The Baillieu government is eyeing off expanded native forest logging in western Victoria as it tries to bolster the state's timber industry and give it access to more wood.
Agriculture Minister Peter Walsh has announced the government will reopen the Mount Cole and Pyrenees Ranges state forest, near Ararat, to commercial logging under a ''trial'' allowing silvicultural harvesting and salvaging of trees knocked over by storms.
The trial will run for one year – with 600 cubic metres of wood to be taken – and could lead to a substantive logging industry returning to Mount Cole for the first time since 2004. Mr Walsh said the Department of Primary Industries was now ''assessing the capacity of Mount Cole state forest to sustainably supply timber in future years''.
An internal note from the department seen by Fairfax Media says after timber harvesting was scaled down by the previous state government in the early 2000s several areas in western Victoria had been left ''under-utilised.''
''Licences were bought out and sawmills closed to make sure that harvesting did not exceed sustainable levels. This was a necessary adjustment, but some areas like Mount Cole State forest subsequently became under-utilised,'' the note says.
While large native forestry operations remain in Victoria's east – mainly in Gippsland and the Central Highlands – logging in the west has largely been scaled back to plantations and privately owned forests.
Mr Walsh confirmed on Wednesday the government was now ''reviewing timber resource information in state forest across western Victoria''. He said areas where timber cutting can occur under existing management plans were being looked at.
''The government is not preparing to reopen other areas of western Victoria to timber harvesting,'' he said
Conservationist hit out at the decision, with Wilderness Society spokesman Luke Chamberlain saying returning logging to Mount Cole amounted to turning back the clock decades and was a stark warning for other communities in western Victoria.
''The Baillieu government is already pushing species to extinction through industrial logging in eastern Victoria, and is now turning its sights on the forests in the west. Clearly it is running out of timber due to its blind belief in the destruction of native forests,'' he said.