VicForests has responded to attacks from more than 60 organisations demanding that the forest operator be immediately dismantled.
Last week, Wood Central became aware that the Victorian-based environmental groups – led by the Wildness Society of Victoria, Environmental Justice Australia, and the Victorian National Parks Association – wrote to Premier Jacinta Allan and Treasurer Jim Pallas urging them to take action.
According to the Wildness Society, “the letter highlights a long history of mismanagement, including logging practices.”
And calls on the Victorian Government “to partner with Traditional Owners, environmental and wildlife protection organisations, scientists and the broader community to secure protection of the forests.”
Various Australia-wide ENGOs co-signed the letter, including the Australian Conservation Council, National Parks Australian Council, and Animals Australia.
It comes as Wood Central revealed last month that VicForests would be dismantled and absorbed into the Victorian bureaucracy after the (former) Andrews Government announced a review of operations.
Yesterday, VicForests provided an extensive rebuttal on its “Forests Facts” website.
It claims that most organisations co-signed in the letter “had no interaction with VicForests and no apparent involvement in the management of Victoria’s forests.”
And reaffirms that “VicForests staff and contractors are hard-working, dedicated people working to implement the policies of the Victorian Government.”
According to VicForests, the “false claims do harm” and “impact the mental health and wellbeing of people who have dedicated themselves to managing forests for future generations.”
The rebuttal identifies eleven key areas where it alleges that false and misleading information has been provided, including:
- Haemorrhaged millions of dollars in public funds
- Broken the law repeatedly, without apology or show of remorse
- Decimated our iconic native forests, which are on the verge of ecological collapse
- Destroyed the habitat of threatened and endangered wildlife and plants
- Logged in a way that studies have found increases bushfire risk and severity
- Put the quality and security of Melbourne’s water supply at risk.
- Reduced the amount of carbon stored in forests and released millions of tonnes of emissions
- Failed to regenerate massive areas of the forest estate, leaving the state and Traditional Owners with an enormous ongoing land management burden
- Spread disingenuous claims about the sustainability of its operations that have had a significant impact on regional workers, families, businesses and the community.
- Extended its degradation of forests to some of Australia’s most fragmented landscapes in western Victoria
- Conducted covert surveillance on a Victorian citizen who dared hold them to account
Significantly, VicForests claimed that its financial model, which relies on the sale of timber, has been handicapped by litigation brought by groups that have co-signed the letter.
“This litigation commenced after the Government announced the decision to cease native timber harvesting from 2030.”
It also claimed that the organisation has “repeatedly demonstrated (our) commitment to meeting, and often exceeding, the explicit rules set by Government.”
This is supported “by our latest independent audit result from the Department of Energy, Environment and Climate Action, which saw us achieve an average of 96% compliance across four environment areas.”
Wood Central understands these areas include environmental values in State forests, biodiversity conservation, operational planning and record keeping, and coupe infrastructure for timber harvesting operations.
Addressing water supply, VicForests “have debunked false claims that the quality and security of Melbourne’s water supply has been put at risk by past harvesting activities.”
“Inaccurate reporting on the risk to Melbourne’s water supply has been acknowledged by way of an apology from the ABC and in a report by the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA).”
It also addresses the risk of bushfire severity caused by harvesting, with “peer-reviewed scientific papers found bushfires were not made worse by timber harvesting activities.”
The ENGOs are pushing for a more significant role for Traditional Owners to manage the forest before, during and post-fire events.
Yesterday, Wood Central reported that a Commonwealth and State Government expert panel reviewing the Black Summer bushfires reported that Traditional Owners want a more significant say over the landscape.
“One group spoke strongly about Traditional Owners needing to be actively involved in timber harvesting planning to ensure that cultural heritage is not impacted,” the panel said.
In June, Wood Central exclusively revealed that Traditional Owners were not consulted before the Victorian Government decided to bring forward the date for the cessation of native timber harvesting.
Premier Allan replaced (former) Premier Daniel Andrews last month after staving off an attack from the Centre Unity faction (the right) of the Victorian Labor Party.
Earlier this year, the Andrews government announced an early end to native timber harvesting in the state by the close of 2024.
This decision dramatically accelerated the original plan announced by the Andrews government in 2019, which targeted phasing out native timber logging by 2030.
Premier Daniel Andrews noted, “It’s not good enough to just cross our fingers and hope for the best. We need a plan to support workers’ families and local jobs.”
According to Environmental Minister Ingrid Scott, the transition will see the most significant expansion to public forests in Victorian history – “protecting precious biodiversity and endangered species.”
Premier Allan, like Andrews, is a member of the Socialist Left faction of the Victorian Labor Party, whilst Treasurer JimPallas is a member of Centre Unity.