|Description of this FunctionDescription of this Function|
The first "active" firewood and timber reserves were set aside in February 1862 in the vicinity of the goldfields. In October 1865 a report was presented to the Government on "The Advisableness of Establishing State Forests". The first legislative base for state forests was proclaimed in 1865 when, under section 41 of the 1865 Land Act reserves could be proclaimed for the "protection and growth of timber" (usually called timber reserves). From 1866 State Forests began to be set aside under section 5 (the normal reserve clause) of the Act, "the distinction made on the grounds that timber reserves could be used by miners and settlers until the supply was exhausted at which time the land was then alienated, while state forests could only be used by approved, licensed timber-millers and fellers". [from R. Wright The Bureaucrats' Domain. Space and the Public Interest in Victoria 1836-84, Oxford University Press, Melbourne 1989, p.155.]
The Land Act 1869 contained a schedule of land reserved for timber production but these gazetted reserves were of a temporary nature and revocable at short notice. Various attempts were made from 1870 onwards to legislate for proper management and conservation of the reserves but the situation deteriorated. The Government engaged two foresters from India, Vincent in 1887 and Ribbentrop in 1869, to investigate the causes of the poor condition to which the forests had been reduced and to recommend measures for improvement. A Royal Commission "to investigate the general question of forestry and forest control and management in Victoria" was constituted in 1897. Its final report, presented in 1901, resulted in the first effective forest legislation in the form of the Forests Act 1907.
The final report of the Royal Commission describes the pre 1907 forestry situation in Victoria:
"For many years timber in the forests throughout the colony was cut under a system of annual licences, by which millers and other timber-getters, on payment of small fee, were able to cut without restriction as to quantity, kind, or size. The licensee of a sheep or cattle run, the purchaser of any public land, the holder of a carrier's licence l or of a miner's right, had for a considerable period the privilege of taking without payment, "for their own use," without restriction, timber of any kind growing on the public domain. The only licence to professed timber-getters was a general one, which cost them 1 10s. a quarter. Subsequently an alteration was made, which continued in force up to the end of 1871, and which enabled persons to cut timber without restriction as to age, size, or quantity, under an annual licence for the sum of 5. This fee, being apparently considered too high, was afterwards reduced to 2. In 1869 a new Land Act was passed by the Legislature, and in the following year regulations were made to meet the requirements of sawmillers, which provided for granting them mill sites, exclusive rights over cutting areas, and tramway routes, on condition of payment of royalty on the material cut. In 1871 another general alteration of mill regulations took place, and still further alterations in 1873, but the brief period of control on a royalty basis ended with the restoration of the former vicious system of indiscriminate licensing at fixed rates per quarter. Certain checks on cutting were imposed, especially in the case of the cheaper licences for splitters, &c., but in most cases they could not be enforced either from being impracticable, or owing to the lack of a protective staff....
"For several years previous to 1888 there had been an Inspector of Forests, who was also in charge of the State Nursery at Macedon, but in that year the Government in power decided to appoint an officer to manage the reserves, with the designation of Conservator.....When he assumed control in 1888, one of his first acts was to provide for additional supervision, a number of foresters, some with and some without training, being appointed. He also strove, but without success, to get the Government of the day to pass through Parliament a Bill which had been prepared to secure better control and protection of the reserves. His subsequent efforts in the same direction had the same result.
"With the exception of period of several years, when the Minister of Agriculture (usually in those days Minister of Lands also) had control, and in 1892-3, when the administration was transferred to the Mines Department, the forests of the colony have been administered and controlled by the Lands Department. To this circumstance is unquestionably due a great deal of the failure which has hitherto attended all efforts to secure rational conservancy and protection of the reserves. Had there been a proper forest law in force, this form of control might not have so banefully affected the integrity of the forest domain, but since most of the so-called reservations existed (and still exist), merely at the whim of the Minister of the day, it was obviously unwise to entrust the all-important duty of protection and control to a Department whose primary function is to encourage settlement, which by common acceptation is construed to mean the alienation of all classes of land of the public estate.
"As regards management, from the very commencement there has been no real power attached to the office of conservator, and therefore no real responsibility. He has been the head of the staff of foresters and foremen, and has had control of the nurseries and the distribution of young trees, but from the time of his appointment in 1888, he does not appear to have been permitted to carry out any clear and definite policy in the management and working of the reserves. To create this important appointment with the remuneration of 750 a year, and then under the system of control in force to hamper and restrict the occupant in important points of working, to allow the wretched system of fixed licences to remain in force with no practical limitation on methods of cutting, to employ him, in fact, as a subordinate clerk of the Lands Department useful to give information and advice on forest matters of detail, but to deliberately neglect to utilise any experience or capacity for organisation and management which he may have possessed, seems an almost incredible folly. Yet this is virtually what happened. Apart from any possible errors of judgment in business management, which might have been made by any man under similar conditions, the late Conservator appears to have honestly striven to do his duty to the State, to keep the more valuable reserves from alienation, and to protect and support his assistants in carrying out their often unpleasant duties. The opposition to settlement within the reserves led to friction with both Ministers and officials of the Lands Department, and this divergence of opinion on matters of public policy appears to have resulted in further restriction of his already limited powers."
The principle provisions of the Forests Act 1907 included constitution of a Department of State Forests under a Minister of Forests, appointment of a conservator with necessary staff. confirmation and creation of permanently reserved forest and provision for future dedications, placement of control of timber on unoccupied timbered Crown land in the hands of the Forests Department and authorising collection of royalties on forest produce. From 1907 to 1918 progress was made in permanent forest dedication, strengthening control of timber utilisation, silviculture improvement of forests, extension of softwood planting, and the provision of fire protection safeguards. In 1910 the Victorian School of Forestry was established for the training of professional foresters. In 1918 the Forests Commission (VA 534) was established under the Forests Act 1918. Control of State forests was vested in the Commission and a statutory Forestry Fund was established for the improvement and development
of State forests.
Under the Forests Act 1958 (which is still the operating legislation as at 1994) State Forests comprise:
"Reserved forest" which comprises (a) areas dedicated as "permanent forest" which can be excised only by Act of Parliament or for specific public purposes, or by exchange for or unoccupied Crown land; and (b) areas dedicated as timber reserves which can be alienated only by a resolution of Parliament or by exchange as in (a)
"Protected forest" which comprises unoccupied Crown land proclaimed as such and certain defined unused roads. Such land is liable to be alienated. Reserved water frontages are also protected forest.
Additions to a reserved forest can be made by the Governor in Council by (a) dedication of any area of Crown land on the joint recommendation of the Minister responsible; or by exchange of existing reserved forest for Crown land on the joint recommendation of the Minister responsible; or by exchange of existing reserved forest for land on the recommendation of the Minister responsible; or purchase or resumption of alienated land.
Until 1983 the Forests Commission was vested with sole control and management of all areas of reserved forest. Protected forests were under dual control. the jurisdiction of the Forests Commission being restricted to control of the forest produce thereon.
The Forests portfolio was also concerned with the regulation of the timber industry and commercial enterprises involving the utilisation of state forests products such as eucalyptus oil, charcoal, sawn timber, pulpwood and firewood. The Department also had close links with rural fire-fighting organisations.
Forests portfolio was also concerned with the regulation of the timber industry and commercial enterprises involving the utilisation of state forests products such as eucalyptus oil, charcoal, sawn timber, pulpwood and firewood. The Department also had close links with rural fire-fighting organisations.