Forestry Tasmania job losses: the house of cards crumbles

FT logo

Forestry Tasmania, Australia’s major blackwood grower, appears to be in free fall. Following on from this recent blog: it appears we are seeing the final act of this decades-long fiasco.

After years of poor financial management and performance and decades of political intrigue and community conflict, the last remnants of the Government business appear to be crumbling.

As the recent blog discussed, there is no road to recovery for Forestry Tasmania. These is just the next round of job losses.

The Smithon office in the north-west, where most of the blackwood is grown and harvested, is to lose 50% of its staff. But stakeholders in Australia’s iconic blackwood industry are completely in the dark. There is no transparency in any of this. All we know is that FT are cutting costs, and their biggest cost is staff.

Whatever happened to the Stakeholder Engagement Policy?

Whatever happened to the Stakeholder Engagement Strategy?

Do any of these corporate initiatives have any purpose or meaning?

It seems not! Perhaps they’re just window dressing when the need suites the occasion (like an FSC audit).

The impact of staff cuts on forest management and operations has not been made public.

So much for sustainability and certification! It’s business.

If you can’t make a profit then you aren’t sustainable!

Will this be the end of Australia’s iconic blackwood industry? Or will the industry finally turn to private blackwood growers for its future?

When is Tasmania going to get a fully commercial, profitable forest industry based on profitable tree growing?

Leonardo Guitar Research Project


I recently became aware of this great research project that is happening in Europe in response to the deforestation and the rapidly diminishing supply of traditional quality tonewoods from the world’s tropical rainforests.

This project should benefit Tasmanian blackwood growers as the global momentum to find/develop sustainable and profitable quality tonewood supplies increases.


The main goal of the Leonardo Guitar Research Project is to study, demonstrate and communicate the possibilities of building acoustic and classical guitars from non-tropical woods. We want to improve global expertise in the craft and adapt it to economic and ecological needs.

The first results from their research were recently published.


All blind tests show that guitars made from non-tropical wood species were equally preferred for sound quality as those made from tropical wood. Non-blind tests show a strong fallback in sound appreciation experienced by non tropical wood guitars.


The need for the use of tropical wood in acoustic and classical guitar building seems to be a myth because blind tests have clearly proven that non-tropical woods can be used to make guitars whose tonal quality is fully equal to that of their tropical counterparts.

The fallback in sound appreciation experienced by non-tropical wood guitars in the non-blind tests, strongly suggests that preference is heavily influenced by preconceptions about what guitars should look like and about what exactly constitutes a tonewood.

All of which is great news. We don’t need to buy rosewood, mahogany or cocobolo guitars thinking that they make the best sounding guitars.

But we do already know that Tasmanian blackwood is an internationally recognised quality, sustainable, profitable non-tropical tonewood. We are just waiting for the market to come to Tasmania!

Having shown that these alternative non-tropical woods can make great guitars the next steps in this project should be:

  • Make the guitars more visually appealing to make the consumer choice easier;
  • Determine which woods are available in sustainable, commercial quantities. FSC certified sources would be even better. Surely the aim is to get the large manufacturers to start using these timbers;
  • Marketing! I would imagine a range of 100% FSC Certified, non-tropical guitars on display at NAMM and Musikmesse would attract significant attention.
  • Investigate sustainable non-tropical woods from other regions such as Tasmanian blackwood!!!

One of the objectives of the LGRP is to develop a network/database linking customers with luthiers, with growers and suppliers of sustainable, non-tropical tonewoods. While the current focus of the project is on common European woods there is every opportunity to expand this to other temperate zones.

Watch this space!

For Sale – Martin OM-42 AND OM45 Tasmanian Blackwood Limited Edition

Martin OM42

I wouldn’t normally put something like this on the website but this is a Tasmanian blackwood icon. This is currently for sale on Ebay. A very rare, prized guitar!

Or direct from the seller Willcutt Guitars, Lexington Kentucky, USA:

Somewhere between 8 and 15 of these were built by CF Martin in 2011 depending upon which website you believe. This is how one respected website describes this guitar:

A fine sounding clear guitar, balanced, and the nice figured Tasmanian blackwood, heavier than Koa provides the best projection ever.

An absolute Tasmanian treasure!

I wish CF Martin would consider using Tasmanian blackwood again!

And now I find this other Tasmanian blackwood Martin guitar currently for sale:

A Martin OM-45 Tasmanian Blackwood from 2005. A stunning creation with highly figured Tasmanian blackwood (a relative of Hawaiian koa) and extensive abalone pearl trim; tasteful torch inlay on the headstock; engraved gold-plated tuner buttons; label signed by C.F. Martin IV.

This is essentially the same model as the above but with more bling for your buck.

Again another super premium guitar from CF Martin. Only 29 of these were made.

Two incredible rare Tasmanian icons currently on the market.


