The Victorian Government has announced the staged withdrawal from harvesting native timber in State forests by 2030.
This decision will drive VicForests to transform as a business, drawing on our extensive forestry, silviculture and ecological expertise. We will also support our customers to understand and prepare for the resource that will be available from 2025 and beyond.
VicForests will play an active role in the expansion of the plantation estate, building on our move into plantations in the Latrobe Valley where we managed the planting of 250,000 seedlings as part of the Government’s $100 million plantation program. We will be particularly interested in supporting further trials of hardwood sawlog plantings to provide opportunities for hardwood processors into the future.
In this we will work closely with our outgoing CEO Nathan Trushell in his new role within the Department of Jobs, Precincts and Regions (DJPR).
We will also deliver a new program focussed on farm forestry and private native forests. Our aim over the next 18 months will be to complete an assessment of the availability of existing trees to support hardwood processors to understand whether some of their future needs could be met through agreements with private landowners.
In the short term, it will largely be business as usual until 2024. We will move quickly to negotiate new timber supply agreements with our customers to lock in supply to June 2024. After that we begin a staged withdrawal until harvesting ceases in 2030.
While this is a difficult policy decision for the industry, VicForests has always been resilient and agile and we are embracing the opportunity to develop proposals about the kind of business we can become.
Chief Executive Officer
VicForests Seeks Community Input on Updates to TRP
The amended plans are a key part of our routine planning process and identify potential timber harvesting areas in the east (TRP) and west (TUP) of Victoria over the coming years. They provide greater scope for VicForests to implement its new adaptive forest management practices.
Interactive maps on VicForests website show detailed information on the additional TRP and TUP coupes including their location, forest type, planned area and harvest method. VicForests encourages interested parties to provide feedback by email or attend an open day on Wednesday 11 December to discuss issues, including the timing of operations, haulage routes, coupe proximity to property and identification of forest values.
Community and stakeholder consultation are a key component of VicForests’ operations and are ongoing in every region in which we operate. We value stakeholder input in our coupe planning and are transitioning to a staged five-year coupe planning process from early formation of the coupe through to harvesting and regeneration. This staged approach provides an opportunity for enhanced stakeholder engagement in early coupe development and planning.
While coupes on the amended TRP and TUP are at different stages of development, all feedback will be reviewed and assessed to be incorporated into coupe planning.
VicForests has recently introduced new adaptive harvesting and regeneration techniques that enhance biodiversity through the protection of high conservation values.
Our multifaceted coupe planning life cycle includes field assessments that identify high conservation values including forest biodiversity, social, historical and cultural values and soil and water resources.
Consultation on the amended TRP and TUP is due by Thursday 12 December. For further information on the open day email email@example.com.
Hard Work Pays Off with Responsible Wood Audit
VicForests successfully completed the Responsible Wood audit in August, reflecting the organisation’s hard work in protecting forest values.
Responsible Wood certifies best practice in sustainable forest management, demonstrating we effectively manage the impact of our work on the forest environment and understand and meet our regulatory and legal requirements.
During the week-long audit in East Gippsland operations documents were reviewed and staff and contractors were interviewed to determine their depth of understanding in meeting compliance obligations.
The auditor noted the work done by staff over the past nine months to develop our adaptive forest management techniques. The Australian and New Zealand forestry standard accreditation provides international endorsement of our work as it is recognised by PEFC, the world’s largest forest certification scheme.
The audit was the first nine monthly ‘surveillance audit’ following a full Responsible Wood audit in November 2018, held every three years. It closed out a previous minor non-conformance with the development of a log weight calculation to mitigate the risk of log truck being overloaded.
VicForests foresters have again stepped in to help Worawa Aboriginal College by providing large strips of bark for indigenous shelters.
Worawa College is a holistic high school in Healesville for Aboriginal girls. The bark pieces, up to six-feet long, were used to make the walls of mia-mias, traditional shelters constructed along an indigenous ‘dreaming trail’, which forms part of the school.
VicForests has delivered bark for the mia-mias a number of times. Contractor Brad Meyer and VicForests Senior Forester Harvesting, North East Region, Jarrod Logue were responsible for fulfilling the recent request, which involved setting aside a portion of harvested timber then carefully stripping and storing about 80 pieces of bark. Jarrod then delivered the bark to the College.
