After 40 years, export woodchip mill announces it will no longer buy wood from East Gippsland’s forests
After hoovering up East Gippsland’s magnificent forests for forty years, South East Fibre Exports (SEFE) have finally called it a day on woodchipping Victorian forests.
Wholly Japanese-owned, the export woodchip facility at Eden, just over the border in New South Wales, has pulverised almost a million tonnes of native forest from Victoria and south-eastern New South Wales year on year for decades.
The impacts are huge: wildlife driven towards extinction, forests millions of years in the making bulldozed and burnt in the flash of an eye.
But last week, SEFE announced that from January 1, 2015, the facility would no longer buy pulplogs from state government logging agency, VicForests.
It appears no decision has yet been made about the future of the chipmill generally, nor about the volumes of wood it continues to take from forests in New South Wales.
According to VicForests, SEFE announced that the chipmill’s Japanese shareholders concluded that the business could not continue in its current form, and took the decision to stop taking pulpogs from Victoria.
CEO Robert Green responded by saying that VicForests now has “the challenge to build a long-term future for the [logging] industry that does not involve export wood child sales to SEFE.”
However conservationists have warned that neither should the industry’s future involve burning native forests to generate heat or electricity, known as ‘bioenergy’, or biomass.
But it seems VicForests is intent on continuing logging in East Gippsland’s forests. A spokesperson announced on local radio that the Victorian government logging agency is working with other potential customers of low-grade wood, for outputs such as engineered wood products, local bio-energy production, and domestic firewood.
All of which are a very sad (and uneconomic) end for forests hundreds of years old and thousands of years in the making.
Quoted in the Australian Financial Review, SEFE manager, Peter Mitchell admitted that the pulpwood taken from East Gippsland was of “lesser quality” than plantation pulpwood. Which begs the question, why destroy valuable forest ecosystems at all.
Over recent years, there has been a general drop in the export market for woodchips from south-eastern Australia. International buyers of woodchips have become more discerning, insisting on FSC certified wood. And plantations in Asia and South America have come on-stream, flooding the market.
Responding to the announcement, long-time south-eastern NSW forests campaigner Harriett Swift remarked “SEFE has been living on borrowed time. Nippon is subsidising them.”
SEFE is majority owned by Nippon Paper Group, which is also the sole owner of Australian Paper, manufacturer of Reflex paper products at Maryvale, Victoria.
SEFE recently recorded its third loss in as many years. This year Australian Paper also posted a loss, of $26million, up from $20million last financial year.
And SEFE and Australian Paper are not the only companies in the native forest logging sector with financial woes.
According to the Financial Review last week, “VicForests, which is wholly owned by the state government, has struggled to break even in recent years, despite direct support from the state, and low-cost access to logs.”
There is now speculation as to whether the announcement that SEFE won’t buy East Gippsland wood from VicForests as of 2015 spells closure of the chipmill, or whether it will continue to operate only one export woodchip conveyor belt, leaving the other to proposed Nowa Nowa iron ore mine, Eastern Iron.
Either way, ceasing to chip East Gippsland’s forests likely won’t improve the chipmill’s prospects, because as MyEnvironment Director Sarah Rees points out, “Big debts and no social licence make for a curious future.”
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