Timber salvage nears end

Forestry Corp is preparing for a ‘significant’ decrease in the volume of timber it can supply to AKD and Hyne timber mills, starting July 1.

Forestry Corp Regional Manager Dean Anderson said the salvage operations have been going well – better than expected – but more than half the area burnt in 2019/20 will have to be destroyed, because the trees were simply too young to produce usable timber.

“We’ve managed to harvest everything that was more than 24 [years old]. The importance of the 24 is that it’s an age where you’re more confident about saw log quality.”

Mr Anderson said Forestry Corp has been able to keep the mills running at 100 per cent capacity so far, and they’ve almost finished harvesting the areas of timber that were older than 19 years.

Younger timber and steeper slopes will have to be tackled with different machinery, with the younger areas essentially bulldozed and razed to make way for new plantings.

“We’ve gone a lot longer than we expected,” said Mr Anderson.

“Past experience has been that nine months [of timber recovery] is expected, 12 months is good.

“We’ve been going for 14 months, so it’s been a really fantastic cooperation between the saw mills, the contractors, the truck hauliers and the people working in the bush. We’ve been very lucky with the weather.”

Last year’s mild winter meant the trees were less susceptible to fungal growth, and the excellent growing season which followed saw a 99.3 per cent survival rate across the 4500 hectares of new plantings.

Mr Anderson said Forestry Corp has upscaled its planting projections for the next season from 6000 hectares to more than 6500 hectares, thanks to the survival rate and the abundance of good seedlings coming out of the nursery.

A spanner was temporarily thrown into the salvage works when China put a ban on receiving Australian logs. The Asian market had been taking some of the younger timber, using it for construction formwork, which didn’t require the strength of mature trees.

Partway into the operation, Chinese officials said they found live bugs inside containers of logs from Australia which had been fumigated. Mr Anderson said the officials weren’t pleased with the response they received from the Australian government and declined any further shipments.

“There was a mad scramble to find alternatives,” said Mr Anderson, but the issue was eventually resolved with countries such as Vietnam and India taking the exports.

With the burnt timber harvest expected to taper off starting this July, Mr Anderson said Forestry Corp would likely have to let go of close to 40 contractors (which is roughly half that workforce, and virtually all permanent, local residents). He promised Forestry Corp would honour its existing contracts and said the corporation’s permanent staff aren’t expected to be impacted.

“Come first of July, there will be a major reduction in the volume [of logs],” said Mr Anderson.

“We’ve been working closely with the sawmills. There will be no change to what we supply to Visy, just due to the age profile of what was affected by the fire. 

“There will be a significant reduction to the sawmills – AKD and Hyne.”

As they start back into the green forested areas, Forestry Corp is working with the mills to finalise volume agreements, and Mr Anderson said they would include a set timeframe, so the mills have certainty regarding levels of supply over the months and years to come.

“It will be 30 years before we’re like 2018/19 again,” he said. 

“That’s when these trees we’re planting will be 30 [years old], but we will hopefully start to see a lift [in volume] from about 15 years, because of replanting after the Billo fire.

“There will be a sustained period of lower volume.”

Mr Anderson said as the harvest returns to green forested areas, there’s a high likelihood that trucks will be returning to areas where they haven’t been seen in more than a year.

He asked for community awareness and continued caution on the roads.

“We really appreciate the community’s cooperation when we had the high truck numbers,” he said.

“You’re always concerned about safety when we’re mixing things up. 

“We just ask that people be vigilant. It’s nearly a year and a half where they haven’t seen trucks in certain areas and now they’ll be reappearing.”

The salvage operation received the equivalent of roughly 270 B-Double truckloads of timber every working day from fire-affected areas over the past year – a total of 60,000 B-double trucks over the year, or 2.7 million tonnes of timber.

In total the Dunns Road fire affected more than 45,000 hectares of softwood timber plantations around Tumut and Tumbarumba – an area one and a half times the size of the ACT. 

Mr Anderson promised that the contracts for the continuing work have all been awarded to local companies who have already been operating in the area.

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