Statement on the Management of Central Highlands Forests

24 May 2017 

Murrindindi Shire Council is concerned about the impact of current timber harvesting on the landscape, biodiversity and a range of other current and future uses of Victoria’s Central Highlands forests, particularly in the Rubicon Valley. The Council is also concerned about the future of businesses in the Murrindindi Shire that rely on timber harvesting – an industry in transition. 

Following Murrindindi Shire Council’s ‘Have Your Say’ survey, we know preserving the natural environment of Murrindindi Shire and supporting our economy are top priorities for our communities. 

The Council calls on the Victorian Government to:

  • Phase out current native timber harvesting activities in the Central Highlands forests within the Murrindindi Shire, and in particular to cease harvesting in the Rubicon Valley pending resolution of the best approach for the future protection and use of these unique areas; and

  • Invest now to assist in industry transition and ensure that communities reliant on timber harvesting can continue to be part of a thriving economy in the future, including transition to alternate, plantation-base timber supply. 

The Victorian Government made an election commitment to establish an Industry Taskforce to provide leadership on the future issues facing the forest industry, and protection of our unique native flora and fauna. There is a lack of clarity about when or if this process will deliver a clear consensus direction for the future of forest management.

It is only appropriate that the continued harvesting in the Rubicon Valley, cease until a clear future direction for forest management is established. Council is also opposed to any harvesting in old growth forest and urges the Victorian Government to act quickly to preserve these forests. 

The timber harvesting and processing sector is in transition and no more so than in the Murrindindi Shire. Following the 2009 fires, the available timber resources will not support continued harvesting at the level and using the approaches employed historically. Murrindindi Shire Council recognises concerns that continuing to do so is causing damage to our environment. It is also undermining the range of uses of our forests that underpin the economy of the Murrindindi Shire and limiting possible alternative uses of forests, including for tourism and recreation purposes.

The last ten years that has seen a major reduction in the number of timber processing facilities operating in the Murrindindi Shire with a commensurate reduction in employment in the sector. 

While Council continues to support local businesses involved in timber processing, saw logs are largely transported out of the Murrindindi Shire for processing. As a result, Murrindindi Shire communities bear the adverse impacts of harvesting activities (for example, impacts on roads and other uses of state forests, visual impacts on the landscape) but do not share fairly in the economic returns. 

While change is occurring, currently the timber industry and associated businesses continue to be important employers in the Murrindindi Shire. Timber resources in the region are limited and continued harvesting at current levels will see these exhausted in coming years. 

Investing in a new, sustainable future for this region is critical, including a transition to plantation-based timber supply. Now is the time for the Victorian Government to invest in the necessary transition for this sector, rather than waiting for changes in the sector to impact adversely on local communities before acting. Further delays will also negatively impact on future options involving alternative forest uses which could assist with this transition and help bolster the local economy.

Murrindindi Shire Council stands ready to work in partnership with a Victorian Government that is ready to invest in a prosperous, vibrant and sustainable region. 

Local government has been excluded to date from the process for determining the future management of the Central Highlands forests. This is unacceptable. Murrindindi Shire Council looks forward to a positive response to its continued efforts to meet to discuss these issues with Victorian Government ministers to advance this critical issue for the future economic prosperity of the Shire.