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Otway Ranges Environment Network

Photo: Effect of Landslide on Barham River system. Landslide linked to storm water runoff from adjacent logging coupe (March 1996)



Clearfell Logging In The Otway State Forest And Its

Effect On Water Resources In The Region

Address by Christopher Tipler of The Otway Ranges

Environment Network (OREN) to the Geelong Community Forum Conference

June 1, 1999

Ladies and gentlemen,

I would like you to imagine, for a moment, that you are visiting this part of the world from overseas for the first time, and that you have retained me as your tour guide.

And you say to me, "Chris, tell me about the great Otway forests that I have come all this way to see". And I respond, "oh well, they are not so great any more. Most of the forest that was here 200 years ago has been cut down". You are very disappointed to hear this, but you say "well presumably they have stopped doing that, after all this is an advanced country and it is nearly the year 2000". And then I say, "no, they are still clearing the Otway forest at the rate of 200 football fields every year, and they are drafting an agreement to keep logging for a further 20 years".

You look aghast, but then you say, "oh well, there must be a good reason for that. Logging must have a lot of economic benefits". And then I respond, "no, the industry concerned is tiny. It employs only 200 people out of a regional workforce (excluding Greater Geelong) of 12,500 - less than two per cent of the jobs. This employment level has been in decline for 30 years, and is officially forecast to keep falling. And there is almost no Ďdownstreamí employment in activities that add value to timber taken from the forest".

At this point you are shaking your head, but you say "oh well, the product from this industry must be very important; that must be the reason behind it all". And I say, "well, no. The industry generates revenue from product sales of only $20 million a year - almost nothing. In comparison, Tourism in the region generates revenue of $300 million a year ($450 million if you include the Western Region) and has far greater growth potential. There is not much of a market for sawn hardwood these days; itís been taken over by pine from plantations, so 85% of the logs taken from the Otway native forest end up as woodchips; they are exported to make paper, mainly to Japan. Only six per cent of the log volume ends up as high grade timber".

Now you are looking at me in total disbelief, but you say, "oh well, there must be some other really important benefits to the community that we havenít talked about". And I respond, "well, actually, there are a lot of other costs to the community. Much of the logging occurs in catchments that supply 250,000 people in the region with drinking water, and there is clear scientific evidence that this logging substantially reduces catchment water yields and water quality. And then there is the threat to Tourism posed by logging. Tourism is the regions best opportunity for employment growth; the native forest is a huge attraction, but people wonít come to the Otways to see a wasteland of burnt, mangled branches. You see, they log the forest mainly by clearfelling, so you end up with scenes of complete desolation dotted throughout the forest. Then of course there are all the species of plants and animals which are threatened by clearfell logging. Some of them are on the endangered list. Donít forget them".

At this point you are quite agitated, but you say, "oh well, presumably this industry is paying a very high price for the right to do this". And I heave a sigh and say, "well, no. Actually the community subsidises the industry quite heavily: the royalties charged for logs are very low; so low that it is not viable to establish hardwood plantations, and the State Governmentís forestry expenses in the Otways exceed its revenues by about $1.5 million a year. On top of that, the loss of soil nutrition that occurs when you remove all of the forest biomass through clearfelling is leading to a long term decline in forest quality, and no-one is even counting the cost of that, let alone paying for it".

What do you do now? I think the story being told by this tour guide is so unbelievable that you would probably sack him for being a liar. But tragically, absurdly, all these things are true. They (and many other appalling facts) are all documented in a very thorough research report that OREN has just released that is available here tonight, and that I would like you to read. It is based completely on official data and good science. It counters for the first time, with hard evidence, the industry propaganda that would have us believe that the logging of Otway native forests is an important growth industry. It is no more a growth industry than whaling or sealing are growth industries.

In a nutshell, we are allowing an insignificant "sunset" industry - three sawmills, one woodchip mill - to trash our native forest for their own benefit at enormous cost to us, without any significant compensating benefits in terms of jobs, and putting at risk the future of tourism in the region. Our politicians, in the form of people like Wilson Tuckey and Marie Tehan, are actively sponsoring this insanity and you might well ask, why? Remember that the proposed Regional Forest Agreement will, if these people have their way, lock in continuing destruction of our forest for a further 20 years. Remember that we have had the Otway Forest Management Plan in place for most of this decade, which is similar to a RFA. This plan is full of empty platitudes about sustainability and conservation. The plan was flawed in the first place and has been honoured more in the breach than in the observance. Under its auspices the destruction of our Otway forest heritage has continued. It is a sham.

