A long-term development strategy is to be prepared to guide the expansion of timber growing in the Great Southern and turn it into one of the region's major new industries.
Deputy Premier and State Development Minister Ian Taylor said today that agreement had been reached between the State Government and local authorities to jointly fund the work.
"Mr Brian Ray of Lancefield Consultants has been appointed to prepare the strategy with the ultimate aim of giving farmers, investors and resource developers a clear picture of where the industry is heading and what is needed to get it there," Mr Taylor said.
"Mr Ray has had wide experience in the timber and forest growing industries and this experience will be valuable in getting the situation in the Great Southern off on the right foot.
"The Great Southern Development Authority and the Timber 2002 group - an organisation drawn from government and community representatives - would take responsibility for managing the consultant, guiding the investigation and preparing the final `Great Southern Timber Industry Development Strategy."
Mr Taylor said already 8,500 hectares of blue gums and pines had been planted in the area by farmers and private investors.
"What we must do in the strategy is clarify the supply levels necessary to sustain major projects such as sawmilling and the export of woodchips, and determine the yearly planting levels needed for long-term viability," he said.
"We can then provide a clear working plan for all the participants in the new industry and in turn help co-ordinate the industry's development.
"The net result will be to reduce any uncertainties and give everyone in the Great Southern region a clearer picture of future development," he said.
Mr Taylor said that while the Department of State Development would play a major funding role with a contribution of $10,000, the shires of Albany, Denmark and Plantaganet had each agreed to provide $2,500 to help fund the necessary investigations.
At the same time the Albany Port Authority would be providing $5,000 and the Great Southern Development Authority $3,000.
"This is a fine example of State Government, local government and the community working together to set directions for the future.
"Much of the groundwork to promote the new industry is already in progress."
Mr Taylor said the considerable joint efforts now being directed to establishing new tree plantations was destined not only to boost the region's economy but bring major benefits to the environment.
"As more and more farmers devote a share of their land to plantations, we will see a noticeable improvement in soil quality until eventually fertiliser leaching, which pollutes our rivers, and land degradation, which threatens farm profitability, will be things of the past," Mr Taylor said.