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A Methodology for Private Native Forest Extension in South East Queensland

Sean Ryan1 & David Taylor2

1Mary Valley Sunshine Coast Farm Forestry Association1,
2
Queensland Forestry Research Institute, Gympie2
MS 483 Fraser Rd, Gympie, 4570

Introduction

Private native forest has long formed an important resource to the timber processing industry in Queensland and a valuable income source for landholders. In the past, timber harvested from native forest in Queensland on private land has equalled or exceeded that from Crown lands. Over the last five years this harvest has declined dramatically from 420,000 m3 in 93/94 to 250,000 m3 in 98/99. Recent changes in crown resource tenure have placed a greater pressure on the private resource and this has placed a greater emphasis on good management if landholders are to capitalise on probable future resource scarcity.

Management guidelines for native forest timber production in Queensland have largely been developed by Government with little or no formal attention paid to transfer of this information to private forest owners. The current extension programs and initiatives targeting plantation production on private land at a state level have no equivalent in the native forest area despite a large resource with current poor productivity and an existing industry with an identified need. In the absence of good scientific information, management of private native forests has been variable with many examples of management regimes compromising future productivity through poor practice. Essentially, the basic problems associated with this mismanagement result from a lack of knowledge and most landhlders, when offered the opportunity, are keen to learn and thus improve productivity and income from their native forests.

Most of the private native forests in south-east Queensland are regrowth forests, comprising a mix of commercial and non-commercial species of uneven ages. Forest condition can also be variable, with many forests in a suppressed growth state with little future growth potential. Thus management of native forest for sustainable timber production, in an environmentally responsible manner, needs to be addressed for the private landholder. Production of a simple management manual is not seen as being adequate to address the problem. Thus an integrated extension program comprising establishment of demonstration sites featuring on-ground management options, supported by an educational program focussed on required basic forest management skills supported by documented case studies, has been the approach taken in this instance. This paper outlines the extension approach and details a number of demonstration sites developed.

The Project

The National Heritage Trust has funded a joint venture between the Mary Valley Sunshine Coast Farm Forestry Association (MVSCFFA), a voluntary organisation comprised of representatives from a number of farm forestry organisations in SEQ, and the Queensland Forestry Research Institute (QFRI). The major benefit of this collaboration has been the development of an effective program incorporating ideas, perspective and knowledge from private landholders and sound, scientifically based technical support and expertise from QFRI.

The major objective of this project is to provide private landholders in the Mary River Catchment - Sunshine Coast region with confidence and skills in sustainable native forest management and to promote the integration of forest management into their normal farm management activities.

SEQ has a large area of private native forest remaining on freehold land and is potentially productive with good management. For productivity to be realised, good management principles need to be applied however this needs to be incorporated into systems that are readily adopted by landholders and continue to be practiced. Thus a key strategy of this project has been to involve landholders from the start.

This has been achieved by establishing a series of demonstration sites on private land as a focus for field days to provide a ‘hands-on’ approach to imparting better forest management skills. Each site is documented in a detailed case study discussing the processes, techniques and results.

The overall project strategy has been to: (i) develop maps of the project area to determine extent of the resource and likely locations for demonstration sites, (ii) locate suitable sites within the selected areas for establishment of demonstration sites based on location, forest type and forest condition, and (iii) to illustrate stand management and environmental protection principles. Within these demonstration sites, a range of silvicultural practices, habitat management, fire management and where appropriate, timber harvesting techniques based on the ‘Code of Practice for Native Forest Timber Harvesting’ has been demonstrated.

To date (September 2001) four case studies / demonstration sites have been completed:

  • A Case Study in Thinning an Even Aged Regrowth Forest in SEQ
  • Investigating Techniques to Restore Productivity in a 'High-Graded' Dry Eucalypt Forest in SEQ
  • Implementing an Integrated Sale in a Eucalypt Forest SEQ
  • On-Farm Value-Adding of Mixed Hardwood Forest Products in SEQ

Towards the end of the project life, this information will be further supported by the production of a user-friendly Silvicultural Manual for Native Forest Management on Private land, using information directly gleaned from these sites and technical information from past QFRI work.

Implementation

Limiting factors affecting landholders considering private native forest management (PNFM) in Queensland have been identified for some time, namely:

  • Lack of inventory data on the PNF resource
  • Lack of information regarding silviculture, economics and marketing
  • Degraded resource from past management practices
  • Unconvinced of the economic benefits of sustainable management after poor returns from previous harvesting
  • Uncertainty regarding future harvesting rights
  • A hindrance to other potential land uses
  • Competing with a state controlled allocation and marketing systems
  • Lack of PNFM ethos

The project considered it imperative to base its extension program on information based on direct scientific investigation and amelioration of productivity problems apparent in many private native forests. Implementing a program based on a variation of 'Action Learning' and 'The Principles of Applied Science Inquiry' (Bawden et al 1985, Bawden & Packham nd, Wilson & Morren 1990) was considered most likely to succeed.

