Reflecting on our ‘engagement’ with Vicforests over the last couple of years, a pattern emerges where things just don’t add up – repeatedly. It’s only by looking at the detail and compiling a list such as this (and this is the tip of an iceberg), that one realizes that the public (the actual owner of the land and the resource!) is seen, not as a legitimate stakeholder, but as an obstacle, to be sidelined, dismissed, or won over. Those institutions responsible for managing this ‘public land’ on behalf of the actual public, are selling us all down the river and further eroding confidence in public institutions and politics. We hope, by documenting our experience, it will be useful to other communities facing similar challenges. Here are some examples.
In late 2016 Vicforests gave this commitment to DELWP and the Environment Minister’s Office, but by June 2017, they had abandoned this intention. The statement was made at the time Parlour’s Creek coupe (home to Powerful Owls, Greater Gliders and Koalas) was being logged. There was considerable concern about this logging from the local community, environment groups, scientists and the Environment Minister’s own Scientific Advisory Committee. The timing of the Vicforests commitment suggests its purpose was to deflect criticism of the logging. More details here – link.
Lesson: When you’re in a tight spot, just say what people want to hear, to get the monkey off your back. If you get caught out, just say you were misunderstood, misquoted, or that circumstances have changed.
2. Vicforests indicated that it wishes to “.. initiate a further conversation with [the Strathbogie Sustainable Forest Group] regarding plans for timber harvesting in the Strathbogies – particularly in identifying coupes with the least impact, based on known biodiversity values”
This quote, from 23 November 2017, comes from correspondence that DELWP sent us, to encourage our community group to re-engage with Vicforests, after more than 12 months of abstinence. Reluctantly, we agreed to meet with Vicforests on 13.12.17. Barely two weeks later, on 5 December 2017, before the scheduled meeting they were keen to have and without any discussion with the community, Vicforests totally contradicted its earlier statement (in a media release), announcing it had selected the coupe it planned to log.
Nonetheless, community representatives did meet with Vicforests and regional DELWP staff on 13.12.17, still assuming we were discussing a coupe swap. Within five minutes of the start of the meeting, Vicforests stated that they had selected the coupe they would log (Barjarg Flat), acknowledging the coupe had the highest Greater Glider detections of any forest in Victoria, and that the decision was non-negotiable.
Lesson: The concept of ‘community engagement’ is important to Vicforests, it’s just a shame it’s all a sham.
3. “Vicforests has engaged ARIER scientists to conduct Greater Glider surveys in Barjarg Flat coupe, as follow-up to their 2017 surveys and prior to the commencement of logging in that coupe.”
During late 2017, ARIER scientists completed Greater Glider surveys of the Strathbogie Forest, including several coupes nominated by Vicforests. By early December, it was clear that parts of the Strathbogie Forest, including the Barjarg Flat coupe, had densities of Greater Gliders well in excess of anything known from other parts of the state. During the meeting between Vicforests, regional DELWP and the community (13.12.17), Vicforests acknowledged the ARIER survey results and gave this specific commitment: ‘to minimize the impact of logging on Greater Gliders in Barjarg Flat coupe, we have already engaged ARIER scientists to do additional Greater Glider surveys in the coupe and these will be done before any logging takes place.
Only one problem: none of this happened. Vicforests had not engaged ARIER to conduct additional surveys and no additional surveys were conducted by anyone in Barjarg Flat coupe before logging (despite repeated community requests to do so).
Lesson: Attention to detail is important. It’s difficult to not tell the truth consistently. Eventually, the elaborate spin unravels.
4. “The products made from the wood we sell have a unique hardness, strength, durability and beauty that only slow grown native hardwood timber can produce. This operation will produce a range of products that will go to mills across the state.”
The bulk of timber felled in Barjarg Flat coupe went straight onto B-doubles bound for Geelong, for export, either as wood-chips or whole logs. No one knows what this timber was used for, so claims of unique hardness, durability and beauty are meaningless.
Lesson: Beware meaningless, ‘motherhood statements’ designed to make you feel good and deflect your attention from the detail.
