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Byron Shire
April 17, 2021

Forestry buyback ‘too little, too late’

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Blackbutt trees along Muirs Rainforest Walk in northern NSW. Source wildwalks.com
Blackbutt trees along Muirs Rainforest Walk in northern NSW. Source wildwalks.com

The North East Forest Alliance (NEFA) has welcomed the NSW Government’s announcement that sawlog commitments are to be reduced from north-east NSW’s public forests, though the group describes the cuts as ‘too little too late’.

Yesterday primary industries minister Katrina Hodgkinson announced that the government will pay $8.55 million to Boral to buy back about 50,000 cubic metres of timber allocations annually for the next nine years.

Over the years since the agreement was signed, the government has been forced to pay Boral for failing to deliver promised timber allocations from state forests.

Last year Boral closed several of its plants around the state, including one in Murwillumbah.

NEFA spokesperson Dailan Pugh said the problem has been caused by a deliberate decision by the NSW Government and sawmillers in 1998 to over-log public forests for the next 20 years, before dramatically reducing yields down to a sustainable yield after 2018.

‘Subsequent yield reviews showed that the resource had been greatly over-estimated and the level of overcutting was far worse than intended.

‘There are currently annual commitments of some 209,500 cubic metres of large high quality sawlogs and 64,000 cubic metres of small high quality sawlogs from public forests in north-east NSW.

‘Since the new Wood Supply Agreements were issued in 2004, the Forestry Corporation have been unable to supply them, with an average annual shortfall of large high quality sawlogs of 40,400 cubic metres from 2004-12. So a reduction in commitments of 50,000 cubic meters may not translate into a significant reduction in logging intensity.

‘Boral had been granted a virtual monopoly on blackbutt, which the Forestry Corporation were unable to supply. This decision buys back 40,000 cubic metres per year of blackbutt with the apparent intent being to continue cutting it at an unsustainable rate, just reallocating some to other mills.

’The buying back of these commitments may help overcome a gap in wood flow projections before 2023, though is unlikely to redress the major reductions in yields that will be required next decade.

‘These Wood Supply Agreements were given for free to the sawmills in 1998, yet since then NSW taxpayers have paid out over $11 million to the millers in direct compensation to private mill owners.

‘As well as this payment to Boral, in 2006/7 12,200m3 per annum for 16 years was bought back for $2.78 million. Boral was also paid compensation of $550,000 for 34,000m3 of high quality large sawlog the Forestry Corporation were unable to supply during 2004-2006, with another undisclosed payment for shortfalls since then.

‘This is in addition to the approximately $14 million annual taxpayer subsidy for the logging of public native forests’.

’The Forestry Corporation has been flogging the forest in vain attempts to meet commitments. With increasing areas of forests denuded of sawlogs, being invaded by weeds and suffering from dieback, the prognosis remains bleak for our native forests.

‘The government is now also changing the logging rules to make more trees available from the habitat of threatened species and excessively steep and erodible lands to help redress shortfalls.

‘The NSW Government must now come clean and release the October 2012 and February 2013 reviews of timber resources on the north coast commissioned from URS Australia Pty Ltd.’ Mr. Pugh said.

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  1. The NSW government forks out millions of public funds to Boral. However, had the NSW Forestry Corporation and the industry decided to comply with the (so-called) legally binding requirements of the Regional Forest Agreements, this may not have occurred.

    Perhaps ICAC could find out why the whole NSW government supports, and what benefit the NSW public gets, from effectively illegal, and demonstrably unsustainable, native forest logging.


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