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IFA and AFG merger to create a body with more punch

The Institute of Foresters of Australia has voted overwhelmingly to merge with Australian Forest Growers, creating a body with potentially more punch in the forest industry. More than 90% of IFA voters supported the merger, at an extraordinary general meeting last week. The AFG had already unanimously backed the merger. Source: Philip Hopkins for Timberbiz

A group of younger IFA members, Future Foresters Initiative (FFI), generally supported the merger proposal, maintaining that its views represented the next generation of IFA members, young professionals, students and emerging leaders in the forestry sector.

The IFA President, Bob Gordon, said the merger provided an exciting opportunity to raise the profile, enhance member value and advance the cause of sustainable professional forest management.

“Full implementation of the merger will take several months,” he said in the IFA Weekly News Bulletin.

Likely advantages included more members in regional areas, with more field trips and opportunities to discuss forestry matters.

The new merged group could also possibly influence public debate by having more members, greater financial power and a wider range of membership.

Several IFA members, however, pointed to different interests of the IFA and the AFG, and questioned how they could be reconciled.

They said the AFG mainly included people and companies who were essentially land owners whose interest is confined to timber production on private property.

“It is understood their field days and meetings have centred on this function rather than the full range of forest values, such as recreation, biodiversity, and water catchments that are the focus of many IFA members,” said one senior IFA member.

However, the FFI argued that a broader membership with new priorities was exactly what the IFA needed to remain a relevant organisation for foresters in the future.

“The Institute’s long-term survival depends on such an expansion and a re-definition of the IFA’s purpose and goals,” the FFI said in a submission on the merger.

“Increasing membership by being more inclusive of those who come into the industry through non-traditional pathways is crucial to the future of the IFA.”

However, the FFI acknowledged that changes needed to be managed carefully. “Membership categories in particular have the potential to generate friction within the IFA, and we recommend that a full review of the categories be completed as a priority once the merger is complete,” the FFI said.

Some IFA members argued that the process had been rushed and that IFA members had not had enough time to digest the implications.

After the vote, Mr Gordon said many issues raised by members would be debated as the merger was implemented.

These include:

  • Will AFG branches exist in the ‘new’ IFA?
  • Will they merge with IFA branches?
  • Will former AFG members be able to join existing IFA State committees if they don’t meet the IFA criteria, given that most AFG members would not meet the requirements to be a full member of the IFA?
  • The need for a national recruitment drive.
  • Membership categories, the apparent subsidisation by IFA members, and problems with the constitution and lack of operating guidelines.

Two retiring IFA Board members would be replaced by AFG members, Mr Gordon said, but the FFI argued that the new IFA Board needed representation from the next generation of foresters and IFA members. ‘The FFI requests that the new Board address this issue as a priority,” the FFI said.

The new body will retain the IFA name, and current AFG members will be transferred to the IFA.