A MASSIVE forest fire ripped through Forestry Tasmania’s balance sheet, costing the firm almost $5 million and prompting it to go cap in hand to Treasury.
The blaze, which raged through 70,000ha of North-West forest last summer, was highlighted as a significant factor in Forestry Tasmania’s latest annual report which was released yesterday. In the report, Forestry Tasmania chairman Laurie Wilson labelled halting the fire a “major effort” and said “the financial results for 2003-04 have been impacted by this redirection and deployment of key resources”. “The largest single fire in over a decade occurred in North-West Tasmania mostly on lands of other tenure and our staff and contractors fought for over eight weeks to contain this blaze,” he said. “This wildfire could have had devastating impact on both wood production and extensive areas of parks with World Heritage values.” Forestry put the cost of fire suppression for the period at $4.9 million, up from $1.6 million in 2002-03 and just $102,000 the year before. Other documents tabled in Parliament yesterday, relating to money withdrawn from the consolidated fund, show $3.4 million was given to Forestry Tasmania in 2003- 04 for “higher-than-average wildfire fighting costs”. Forestry had operating revenues of $191.5 million, expenditure of $175 million and earnings before interest and tax of $24.6 million in 2003-04. Meanwhile, a Bill to withdraw Forestry Tasmania’s automatic exemption from Freedom of Information laws was passed by the Lower House yesterday. The exemption, which the Government had found increasingly difficult to defend against secrecy claims from pro-conservationist groups, was scrapped with the passage of a reform Bill.