Forests NSW are responsible for managing one of our most precious natural resources: timber. Staff from Forests NSW Central Region were excited to discuss some of the latest techniques and technology used to aid this process …
Justin Williams is Central Region’s Planning Manager and has worked for Forests NSW since completing a Natural Resources Degree in 1995. He has spent much of his career protecting the region’s many threatened plant and animal species.
Tony Brown, Remote Sensing Project Manager, completed his BSc Forestry degree in 1995. Since then Tony has worked in native and plantation forest management in Tasmania, Northern Territory and NSW. Tony has worked for FNSW in Forest Resources and GIS for the last 5 years.
Kathy Jones is the Regional Manager Forests NSW Central Region. Kathy commenced her career as a work experience student 27 years ago with Forests NSW, due to her great love for native forests and the amazing people who work in the forest and timber industry. Kathy has a Bachelor of Science Degree with honours in forestry and an Executive MBA.
What are Forests NSW chief responsibilities in managing our forests?
Justin: Forests NSW and its staff are committed to sustainable management of the public’s forests. Since 1916, foresters have identified areas of crown land with good potential to provide timber and ensured they have been dedicated as State Forests to provide an ongoing source of timber for the community.
Forestry staff work hard to protect the forests, rivers and wildlife and its natural beauty for people to visit and enjoy, as well as build forest roads, manage the logging, regeneration and growth of the forests and protect them from wildfire.
How large an area does the Central Region of Forests NSW cover – and roughly how many hectares/what types of forests do you manage?
Justin: Central Region looks after 400,000 hectares of wet and dry Eucalypt forests and rainforests between Gosford and Macksville. Within this area we carefully manage about 140,000 ha of regrowth forests for timber production, while protecting all of the old growth forest and rainforest we manage.
We look after a wide range of forest types and timber species, from fast growing Blackbutt and Flooded Gum forests on the coast, beautiful Tallowwood and Blue Gum forests in the foothills, to the wildlife rich Messmate, Stringybark and Manna Gum forests on the Tablelands.
How many people are involved with working in the Central Region of Forests NSW?
Kathy: Forests NSW Central Region employs around 100 specialist staff and over 300 contract staff, who work in road construction, harvesting and haulage. The Regional Office is based at Wauchope. Customers include Boral at Herons Creek, Australian Solar Timbers at Kempsey, Koppers at Grafton, Newells Creek Sawmill at Bulahdelah and Haydon Timbers at Rollands Plains.
State Forests within the region are increasingly becoming a major tourist destination for both metropolitan and regional visitors. This year Forests NSW won the ecotourism category of the Hunter Central Coast Tourism awards.
Statistically speaking, where does most of our area’s timber actually end up?
Justin: The great thing about the region’s forest industry is most of the timber is sold and used within New South Wales, so it really is a local industry. Over 75% of the timber is sold as sawlogs, which are used locally for flooring and construction, or power poles, and less than 25% is sold as export woodchips. Our sawlog market competes strongly against imported sawn hardwoods, which mostly come from uncertified tropical forests in South East Asia.
How much forward planning goes into developing new systems/equipment and technology, to ensure our forests remain viable well into the future?
Kathy: FNSW spends considerable time looking for opportunities to better manage the public estate. Simple ideas on how to better manage a process might provide just as much improvement to our management as a high tech solution such as Lidar. Each opportunity is evaluated, and where safety, economic, efficiency or improved outcomes can be realised, changes for the better are often made.
Explain in layman’s terms what Lidar (Light Detection and Ranging) is?
Tony: Lidar works on a similar principle to Radar (Radio Detection and Ranging); however, with Lidar a light beam is emitted instead of a radio wave. Essentially, a plane flies overhead with a sensor that emits around 150,000 pulses of light every second. Each pulse is reflected from trees, shrubs, grass, buildings or the surface of the earth, and the location at which the reflection is made gets recorded.
Each reflection represents a point in space, which are then processed by computer into digital ground and vegetation surfaces. From these surfaces, FNSW can accurately identify stream locations, slopes, vegetation types, roads, buildings and many other features.
Why is the development and use of Lidar in our area so significant?
Tony: Central Region is responsible for a large area of State Forest to manage and has only a limited number of staff to manage it. Lidar provides highly accurate information, allowing staff to quickly and easily identify areas requiring specific management.
For example, using Lidar derived ground models, office staff can identify steep areas and streams, enabling field staff to quickly locate these features in the field and appropriately manage them. This data is also incorporated in operational machinery using Global Positioning Systems (GPS), thereby reducing the amount of difficult and sometimes dangerous bushwalking our staff has to do.
What other developments have taken place within our forestry industry in recent times that you deem significant?
Kathy: From a forest management perspective, we have a greater understanding of the positive contribution forest products and sustainably managed native forests can make to mitigating dangerous climate change and ecological conservation.
From an industry perspective, the introduction of mechanised harvesting systems have greatly improved safety and environmental outcomes in the field, while scanning and sawing technology have delivered increases in high-value product recovery from smaller logs.
What do you see as the future of our forests over the next 20 years, given all the recent advances in technology?
Justin and Tony: Timber and other forest products are still one of the most environmentally sustainable options for society to use in building, furniture, manufacture and even heating. These technologies complement FNSW intensive sustainable management, providing a higher level of terrain and vegetation information than previously available.
Further advances in technology will very likely include the integration of colour into the Lidar signal, providing a virtual 3 dimensional photograph, quite likely being captured from unmanned aircraft or satellites.
As these technologies become cheaper, more regular data captures will allow greater monitoring of forest ecosystems over time, studying their change and adaption over time to changing climatic conditions.
Interview by Jo Atkins. Photos courtesy of Bronwyn Ellis.