Norman Wilton has seen plenty of changes during his 45-plus years in the logging industry.
And the “last man standing” of the once-burgeoning Bombala timber cutting industry has real fears for the future of the small town should calls for NSW Forestry Corporation to get out of native forests be heeded.
Mr Wilton operates his small team out of offices in Bombala and Pambula – small being “four fellas in the bush, three truck drivers, my wife Wendy and myself”.
At the end of last month he attended a public forum in Eden hosted by the NSW National Parks Association.
He said he was keen to hear from the speakers about the advertised topic “Vision for Eden and our Unspoilt South Coast”, particularly from Eden-Monaro MP Mike Kelly.
“When he was first elected, he seemed supportive of the timber industry. He certainly told us what we wanted to hear,” Mr Wilton said.
“By 2013 he seemed to be opposed to the continuation of the native forest industry.
“On Sunday, Mike made it clear he wanted the chip mill out of native forests.
“While he didn’t mention the Eden sawmill, stopping harvesting would see the end of the sawmill as well as the chip mill.
“There’s very little fishing in Eden these days, so to take forestry out…It’s the biggest employer in Eden,” he said.
Mr Wilton said the flow-on effects don’t stop at Eden either, with the entire South Coast and Gippsland regions likely impacted.
“All the harvesting businesses would go and the businesses that service the mills and contractors would shrink or close,” he said.
“Take Dongwha out and Bombala would be a ghost town.”
The problem as Mr Wilton sees it, is shifting entirely to plantation timber is all well and good to say, but there’s not enough land available to make it a reality.
He is also concerned “the goalposts keep moving” in regards to environmental protection.
“Changes go back 30 years when the industry became more strict with rules and a code of practice,” he said.
“We had to change, we realise that. It was good for the environment, which meant it was a good outcome.
“What really hurts me though is that the goalposts keep moving. They keep saying we’re unsustainable, but then they continue locking away parcels of land.”
Mr Wilton said it was “deeply concerning” to people working in the native forest industry that a vision of an eco-tourism-boosted future potential in the South East seems to be at the cost of existing jobs.
“In Mike’s electorate he seems happy to sacrifice our jobs to progress his eco-political objective of locking up the native forests.
“Meanwhile, he hangs our future on unidentified new businesses and a boom in eco-tourism.
“With ‘protected’, neglected forests burning in Queensland, NSW, Victoria, Tasmania and WA, what will it take for Mike and others to realise that forest fuels must be managed and forestry machines are a key part of major fire suppression operations?”