Behind the scenes additional work was also needed to secure permission from the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning (DELWP) for bark removal.
New App Tracks Habitat Trees
Conservation features such as the density, distribution and type of habitat trees are now being digitally recorded, supporting VicForests’ commitment to harvesting transparency.
A new app “Tree Collector” is being rolled out across Victoria to help foresters and planners create more detailed inventories of habitat trees within pre-harvest coupes. This will assist our new adaptive silvicultural system that aims to increase the retention of habitat trees within the net harvest area of coupes.
The app is a purpose-built system customised by our staff including Dr Liz Pryde, VicForests Biodiversity Research Scientist, who has spearheaded the project. It was trialed for eight months and officially adopted into our planning processes from July.
Specifically, Tree Collector enables foresters to more systematically plot and classify habitat trees throughout a coupe by recording key markers such as the shape of the crown, girth size, and the appearance and type of hollows. While habitat trees have previously been carefully identified within coupes there was no central system to record the features of these trees, complicating the process of planning and external assessment.
Foresters survey 30-metre radius plots and plug the information for each plot into handheld devices that map and store the data. At the same time data is collected on timber resources and the type of forest within the coupe.
These records will be kept and maintained, helping inform all current and future coupe harvest plans.
The data also gives a valuable new baseline for ongoing monitoring of High Conservation Values (HCVs) in a post-harvest coupe. Because information from Tree Collector creates a firmer picture of HCVs within a coupe this can help ensure ongoing coupe management is effectively assessed and adjusted.
More than 8,000 habitat trees have so far been classified within coupes across Victoria.
Around 250,000 Eucalyptus blue gum seedlings have been planted in the Gippsland region with VicForests working with State Government departments to select and establish the sites.
The seedlings were planted on former pine plantation sites near Morwell in the Latrobe Valley and will be grown on a short rotation (10-15 years) to supply wood fibre for paper making. They are the State’s first move back into commercial plantations for more than 20 years.
VicForests worked through complex leasing arrangements, with various government agencies involved in the planning, procurement of services and overseeing silvicultural operations. The period from initial planning to land preparation to final planting took about four months. To date 250 hectares have been planted with blue gum, with roughly 1,000 trees per hectare”.
The plantings are the first in a tranche of plantations that will cover about 550 hectares in the Latrobe Valley, part of the Victorian Government’s $110 million investment in plantation timber.
As well as applying industry best practice to the process, VicForests also drew upon the plantations experience held by many of our staff. Sites were selected to be within a 50-kilometre radius of the Maryvale Mill, which produces paper for Australian Paper, the country’s leading supplier of office paper products. This means transport of timber is likely to remain within the local area while also supporting the local economy.
Live Mapping Enhances Coupe Planning
Live mapping has been introduced to VicForests’ coupe planning. The technology will help us further protect habitat values by giving real-time navigational support to contractors working in the field.
Electronic tablets fitted with a GPS and sophisticated mapping software are being installed in all harvesting machines used by VicForests.
Rather than relying on paper maps our timber harvesting contractors now see themselves as a moving dot on the tablet screen. This shows them exactly where they are relative to the coupe’s internal and external boundaries, making it easier to comply with conservation requirements.
The new tool is part of VicForests’ broader work to attain the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) Controlled Wood standard, which is currently being sought. The tablets deepen our understanding of forest composition, which has in turn informed more complex coupe planning. By placing live maps within the cabins of around 40 harvesters VicForests planners can clearly and easily translate the details of coupe plans directly to our contractors.
Naturally, this should enhance accuracy, both in identifying coupe boundaries and conserving specific trees.
Scott Arnold, VicForests’ Resource Analyst, has helped lead the initiative, which he began planning about five years ago. He notes that while blue tape is still used to physically lay out the edges of a coupe, the tablets give contractors added security in seeing those edges.
Also, within the coupe, the tablets not only let VicForests planners precisely show the location of certain trees, but they also allow contractors to accurately measure tree spacing. This has a bearing on possums such as the Greater Glider, which relies on tree ‘connectivity’ to jump from one tree to the next.
Another plus is the reduced time that both contractors and planners will need to spend within each coupe. Scott estimates that for VicForests planners this could mean up to four days less fieldwork as the tablets allow for running changes to coupe design. In turn this should further improve safety as fewer hours need to be spent on the ground in thick bush.