The excitement of a record 475 delegates at the ANZIF conference on the Gold Coast this week who jubilantly embraced the theme ‘Our Natural Capital: The Art of Managing Forests’, was tempered by unresolved issues surrounding Victoria’s impending closure of native timber harvesting in 2024.
Speaking to Wood Central this morning, conference chair Dr Michelle Freeman, who is Forestry Australia president, said foresters and other stakeholders were still unsure about many aspects of the decision and remained deeply worried for the sector.
“We are closely monitoring the fallout of the shock acceleration of the original plan announced by the Andrew’s government in 2019, which promised phasing out harvesting by 2030,” Dr Freeman said.
“We are constantly talking with key figures in the Department of Environment who have assured us that Forestry Australia will be front and centre at the table on all future land management decisions.
“The closure has been made without any clear alternate strategies or funding for actively managing and monitoring native forestry. Passive approaches will risk our forests at a time when their key threats – bushfires, invasive species and climate change – are still increasing.
“Frankly, the government is all over the place on this. VicForests is scrambling for a way, a survival, out of what will become a shuttered industry, one it has relied on for many, many years as a fountainhead of sustainability and dedicated service.”
Officers from the Victorian Department of Environment and VicForests networked closely with foresters throughout the conference and were strongly represented.
Dr Freeman said Forestry Australia was “pushing strongly” for the department to recognise and not overlook the real value and rare skills set of foresters.
“There are still too many unresolved decisions about the future shape and fate of the state-owned VicForests and what it will become and how its staff may be involved in any future land management programs,” she said.
“It’s still very much a waiting game.”
Turning to a more positive note, Dr Freeman said the 30th ANZIF (Forestry Australia and the New Zealand Institute of Forestry) conference from October 15-18 brought the “biggest mix ever” of delegates … a wonderful hybridisation of ideas and direction.
The support from the agricultural sector was also most noticeable, with farmers and associated stakeholders taking a big slice of attendance numbers.
This year, in particular, farmer delegates expressed the growing interest among rural communities in sharing crops, cattle and trees in responsible agro-sylviculture land use management systems.”
Dr Freeman said Forestry Australia was winning increased membership; it had risen by more than 20% in the last four years.
“New members are joining all the time, reflecting the growing real need for the forest sector and Forestry Australia to engage and connect with broader issues.”
The conference today saw the largest-ever cohort of forestry experts awarded prestigious Forestry Australia Fellow status at a special ceremony.
Forestry Australia CEO Jacquie Martin said the merit awards committee was thrilled with the calibre of forest sector leaders nominated for the award.
This year, the committee voted to select a record number of Fellows, with nine outstanding individuals to receive the honour.
“This record number of recipients is a sign of the growing strength of Australia’s sustainable forestry sector and the incredible forest scientists, managers and growers involved,” Jacquie Martin said.
The nine new Fellows join a list of only 49 living Fellows and follow in the footsteps of only 84 recipients in just over 50 years. The 2023 Forestry Australia Fellows are Bob Gordon, Tas; Dr Kevin Harding, Qld; Dr Lachie McCaw, WA; Dr Michelle Freeman, Vic’ Dr Stuart Davey, ACT; Ruth Ryan, Vic; Penny Wells, Tas; and Peter Fagg, Vic.