Timber supply shortage sparks plantation push
A forestry expert says the Victorian timber industry could be at risk of collapse after decades of mismanagement of native resources.
The owner of Australia’s largest hardwood sawmill in Heyfield in Victoria’s Gippsland region announced last week it would have no choice but to shut down because it could not guarantee timber supply.
Australian Sustainable Hardwoods employs about 250 workers and processes about 150,000 cubic metres of timber each year, but it has been unable to secure that level of timber from its state-owned supplier VicForests.
VicForests general manager Nathan Trushell told ABC Radio the company simply did not have the resources to fulfil that contract.
Australian National University professor David Lindenmayer said the supply issue proved the need to replace native logging with plantation timber.
As part of the School of Ecology and Conservation Science, Professor Lindenmayer has studied forest ecosystems and the effects of logging and fire in the Central Highlands of Victoria for more than 30 years.
He said the forest in that region had been “radically overcut” for decades.
“Successive governments have committed to too much logging,” he said.
“They haven’t taken into account that large amounts of that forest will burn naturally, as we saw in 2009 and 1983.”
But Professor Lindenmayer said the failure to manage the forest resource had resulted in the potential closure of the Australian Sustainable Hardwoods sawmill.
“[There’s] not enough timber and essentially a sawmilling industry and a paper industry that’s going to collapse,” he said, adding that the solution to the supply issue was to replace native forest logging with plantation timber.
He said there were plantation resources available, and it was far more sustainable than native timber logging.
“There is simply not enough timber left to sustain the sawmilling industry at the level of cut at the moment,” Professor Lindenmayer said.
“People need to realise the way the forest is now shaped, we have to cut 10 trees to get one saw log.”
Plantation transition impossible
Victorian Association of Forestry Industries chief executive officer Tim Johnston said consumer demand for certain products made it impossible to transition to an entirely plantation-based timber industry.
Mr Johnston said the plantation estate and the native forestry estate were two “separate and distinct” resources.
“It is not a case of either-or; we need both resources in the product mix to serve the market demand,” he said.
Mr Johnston said consumers demanded both resources, which were used in different goods.
He said timber from native forest plantations was used in products like high-end flooring, stairs and window frames.
“The species and properties of various timbers are suitable for some uses, but not for all uses,” he said.
“To say ‘we’ll just use plantation resources only’ doesn’t recognise that timber from native forests provides for particular products that the consumers are asking for.”
Mr Johnston said he would not like to comment on the contract arrangement between Australian Sustainable Hardwoods and VicForests.
But he said issues of oversupply could be solved by being “creative around the resource mix”.
“There’s constant work going on in relation to using composites,” Mr Johnston said.
“But obviously that doesn’t change overnight and to make those changes, there need to be investment decisions.”