In response to today’s ABC article regarding RMIT research into regeneration of Victoria’s native forests, VicForests is sharing what was provided to ABC.
Please note, this will be updated as further analysis of the article occurs.
VicForests response provided to the ABC
VicForests’ passionate and professional foresters ensure harvested coupes are regenerated to meet the requirements under the Code of Practice for Timber Production 2014 (as amended 2022) (the Code).
VicForests has not seen or been provided the RMIT research cited in the ABC’s article.
The provided research output, purporting to show about 13,000 hectares of failed regeneration, is demonstrably wrong. Therefore, the use of this research to underpin any opinions and allegations is flawed.
VicForests has not seen or been provided the unpublished RMIT research, and it is therefore difficult to provide any meaningful feedback on it. Upon becoming aware of this RMIT research, VicForests has written to RMIT’s Research Ethics and Integrity team. VicForests works collaboratively with a range of researchers from other universities and would welcome the opportunity to discuss this research and its findings with the RMIT researchers. Meaningful engagement could avoid making premature and unsubstantiated claims.
From the limited information we have been provided we understand the research is based on the analysis of Sentinel-2 satellite data. Our understanding of Sentinel-2 is that this satellite does not capture data with anywhere near the resolution required to demonstrate the stocking levels of regenerating forests as required by the Code. The Code requires that plots down to 2.27m radius have at least one acceptable seedling. The best resolution of data available from Sentinel-2 is 10m. Any research using this data should clearly articulate the limitations of the data and caveat any findings that are based on them. It is not clear to VicForests if the research has been misinterpreted or misrepresented but based on the information provided to VicForests the conclusions drawn by the journalist’s questions to VicForests could not be supported by this research.
From the raw data provided to VicForests by the Journalist and following an initial analysis by VicForests’ forest science experts, there appears to be serious errors with the reportedly failed coupes, notably:
Over 300 coupes have had on ground surveys undertaken in the last two years, which have demonstrated regeneration success in accordance with the Code.
Almost 400 coupes were burnt in the 2019-20 bushfires. Some of these were harvested up to 19 years ago. Given the inability to accurately assign stocking levels in the 300 recently surveyed coupes referred to above, it cannot be considered that these areas are also unstocked.
There are almost 100 coupes which are still regenerating and will be surveyed for regeneration in the future, in accordance with the timeframes required by the Code. Therefore, these areas cannot be assessed at this time as to successful regeneration or not.
Given the research results have incorrectly identified coupes as being unsuccessfully regenerated when recent on ground surveys have confirmed successful regeneration, no confidence can be placed in the accuracy of the data/research findings.
The Department of Energy, Environment and Climate Action (DEECA) is the land manager for State Forests that are harvested by VicForests. VicForests is responsible for the harvest, regrowing and commercial sale of timber from public native forests until 31 December 2023.
It is VicForests' responsibility to regenerate harvested forests to the standard of the Code. The Code and standards within it were established by DEECA.
VicForests has consistently demonstrated that we are meeting our obligations and required standards for successful regeneration. This is because we plan for regeneration from the start and actively manage it until we meet the standard of the Code.
Following harvesting we regenerate each site with the full suite of eucalypt species that were present prior to harvesting. We specifically regenerate to recreate a natural forest of multiple species that supports a range of biodiversity outcomes.
About 18-36 months after the sites are sown, we conduct stocking surveys, in accordance with the procedures set out in the Code, to ensure the regenerating forest meets the stocking density required. The Code does not contemplate the use of satellite data to assess and determine regeneration. From time-to-time some areas do not regenerate at a first attempt, however we are not released from our responsibilities until sites meet the regeneration requirements of the Code.
Suggestions that coupes removed from the Timber Release Plan (TRP) were not successfully regenerated has no basis and is in fact, untrue.
Most of the time, areas are regenerated within three years but there is no set timeframe. We continue to regenerate coupes until they are successfully regenerated in accordance with our obligations under the Code. The Code requires on ground regeneration surveys to be undertaken, which surveys are done. VicForests’ obligations are not complete, and coupes are not removed from the TRP, until the regeneration standards of the Code are met.
Before a change to the TRP occurs, VicForests identifies the coupes that have been successfully regenerated and are proposed for removal from the TRP. That goes out for public consultation where feedback is sought from stakeholders. Following consultation on the proposed changes to the TRP and approval from VicForests’ Board, successfully regenerated coupes may be removed.
VicForests ensures all coupes harvested are regenerated to the standards in the Code. While regenerating to these standards VicForests manages a range of threats. Some examples include:
Hundreds of hectares of regeneration have had temporary deer proof fencing constructed around the coupe to mitigate the risks posed by these feral animals.
Guarded seedlings are planted to protect them from animal browsing.
VicForests staff have been integrated into bushfire Incident Management Teams to provide advice on protecting young regrowth from both bushfires and bushfire mitigation strategies.
VicForests has also had a role in mapping of Ash Eucalypt flowering. This helps map where there may be seed available in three years time when the seed is mature. This can be used for regenerating coupes following harvest or to guide large scale seed collection programs following bushfire.
