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Salvage report on Black Summer fires reveals effective collaboration


Effective collaboration across the timber industry and learning the lessons from past fire salvage efforts have been highlighted as key factors underpinning the success of the record salvage program in the Tumut and Tumbarumba regions following the Black Summer fires in a report commissioned by Forestry Corporation of NSW. Source: Timberbiz

Forestry Corporation’s Sales and Procurement Manager Peter Stiles said the report summarised the challenges, successes and lessons from the timber salvage program and was being shared with the industry to inform future fire recovery.

“The Black Summer fires were devastating for the local community and the region’s softwood timber industry was severely impacted, with about 50 per cent of the pine plantations in the south west slopes burnt,” Mr Stiles said.

“Unlike many native species, pine trees die when they are burnt, but the industry was able to mobilise quickly and in numbers against the backdrop of the emerging COVID-19 pandemic to salvage a remarkable 2.7 million tonnes of timber in the two years following the fire.

“This was the biggest ever salvage effort in this country’s history and there is a lot to be proud of in what the industry achieved. The salvage program kept the lights on for our local processors immediately following the fires and created a boom in harvest and haulage work across the region, but importantly, it also maintained a quality supply of essential structural lumber and packaging products to the broader industry at a time of high demand.

“The lessons from past fires underpinned the success of this salvage program, so while we hope fires like this will never be experienced again, it is important for us to share the lessons from the Black Summer salvage with the industry for the future.”

Report author Damien O’Reilly from Mayday Hill Consulting said the review made it clear that collaboration across the timber supply chain was a key to the salvage program’s success.

“Forestry Corporation of NSW is a plantation manager that engages contractors to harvest timber and supply it to third party processors and close collaboration across the supply chain and with local and interstate forest growers was an essential ingredient in the salvage program’s success,” Mr O’Reilly said.

“The timber industry as a whole shares the objective of maintaining a sustainable supply of timber not just for today but also for the future, so the industry worked to balance immediate and long-term timber needs in the decisions that were made following the fires.

“The salvage program benefited from experiences in assessing damage and managing the processing of burnt timber that were learnt following past fires in NSW such as the Billo Road fire in 2006 and Jananee fire in 2014, as well as invaluable advice and support from the industry across Victoria and South Australia, and through Forest and Wood Products Australia (FWPA).

“This salvage program demonstrated the effectiveness of remote sensing technology and estate modelling in prioritising salvage operations, and informing processors, contractors and the community about the medium and long-term impacts on the resource.”

There was also significant investigation into log storage options under water or sprinklers, including a trial that provided useful lessons should long-term storage of burnt timber be required following fires in future.

Overwhelmingly, the report found collaboration with customers and contractors was a fundamental reason underpinning the success of the program. Flexibility from customers, coordination of contractor capacity and engaging with other growers enabled the industry to both maximise the salvage of burnt timber and minimise the harvesting of unburnt timber to allow it to grow on to deliver timber in future years.

The report is specifically focused on the salvage of softwood timber from the Tumut and Tumbarumba regions and has been published on the Forestry Corporation website to assist the timber industry.

Several inquiries and inquests have looked into the 2019-20 fires and Forestry Corporation continues to work with the NSW Rural Fire Service and other government agencies to implement improvements recommended by those inquiries.