Loggers refuse to fight bushfires

 Loggers refuse to fight bushfires

22 January 2008

published by www.starnewsgroup.com.au  

Victoria, Australia — The logging industry may refuse to fight bushfires in Melbourne’s water catchments in protest against the Shire of Yarra Ranges position on logging in Melbourne’s water supply.

Timber Communities Australia’s Victorian manager Scott Gentle said that workers in the logging industry were angry with the council’s opposition to logging in water catchments.

Shire councillors passed a motion late last year to oppose logging in Melbourne’s key water supply areas.

In a unanimous vote the councillors agreed that the loss of water incurred by logging far outweighed any benefits.

The Bayside City Council was quick to follow the shire’s stance, reporting another unanimous decision to oppose logging in catchments.

Mr Gentle said that contractors had little alternative but to boycott fire-fighting efforts in the shire and that over the next month he would meet with contractors and union managers to discuss whether they were comfortable taking such action.

Sarah Rees from the Central Highlands Alliance said she was shocked by the claims made by Mr Gentle.

“We live in a fire prone region. I am shocked by the response of the logging industry that they would not help our community fight fires, it’s completely un-Australian,” Ms Rees said.

“This is childish blackmail with a life threatening impact, they do not represent the interest of local industry that seek only a small amount of wood for their mills and would always help a neighbour fight fire.”

Councillor Samantha Dunn, who drafted the council resolution protesting logging in water catchments, agreed with Ms Rees’ statement and said that she was unimpressed by Mr Gentle’s threat to boycott fire-fighting efforts.

“I will not respond to blackmail, in the form of threatening the lives of people living in the shire,” Cr Dunn said.

Mr Gentle maintained that while he understood the council’s decision was unanimous, action could be avoided if the shire agreed to sit down with him and other groups to discuss the reasons for the council’s decision.

“We want the shire to meet with us and discuss their decision with the timber community,” Mr Gentle said.

“I’d like to know how they came to make this decision.”

Angry that the shire based its decision primarily on scientific evidence, Mr Gentle said that the council obviously didn’t take into the account the number of residents who were employed by the timber industry.

“The shire doesn’t realise the importance of the timber industry in the region,” Mr Gentle said.

“It seems prepared to sacrifice the livelihood of families living in the area for environmental goals. It makes me wonder where they are coming from.”

The Victorian Association of Forest Industries (VAFI) shares Mr Gentle’s belief that allowing the forest industry to operate at sustainable levels would have lessened the extensive damage cause by the current bush fires in Victoria.

VAFI executive director Phillip Dalidakis praised the efforts of CFA volunteers but said their job was made significantly more difficult as a result of previous decisions based on emotion rather than science.

“Whilst green groups continue to pressure the government into locking up more and more forest area, the science is in and sustainable forestry is the answer to fighting climate change and providing fuel reduction.”

Mr Gentle said he was concerned that the council’s latest decision was based on emotion and green ideals rather than the issue of water.

“The battle between the timber industry and those against us has been never ending, but this issue isn’t about the environment, it’s about finding a new way to have a shot at the (timber) industry,” Mr Gentle said.

In the 1983 Ash Wednesday bush fires, contractors from the Yarra Valley helped fire fighters efforts to contain the fires, offering their equipment that helped clear the forest.

Mr Gentle said that he just wanted the shire to realise that the timber industry was an important aspect of the community.

Many environmental groups are now calling on the government to put a moratorium on all logging in Melbourne’s water supply areas.

The state government is currently undertaking another study into the impacts of catchment logging and the results are expected to be concluded this year.

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