Responsible Wood is sharing the stories from those at the frontline, managing and preserving forests amidst the 2019-20 Australian bushfire season, Black Summer, the impact of those fires and the recovery efforts over recent months.
In the last of this three-part series, we look at the longer-term recovery efforts to salvage burnt timber resources, support local timber communities and rebuild the NSW forest estate.
The salvage state of play – early 2020
A few months into 2020, Forestry staff are tired, but grateful the last bushfire season is behind them and have started preparing for the next.
With around half of the native forest affected by bushfires, much work is happening to assess and make forests safe for reporting.
Forestry Corporation’s management of State forests is certified to Australian Standard for Sustainable Forest Management under the Responsible Wood Certification System.
The Responsible Wood Certification System sets criteria for forest management.
Key requirements of the standard includes the protection and maintenance of biodiversity in forests and the maintenance of the forest ecosystem health and vitality.
The Make Good, Make Safe program saw Forestry Corporation staff and agency partners work hard to prepare and reopen burnt forests across the state.
Australian native forests are very resilient to the impact of wildfires. Native flora in these forests have unique recovery strategies and the forests are already showing remarkable regeneration.
Parallel to this program, softwoods staff are addressing the damage done to the pine plantation estate.
The pine snapshot
Forestry Corporation manages more than 260,000 hectares of timber plantations around NSW, an area slightly larger than the ACT (235,000 ha).
Statewide, around 25 per cent of these plantations had been impacted by the 2019-20 bushfires.
Unlike many native species, radiata pine is not fire-tolerant and burnt trees must be salvaged and the areas replanted. The areas impacted ranged from newly-established plantations that were planted within the past 12 months, to mature 40-year-old trees ready for harvest.
Salvage harvesting logistics
While pine plantations around NSW have been impacted by fire, the fire-affected trees are not lost.
Forestry Corporation of NSW’s Regional Manager Dean Anderson said the fire-affected timber has the same structural properties as unburnt timber, so it can be harvested and processed into house frames, furniture and other essential renewable wood products.
“Last season’s fires impacted around a quarter of our pine plantation estate and, although these plantations have been affected by fire, they are certainly not lost,” Mr Anderson said.
“After a fire, we have up to 12 months to salvage the timber while it is still in good condition, before it starts to deteriorate.
“As at August, we are now well underway harvesting timber from fire-affected plantations and working at over double the normal rate to deliver this resource to processors and manufacturers and ultimately the community as finished products.”
The organisation is working with local mills to help ensure timber is available for the NSW community to rebuild after the fires and that the local timber industry has supply into the future.
Due to the ramped-up harvesting reschedule, some timber that cannot be processed locally will also be exported. Finding a suitable use for as much of the burnt timber as possible, in a relatively short timeframe is the name of the game.
This will offset some of the cost of operations required to remove trees from fire-affected forests and prepare sites for replanting.
Planning for replanting
With recovery harvesting in full swing, the 2020 replanting program is an important step in rebuilding the NSW plantation estate.
Forestry Corporation of NSW’s Silviculture manager, Roger Davies, said this year’s planting program is replacing areas both harvested in previous years and those affected by bushfires.
“The logistics for re-planting are enormous,” Mr Davies said.
“Across the whole state we are planting over nine million radiata pine seedlings.
“While the 2020 planting season has replaced forests harvested in previous years, it is also replanting into burnt forests – up to two-thirds of the planting program in some areas.”
The planting program makes an important contribution to the recovery of burnt forests and communities.
“While we were happy to put the bushfire season behind us, a lot of work followed to lay the foundations for the ongoing bushfire recovery and rebuilding the plantations,” Mr Davies said.
“The economic benefit from site preparation and planting crews will be an important boost to community recovery.
“We also work with a range of local businesses and industry who support the planting season.”
Add COVID-19 complexity
Emerging with this work was the COVID-19 pandemic, which saw the organisation and its contractors implement a range of COVID-19 safety measures in the 2020 forest planting season.
Forestry Corporation worked closely with planting crews to make sure measures were in place to meet government COVID-19 health guidelines and minimise the risk to workers and the community.
“Crews were either local or have been working regionally before the pandemic, however we put measures in place to limit contact between planters, crews and businesses who support the planting program,” Mr Anderson said.
“We are taking the risk of COVID-19 seriously and pleased to see the 2020 planting season support the recovery process.”
Marking loss with the community
The bushfire season affected not only Forestry Corporation staff, but also the many forest visitors who use the NSW forest estate.
The loss of one site in particular was felt by the organisation and the wider community. The iconic Sugar Pine Walk was one of the most striking spots in the State forest estate, with majestic pine trees nearly a century old. The Sugar Pine Walk was heavily burnt and sadly could not be saved.
“The Sugar Pine Walk was a special place for many of us and one of the region’s striking tourist attractions; some of our staff were even married there,” Mr Anderson said.
“To mark its passing, we launched a photo competition to give people a way to collectively share memories of the site.
“We were overwhelmed by the response and the stories people shared with us.
“I feel this was an important exercise in the recovery process and marking this loss.”
While the former site is now removed, a replacement walk is in the pipeline for future generations to enjoy.
“Seeds and seedlings from the current site have been collected for propagation and replanting,” Mr Anderson said.
“While it will take many decades to regrow, we are pleased to have started the process for future generations to experience.”
Bushfire season remains in focus
As the year moves into its later months, Forestry Corporation also ramps up preparations for the coming 2020-21 bushfire season, said Forestry Corporation’s Senior Manager of Forest Stewardship Kathy Lyons.
“While 2020 has been as busy a year as anyone can recall, our energy is still focused on what needs to happen for the fire season ahead,” Ms Lyons said.
“Our hazard reduction burning and trail maintenance programs continue in our cooler months.
“Likewise our teams are also running fire training and fitness tests, with new measures in place in response to COVID-19.”
“We need to be confident staff are ready to manage the firefront, so fitness tests, scenario-based exercises and a program of hazard reduction burning are essential.”
Working for the long-term
Forestry is a long-term industry and the industry is focused on replanting and regrowing forests so they continue producing renewable, sustainable timber products for the future.
These fires were large, their impact substantial and recovery is an ongoing challenge. However Forestry Corporation is committed to working with the local timber industry so Australian communities have a long-term timber supply into the future.
Forestry Corporation of NSW’s Grafton Nursery Manager Kath French said that much work is happening to set up a record 2021 planting season.
“Following last summer’s fires, we are preparing to double the nursery’s output next year to replant affected plantations,” Ms French said
“Forestry is a long term-industry and every time we sow a seed, we are planning more than 30 years into the future to provide an essential timber product for the next generation.”
Forestry Corporation is one of 28 forests certified under AS 4708 – Sustainable Forest Management. This standard is used by Australian forest growers to make Responsible Wood and PEFC claims on forest products. Underpinning certification is a long term commitment by forest growers to the management and rejuvenation of forests – but for present and long term use. In this series, Responsible Wood has explored the frontline, the work ahead and the recovery process. To find out more about the Responsible Wood Certification System and the Australian Standard for Sustainable Forest Management please visit the Responsible Wood website.
Photo credits courtesy of Forestry Corporation NSW.