Was the news last week about the threatened closure of the Heyfield timber mill real? The media release from company was obviously designed to pressure the State government to secure future timber supplies. However our native forests as a natural resource cannot be continually mined – even in a world free from the pressures of climate change nothing lasts forever. It is clear our forests have been over-logged. The days of a single monster log on a timber truck are already a distant past. How can governments guarantee something that is not there? The company is now pressing for a guaranteed supply of timber – almost the same as guaranteeing profit – and holding over the government the threat of 250 job losses.
Work has always been important anywhere in the bush. 250 jobs is a big number and the potential loss of employment is always a big news story. But as an industry in decline timber milling has been losing jobs for some time. The Heyfield company got some of its logging concessions over the last 30 years by buying up small timber mills in the region including Ensay North, Bruthen and Benambra and then closing them down. In each of these instances not only the workers but the small towns suffered.
The problem with logging is that it is a carbon intensive operation and it is becoming increasingly obvious that all native forests should be preserved and protected! The jobs now in the industry should be transferred to those doing the protecting and necessarily be employed by the state. Climate change means that all this should happen as soon as possible. The forests are far more valuable as they stand. Timber must be now be sourced from plantations. Any retrenched worker should receive a decent redundancy package with the prospect of employment in the forest protection industry.
Occasionally proposals are made to prop up the logging industry by using biomass from state forests and falsely promoting the energy from such operations as renewable. There is also research indicating logging may be increasing the severity of bushfires. Both these issues are clearly related to climate change on which I will blog at a later date.
Part of the answer to the question of jobs and forests should be to place a value on the stored carbon in our native forests on both state and private land and to protect that store as much as possible. Another part must be employing workers to protect that store. Two of the major employers in Gippsland – the timber industry and brown coal – are in structural decline. This decline will be accelerated as the need to act on climate change becomes more urgent.