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Education for sustainable timber mills

Education is key to ensuring timber resources last the distance, a sustainable timber mill operator says. Source: ABC News

Annabel Kater operates an Australian Forest Stewardship Council (FSC)-certified sustainable milling operation at Monkerai, north of Newcastle, with her husband James Felton-Taylor.

She said with timber resources being diminished in areas around the state, the broader logging industry should look to strategies such as education to help it manage in the long term.

Ms Kater and her husband started in the sustainable timber industry after being involved in the planting of trees across the Hunter region.

“We realised that the native forest just grew itself, and we were trying to design plantations more like native forests, and we thought, ‘Why not manage the native forests properly?'” Ms Kater said.

The couple started a small-scale FSC-certified mill.

“It’s a certification system for timber that verifies your methods of harvesting the forest and creating the timber products,” Ms Kater said. “FSC gives people the knowledge that it’s been sustainably produced.”

To maintain certification, Ms Kater said the FSC continually monitored the social, economic and environmental aspects of their operation, including meeting sustainable yield, habitat and environmental requirements.

A ‘chain of custody’ requirement also has to be met to maintain FSC certification, which shows that the sustainable timber has not been mixed up with other timber.

“We get external auditors come every year from Melbourne, and [they] come and check on our operations,” Ms Kater said.

“We have a lot of paperwork to get through to be certified.

“It’s the only certification system in Australia that really verifies it is sustainably produced, and thinking long term about the forest resource.”

The Kater family’s small operation is based on a 300ha parcel of land.

Tree species such as tallowwood, ironbark, white mahogany, spotted gum, and grey gums are grown and harvested.

“We’re basically thinning our re-growth forest, so it’s quite a young forest, and we’re thinning out the trees,” Ms Kater said.

“It’s grown up from land that was previously cleared, so it’s all one age class.

“We’re thinning out the ‘losers’ we tell the kids, and leaving the nice big tallowwoods to grow on.”

The harvested trees are then processed at their mill.

“We call it a materials handling game; there’s a lot of stacking and racking,” Ms Kater said.

“We dry the timber in stacks with little stickers in between, so air can flow.

“We can kiln-dry it at the end just to take the last moisture out, and then we put it through a moulder to turn it into a product like decking or flooring.”

Parts of the Hunter Valley, particularly around the town of Dungog, were once thriving timber areas, but the local industry has shrunk over the decades.

Due to their sustainable certification, Ms Kater said her operation was separate to the main logging industry, and as such was less affected by the broader challenges facing the sector. But she said she was concerned about trends in the industry.

“Definitely the resource is running out, and there will be a crunch where timber is getting scarcer … I think it’s already happening,” she said.

“I think while we’ve got contractors doing the management of the forest, there’s not a lot of science going into the long-term management of the forest.

“Personally I think the main issue is high-grading — people picking out the best logs, the straightest logs, and the best species.

“Over time, you end up with a degraded forest that’s not really producing timber.

“It would be like letting somebody into your cattle yards and taking the best breeding cows and breaking the legs of the other ones, and expecting to have a really good-functioning beef operation.”

Ms Kater said further education could be a solution.

“I hope that people will start valuing timber and trees, and put more of a value on their resource and start managing it with a long-term outlook,” she said. “It’s fair to say that forestry in Australia is akin to mining and has been done poorly in the past, but I do think there is potential for it to be done well.

“It is a truly sustainable resource if it’s managed properly.”