Figure 1. Represents the phases in this process (adapted from Wilson & Morren 1990).

The advantage of combining a forestry research institute and community-based farm forestry organisation enabled the project steering committee to be made up of a multidisciplinary team of scientists, industry, landholder and environmental groups representatives and various natural resource managers. Each member could focus on familiar components of designated problems and their possible solutions and the project officer could pull all these strands together into a coherent, focused program.

Mapping

Resource inventory information on a local and regional level is a critical precursor to understanding and managing the native forest resource. This was undertaken by mapping and stratifying the private native forest areas by broad forest groups, regeneration type, broad vegetation type and rainfall. This became the first step in understanding the resource in the project area, its distribution and the priority areas for implementing the extension program to achieve maximum on ground impact. The mapping was undertaken by QFRI in collaboration with the then QDNR using data stratified by the Queensland herbarium for the Comprehensive Resource Assessment (CRA) carried out prior to the SEQ Regional Forestry Agreement (RFA).

The inventory of the project area covered the Mary River and adjacent Catchments, an area of approximately 1.1 million ha containing 700,000ha of free hold land of which approximately 200,000ha supports remnant native forest.

Table 1 gives a breakdown of that native forest into broad vegetation groups in hectares.

Table 1. Broad Vegetation Groups in Hectares.

Broad Veg Groups

Area in Ha

Broad Veg Groups

Area in Ha

Mixed Spotted Gum

65,149

White Mahogany/Grey Gum

27,355

Blackbutt

7,962

Mixed Messmate

4,150

Bluegum Flat

35,715

White Mahogany

8,870

Grey Box

3,106

Non Commercial

36,617

B box /Flooded Gum/Turps

8,705

Total

196,729

Defining the Problems with Private Native Forest Management

The majority of private native forests in SEQ are derived from regrowth of previously cleared land. From the turn of the century land under lease or 'soldier settlement' schemes were taken up on the condition that certain levels of 'improvements' were achieved usually in the form of clearing for grazing or other farm enterprises. Large tracts of this land proved to be unsuitable for farming and later abandoned. Due to the persistent nature of our eucalypt forests, particularly the lignotuberous regenerating types, regrowth soon reinstated itself over these areas.

The majority of these forests can now be divided into two categories:

1. A regrowth forest left unmanaged and now heavily overstocked with:

  • An overstorey or dominant layer of trees that have grown faster and are now in a dominant or co-dominant position. These trees are now growing slowly due to heavy competition from below. A proportion of these trees are usually in decline due to excess competition, insect attack, fungal attack or crown dieback.
  • An understorey or intermediate layer mostly of suppressed and/or non-merchantable trees with little potential for growth even if released.
  • A ground or regeneration layer often occupied by invasive Brush Box species and very suppressed eucalypts of poor form.

2. A regrowth forest left unmanaged except for periodic 'high grade' harvests with:

  • Significant levels of damaged trees from the previous harvest operation.
  • High proportions of the residual stand defective or suppressed.
  • Large quantities of harvest residues pushed into heaps often against good young trees.
  • Degraded tracks and log dumps due to poor location and no post harvest drainage.
  • Some good quality trees in the 20 - 30 cm dbh range.
  • Areas of heavy regeneration.

Within these two categories variables in stand condition occur due to forest type and location.

Extension Program

Figure 2. Overstocked Spotted Gum regrowth forest

The major focus of this project is to use demonstration sites to illustrate and disseminate solutions to a complex mix of inherent and stereotypical problems occurring in private native forests. The demonstration sites are located in a variety of forest types subjected to a range of past management and involves implementing the management procedures considered necessary to either ameliorate problems developed due to poor past management practices or implement the next step in the stand cycle for well managed stands. To date these include:

Thinning an overstocked timber stand; Investigating the growth response in a mixed hardwood forest subjected to two silvicultural thinning regimes with high retention standards compared to that achieved in the untreated forest (control plots). The thinnings were marketed and the costs and returns calculated for each procedure and probable value of each of the residual stands.

Rehabilitating a 'high graded' forest; This site looked at two areas on a property carrying predominantly Spotted Gum , one with a residual stand suitable for treatment (commercial and non commercial thinning) and the other with very heavy regeneration, but little residual stand most of which was defective and needed removing. A variety of spacing regimes were again applied to the first area removing the defective and suppressed sector of the stand and retaining 80, 100 and 200 stems/ha respectively comparing costs, returns, future growth rates and product ranges against control areas. The second site supported heavy regeneration (3000/ha, 4-6m tall) and was thinned to 600/ha using a variety of techniques and equipment including fire as a comparative study on costs, techniques and effectiveness.

