Image for What happens when a rogue company is given too many grants

Over the past 20 years millions of dollars have been spent on propping up the Timber industry in Tasmania.

Some sources put the subsidies around a billion bollars.

So where does this money go.

This article is about one small part. In the early 1990’s Forestry Tasmania was given $1.8 million from the Helsham Enquiry in subsidies to put in 1200 ha of Blackwood Plantations.

The program was called the National Rainforest Conservation Program, odd name really when you consider that beautiful Mixed age and Mixed Size forests were clearfelled only to be replaced by Pine Trees with a Blackwood understorey.

The idea was that the Pines would grow up fast and straight forcing the Blackwoods to reach for the light and to grow straight, at the same time protecting the Blackwoods from frost and wind.

The pines would be removed when they had done their job and the Blackwoods left to grow until harvest at 45 years.

So what happened ...

Spindly blackwood amidst the pine

Between 1992 and 1996 Forestry Tasmania planted 450 ha of Blackwood under Pine in the Beualh/ Gog ranges site.

These days the Pine trees are growing very well but unfortunately many of the Blackwoods have died or turned into little bushes. It is hard to imagine that the Pine’s will be able to be removed without the total destruction of the tiny Blackwoods in between the rows. All the best science of the day showed that the nurse crop had to be severely thinned or removed once it had done it’s job of protecting the young trees.

This didn’t happen.

The site chosen was on ridges and dry country.

The soil is classed as volcaniclastic. Basically the Gog Ranges are a range of Quart/Sandstone hills, Volcanic rocks were thrown up and landed on shallow water and settled. The rocks here are a mixture of Sandstones, Siltstone, Conglomerate, Grewacke and Volcanic ash. All in all a very interesting Geological mixture. Which unfortunately makes the soils fragile and well drained.

Not really what a swamp tree such as Blackwood requires.

So the Pine trees have done really well they grew fast sucked up all the water and shaded the Blackwoods. Walking through the forest it is difficult to see the rows of Blackwoods as many are just sticks now and what are left alive are small stunted and branched shrubs. The one in the picture above is one of the better ones, but it will take a very careful harvester to save it when the Pines are removed.

Under the Tasmanian Community Forest Agreement more money was handed out to the Pine Foresters in Tasmania, around a $1million was handed out to a company called Softwood Tasmania (operator) Pty Ltd.

That company holds the leases to the Pine forests in the Gog Plantation. They also hold the leases to the rest of the joint venture plantations that existed between Rayonier and Forestry Tasmania.

Rayonier were bought out by Timberlands and so are now Forestry Tasmania’s joint venture partner in the Pine.

So through Softwood Tasmania (operator) Pty Ltd, Timberlands was granted $1,048,624.95 to carry out phosphate fertilizing, mechanical waste thinning and chemical and mechanical treatments to remove wildling Pine and Eucalypt seedlings from Pine Plantations.

I do not know if they used any of the money in the Gog Plantations. It does seem unsustainable that we have to pay subsidies to put in the trees, subsidies to look after them, subsidies to contractors to buy machines to harvest them and then many get shipped overseas at rock bottom prices to Asia.

To me the biggest issue is that 450 ha of magnificient mixed eucalypt forest was clearfelled to put in this so called Blackwood plantation, the subsequent clearfelling of the forests created increased run off that scoured the Garden Of Eden Creek which was one of the best habitats in the State for Astacopsis Gouldii (giant freshwater lobster) destroying the habitat. And the whole plantation has been mismanaged to the extent that there will most likely be no harvestable Blackwood.

If we are going to have to prop up the timber industry there needs to be a mechanism whereby they are held accountable and can show where the money goes, and that they are actually trying to produce a valuable crop at the end.

The rest of the Gog Pine Plantation is being clearfelled as well. There were also areas there that were only Pine trees. These pine trees are being clearfelled at between 250 to 300 mm stump diameter.

It would be interesting to hear the reasons for the clearfelling. The way I look at it the forest should have been thinned and had every second tree or every alternate tree removed and the rest allowed to grow on to produce high quality large diameter sawlogs.

It appears to me that the industry are aiming for high volume low quality.  Why not aim for low volume high quality and keep the jobs in processing the timber in Tasmania.

Clearfelled Pine plantation Gog Ranges March 2011

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... this series of photos taken in the Garden of Eden Creek area,  Gog Ranges, Central Northern Tasmania.

This was once an area of magnificent Mixed Species and Mixed Aged forest.

Once prime Habitat for Astacopsis Gouldii (giant freshwater lobster).Until the streams were destroyed. (juvenile Astacopsis use headwater streams for habitat).

Forestry Tasmania used grant money from the Federal Government (Helsham Enquiry) to put in a 450ha plantation of Blackwood with a Nurse Crop of Radiata Pine as a part of the National Rainforest Conservation Program.

The Blackwood Crop failed because the nurse crop (radiata pine) was not thinned or removed in time. Scientists have been studying the techniques of putting in blackwood plantations since the early 1980’s and they showed that the nurse crop had to be removed or heavily thinned for a viable crop of Blackwood.

This did not happen and now the Pine plantation is being heavily logged and the Blackwoods are being destroyed.

This is what happens when a rogue company is given too many grants.

VicForests has credit extended
Ben Butler
April 11, 2011

THE financial woes of the state government’s commercial forestry arm VicForests have deepened, with it forced to go back to Treasury for a bigger loan.

VicForests’ line of credit with Treasury has doubled in three years, from $12.5 million in 2009 to $25 million this year, as the company struggles with cash-flow problems.

The deepening financial problems at VicForests follow the release of a report by forestry consultants URS, commissioned by Treasury, which found the company cannot manage its costs.
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In response to a question on notice from Greens upper house MP Greg Barber, Treasurer Kim Wells revealed VicForests had returned to Treasury for more cash.

Mr Wells said VicForests’ line of credit with Treasury was drawn down by $19.9 million on March 3, with four months still to go in the current financial year - slightly more than the total at the end of the previous financial year.

Full story HERE