Remember also that, given the high level of industry subsidy alone (and ignoring the other huge social and economic costs of logging), we could pay each and every one of the 200 workers a lump sum of $50,000 to leave the industry, and we would all be far better off.

In the very limited time available to me tonight, I canít go through all of the evidence against clearfell logging; but it is all there, in black and white in our report. I do, however, want to focus on the water issue, which is so important to this community. I donít think I have to remind you that our reservoirs are nearly empty and that the region faces long term water problems that, as things stand, can only be resolved at huge financial cost.

First, a few key facts.

  • Half of the Otway State Forest is in proclaimed water catchments
  • Eight catchments in the Otways supply more than 250,000 people in the region with water in towns and cities extending from Geelong to Warrnambool (see map attached)
  • 21 of the 38 coupes proposed for logging next season are in water catchments
  • Scientific research in Melbourneís water catchments demonstrates clearly that logging substantially reduces the water runoff. Old Mountain Ash forests, for example, yield almost twice the water of young regrowth forests
  • Expert studies commissioned in the 90ís show quite clearly that the economic value of water to the community is far higher than the economic value of timber taken from catchments
  • For these reasons, 90% of Melbourneís water now comes from catchments that are completely protected - i.e. no logging is allowed
  • The Otway Forest Management Plan (Section 6.5) acknowledges that research into the effect of logging on water yields is critical to effective forest management in the Otways, yet a major long term research programme commissioned in 1988 (the Silvicultural Systems Research Project-SSP) was abandoned in 1994 before any results were available. There was significant pressure from the logging industry to halt this project. Clearfell logging is now occurring at the SSP sites, despite intense efforts by conservationists to stop it
  • Clearfell logging is also occurring extensively in areas classified by the Department Of Natural Resouces And Environmentís (DNRE) own research as high erosion risk. This has led to severe erosion in some areas, causing extensive sedimentation (turbidity) in water catchment streams, and threatening endangered wildlife species. The massive landslide at HP Track in 1995, as a direct result of logging, is a dramatic example of the risks and consequences of logging

In the above context, it is extraordinary that the local water authorities appear to have little interest in, or understanding of, the issues associated with logging, and it is equally extraordinary that Geelong has been excluded to date from the RFA process. I note in passing that Colac - the centre of the native forest logging industry - has completely protected water catchments, yet the Geelong, Surf Coast, and Bellarine Peninsula catchments in the Otways are completely at risk.

It is obvious to anyone who studies the facts that logging in Otway water catchments should cease. These catchments must be completely protected, so that the regionís supply of drinking water can be assured, and they should be administered not by the DNRE, but by water authorities that have no timber industry representatives on their boards. OREN has also recommended in its report :

  • that clearfell logging in areas of significant erosion risk should also cease immediately;
  • that all subsidies to the logging, woodchipping and sawmilling industries should be eliminated;
  • that clearfell logging in all other areas of the Otways should cease within five years, and;
  • that monies available under the structural adjustment package should be used to facilitate the major scaling back of logging implied by this course, through compensation, redundancy and retraining payments.

I want to make it clear to everyone here tonight that these recommendations are the minimum conditions that are acceptable to the conservation movement in any Regional Forest Agreement. They represent the only satisfactory response to the economic and environmental realities facing the regional community. They recognise that it is time for transformational change; we need to move on to a new paradigm which views our remaining native forest not primarily as a raw material resource, but as a natural wonder which can be enjoyed by the whole community, which can ensure our supplies of clean water and which can generate great wealth through eco-tourism.

Finally, ladies and gentlemen, I would like to talk about what you can do to end this madness and bring about change. First, help us. OREN needs money and committed people. There are membership forms available here tonight. So join us, give what you can, and get involved. You will be joining a winning team; we are going to win the Otways back and ensure that our beautiful forest and our water catchments are there for all future generations to enjoy and to benefit from. Second, write to key figures on both sides of the political spectrum asking them to indicate their position on logging in domestic drinking water catchments. There are some draft letters available here tonight to help you do this. Finally, in the forthcoming State elections, donít vote for any politician who supports the continuation of logging in our forests and water catchments. Use the power of your vote.

I close with a simple, direct question. Will you help us? Will you join the fight? Will you?






Copyright (c) Otway Ranges Environment Network Inc