Softwood Plantations in NE Victoria

Victorian Government Strategy

Bernie Evans (bio)

This article is derived from a paper presented to the
Murray Valley League for Development and Conservation Seminar
Wodonga, 30th March 1988


This Foreword was written by David Williams.

Bernie Evans, Regional Manager was the local face of the Department of Conservation, Forests and Lands in North East Victoria in 1988. Softwood plantations were increasingly important in North East Victoria having expanded considerably over the previous 25 years. Expansion though brought increasing concern and opposition.

The need to establish a large softwood plantation estate in Victoria was identified and affirmed repeatedly by successive governments from early days after Victoria’s settlement. This was based on the need to provide for the State’s future timber needs. The policy gained traction in the early 1960’s with the articulation of an ambitious government plantation expansion program.

Plantations expanded accordingly and particularly in North East Victoria. New plantations were established in the Upper Murray and Benalla areas adjacent to local communities who were not familiar with softwood plantations. Softwood plantations had existed for some decades in the Ovens area. In a little over 20 years more than 10,000 ha of new plantations had been established in both Benalla and Upper Murray areas. Large scale clearing of native forest to establish these plantations was very visible on the landscape and brought plantations to the attention of local communities.

Lower level opposition to plantations had been increasing in the 1970’s based on environmental impacts of the plantations. But some of the opponents were members of broader environmental groups who lived outside the local communities.

There was a new dimension to the increasing opposition in the 1980’s. Local communities were concerned with the use of chemicals, particularly when aerially applied, and farmers were opposed to the purchase of farmland for conversion to plantations. For example, a community group in the Strathbogie Ranges was agitating at this time about concern the use of 2,4,5-T (2, 4, 5 trichlorophenoxyacetic acid - controversial herbicide used extensively during the Vietnam war) had resulted in health problems for some children through what they thought was contaminated water supply. Just a few years earlier in 1985, orchardists at Stanley complained about drift of herbicide aerially applied to nearby plantations. The orchardists were successful in having the practice discontinued on the Stanley plateau. The Tallangatta Valley was declared a “pine free zone” by locals in 1988. Concerning the purchase of farmland’ the then President of the Victorian Farmers Federation declared in 1987 that ….”farmers will be outraged to learn of good agricultural land being bought for pines”. This opposition represented a significant shift because these groups had traditionally been supporters of plantations and the forest industry with many employed or gaining other economic benefits from the sector.

The Government, in seeking to define a clear path for the contentious forestry sector (native forestry and forest plantations), announced a new comprehensive strategy in its Timber Industry Strategy (TIS) in 1986. The TIS was based on recommendations from a preceding timber industry inquiry which was open and transparent and involved extensive public input. The Government’s desire was to increase public support for its policies on plantations and native forests.

TIS addressed the full range of forestry and timber industry issues. The plantation initiatives included a number of matters with two components being contentious: 1/ ambitious expansion program over the following decade, and 2/ all new plantations to be established on purchased private farmland.

An irony was that the policy of requiring all new plantations to be established on purchased farmland that became so contentious was to avoid the adverse environmental impacts of the previous practice of clearing native forests for plantations.

These were the circumstances in which Bernie made a presentation to the Murray Valley League for Development and Conservation Seminar in 1988.