Timber worker says he is facing bankruptcy after stop-work orders stall native forestry for months

Timber worker says he is facing bankruptcy after stop-work orders stall native forestry for months

Ian Slater’s family has worked in the timber industry on the NSW far south coast for three generations, but he struggles to see a future for his family business.

The native forestry industry in New South Wales has come under growing scrutiny about its environmental impact amid efforts to ban the practice in line with some other states.

Mr Slater is a logging contractor with Iron Ore logging in Eden.

Last year, the Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) issued a stop-work order in Tallaganda State Forest following the discovery of a dead greater glider, an endangered marsupial.

The order lasted 160 days from August last year to early February 2024. 

Mr Slater said the closure put him out of pocket by tens of thousands of dollars.

“They have been disastrous for our family business. The EPA turned up and did an audit when they found a deceased possum,” he said.

“They came back and issued us to stand down immediately.

“As of today, I’m pretty much bankrupt.”

Mr Slater said being out of work for more than five months had pushed his family to the brink.

“I have to put the boys off. My son will probably lose his house … as will the other young bloke,” he said.

“I feel for my employees. They’ve been so loyal to me, especially my son.”

NSW far south coast timber workers share their concerns at a Bega Valley Shire Council meeting.(ABC South East NSW: Floss Adams)

Stop-work orders usually last up to 40 days, but timber workers said prolonged decision-making by the EPA on how best to protect endangered greater gliders meant the pause in operations in Tallaganda and Flat Rock State Forests, where loggers like Mr Slater worked, lasted almost six months.

A spokesperson for the EPA said Forestry Corporation did not meet its requirements and the EPA had “a strong compliance and enforcement program”.

The spokesperson said the EPA had “delayed the commencement of the new protections … after consultation with scientists and stakeholders”.

Forestry Corporation of NSW said contractors impacted by the stop-work orders were assisted through stand-down payments.

Environmental advocates and the timber industry were unhappy with the EPA’s approach and the protracted decision-making time frame.

Forestry Corporation, a state-owned entity in charge of native forest logging in NSW, will now be required to adhere to new protocols to protect endangered greater gliders.

The EPA has enforced new rules including conducting nocturnal surveying and retaining additional hollow-bearing trees that the marsupials call home.

Australia Forests Products Association NSW chief executive James Jooste said they were keen to work with the relevant groups to protect greater gliders, but the current EPA’s process was “unacceptable”.

James Jooste says the timber industry is important for regional areas.(ABC South East NSW: Floss Adams)

“We need a better resolution-dispute mechanism so we’re not spending six months out of our forests where we have no environmental outcomes and no productive outcomes,” he said.

“These rolling stop-work orders put pressure across the entire supply chain.”

‘Right balance’ between jobs and environment

From January 1 this year, Western Australia and Victoria put an end to native forest logging. 

Stuart Blanch, forest policy manager at the World Wide Fund for Nature, said they were calling on the NSW Premier Chris Minns to do the same by 2025 and implement a transition plan to help timber workers at the same time.

“I’m sorry people are losing their jobs over the need to protect greater gliders, but it’s really the state government’s responsibility to fund the complete transition out of native forest logging,” Dr Blanch said.

“We want the state government to commit $450 million to transition the 1,000 jobs from native forest logging into plantations.”

“There’s about 5,000 hectares of land on the South Coast that could be used [for] plantations … and there are about 1,000 jobs across the state that need to be transitioned into plantations.”

The southern greater glider relies on tree hollows for breeding and shelter.(Southern greater glider, Josh Bowell, CC BY 4.0)

A spokesperson for Tara Moriarty, the NSW Minister for Agriculture, said the government was “committed to delivering the right balance between protecting the environment and sustaining our state forests”.

Mr Jooste said Australia had one of the most sustainable native forestry industries in the world.

“We harvest 14 out of every 10,000 trees across the public estate and every tree is regrown,” he said.

“An immediate transition would take 50 to 60 years to achieve in which time Australia would lose its hardwood timber processing capacity.”

Forestry Corp  has to conduct nocturnal surveying after new endangered greater glider protection protocols.(ABC South East NSW: Bernadette Clarke)

Loss of regional hubs?

Tourists know Eden for the whales that frolic in its pristine water, but for many locals it is the timber industry driving the economy and securing jobs for families since the early 1900s.

From January 1 this year, Victoria and Western Australia have banned native forest logging.(ABC South East NSW: Bernadette Clarke)

Mr Slater said the collapse of the industry could mean the death of regional hubs along the coast.

He said he had already noticed young people moving away from the far south coast.

“There’s a lot of people and a lot of towns that rely on the timber industry income getting spent in local towns,” Mr Slater said.

“They [young people] don’t want to be in the timber industry because of the uncertainty. They’ve moved away.

“Eden struggles to get an under 18s football team.”

Takesa Frank, 22, who is the founder of Brooman State Conservation Group, disagrees.

Ms Frank said she felt for young people losing their jobs in the timber industry, but she believed there were more jobs in tourism.

Takesa Frank says logging cold impact tourism.(ABC South East NSW: Bernadette Clarke)

“People come to the south coast to visit the beautiful forest and beaches. However, if we continue to log and degrade our environment that’s going to reduce tourism and therefore reduce those jobs,” she said.

“When it comes to jobs in the timber industry, we know that there are really good transitions.”

Meanwhile,  Mr Slater said he did not know what was next for his business. 

“It’s very sad working all your life to end up like this through government bureaucracy,” he said.

“I don’t know what the future holds for my wife and I.”

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