‘Damaged, but not destroyed’: Timber salvage underway

Blackened pine ready for haulage from the Greenhills State Forest.

The forestry industry has begun salvage operations in burnt softwood plantations, with most of the merchantable burnt timber expected to be recoverable over the coming year, according to Forestry Minister and Deputy Premier John Barilaro.

He visited Tumut last Friday to talk to forestry industry representatives and inspect the impact of the recent catastrophic bush fires.

“It is important to know that while the forestry industry has been damaged by the recent bushfires, it has not been destroyed, and the industry is confident it will recover over time,” Mr Barilaro said.

“Sadly around 50,000 hectares of the softwood plantations in the South West Slopes area have been impacted by the fires, but the good news is that most of the merchantable burnt timber is expected to be salvageable.

“Over the coming 12 months, these salvage operations will provide a boost to the region, as well as timber resources essential for rebuilding NSW’s houses and infrastructure.”

Salvageable pine trees need to be harvested within around 12 months, however finished product can be stored for years under the correct conditions.

Forestry Corporation’s Snowy Regional Manager Dean Anderson said the local forestry industry is looking at a busy 12 months ahead.

“We’ve found many of the burnt trees are moist underneath the bark, so will be salvageable,” Mr Anderson said.

“In fact, when I started my forestry career in 1988, we were using the last of the logs salvaged from the 1983 Ash Wednesday bushfires in South Australia.”

Mr Barilaro said forestry is a long term sustainable industry and the recovery operation will also focus on replanting.

“Not only will the industry continue to grow, but there are job opportunities in these recovery efforts,” Mr Barilaro said.

“The industry is already looking 20 to 30 years into the future to maintain supply of essential timber products.”

The forestry sector contributes to just under $2 billion of economic activity and supports nearly 5000 jobs in the Tumut and Tumbarumba regions.

While the industry estimates about 1930 jobs and up to $800 million in economic activity is at risk following the fires, Softwoods Working Group chairman and timber industry veteran Peter Crowe is optimistic that won’t be the case.

“There may need to be a reconfiguration of the industry, but that doesn’t necessarily mean there’ll be job losses,” he said.

“Priority 1 is the salvage operation,  then we need to get the nurseries cranked up and start replanting.”

The Softwoods Working Group says it’s critical government commits to restablishing the plantation, with a need to replace about 35,000 hectares of public forest and another 10,000 hectares of private forest. That could cost about $200m.

It’s likely the maximum amount of sawmilling capacity will be employed to mill the burn logs in the shortest possible time, meaning the sawmill at Oberon will likely come into play.

That will increase truck movements, so too any moves to import fibre, should that be necessary.

Forestry Corporation has lost about 35,000 hectares around Tumut, or 35 per cent of the estate, while there’s been about 10,000 hectares or private plantation lost.

Bombala has also lost about 6,300 hectares of state forests in that area (20 per cent of its estate) and there’s also been about 6000 hectares of private pine lost in north-east Victoria.

While the immediate salvage operation will keep the industry busy, it’s what happens after that one-two year period that concerns the industry.