Government fingers burnt on firewood policy bungle
Thursday, 19 April 2012
The Baillieu Government has finally admitted that a bungle by the Department of Sustainability and environment encouraged the public to break the law under new firewood regulations and yesterday quietly introduced legislation to fix the problem.
"This is a sneaky move to cover up a bungled policy decision," VNPA spokesman Nick Roberts said today.
"It highlights the degree to which the Baillieu Government is receiving poor, incorrect and damaging advice on environmental matters and locks in ongoing damage to State forests across Victoria."
Legal advice obtained from the Environment Defenders Office earlier this year revealed that people collecting firewood without a permit in areas of Victoria's State forests could face fines of up to $6000, with a maximum jail term of one year.
The administrative bungle followed a decision by the Baillieu Government to scrap a firewood permit system that had been in place since 1958.
"The firewood permit system was part of the Forests Act created by the Liberal Bolte Government to ensure Victoria's forests were used and managed responsibly," Mr Roberts said.
"By scrapping the firewood permit in favour of a firewood free-for-all Ted Baillieu has taken an axe to values that have been well regarded by successive governments for more 60 years."
Moves to weaken forest use rules and recent prescribed burning in Bendigo's Wellsford Forest have outraged residents and farmers in central Victoria.
Stuart Fraser from the Bendigo and District Environment Council fears local Box-Ironbark forests face a bleak future under the current management regime.
"These are some of the last forests of their type in Victoria and home to countless threatened plants and animals," he said.
"Yet they are being pillaged because of a few silly decisions by the Victorian Government."
The negative impacts of firewood collection on native plants and wildlife are well known. Dead timber provides habitat for a range of native fauna, some threatened. Research shows that 37% of Victorian mammals use tree hollows as nest or root sites, and hollow-nesting birds form 39% of woodland and forest bird species.
Mr Roberts said the VNPA is now calling on the Baillieu Government to review its decision and consider introducing a new permit system for firewood collection from public land in Victoria.
"We also want to see a lot more support to help farmers develop small-scale wood lots for firewood production," he said.
"This new firewood free-for-all is hurting private firewood growers. The Liberals and Nationals should be supporting farmers trying to grow trees for firewood, not undercutting them."
Nick Roberts, VNPA Red Gum & River Rescue Project Coordinator - 0429 945 429.
Stuart Fraser, Bendigo and District Environment Council - 03 5443 1326.
In late 2011 the Victorian Government announced that permits for domestic firewood in State forests and some parks would no longer be required.
However, the Forests Act prescribes penalties for the removal of 'forest produce' from areas in State forests, including firewood, when taken without a permit. The legislation was not changed to fit the new policy, effectively encouraging the public to break the law.
Legal advice from the Environment Defenders Office identifies possible fines of up to $6000 per offence with a maximum jail term of one year for people collecting firewood without a permit in areas of State forests.
Removal of fallen timber from forests is a listed threat to a range of endangered native birds and mammals in Victoria. These include the Brush-tailed Phascogale, Diamond Firetail, Grey-crowned Babbler, and Speckled Warbler. All found in threatened Box-Ironbark forests in central Victoria.
Local residents in Bendigo are reporting that forests have been 'stripped bare' as a result of the new government arrangements.
Commercial plantation wood growers in regional Victoria have claimed their businesses are under threat by the Baillieu Government's changes to firewood permits from public land.