The WA forestry industry has slammed the State Government’s decision to halt a native timber logging operation and initiate a review of the project with just a few hours’ notice as “shambolic political interference”.
The ongoing standoff between conservationists and the timber industry reached boiling point this week when protestors interrupted operations in the Dalgarup forest near Bridgetown, 250 kilometres south of Perth.
Protestors argue the site is ‘old growth’ and unsuitable for logging but industry says the classification was set out in WA’s Forest Management Plan which was determined by the department.
The ABC understands operations were halted at ministerial request, hours after protestors were moved on by police.
Industry says protestors ‘callous and cynical’
Forest Industries Federation of WA’s deputy chief executive Matt Granger said the Government had ‘caved’ to political pressure.
“We think it’s a pretty appalling development to have a harvesting operation effectively underway — a crew mobilised and then having a minister intervene,” he said.
“We’re trying to get people back to work safely with respect to the COVID-19 situation — how callous and thoughtless and cynical is this particular exercise by these forestry protestors.”
Old-growth definition ‘inadequate’: conservationists
Jeff Pow, who farms 10 kilometres north of Dalgarup forest, participated in the protest, and is associated with the environmental activist group, WA Forest Alliance.
He said the Government’s current definition of ‘old-growth’ forest was inadequate, and did not take into account the complexity of the forest ecosystems.
On Wednesday, the WA Forest Alliance said it had submitted an emergency old-growth nomination, which was soon after rejected by the Department of Biodiversity, Conservation and Attractions (DBCA).
“At the moment the department has damaged its relationship with the community,” he said.
Mr Pow said more government resources were needed to assess and monitor forest areas.
Council keeps foot in each camp
Bridgetown Balingup shire president John Nicholas said the local council was working to ensure the interests of all parties were represented.
“We sit with a foot in each camp because quite clearly we’re trying to support the timber industry because it’s a very large part of the economy in this part of the world,” he said.
Industry figures show 1 per cent of WA’s total forest is available to harvest annually. The sector also employs about 500 locals and directly contributes $220 million to the state’s economy annually.
Mr Nicholas said the council was keen to see the industry supported, but there was a caveat.
“But on the other side we have a responsibility to our ratepayers to make sure we also create an environment that is preserved and natural forest is one of those things we’re very keen to preserve,” he said.
“It’s a difficult issue for us quite frankly.”
‘Politically motivated’: Opposition
Shadow Forestry Minister Steve Thomas said the minister’s decision to suspend the operation was politically motivated.
“This is Dave Kelly abandoning ship on forestry,” he said. “We have a forest management plan in place. A lot of work goes into that, to ensure you have a safe forest and a future timber industry.
The ABC approached Forestry Minister Dave Kelly and Environment Minister Stephen Dawson for comment, but both declined to be interviewed.