Working together for timber and trail

Working together for timber and trail

Appreciating the importance of the timber industry to the East Gippsland economy, and with the potential for ecotourism via the proposed Sea to Summit walking track between Errinundra and Cape Conran National Park, East Gippsland Shire Council will seek assurance from the State Government that hardwood timber supplies will not be affected by the construction of the trail.

“The timber industry is a sustainable and critical component of the East Gippsland community with 80 per cent of the region being vegetated with natural hardwood forests,” Cr Marianne Pelz said in bringing the motion to council’ s ordinary meeting on March 5 as urgent business.

“The economic value of the harvesting process in the region is greatly respected and valued. This resource is in line with the protection of greatly valued jobs in our region and the East Gippsland Shire’ s timber encouragement policy adopted four years ago.”

A Labor Party pre-election promise announced late last year in Anglesea, on Victoria’ s surf coast, west of Melbourne, as part of a seven-point Great Outdoors policy, proposed a Sea to Summit 120-kilometre hiking trail between Errinundra and Cape Conran National Park.

Local MP, Tim Bull, has been vocal in his concern for job losses within the timber industry given VicForest had already signed logging contracts in the area.

Mr Bull said he is not against the hiking trails, rather wanting no net loss of timber industry resource, while convenor of the East Gippsland Greens, Dr Deb Foskey, last week said “take off the timber production lens and look at all the values that forests encompass”.

Cr Pelz echoed Mr Bull’s words.

“While we encourage economic tourism development in our region we believe it should be integrated and respectful of the hardwood timber industry workplace,” Cr Pelz said.

“Instead of getting rid of the coups that are actually coming up and just putting them all into national forests, we believe the industry should be able to work hand-in-hand within ecotourism propositions.

“We encourage the current State Government to come up with a plan where there are no net losses to the timber industry jobs nor harvesting areas in volume and productivity. Any jobs lost in the timber industry is definitely unacceptable to the East Gippsland Shire.”

Cr Mark Reeves said the issue is something that “many of us have been grappling with, those of us who have had communication with our timber industry operators and enterprises around the certainties of supply”.

“It’ s very frustrating, very hard for those businesses to make long-term plans and invest in the important and expensive plant and machinery, staff training and operator skills, so we need that certainty of supply,” Cr Reeves said.

“With regards to the Summit to Sea Emerald Link, I think there was several million dollars allocated as a State Government election promise to do some investigation work and I hope that we can see that come to reality and work harmoniously with the timber industry.

“It’s no doubt that is an emerging and great possible industry for us.”

Councillors agreed unanimously to seek from the Minister for Resources, Jaclyn Symes, certainty of the hardwood timber supply provided through the Regional Forest Agreements (RFAs) or equivalent to maintain sawmill supply volumes and ensure employment security of hardwood timber workers and their families in the East Gippsland Region.