Implementing an integrated sale; Product left in the bush is one of the areas most landholders are dissatisfied with in the harvesting process. Implementing a 450m harvest and then marketing a full range of products to a range of buyers demonstrated a fully integrated sale process from tree marking to product sorting, specifications, presentation and marketing. It detailed costs, real product values, marketing techniques, environmental considerations and post harvest maintenance including regeneration procedures.

On farm value adding; Value adding is frequently cited as a panacea to the poor returns often received by the grower. The aim of this trial was not to advocate value adding, but to test one form of the process from stand management to harvest, value adding and sales. It examined the systems used and included a cost comparative analysis of the returns from value adding a portion of the 230 m harvest against the returns from the rest of the harvest sold straight to a mill.

At each site a detailed stand assessment is carried out with the landholder including an investigation of the past management, and how that management effects the decision-making processes for the future of the stand. Each site then follows a set procedure:

The first field day is held to consider the stand before actual work commences but with the detailed stand data available. Stand problems are considered and solutions discussed.

The management process considered best for the stand is then implemented.

A subsequent field day on the site is held to look at the actual techniques involved in the processes, product specifications, any problems encountered and detailing a break down of costs, returns and future outcomes for the stand.

Figure 3. Discussing specifications for sawlogs and girders

Each site provided the opportunity to consider problems inherent to that particular site eg the 'high graded' site had associated degraded tracks and log dumps.

This gave the project team the opportunity to work with the owner to rehabilitate some of these areas and use them to demonstrate the results of bad practice and some of the ways and costs of fixing the problems. A good example of this was the badly eroded tracks resulting from no post harvest maintenance. (see figure 4). We repaired some of the tracks, installing transverse drains and rehabilitating and draining the log dumps (see figure 5).

Figure 4. Badly eroded access track

Figure 5. - Grader repairing track and installing drains

Having a site that graphically illustrates these problems as a ‘before and after’ shot proved to be a very effective tool in overall forest management education. To be able to show the effects of stocking rates, tree health and the thinning process instead of just describing the theory of management generated considerable interest and discussion.

A series of 5 field days are then held, to cover SNFM in detail, each at a different property to give experience in a variety of stand conditions and species mix. The following is an outline of the five part series developed by the project to cover all the aspects of SNFM including property management.

The emphasis of the series is to have a ‘hands on’, practically based program moving from farm to farm over a period of 3 - 5 months, using an adult education approach to impart as much of the information in the field as possible.

1st Field day

  • Recognising Forest products
  • Stand Assessment and exercise
  • Condition of the stand
  • Bio diversity
  • Implications for forest management directions

2nd Field Day

  • Planning for marketing, logging and
  • treatment
  • Marking for logging retention and
  • treatment
  • Crown, form, spacing and growth rates

3rd Field Day

  • Logging agreements, OH& S, codes of practice, veg. management, IPA, tax implications
  • Harvesting
  • Marketing, forest products, options
  • Sawmill visit, recovery rates, faults, value adding

4th Field Day

  • Post logging management
  • Mapping
  • Treatment options
  • Regeneration
  • Fire

5th Field Day

  • Property management Plans

Permanent growth plots are established at each site for followup at some future time and as a reference for the farmers. The trees are tagged and numbered and relevant data collected including dbh, tree height, crown health score and product range. Separate regeneration plots are also established. Remeasures of these plots are taken annually over the project life and the data entered into the QFRI database for analysis and future reference.

Each demonstration site is then written up in a detailed case study outlining all the above procedures, techniques, costs and returns. These are then available as a reference for future work.

Conclusion

Combining demonstration sites with in-field adult education processes has proved a very successful approach to imparting information and skills to landholders. Generally landholders from this demographic learn visually, they want to see the process in the field and even more importantly they want to see that the person advocating these systems can put into practice what they preach and not just eulogising theory. The high level of interest and repeat attendence by landholders at field days has demonstrated the increased profile of incorporating forestry into other agricultural activities.

References

1. Bawden, R.J. and Packham, R.G. (n.d.) Improving agriculture through systemic action research. Unpublished manuscript. in System Study File. Queensland Department of Primary Industries Forestry, Brisbane.

2. Bawden, R.J., Ison, R.L., Macadam, R.D., Packham, R.G. and Valentine, I. (1985) A research paradigm for systems agriculture. In Remenyi, J.V. (ed.) Agricultural Systems Research for Developing Countries. Proceedings of an International workshop held at Hawksbury Agricultural College, Richmond, NSW, 12 - 15 May 1985, pp. 31-42.

3. Wilson, K and Morren Jnr., G.E.B. (1990) Systems Approaches for Improvement in Agriculture and Resource Management. Macmillan, Resources, University of Missouri

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