WA Government to protect more of South West native forests

In 2020, the Western Australian Forest Alliance were calling for logging to stop in Helms Forest near Nannup, which is home to red-tailed, Carnabys and Baudins cockatoos.Image supplied.
In 2020, the Western Australian Forest Alliance were calling for logging to stop in Helms Forest near Nannup, which is home to red-tailed, Carnabys and Baudins cockatoos.Image supplied.

WA's forest industry were "blindsided" by an announcement made by the WA Government that it would end native forest logging in 2024.

The WA Government made the historic announcement that it would end native forest logging in two years and protect an additional 400,000 hectares of karri, jarrah and wandoo forests in its upcoming Forest Management Plan.

From 2024, timber taken from WA's native forests would be limited to forest management activities that improved forest health and clearing for approved mining operations, such as Alcoa.

This would leave nearly two million hectares of native forests protected for future generations.

The state government would also invest $350 million to expand Western Australia's softwood timber plantations to create and support sustainable jobs in the industry.

About 9,000 hectares of high conservation-value karri would also receive immediate protection, with other high value forest areas to be recommended for national park status.

This investment will provide at least an additional 33,000 hectares of softwood timber plantation. Up to 50 million pine trees will be planted, sequestering between 7.9 and 9.5 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent.

It will also create about 140 timber industry jobs, protect about 1,980 existing jobs, mostly in the South-West timber industry, and support the many thousands of jobs in the state's construction industry that depend upon the reliable supply of softwood timber.

The State Government will support workers, businesses and communities in the South-West with links to the forestry industry through a $50 million Just Transition Plan.

This plan will provide support to affected workers and businesses, drive further diversification of local economies and assist in identifying and securing sustainable job opportunities.

A Native Forestry Transition Group will be established, to assist in the development and implementation of the Plan, and will be comprised of local industry, union and government stakeholders.

Forest industry 'blindsided' by announcement

The announcement has "blindsided" the WA forestry industry which stated there was no consultation, leaving businesses, employees and regional communities shocked.

More than 500 people are employed in WA's forestry industry which contributes over $220 million to the state economy each year.

Forest Industries Federation WA executive director Melissa Haslam said the state government's $50 million transition plan was miniscule compared to the level of investment in the sector.

Ms Haslam said one company alone had invested well over $50 million in the past two years and there was a further $100 million of investment pending, which would now be lost.

"This is heartbreaking for our industry, and the biggest initial impact is likely to be felt in our regional communities, but this will impact most West Australians - anyone who enjoys products from timber furniture right through to firewood," she said.

"We are shocked at this rushed and bizarre decision, which came without any consultation.

"The irony is this does not even protect our forests; forest management protects our forests.

"For forests to cope with a drying climate, to control and minimise dangerous wildfires, they still need to be thinned and managed.

"This will now come at a huge cost to taxpayers where previously the costs were offset by timber production."

Forest campaigners applaud decision

WA Forest Alliance have been campaigning for the end of native forest logging in the South West, campaign director Jess Beckerling said the state government's announcement was huge.

"This is a historic moment, and we applaud the Premier, and ministers Sanderson and Kelly, for their leadership and thank them for this major and long-awaited breakthrough," she said.

"The South West forests are incredibly precious and they're vital to climate and to wildlife, water and culture.

"This new direction, that the Premier has announced today, to end native forest logging in just over two years' time, is profoundly important and will be heartily welcomed by the West Australian community.

"But this is not the end.

"We still have two years ahead of us until the next Forest Management Plan is signed and sealed and we must maintain our focus to ensure that this very welcome new direction, results in the forest protection that we so desperately need.

"The Premier's announcement doesn't address all of the threats facing the forests. It doesn't end clearing of jarrah forests for bauxite mining or deal with issues surrounding thinning of degraded regrowth forests.

"It also doesn't address fire management.

"There will, however, be plenty of opportunity coming up for the community to have an effect on these other major issues facing the forests during the development of the next Forest Management Plan, and through other processes and we will be facing them with the same determination that we have faced logging with.

"We also look forward to the development of expanded farm forestry and a fair transition in employment for those currently engaged in native forest logging.

"Western Australia will become the first state in the country to finally, after all of these decades, stop the logging of our precious native forests and see them protected for their climate, biodiversity, water and cultural values."

Premier says it was a historic moment

Premier Mark McGowan said this was a historic moment for the protection of WA's magnificent forests and the creation of sustainable jobs.

"By transitioning more of the forestry industry to sustainable timber products like softwood, we are investing in WA's future - supporting the construction and forestry industries, and our regional communities," he said.

"Protecting this vital asset is critical in the fight against climate change."

Environment and Climate Action Minister Amber-Jade Sanderson said the government was committed to preserving our beautiful South-West forests for future generations by ending large-scale commercial logging from 2024.

"This will not only ensure this important asset can be enjoyed for its beauty, Aboriginal cultural heritage, and ecotourism for years to come, but it is an important step in the fight against climate change," she said.

"WA's South-West native forests are storing approximately 600 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent, or roughly 116 years' worth of annual emissions for every car in Western Australia."

Forestry Minister Dave Kelly said climate change had significantly contributed to a decline in the harvest yield of native timbers, with volumes of harvested sawlogs currently below that anticipated in the current FMP.

"Pine is a critical resource for Western Australia's building and construction industries," he said.

"The McGowan Government's record $350 million expansion of WA's softwood estate, will create and secure local jobs, and ensure a strong, sustainable timber industry for the future."