Nippon Paper Buys into Logging Controversy

The new owner of Maryvale Pulp Mill, Nippon Paper, has immediately been involved in a controversy over logging sites of National Conservation Significance in the Strzelecki Ranges.

Press release February 17 2009.

Nippon Paper Buys into Logging Controversy

Logging Commences at College Creek - Site of National Conservation Significance

The new owner of Maryvale Pulp Mill, Nippon Paper, has immediately been involved in a controversy over logging sites of National Conservation Significance in the Strzelecki Ranges. Nippon Paper is currently buying pulplogs from Hancock Victorian Plantations (HVP). 75% of the timber leaving College Creek will end up at Maryvale.

College Creek is of national conservation significance and is home to many rare and endangered species including the Strzelecki Koala, Yellow Bellied Glider, Powerful Owl and Greater Gliders. College Creek also contains a large amount of cool temperate rainforest which is extremely prone to disturbances, particularly if its eucalypt buffers are logged. "This iconic site is being sacrificed despite the devastation of the Strzeleckis in the past two weeks" said Friends of the Earth spokesperson Anthony Amis.

Conservation Minister John Thwaites agreed to protect the area in October 2006 under an historic Heads of Agreement (HoA) also signed by HVP, Australian Paper, Trust for Nature and the Strzelecki Forest Community Group. This HoA would have created a 8500ha Strzelecki Cores and Links Rainforest Reserve which College Creek would provide a substantial proportion. Under the 2006 HoA, all of College Creek would have been spared from logging as would other core areas of Strzelecki Rainforest. The Reserve was also critical in creating a viable reserve system linking Tarra Bulga National Park to the Gunyah Gunyah Reserve.

However, the 2006 HoA was overturned by current Conservation Minister Gavin Jennings and HVP CEO Linda Sewell in a new agreement signed in August 2008 without community involvement. This new agreement will allow for clearfelling of ~350ha of Mountain Ash inside College Creek and another 1150ha elsewhere within the Cores and Links Reserve.

Instead of protecting College Creek, the new agreement allows for the reserving of Hancock custodial land (native forest), which also consists of many hectares of weed infested drainage lines inside plantations.

College Creek was logged in the 1970's by Australian Paper Manufacturers and then regenerated with Mountain Ash. Effectively the reforested land mimics natural regrowth, meaning that its ecological function is identical to the forests in their natural state. However, conservationists fear that logging such a large area will compromise the long term survival of many species inside the catchment, particularly cool temperate rainforest which is still in a state of recovery from the logging regimes of the 1970's.

Logging within such close proximity to the rainforest has the potential to wipe out the remnant cool temperate rainforest of College Creek. Gavin Jennings and HVP claim that they will leave 60m buffers on rainforest within the catchment, however HVP are redefining what rainforest actually is, meaning that a large portion of rainforest within the catchment will receive no buffering.

College Creek also provides one of the last refuges for native species in the Strzelecki Ranges. "It is essentially an island of intact habitat in the most depleted bioregion of Victoria. 75-80% of the timber logged from College Creek will end up at the Nippon owned Maryvale Pulp Mill to be converted into Reflex Copy Paper. It will provide the pulp mill with enough timber for the mill for only 6 months" said Mr Amis.

HVP have a long term hardwood contract to Maryvale Pulp Mill until 2027. "It was clear to us prior to the recent fires that this contract was unsustainable and this was the key reason why the 2006 HoA fell through" said Mr Amis. "HVP were using the shortfall as a reason to log their custodial land at inflated volumes".

With the recent fires this shortfall problem is compounded as the Churchill and Boolara fires have burnt out a large amount of Hancock's hardwood plantations, leaving them in a position where they may possibly declare a force mujeure" said Mr Amis. "In effect HVP will grab what they can before reality hits in a few years time that their hardwood supply could effectively run out. If this is the case, then HVP may well be embarking on a cut and run mission in the Strzeleckis" added Mr Amis.

"The tragedy is that this company has started to log College Creek whilst the smoke haze associated with the disastrous Gippsland Fires has not yet cleared. One could assume that HVP have chosen this time to log College Creek as they knew that people's attentions would be diverted elsewhere" said Mr Amis. "To add insult to injury HVP are certified by the Forest Stewardship Council who also have effectively washed their hands of critical Strzelecki issues such as rainforest and koala protection".

The recent fires not only burnt out plantations, but also several thousand hectares of forest that Gavin Jennings and Hancock had supposedly protected under the controversial August 2008 deal. All of the forest that Minister Thwaites had protected in 2006 was spared from the recent inferno. This is a double loss for the conservation attributes of the region and compounded when another nationally significant conservation site at Darlimurla was burnt in the Boolara fires and January 31. Essentially two of only four identified nationally significant conservation sites have been lost in the past week. One to fires, the other to loggers. College Creek is the last remaining refuge on the north side of the Strzeleckis which survived the devastating fires" concluded Mr Amis.

Anthony Amis can be contacted on 9419 8700 or 0425 841 564

For more information on College Creek and recent bushfires in Gippsland:

IMAGE: College Creek/Strzelecki Ranges: February 15 2009. Trees bulldozed for logging access track