That part of the Strathbogie Forest that Vicforests wants to log, where the trees grow tall and straight, is an area of about 6,000 to 8,000 ha. It’s the higher rainfall and altitude part of the forest where the soils are deep and the terrain is gentle – the rest of the state forest has considerably lower quality timber. This single coupe, Barjarg Flat, at 62 ha, represents about 1% of the area suitable for commercial logging in the Strathbogies. Vicforests’ figure of 0.1% is quite misleading, no doubt to give the impression that only a teensy weensy little bit is being logged.
Why describe the area logged as a percentage of the entire Strathbogie Forest? Surely the point of saying how little is being logged is to emphasize how much is left unlogged. If only 0.1% is logged, then presumably 99.9% of the logging resource remains. So, if Barjarg Flat, at 62 ha in size, represents only 0.1% of the loggable area, then the total loggable area must be about 60,000 ha. As the entire Strathbogie Forest is only 24,000 ha, the way Vicforests uses percentages, is quite misleading.
Lesson: Always check the numbers.
6. “This operation is important to the local economy as it will support around 25 direct jobs and many more jobs down-steam.“
25 direct jobs? Is that full-time-equivalent jobs, or part-time, or casual? How long will the jobs last – a week, a month? Are those jobs here in Victoria, or just any job, anywhere?
It’s a throw-away line that doesn’t bear scrutiny. During logging, the operation certainly created a handful of full-time jobs (2-3 loggers and a couple of extra truckies). A minority of the logs from the coupe were processed in Victoria, but the majority of jobs associated with logging Barjarg Flat would have been foreign jobs – wherever the timber was sent. The local economy received virtually no benefit from the logging of Barjarg Flat coupe – indeed, we would argue that, if you add up all the costs and benefits, it resulted in net loss.
Lesson: Always check the numbers and the language.
7. “VicForests have gone beyond our obligations and created an interim prescription to protect the Glider by reserving best available habitat.“
Rather than ‘reserving best available habitat’, Vicforests is deliberately and knowingly logging the highest conservation value forest left in the entire Strathbogie Ranges – it’s that simple. The ‘interim prescription’ mentioned, deliberately does not exclude any part of the Strathbogie forest (currently available to Vicforests), from logging, regardless of it’s other values. This ‘interim prescription’ is entirely voluntary – it is not subject to any additional regulatory compliance.
Lesson: Dressing up the logging of threatened species habitat as ‘protection’, simply encourages greater scrutiny of Vicforests’ statements and actions.
8. “Clearfell is the most reliable method for achieving successful forest regrowth after harvesting …“
I beg your pardon? Clearfell, in mixed species forest, reliable? The Strathbogies are littered with areas that have never regenerated properly from logging. Clearfell logging (or the local variant ‘seed-tree logging’) in mixed species forest is demonstrably unreliable in regenerating the forest. This was most recently and alarmingly demonstrated by Vicforests’ logging of Ferraris coupe (and there are others). This coupe has cost the taxpayer tens of thousands of dollars in attempted rehabilitation, including fencing the entire coupe to exclude deer. But what’s most angering is that the repeated attempts by Vicforests to regenerate the coupe (burning, dozing, burning, dozing), kept making things worse. The understorey species in the coupe have been obliterated. In the most recent rehabilitation effort, after fencing the coupe, no understorey species were included, only tree seedlings were planted. So, now we have a new plantation in the forest, courtesy of clearfell – the most reliable method for achieving successful forest regrowth after harvesting.
Lesson: Professional hubris has lead to environmental disaster.
9. “In the Strathbogies where there are substantial known populations [of Greater Gliders], VicForests has voluntarily retained more than 60% of the forest in a coupe and 98% of the habitat trees.”
Typical of most Vicforests statements, this one is selective with the truth. The statement fails to mention that the coupe in question, Barjarg Flat, and the surrounding forest, were known to have the highest densities of Greater Gliders anywhere in Victoria. In spite of having this knowledge and in spite of multiple claims that it wants to minimize logging impacts on Greater Gliders (see above discussion), Vicforests deliberately and knowingly chose to log Barjarg Flat coupe and Parlour’s Creek coupe the year before, rather than other areas of forest with lower conservation values. If Vicforests were even mildly interested in threatened species conservation and ‘best practice’, it would have taken a risk-averse position and logged a different coupe. Barjarg Flat coupe should never have been logged.
Lesson: Vicforests’ cherry-picking information only tells that part of the story, but is useful for trying to legitimize otherwise indefensible conduct.