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Logging off: A cost-benefit analysis of land use options for the native forests of the Central Highlands, Victoria

November 15, 2022

Australia is home to some of the world’s most ancient forests. The benefits of native species forests are extensive—they are efficient carbon sinks, they are amongst the most biodiverse environments on the planet, and they provide vast quantities of water (and preserve the quality of the water table). 

This paper offers policymakers a blueprint for assessing the true value of our native forests. Recognising the inherent preferencing of the quantitative (particularly when it comes to Expenditure Review Committee processes), we conduct a comprehensive cost-benefit analysis of conserving the wet forests in the Central Highlands of Victoria. The Central Highlands has been selected as the case study for this paper—but our general approach could be applied to any native forest area in Australia.

We model the value of carbon sequestration and tourism against continued logging. Our findings clearly demonstrate the economic benefit of an immediate halt to logging of native wet forest in 2022–23, as opposed to the status quo of a delayed exit by 2030. Specifically, we find that ending logging in 2022–23 will deliver a net benefit valued at $59 million in present-day dollars.

Yet these results have been slow to translate to policy action. Presently, the Victorian government has loosely committed to phasing out logging of native forests by 2030. However, this is not legislated—a significant (and intentional) oversight. In the meantime, the native logging industry is propped up by government to protect an ever-decreasing number of jobs and placate misguided pressure from vested interests. Economic protectionism is damaging and regressive at the best of times. This is amplified exponentially when it results in severe environmental degradation.

Our native wet forests are at high risk of collapse unless the right policy settings are put in place to protect them into the future. It is critical that policymakers take a more expansive view when assessing land value—that they move away from the ‘what’s in it, what’s on it, how do we sell it’ paradigm that has dominated land valuation methodologies to date.

In response to the findings from our modelling and research, Blueprint Institute calls on the Victorian Government to enact the following changes:

  1. Commit to ceasing the logging of native wet forest in 2022–23 (as opposed to 2030),
  2. Legislate the ending of native forest logging (to give weight to verbal commitments),
  3. Amend or repeal The Forests (Wood Pulp Agreement) Act 1996,
  4. Expand land valuation methodologies to include water, carbon storage, and tourism, and
  5. Strengthen formal policy mechanisms designed to conserve ancient wet forests.

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