Federal funding worth $20 million for forestry hubs and a re-booted plantation industry, outlined in a report released last week, have been cautiously welcomed by commercial timber contractors, with a warning that what has happened before in this disputed space may take place again.
In the wake of last week’s Australia's State of the Forests Report, re-published and updated every five years, has been renewed support for an Australian timber industry to offset some of the lack of supply ahead of a predicted quadrupling of demand by 2050.
To this end there will be the creation of forestry hubs in nine locations across Australia along with support for the greater establishment of on-farm forestry.
“We’ve seen this before,” warned North Coast based timber contractor Matt Wojcicki, at Urbenville on the Queenslkand border. “We’ve seen joint venture operations come in and spend money to establish timber plantations but when it comes to the crunch it’s always the same story.”
Mr Wojcicki manages timber harvesting in both native and plantation forestry and said the key to creating commercial pole and sawlog production was the requirement to thin poor stems seven or eight years after planting.
“We’ve seen Forestry Corp hand back plantations seven years after establishing them on private land because there was no money in it and now there is money and they are kicking themselves,” he said. “It’s always the same story. We can’t help thinking this is too little too late.”
When it comes to native forestry both Mr Wojcicki and Wauchope-based contractor Steve Jobyns say there is no greater place for environmental diversity than in wild-managed forests when compared to monoculture plantations. Not only do animals thrive, so do the trees with a mix of species responding better under the pressure of natural competition.
However, there remains a need to thin out the forest to about 150 stems a hectare after year seven and again before harvest so that remaining trees can “kick into gear” and grow, tall and straight, capturing carbon more efficiently than if they were squeezed by their neighbours.
To make thinning of young forests viable they advocate the creation of a thinnings market, of which there is little.
Mr Jobyns said products like WeatherTex, voted the most trusted brand for its sustainability, and its older version Masonite, are created from wood pulp, with mostly natural lignin holding the material together,
Otherwise there is a slim export market for thinned timber, processed into chips and shipped out of Brisbane or Newcastle to China for paper.
Both contractors fear a Labor/ Greens government post-election that could move to establish a 300,000ha “koala Park” in prime timber country west of Coffs Harbour, saying appropriately managed native forestry can provide both environmental outcomes and required timber, without having to import product from poorly managed overseas countries.
Mr Jobyns said he was in support of a proposal by the Department of Primary Industries to create pellet making factories at Grafton, Wauchope or Buladelah where thinned wood waste could be turned into easy-burning product for biomass-fueled power generators.