[nefanews] Independent MP calls on NSW Forestry Minister to halt plans to extend North Coast logging contracts

NSW Forestry Minister Dugald Saunders has confirmed negotiations are on foot to extend North Coast logging contracts for five years to 2028 despite a Government report warning that existing logging cannot continue and that post fire logging presents a risk of “serious or irreversible harm” to native forests.

Independent NSW MLC Justin Field said “It’s totally unacceptable that the Minister would even consider extending contracts when the Government still hasn’t responded to the impact of the 2019/20 fires on our forests. 

The acknowledgement of negotiations came in Budget Estimates hearings (see link to video here) this morning with the Minister challenged over a letter sent by Forestry Corporation of NSW (FCNSW) to North Coast customers late last year suggesting contracts would be renewed at existing quantities. Contracts could be signed as early as this month. 

Mr Field said, “The report from the Natural Resources Commission (NRC) makes clear that business as usual for the native forest logging industry is simply not possible or acceptable in the aftermath of the 2019/20 fires.”

“The Government is acting like the fires never happened. They are trying to lock in contracts that will devastate North Coast forests despite their own experts recognising a significant impact on wood supply.

“The NRC report cites substantial risks of logging in fire affected forests and recommended logging stop altogether in some sites with additional harvesting controls across much of the North Coast. 

“It is deeply concerning that the Minister is considering recommitting NSW to extended contracts despite clear advice that volume of timber cannot be logged sustainably. It also risks exposing the state to a significant financial liability, in the event these contracts cannot be filled. 

“In light of the immense toll of the bushfires on native flora and fauna, and the significant uncertainties about timber supply and financial liabilities, locking in a business-as-usual approach for the next five years on the north coast would be a reckless move by the NSW Government.

“I’m calling on the Minister to halt all contract negotiations and establish an immediate moratorium on logging in ‘extreme’, ‘high’, and ‘medium’ risk sites identified by the NRC report. The Government must explain how they will sustainably manage our forests into the future before any new contracts are signed. 

“The ending of WSAs presents an opportunity to scale down or transition out of destructive native forest logging and we need leadership from the new Forestry Minister and Environment Minister James Griffin to reimagine a different future for our forests,” Mr Field said. 

Justin Field is available for comment: 0439 205 835

Text of Letter sent by Forestry Corporation of NSW to North Coast wood supply agreement holders on 21 December 2021:

Extension of North Coast Type A, B and C Wood Supply Agreements (WSAs)

You will recall advice in March this year following indications from the previous Deputy Premier, that Forestry Corporation would commence good ­faith discussions regarding the possible extension through to 2028 of nominated north coast WSAs expiring in 2023. That correspondence noted that a number of other factors could impact these planned discussions; and FCNSW’s consideration of these factors has contributed to delays in the original timelines.

I am now pleased to advise that with support from the Deputy Premier, FCNSW will progress discussions with holders of Type A, B and C WSAs on possible extensions until 31 December 2028for existing annual quantities. FCNSW will commence discussions initially with holders of Type A WSAs and progress sequentially through to holders of Type B and C WSAs. Following that, FCNSW will develop and implement a separate sales process for any remaining quantities of Low Quality (Salvage Grade) Sawlogs which can be sustainable supplied over the same period.

The process and forecast timeframes are listed below, noting that these timelines may be impacted should any further unforeseen matters arise.

1. Forecast timelines:

Jan-Mar 2022 High Quality Sawlogs and Veneer Logs (Type A and Type B (Sawlog)) WSAs

Mar-Jun 2022 Pole, Pile, & Girder (Type B) WSAs

May-Aug 2022 Low Quality (Salvage Grade) Sawlog (Type C) WSAs

2. Consistent with the above timelines, FCNSW will extend written invitations to all WSA holders outlining its intentions regarding extensions and providing an opportunity to discuss in more detail.

3. For customers seeking face-to-face meetings, FCNSW can develop a schedule of meetings to occur at its Coffs Harbour office.

4. After discussions are complete, FCNSW will prepare and distribute a Variation Agreement for companies to execute and return for final execution by FCNSW and the Deputy Premier on behalf of the State of NSW.

I trust you will view this advice as a positive step towards providing additional security for the north coast hardwood timber industry.