Gunns chief executive Greg L’Estrange told the Forest Industry Development Conference in Melbourne on 9 September that the company would move to exclusively plantation timber, a move expected to grease the wheels of its stalled Bell Bay pulp mill project.
The company said in its 2009/10 full-year results last month that Bell Bay is still “being held in a ready status”, despite saying over a year ago that it had secured a partner for the project.
“It has been a project that has been in development for a long period of time. It has been captive to both the native forest debate and our own engagement processes,” said L’Estrange.
Gunns has already stated that the Bell Bay mill would only use plantation timber, but its use of native forest in other aspects of its business has continued to anger environmental groups.
“Our traditional industry has been native forest sawmilling and woodchip exports… we will not be a part of this sector in the future,” L’Estrange said.
L’Estrange acknowledged that Gunns and the timber industry as a whole “have lost the public debate and support of the broader community”.
“This may well mean transitioning to plantations, but move we must, for the conflict must end. Too many people have been financially and emotionally injured by the ‘Australian forest wars’.”
The news was praised by the Wilderness Society, the Australian Conservation Foundation and Environment Tasmania, which said they are currently engaged in talks with forestry industry representatives.
Wilderness Society spokesperson Paul Oosting said: “Community and environment groups working for decades for the protection of Tasmania’s irreplaceable native forests see Gunns’ announcement as a very welcome breakthrough. We look forward to protecting Tasmania’s forests and supporting new lasting jobs by continuing to work with the timber industry to pave a way forward.”
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