Since 2019 VicForests has been using a range of variable retention harvest systems. These silviculture systems retain more trees within and around the harvest area. One of the purposes for this retention was to mitigate the impacts of future fire events as there are more mature seed-bearing trees present to ensure a natural regeneration event following fire.
VicForests staff hold a wealth of knowledge and expertise in successfully regenerating Victoria’s native forests. Naturally, there will remain some areas to be regenerated following the cessation of timber harvesting in State forests. This area is not as large as regeneration programs undertaken in the past, due to the declining area of harvest. Regardless of the agency undertaking the regeneration program in the future, it is likely the expertise of VicForests staff will be required.
Despite VicForests management responsibilities ending when a coupe has been successfully regenerated and removed from the TRP, VicForests continues to support DEECA in its broader forest management role.
For example, following the 2019-20 bushfires VicForests was a partner agency in the biggest aerial seeding program ever undertaken in Victoria. This included seeding coupes that had previously been assessed as successfully regenerated but were subsequently burnt in these bushfires. VicForests has routinely made Eucalypt seed, which it has collected and stored, available for these regeneration programs.
VicForests staff are also highly active in roles with Forest Fire Management Victoria (FFMVic) in a range of direct fire-fighting roles, incident management team roles and other support roles. On many occasions VicForests has advocated for bushfire fighting strategies that consider the impacts on regenerating forest. VicForests’ contractor workforce and their machinery also play a significant role in fire-fighting efforts.
Melbourne’s water supply
VicForests has repeatedly debunked false claims that the quality and security of Melbourne’s water supply has been put at risk by past harvesting activities. In fact, inaccurate reporting on the risk to Melbourne’s water supply has been acknowledged by way of an apology from the ABC and in a report by the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) (see links below).
VicForests’ rigorous planning processes ensure waterways were protected from soil sedimentation caused by erosion. A range of protections (such as stream buffers) were put in place during our harvesting operations for the protection of water quality in accordance with the rigorous regulatory requirements. We also limited harvesting operations on steep slopes.
All timber harvesting and regeneration operations are conducted in line with Victoria’s strict environmental regulations and the State’s Forest Management Zoning Scheme.
Fire and climate change will continue to present challenges to forest managers around the world. VicForests is responsible for the harvesting and regeneration of State forest following harvesting.
The International Panel on Climate Change has identified that, in the long term, sustainable forest management aimed at maintaining or increasing forest carbon stocks, while producing an annual sustained yield of timber, fibre or energy from the forest, will generate a sustained carbon mitigation benefit.[iv]
Also, a recent report shows that managing a small proportion of Australian forests for multiple uses, including timber production, can provide significant climate benefits when all relevant life cycle factors are considered.[v]
It also found that the rate of carbon sequestration in trees typically decreases with age. For example, in tall dense eucalypt forests the growth rates decrease progressively from around 6.4 tonnes carbon per hectare per year (for 1–10-year-old trees) to around 0.7 tonnes carbon per hectare per year for trees over 100 years old.[vi]
In fact, regenerating and growing forests have the highest rate of carbon sequestration. In mature and older forests this rate decreases as growth slows, and trees begin to decay and die.[vii]
The process of harvesting and regenerating forests for wood products helps store more carbon than a carbon sequestration model that involves no forest harvesting at all. For example, in Victoria, Victorian ash forests conserve an additional 300 tonnes of carbon per hectare when sustainably harvested. This is because wood products retain carbon and harvested forests are regrown.[viii]
An example of this is hardwood flooring from sustainably managed Australian native forests results in a net climate benefit 20 times greater than the use of hardwood flooring sourced from poorly managed tropical forests.[ix]
Another example is the use of hardwood electricity poles instead of concrete or steel is five times better for the climate.[x]
[iv] IPCC, 2019, “Climate Change and Land: an IPCC special report on climate change, desertification, land degradation, sustainable land management, food security, and greenhouse gas fluxes in terrestrial ecosystems”. [P.R. Shukla, J. Skea, E. Calvo Buendia, V. Masson-Delmotte, H.-O. Pörtner, D. C. Roberts, P. Zhai, R. Slade, S. Connors, R. van Diemen, M. Ferrat, E. Haughey, S. Luz, S. Neogi, M. Pathak, J. Petzold, J. Portugal Pereira, P. Vyas, E. Huntley, K. Kissick, M. Belkacemi, J. Malley, eds.)], https://www.ipcc.ch/site/assets/uploads/sites/4/2022/11/SRCCL_Full_Report.pdf
[iv] Nabuurs, G.J., O. Masera, K. Andrasko, P. Benitez-Ponce, R. Boer, M. Dutschke, E. Elsiddig, J. Ford-Robertson, P. Frumhoff, T. Karjalainen, O. Krankina, W.A. Kurz, M. Matsumoto, W. Oyhantcabal, N.H. Ravindranath, M.J. Sanz Sanchez, X. Zhang, 2007: Forestry. In Climate Change 2007: Mitigation. Contribution of Working Group III to the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change [B. Metz, O.R. Davidson, P.R. Bosch, R. Dave, L.A. Meyer (eds)], Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, United Kingdom and New York, NY, USA., https://www.ipcc.ch/site/assets/uploads/2018/02/ar4-wg3-chapter9-1.pdf