1896 - Report on State Forests of Victoria

Introduction by Ian Hastings (bio)


Berthold Ribbentrop (1843-1915) - Ribbentrop was born in Hannover on 25.7.1843 and joined the Forest Service of Hannover after finishing his practical training and practical education. He was selected with Schlich by Brandis to join the Forest Service in India on the recommendations of Burckhart, the head of the Provincial Forest Department. Ribbentrop reached India with Brandis in 1867 and joined the Forest Department of Punjab province as Special Assistant Conservator of Forests. He was instrumental in starting many new management practices in the forests of India. Ribberurop look over as Inspector GCrieral Of Forests from Schlich in l885 and guided the destiny of Indian forestry during its formative years before retirement. He was the author of the famous book, Forestry in British India.
Source : Indian Forestry through the Ages, SS Negi (1994)

Read the Complete Report

In 1895, B Rippentrop, then Inspector-General of Forests to the Government of India, was requested by The Hon RW Best, Minister of Lands, Victoria, to prepare this Report. It is reasonable to surmise that this, and previous reports by Perrin in 1890 and Vincent in 1887, reflected the ongoing and increasing concern about the poor condition, regulation and management of many areas of Victorian forest on Crown Land, despite attempts to initiate strong management, arising from:

  • the widespread uncontrolled felling of trees associated with the Victorian gold rush period
  • continuing poorly-controlled timber harvesting
  • increasing instances of illegal occupation of Crown Land
  • pressures for alienation of Crown Land areas

Ribbentrop's Report includes several very strong assertions, criticisms, points and recommendations relating to the issues and challenges, in particular about addressing the priorities and interactions between:

  • the role of Government and need for proper governance
  • the public-community asset, good and welfare of State Forests, and
  • the politics of the time and its role, influence and interference

Many of Ribbentrop's assertions, criticisms, points and recommendations in 1896 remain as salient and appropriate messages and reminders for future managers of Victoria's public-owned native forests and plantation land, irrespective of land tenure.

To encourage you to read the complete document, I have precised and highlighted a few of it's challenging findings and assertions:-

* p3 - "I also found  .... that it was widely acknowledged that the permanent conservation of a sufficient forest area was, and always would would be, an important factor in the welfare and prosperity of the colony."

* p3 - (in 1896)  .... "State forest conservancy and management are in an extraordinary backward state  .... The forest laws of the country are inadequate ..... The area of inalienable State forest has not been increased since Mr Vincent's report of 1887  ....  The protection of forests against fires has never ever been attempted, and neglect and waste in their treatment are now as rampant  .... The income from the forests is ridiculously small, and quite out of proportion to the large supplies drawn from them; and the money spent on their protection, maintenance and improvement is entirely inadequate."

* p3 - "The reasons for the self-evident mismanagement of the forest property of the country are ..... political, and centre in the public weal (ie the public good, the welfare of a country or community) where this clashes with the monetary profits of individuals or classes who can exert a direct Parliamentary influence."

Read on (my highlighting); .... p4 "remove the management of State Forests from the whirlpool of party politics"  .... p4 six fundamentals, principles and objectives for forest management legislation  ... p5  "it will be necessary to frame a pre-considered working plan for each forest unit" .... p7 the challenge of managing forest for both water supply, "permanent canopy" and timber products .... p8 Ribbentrop's thoughts on establishing plantations of exotic tree species .... "The broadcast introduction of Pinus insignis  ... its' wood is of low character"-- what would he make of Victoria's current softwood plantation estate of primarily P radiata (syn P insignis)?

“Both Victorian and Tasmanian forestry were influenced by Indian forestry in their embryo years. In 1877 in Victoria, when forest conservation was at its lowest ebb, the Governor Sir William Stawell, who was familiar with the work of Brandis and Schlich in India, asked the Indian Forest Service for advice. This led to a visit to Victoria by an Indian Conservator of Forests F.D’A Vincent, and a detailed report. This was described as “frank and outspoken”, so much so that it was never published and never implemented. However, another attempt was made in 1895. Berthold Ribbentrop, then Inspector-General of Forests in India, was invited to inspect Victorian forests and advise the Victorian government, which he did in 1896. Ribbentrop’s report was absolutely scathing. But it was acted upon and led to the passing of the State’s first Forest Act of 1907 and the establishment of the Victorian Forests Department in 1908”.
Foresters of the Raj, Underwood R (2013) - extract with permission.