Timber industry bleeding cash as shutdown bites

Tracey Ferrier |

About 40 truckloads of timber is at a log dump, but can’t be touched while harvesting is suspended.
About 40 truckloads of timber is at a log dump, but can’t be touched while harvesting is suspended.

The NSW timber industry says it’s haemorrhaging money with harvesting largely shut down amid a battle over endangered greater gliders.

Almost two weeks have passed since the government-owned Forestry Corporation suspended 15 harvesting operations in state forests.

The corporation says it had no choice after the Environment Protection Authority changed protections for glider habitat trees, leaving it with no time to conform.

The Australian Forest Contractors Association says the shutdown is the biggest the industry has experienced, outside emergencies like the Black Summer bushfires.

Industry players say the cost has already been enormous, with no end to the suspension in sight.

Anthony Dorney’s family business, in the Bulahdelah area, has taken a triple hit, with the shutdown affecting its saw mills, log hauling and harvesting operations.

He says 24 of his 120 workers are stood down, with losses topping $100,000 so far.

His truck fleet – kitted out for log hauling – is largely idle, with the costs associated with each vehicle about $15,000 a month.

The family’s business advisor Marius Heymann reckons it won’t be long before the mills run out of wood.

An estimated 40 or more truckloads of timber is sitting at a log dump, but the suspension means it can’t be touched.

It’s a terrible impasse, Mr Dorney says, and one he just wants resolved.

Greater Gliders
Timber harvesting in NSW state forests has been suspended over new rules to protect greater gliders. (HANDOUT/WWF AUSTRALIA)

Kirsty Parker is part of a family-run harvesting crew on the mid-north coast, and says her business has lost thousands.

“I know Forestry is working on getting this right and we fully appreciate that but we’re making no money and we’ve got families to feed,” she said.

At the heart of the issue is a new rule requiring the protection of any tree in which a glider is spotted, along with a 25-metre logging exclusion zone. The protection is temporary, lasting for the duration of a forestry operation.

Tim Lester, from the Australian Forest Contractors Association, describes the change as “huge” and says mill closures and impacts on wood supply won’t be far off unless the situation is resolved quickly.

He says the industry has been hit with three sets of rule changes relating to gliders in recent months, and the constantly shifting sands are unworkable.

“What we need from the NSW govt … is really holistic and consistent approach that doesn’t end up with one agency essentially playing off another.”

Maree McCaskill from Timber NSW says the truckies and harvesters contracted by Forestry Corporation are paying the price for “a fight between two government departments”.

She estimates losses at $2000 to $4000 per day for each harvest crew and up to $20,000 a day for haulers with big fleets.

NSW Agriculture Minister Tara Moriarty says she’s deeply concerned about impacts on businesses and workers.

“I want agencies to work better together so we can minimise impacts of protocol changes on workers,” the minister said.

A spokesperson for the Minns government said it had promised an environmental watchdog “with teeth” and support for a sustainable timber industry.

The Forestry Corporation says it warned the EPA of stand downs unless it was given more time to implement the latest rule changes.

The authority says the corporation was afforded procedural fairness before the changes were announced.