of regulatory requirements relevant to the timber harvesting lifecycle:
- Coupe Planning, Harvesting and Coupe Closure
- Harvest Area Limits
- Regeneration and Finalisation.
Regular auditing ensures agencies are up to date with all regulatory requirements and encourages innovation and fresh approaches to ongoing system practices and improvements.