VicForests Sets Record Straight on Victoria’s Forest Industry

Wood Central received a media statement from VicForests and has posted the article, unedited, in full.

Fri 15 Mar 24


Recent public commentary about the closure of VicForests has included numerous false and misleading claims. 

VicForests knows there are individuals and organisations opposed to native timber harvesting who will be celebrating VicForests’ closure. But this doesn’t mean it’s open season—and it will never be acceptable to treat the men and women of VicForests with blatant disrespect.

False claims harm. This includes the impact on the mental health and well-being of people who have dedicated themselves to managing forests for future generations.

The most offensive category of false claims is the suggestion that VicForests is “rogue” or a “cowboy agency.”

These claims are demonstrably false – but repeated often by those opposed to the legal activity undertaken by VicForests in furtherance of longstanding government policy.

VicForests is a government agency overseen by an independent Board and otherwise subject to the ordinary governance obligations and control of any government agency. The executives and staff of VicForests are Victorian public servants. It is self-evident that if VicForests was acting otherwise than in accordance with Government policy – or behaving illegally – then it was clearly within the power of the Government to intervene.

The regulation system in Victoria is based on compliance with explicit rules to manage known threats to the environment that have been developed by forestry and environmental experts over many years. These legal rules balance environmental objectives with economic and social objectives. This balance is required by the Principles of Ecologically Sustainable Development – which is a cornerstone of Australian and International environmental law.

VicForests has repeatedly demonstrated its commitment to meeting, and often exceeding, the explicit rules set by the Government. The independent environment regulator has never prosecuted it. 

This is backed up by the latest published independent audit result from the Department of Energy, Environment and Climate Action, which saw VicForests achieve an average of 96% compliance across four environmental areas: environmental values in State forests, conservation of biodiversity, operational planning and record keeping, and coupe infrastructure for timber harvesting operations. The 96% average compliance findings are a testament to the work our staff undertake in Victoria’s state forests.

Litigation brought against VicForests over the last few years was based on arguments that VicForests had a duty to protect the environment that went far beyond the balanced rules set by the Victorian Government. Recent outcomes in these cases were based on novel interpretations of laws that had previously been decided in VicForests’ favour. 

The effect of these recent cases is that VicForests could never know what it needed to do to comply with the law because the rules will now be decided by the Courts – not the Government – on a case-by-case basis without reference to the balance explicitly required by the National and State policy arrangements. 

VicForests even had multiple cases brought against it by different environmental groups arguing that different measures were needed to protect the same species in overlapping locations, so different judges were being asked to set new and different rules simultaneously. Inevitably, as VicForests adjusted its processes to respond to legal threats, plaintiffs simply changed their claim or brought new cases arguing for something different.

Another category of offensive claims is that VicForests is an “environmental vandal” or that we are “putting countless threatened species at greater risk of extinction”. 

Any organisation or person who is truly committed to the protection of Australia’s threatened species would understand that the greatest risk – by far – is the risk of invasive species – affecting 82% of threatened species in Australia. []. Professional and impartial forest scientists know that the threat of timber harvesting is comparatively low, well understood and managed through the extensive system of rules and practices reflected in the code of practice.

VicForests worked in very small areas of native forests and operated in areas managed by the Department of Energy, Environment and Climate Action (DEECA). The government set the areas in which we planned our harvesting operations through a Ministerial Order.

No harvesting could ever be undertaken in the areas explicitly set aside to protect threatened species, ensuring the State of Victoria could meet its obligation to preserve viable populations of native species throughout their natural ranges [Framework for the management of threatened species and native timber harvesting (].

Areas available for harvest had previously been harvested or were bushfire regrowth forests. In a normal year, VicForests would harvest about 0.04% of the forests, or four trees in every 10,000. All harvested areas are regrown by law, and our compliance is audited on a regular basis.

Before any timber harvesting, our staff undertook comprehensive planning to ensure all operations met the harvesting and biodiversity requirements under Victoria’s strict environmental regulatory system.  Pre-harvest studies and surveys undertaken by VicForests included: Aquatic (Fish & Crustacean) Surveys, Arboreal Spotlight and Owl Call Playback, Biodiversity Coupe Inspection, Bird, Coupe Habitat and Sign Survey, Frog, Habitat Tree and Resource Inventory Survey, Intensive Tree Geebung Surveys, Leadbeater’s Possum Arboreal Camera Trapping, Leadbeater’s Possum Thermal Imaging, Old-growth, Targeted Fauna and Flora Species Survey, Targeted Plant Surveys and Terrestrial Camera Trapping.  

Where required, special protections were applied to manage threatened species and their habitat. Such protection measures complied with and often exceeded regulatory prescriptions.  For example, between 2014 and 2021, we established well over 1000 exclusion zones around sightings of Leadbeater’s possums in state forests. This resulted in over 14,000 hectares of forest being preserved and protected as new Leadbeater’s possum colony reserves. We also protected all hollow-bearing trees and a selection of trees likely to develop hollows to provide habitat for native species such as the Leadbeater’s possum and the Greater Glider.

Over 4500 large old hollow-bearing Ash trees were retained in areas planned for harvest.

So, contrary to false claims, our people are passionate about the health of forest ecosystems and remain committed to the care of Victoria’s forests. Our staff have specialist degrees and are professionals in various fields, from environmental and forest scientists to ecologists, policy and compliance officers, and research and modelling analysts.  Our expert foresters specialise in tactical and operational planning, roading, harvesting and contract management, silviculture and native forest regeneration.

This includes foresters who have, as they have many times before, put their lives at risk over the last month by directly fighting fires threatening people, homes, and forests throughout Victoria.

And we are proud of the legacy we leave behind. Timber harvested by VicForests is now in countless homes, public buildings and products throughout Australia. Through the 20 years of its existence, VicForests met its mission by selling 25.9 million m3 of timber to customers, generating around $1.8 billion in direct revenue for the State and many billions in economic activity – mostly in rural and regional towns.   

  • Wood Central is a neutral platform and will not take an editorial stance on the court action. However, in the matter of public interest, it will post direct media statements from time to time, and invite subject matter experts to provide contributors, who will be fact-checked before publication.


  • Wood Central

    Wood Central is Australia’s first and only dedicated platform covering wood-based media across all digital platforms. Our vision is to develop an integrated platform for media, events, education, and products that connect, inform, and inspire the people and organisations who work in and promote forestry, timber, and fibre.


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