Bunnings stops selling timber logged by VicForests after court ruling

Lisa Cox
Photograph: Paul Kane/Getty Images

Bunnings will stop selling timber logged by VicForests after a court found the state government-owned forestry agency breached conservation laws.

“Bunnings has a zero-tolerance approach to illegally logged timber that dates back two decades and our commitment is to only source timber products from legal and well managed forest operations,” Bunnings’ director of merchandise, Phil Bishop, said on Wednesday.

Bishop said in light of the recent federal court finding that VicForests breached the code of practice in its regional forestry agreement for the central highlands, Bunnings could no longer stock products that used its timber.

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The decision comes as the Nature Conservation Council of NSW prepares to launch a campaign calling on the chain to stop selling timber sourced from native forests in New South Wales.

VicForests said it was deeply concerned by Bunnings’ decision and it would be appealing against the federal court judgment once final orders were made in the case.

The court found in May that because VicForests had breached the code of practice, its exemption from national environment laws did not apply. The court ruled the agency had breached laws protecting threatened species including the greater glider and the Leadbeater’s possum.

“We will be discontinuing all sourcing of timber from VicForests and will no longer be accepting raw material input into our supply chain from VicForests as of 30 June,” Bishop said.

“Ultimately, we believe that customers and team members have the right to expect that the timber they purchase is sourced from responsible and lawful forestry operations.”

Bunnings said it sold only a small portion of VicForests’ harvest but it would work with affected suppliers on a transition plan.

That would include buying any timber already processed by the affected suppliers and discussing whether those suppliers could obtain timber from alternative sources.

A spokesman for VicForests said: “We are deeply concerned by Bunnings’ decision to no longer source native timber products from Victoria.

“VicForests has already advised our customers that we will be appealing the Friends of the Leadbeater’s Possum court decision, once final orders are made by the court.

“We regrow all harvested coupes with their original species, all timber harvesting and regeneration operations are conducted to conform with Victoria’s strict environmental regulations.”

In NSW, the Nature Conservation Council is now calling on Bunnings to cease sourcing timber from native forests in the state.

The council’s chief executive, Chris Gambian, said the chain’s decision in Victoria showed leadership from one of the country’s “largest resellers of native timber products”.

He said while the specifics of the Victorian federal court case did not apply to NSW, there were ecological and moral reasons for the company to remove NSW native timber from its supply chains.

“Native forest logging is destroying ecosystems and driving the koala and other species to extinction,” he said.

“We have a moral responsibility to ensure the survival of this iconic species and the only way we can do that is by stopping the logging of native forests in this state.”

Steve Meacher is the president of the Friends of Leadbeater’s Possum, which brought the case against VicForests.

He welcomed Bunnings’ announcement.

“Friends of Leadbeater’s Possum is glad to hear they will no longer be distributing unlawfully obtained products,” he said. “It will benefit our forests and wildlife and all Victorians.

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“It means people will be able to buy their timber from Bunnings with confidence.”

Both parties have made submissions regarding final orders in the case and a short hearing is set for next week.

The national campaigns director for the Wilderness Society, Amelia Young, said the case made clear VicForests had consistently failed to follow the law and its operations had contributed to the decline of the greater glider and Leadbeater’s possum.

“VicForests’ inability to deal with rampant illegality across its logging operations has led to this clear response from one of Australia’s leading hardware stores that illegally logged wood is unacceptable,” she said.

“We expect other retailers of wood and paper products sourced through VicForests’ illegal logging will follow suit.”

Guardian Australia has sought comment from the Victorian resources minister, Jaclyn Symes.

In response to the landmark judgment, conservationists have urged a review of Australia’s Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act to reconsider the exemption granted to the forestry industry via regional forestry agreements.

Graeme Samuel, the former competition watchdog chair who is leading the review, has handed his interim report to the environment minister, Sussan Ley. The report is due for release soon.