VicForests staff are busy reviewing our harvesting plans following the release of the Victorian Government’s amended timber Allocation Order and our amended Timber Release Plan. Progress on these matters is welcome and critical in maintaining continuity of timber supply to our customers across regional Victoria.
VicForests has also commenced work on the Victorian Government’s plantation project with site preparation works commencing on three sites in the Latrobe Valley. We look forward to working with key stakeholders in the successful delivery of the plantation project.
During summer and autumn months we continued to work with Forest Fire Management Victoria to fight forest fires across the state with our staff and contractors playing a critical role protecting Melbourne’s water supply. Contractors operated bulldozers to construct control lines during major fires around Melbourne’s water catchments and staff removed dangerous trees after fires.
We have also continued our work in preparation for our Forest Stewardship Council® (FSC®) controlled wood audit planned for later this year. The organisation has developed apps to support data collection, with identification and location of high conservation values, and continues to engage extensively with stakeholders on the development of key guiding documents.
This month we began second round stakeholder feedback on our Harvesting and Regeneration and High Conservation Value management documents and our goal is to produce our next version of these documents in July.
With the week-long FSC® audit scheduled for the beginning of November I look forward to continuing to build our systems and capability to achieve FSC® certification.
Amended Timber Allocation Order Provides Industry and Job Certainty
The Victorian Government’s approval of the amended timber Allocation Order in April provides VicForests scope to plan timber harvesting operations over the next year.
It secures the supply of timber enabling VicForests to honor all its supply commitments and provide certainty to timber mills and 2,500 forestry workers. The updated Allocation Order supports harvesting in General and Special Management Zones. It reduces the area allocated for harvesting by excluding amended Special Protection Zones such as new Leadbeater’s possum colony reserves. The Order enabled VicForests to approve its amended timber release plan developed over the past two years.
VicForests CEO, Nathan Trushell, said the Allocation Order and Timber Release Plan amendments are vital components of VicForests’ planning and operations and balance the requirements of the timber industry with community expectations,” he said.
“The amendments create greater industry certainty and importantly, will ensure that we can meet our contractual obligations.”
Interactive maps on our website indicate the areas of operation and coupes currently approved under the Timber Release Plan. A guide to the maps is also available.
VicForests Diversifying into Plantations
VicForests is on track to establish approximately 230 ha of hardwood plantation this winter following State Government approval of more than 500,000 blue gums to be planted over the next two years.
VicForests CEO, Nathan Trushell said the new Latrobe Valley plantations were a strong vote of confidence from the Government in our management of Victoria’s state forests and timber reserves.
Owen Trumper, VicForests General Manager of Operations, said the plantations reflected an evolution of our business by branching into a different area of forestry.
“We are starting small but there’s no reason why down the track, plantations couldn’t become a big part of our operations,” Owen said.
“It’s fantastic that we are growing plantations again to diversify our operations in the first State commercial plantation initiative following an absence of more than 20 years.”
A plantation tree of choice, blue gums are fast growing and ideal for local paper production.
This winter’s plantation seedlings are sourced from Somerset, Tasmania and next year’s plantings will be obtained from various nurseries including those in Victoria, Tasmanian and New South Wales.
Mr Trushell the new plantations program would allow VicForests to diversify its business.
“It’s a really exciting opportunity for the future of VicForests and one we are determined to grasp with both hands.”
Project Update: FSC® Certification for Controlled Wood
The second round of stakeholder engagement of VicForests Harvesting and Regeneration, and High Conservation Value management documents begins this month. VicForests has reviewed and taken on board the feedback from 16 stakeholder entities with over 260 combined comments during the first round of engagement.
The draft documents reflect a significant change in our approach to forest management practices and are integral to VicForests attaining Forest Stewardship Council® (FSC®) certification for controlled wood by 2020. VicForests is delighted with the high level of sector-wide engagement and is keen to seek second round input over the coming weeks.
From July 2019 when the new guidelines are implemented, the management of coupes will reflect FSC® standards. The guidelines detail comprehensive enhancements to management, harvesting and regeneration methods. VicForests will have a critical role in assessing High Conservation Values in forests and stakeholders will be consulted in this process.
