On 3 February 2017 Norske Skog’s Forest Certification Coordinator Michael Schofield took me on a field trip to two sites on the company’s forest estate in the Derwent Valley, one near Lake Repulse and the other next to the Tyenna River near Maydena. Although fairly informal, this was part of the company’s annual Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) stakeholder consultation. Norske received FSC certification in 2011.
Reestablishment of forests
The photo below shows an example of a Class 4 (small) stream that had until recently, been covered in Pinus radiata for more than 30 years (note the stumps in the middle of the photo). A few years ago the mature pines were harvested and native forest re-established on an area 10m either side of the stream. The same is being done with harvesting around all streams on land under Norske Skog’s management control leading into Repulse Dam (seen in the background of the photo) and around the lake edge, and at many other older plantations sites. In the past five years restoration of native forest has been attempted on a total of 280 hectares of plantations, mainly along streams. About 140ha has been successful.
These plantations were established prior to the introduction of the Forest Practices Code. With a plantation that was established pre-code, such as the one featured above, the code allows trees to be harvested up to a Class 4 stream but any trees re-established within 10m of the stream may not be harvested in the future. While this requirement has led many plantation owners to abandon this stream buffer, letting it be taken over by wildlings, Norske Skog has attempted to restore these streams to native forest. It is spending money to establish forests it cannot harvest because there is an environmental benefit. Re-establishing native forest is particularly important where there is a distinct steep stream channel, to lessen erosion risk.
The Code only requires forest managers to achieve vegetation cover either side of stream, but Norske Skog has demonstrated commitment to ensure that revegetation is successful and there is sufficient diversity. It has had to do this in many difficult sites, e.g. where there are poor soils, heavy browsing and high pine reinvasion. Some sites have been severely browsed by wallabies and the company has even resorted to planting seedlings and protecting them with guards.
In some cases Norske Skog is re-establishing stream buffer vegetation to 30m, going beyond what the Code requires where there are higher environment risks. Around Lake Repulse native forest was re-established to a distance of 40m from the lake edge.
Norske Skog is also looking at establishing monitoring programs to measure the success of the regeneration and find out which fauna species have used the area.
There are very few demonstrated examples of the benefits of FSC certification for forest management. I have encouraged Norske Skog to publicise this work, with a focus on how the FSC process has led the company to go beyond the Code requirements.
Funding conservation work
The TCT has advised Norske Skog that it supports it and other like-minded companies obtaining financial and other support, from government and other sources, for conserving forests on their own land. This would include covering some of the costs of returning plantations back to native forest and the ongoing management and monitoring of these areas, where it involves going beyond the minimum legal obligations. It would also apply to the management of areas of reserved native forests.
The state and federal governments are not supportive of incentive programs, but perhaps requests from companies such as Norske Skog will change their policy.
Norske Skog’s forest harvesting contractor gave an impressive demonstration of the Tiger Cat machine harvesting pine trees. This is essentially an excavator with a tailor-made gripping arm that holds a tree while a solid steel blade (more than 1m across) cuts the tree. The arm can control the fall of a medium-sized tree to ensure it is not damaged on impact with the ground.
The Tiger Cat provides enormous productivity and safety benefits. It also allowed the operator to fell trees right on the bank of the Tyenna River without sitting the large machine on the river bank.
Cording (laying of small trees and branches on the ground) was extensively used in this coupe to cover small creek crossings and low-lying, high-use areas. Cording cushions the impact of machinery and slows water flow. The area covered in this coupe was quite significant and would have taken some time and effort, so the benefits come at significant cost.
Just as important but less obvious was the care operators took with where they drove their vehicles and where trees were stockpiled, greatly limiting the area of ground that was churned up and turned to mud.
Norske Skog is planning the re-establishment of the plantation that I visited. This included negotiating with local residents to set the plantation back a little further from their house to provide more sunlight.
Planned harvesting of native forests
For many years Norske Skog has been a plantation-based company but has recently recommenced limited harvesting of native forest outside its formal and informal reserves. I understand that it is committed to retaining its long-held policy of not logging oldgrowth forest and the TCT has asked for the company to confirm this. How it defines ‘oldgrowth’ will be an important consideration.
Norske Skog is constructing a large-scale trial plant to produce a biological solvent, Cyrene, from pine sawdust. This product has the potential to replace fossil fuel-based solvents.
During the field trip we saw hundreds of tonnes of waste logs in a single pine coup. Not good enough to be used in the paper mill or as saw logs, they were windrowed ready for burning. The forest industry generally is investigating the potential to use this type of waste for biomass, possibly to be processed into fuel pellets. As well as generating income, utilising this ‘waste’ will mean the coupes do not need to be burnt which will reduce the risks and costs.
The company advises that all products made from waste wood or sawdust would need to be verified through the company's FSC chain of custody system to prove to buyers and stakeholders that it was using true waste products.
Article by Peter McGlone - TCT Director