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Australian academics join an elite group

TWO AUSTRALIAN forestry academics have joined an elite band of people who will receive prestigious International Union of Forest Research Organisations (IUFRO) Scientific Achievement Awards in recognition of their scientific achievements in forestry research.
Dr Michael Battaglia and Professor Jerry Vanclay are among a handful of people from throughout the world to receive the coveted awards which are only made every five years. The awards consist of a medallion, certificate and the cost of air travel to attend the XXIII IUFRO World Congress from 23 to 28 August in Seoul, South Korea, at which the awards will be presented.
“It’s wonderful to see Australian researchers, especially those so closely associated with the CRC, represented so strongly in this international group,” said Gordon Duff, chief executive officer of CRC Forestry.
“Mike is Theme Leader for ‘Sustaining Australia’s Forest Ecosystem Resources’ at the CSIRO Sustainable Ecosystems in Hobart, and was previously the program manager of the CRC for Forestry’s Research Program One ‘Managing and monitoring for growth and health’, and remains highly involved with this research program,” said Gordon.
“Jerry is Professor for Sustainable Forestry and Head of the School of Environmental Science and Management at Southern Cross University. He is a key contributor to the CRC’s ‘Communities’ project (within Research Program Four ‘Trees in the landscape’), as well as serving on the program coordinating committees for Program One ‘Managing and monitoring for growth and health’ and Program Three ‘Harvesting and operations’,” he added.
Dr Battaglia’s areas of special knowledge include whole tree physiology; gas exchange measurement; field ecology; process-based modelling of forest function; and decision support systems.
His work focuses on using his expert knowledge to develop quantitative hypotheses and predictive process-based models.
Dr Battaglia worked as a Senior Principal Research Scientist, CSIRO Forest Biosciences from 1995, moving to CSIRO Sustainable Ecosystems in 2008.
Prior to working with CSIRO, he was:
• Australian Research Council Postdoctoral Research Fellow, 1994-95
• Postdoctoral Research Fellow, 1994-95
• Forester, Forest Commission Tasmania, 1987-92
• Assistant Protection Officer, World Heritage Area, Department of Parks, Wildlife and Heritage, 1986-87
• Forester, Forest Commission, Tasmania, 1985-86.
Professor Vanclay said that what most engaged him about forestry research was the richness and complexity of the challenges.
“We cannot make a tree grow, or make a community use resources wisely, so improvements depend on understanding the many interacting aspects and encouraging players in subtle ways,” he said.
“We do use lots of technology in forestry, but it is not as straightforward as using a bigger telescope or a larger electron-positron collider. Forestry is a subtle business, and we foresters encourage trees to grow, encourage communities to use trees wisely, and lobby Governments for practical policies.
“My initial work in forestry in Queensland was relatively easy, because it dealt with the trees in affluent societies where few people depended on forests. Later, I worked in the tropics, in situations where the industrial timber harvest impacted on Indigenous communities that depended on the forest for bush meat, for traditional medicines, and for many other uses.
“Over the years, I’ve come to agree with a great forester, Jack Westoby, who wrote that ‘Forestry is not about trees, it is about people. And it is about trees only insofar as trees can serve the needs of people’. And this applies not only abroad, but in Australia too. The current debate about investment plantations, and about the red gum forests, is just as much about people and rural communities, as it is about the trees (and the birds and bees).”
He believes there are several major forestry issues currently facing the planet.
“Some symptoms are the MIS (managed investment scheme) plantations and the failure of plantation forestry companies; the debate about plantations versus water use; about using food crops for biofuels (yes, that’s forestry, because one productive option is to grow eucalypts for energy); about carbon sequestration in tree plantations; about national parks versus harvesting of native forest; and about the management of the red gum forests (in the media recently),” he said.
“But these are all symptoms of the real problem. The underlying issue is how society understands natural ecosystems and understands the whole-of-system impacts of our resource use.
“Wood is the most environmentally friendly building material, and natural regeneration is the most environmentally friendly production system, but many people object to native forest harvesting and happily use inferior imports or non-renewable substitutes, because they have not fully considered the whole-of-system consequences.
“One of the challenges of forestry is to get people to see the big picture: we rejoice in babies and dismiss the messy childbirth, we admire the Sydney Opera House and overlook the long and messy construction period, but few other than foresters can see through the harvest residue to see the new opportunity for forest regrowth. That’s where the big challenge lies.”