Harvest and regeneration practices will be modified with a significant reduction in clearfell harvest across the landscape and reduced reliance on high intensity regeneration burning. Detailed assessment of coupes will be undertaken to identify habitat trees and other high conservation values. VicForests has developed an app to support pre-harvest data collection and a post-harvest monitoring program that aligns with forest certification systems.
Contractors will be briefed on our new guidelines and we will work with them to adapt to our new standards. Stakeholder engagement will be enhanced with interested parties having more opportunities to have input and influence over forest management practices.
To date VicForests has engaged with 140 stakeholders on its FSC® plans, including 21 face-to-face stakeholder briefings since mid-February with non-government organisations, the timber industry, community groups, customers and contractors. This engagement will continue throughout 2019.
VicForests CEO, Nathan Trushell, said work on the new guidelines and stakeholder engagement was part of a process of continuous improvement across the organisation to achieve FSC® certification and achieve better forest management.
Mr Trushell said the extensive feedback from community groups, the industry and many other organisations on the draft guidelines would help strengthen the processes for managing high conservation values within VicForests operations.
VicForests currently harvests less than 0.04 per cent of the total public native forest estate, with harvesting conducted in accordance with State regulations and industry standards.
The FSC® Controlled Wood Standard for Forest Management Enterprises is an international standard that allows forest management enterprises to provide evidence to a company or third-party certified body that the wood they supply has been controlled to avoid wood being harvested from unacceptable sources.
FSC® controlled wood is material from acceptable sources that can be mixed with FSC®-certified material in products that contain the FSC® Mix label.
Have Your Say on Regional Forest Agreements
Victoria’s five Regional Forest Agreements between the State and Commonwealth Governments are being modernised to reflect scientific and technological advancements in forestry practice in the past 20 years.
The Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning is seeking feedback on an agreement consultation paper via an online survey.
The current agreements for East Gippsland, Gippsland, Central Highlands, Western and North Eastern Victoria expire in March 2020. It provides a framework for the sustainable management and use of Victoria’s forests and the long-term stability of the forest industry.
The agreement certifies VicForests’ high quality management systems and exempts the requirement to also comply with the requirements of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act.
VicForests staff and timber harvesting contractors helped secure Melbourne’s water supply by playing a key role in fighting fires near the Thomson and Upper Yarra Reservoirs during the fire season.
VicForests Operations Safety Officer, Graeme Mitchell said our contractors used their machinery to construct control lines during major fires around Melbourne’s water catchments. Our staff and contractors then followed up this critical work removing hazardous trees making the area safe for further firefighting.
The busy fire season resulted in VicForests staff and contractors expanding their roles at Forest Fire Management Victoria providing high level support across the state. Our contractors were drawn away from harvesting using their expert skills in operating bulldozers, excavators, skidders and harvesters in steep and difficult terrain to support firefighting efforts.
Over half of VicForests staff and nearly all regional staff are trained in fighting fires and undertake a broad range of roles from Sector and Divisional Commander, Operations Officers, Plant Operations Managers, Situation Officers, Logistics Officers, Air Observer and Fire Behavior Analysts.
Our staff are highly regarded within Forest Fire Management Victoria for their high-level on the ground knowledge of the environment and forest fire management, Graeme said.
As VicForests moves away from clearfell harvesting it will trial the use of drones to ignite low intensity regeneration burns in coupes with habitat and biodiversity retention.
The drone is fitted with an incendiary machine known as a Red Dragon and is a smaller version of what is used on helicopters in Victoria for aerial incendiary work. Inside the machine are up to 150 incendiary capsules that ignite when dropped. VicForests Operations Safety Officer, Graeme Mitchell, said the use of drones offered a safer option for lighting burns in coupes with a higher retention of habitat trees which can pose additional hazards.
Regeneration burns can create increased winds exposing ground staff in coupes with a higher concentration of tree retention from aerial hazards such as dead or broken branches. Using drones reduces this exposure by reducing the number of people required on the ground during the burn.
This regeneration burning trial is a part of the Victorian Government’s Safer Together Program and is being undertaken in conjunction with the CFA and DELWP. The trial aims to assess the capabilities and effectiveness of drones across various forest types and planned burning techniques.