OM42 Tasmanian blackwood headstock (L) compared to OM45 Tasmanian blackwood headstock (R)

Apart from the odd custom order (such as this Martin O-18 the only other Martin guitars that feature Tasmanian blackwood that I’m aware of were 10 D-42’s built in 2010, as shown on this website:

I’m not sure why Martin guitars don’t use Tasmanian blackwood more often. These guitars seem to get a lot of praise and attention in the marketplace.

FT closer to closure

Harriss&Annells Resources Minister Paul Harriss (L) & Forestry Tasmania Chairman Bob Annells (R)

The ministerial statement on the future of Forestry Tasmania today was a de facto announcement of the appointment of an Administrator.

Expressions of interest are to be invited for some of FT’s assets, mainly the hardwood plantations, which hopefully will be enough to cover the costs of Administration.

FT will then almost certainly be wound up.

I was going to write my own response to Wednesdays announcements by Resources Minister Paul Harriss but John Lawrence beat me to it and with much greater depth and understanding.

Thank you John. And I fully agree with his analysis.

Please read John Lawrence’s analysis and response to yesterdays announcements.

Remember that Forestry Tasmania is the largest grower/supplier of Tasmanian blackwood timber to the market. When FT goes the blackwood industry will have some tough times adjusting.

I will leave you with John’s closing statement:

Minister Harriss hasn’t produced a plan. Rather a plea. Help me.

After all the talk about growing the industry when the figures suggested growing the industry will grow the losses has left him with the credibility of miracle cancer survivor Belle Gibson and the strategic smarts of Colonel Custer.

One good reason for maintaining FT for a while longer is that sale of assets will be more easily effected by a GBE.

When Minister Harriss talks about finding a way to fund a transition, he is referring to the transition from Administration to Liquidation.

Nothing else is likely at this stage.

PS. This is not to say it will be the end of the forest industry. Quite the opposite.

I believe the best option now available is to recognise that the future of the industry is with private forest growers and farmers. It already is! Most wood now grown and sold in Australia comes from private forest growers. This is even now true in Tasmania. The future is already here.

The sooner we move on and get the conflict and politics out of the industry the better it will be for everyone, including blackwood growers.

Special Species Timber Management Plan Update #1


Continuing on from my previous blog:

and the invitation from Minister Paul Harriss to participate in the Special Species Timber Management Plan, I was contacted by Mr Blair Freeman from the consulting firm Indufor. We ended up talking for about an hour over the phone.

Here are some brief comments:

A survey form was sent out by Indufor to selected members of the special timbers industry to provide critical information with regard to industry preferences, demand for wood, drivers of demand and sensitivity of customers to market change.

SST Market Demand Survey Sawmillers

My one comment about the survey form was the obvious omission from the survey of any opportunity for stakeholders to make comments on strategic, political or policy issues. If special timbers stakeholders had any questions or concerns about any of these issues then the Minister and the Special Timbers Sub-Committee of the Ministerial Advisory Council are just not interested!

If logging the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area at taxpayers’ expense is of any concern to stakeholders the Minister Paul Harriss doesn’t want to know about it!

So much for accurate and relevant information!

Given that just about all of my comments relate directly to strategic, political and policy issues around special timbers I found the survey form frustrating. Luckily Mr. Freeman anticipated my frustration and instead we opened up the conversation to address broader issues.

I see my business as being in direct competition with the Government/Forestry Tasmania. And I’m not short of criticism of my competitor.

Putting aside for one moment the political/policy issues, the one primary objective of the proposed Special Species Timber Management Plan should be to clearly demonstrate that growing and harvesting special timbers is profitable within normal competitive, transparent market processes.

The primary purpose of the Plan should not be to demonstrate the existence of a resource, nor of demand, nor analyse current employment or the characteristics of the special timbers marketplace. These issues are completely irrelevant without the fundamental commercial foundation of tree-growing profitability.

Value-adding begins in the forest or plantation and not at the sawmill or the furniture factory.

As far as I’m aware no study is being conducted into the profitability of growing special timbers as input into the proposed management plan. Using the “horse and cart” analogy, this proposed Management Plan will say much about the cart and tell us nothing at all about the horse! Just like the 2010 Special Timbers Strategy.

Mr Freeman indicated in our conversation an awareness of the politically-charged nature of their assignment, and Indufors limited ability to influence the outcome. Why they chose to take the job in the first place is an interesting question.

As I say on (too?) many occasions I think Tasmanian blackwood has a great future as an iconic profitable, farm-based industry; but not until we get the politics and ideology out and get the policy settings working properly.

Thanks to Mr. Blair Freeman for his time and interest. Good luck!

Only another 2 years before the Management Plan is completed/released.

Stay tuned!

Forestry Tasmania fate in balance


And the slow wheels of bureaucracy/Government continue….

but apparently all will soon be revealed. Based on past experience one assumes these reforms will only make the situation worse, but time will tell. Time for another cup of tea will we wait some more..

Originally posted on Tasmanian Blackwood Growers Cooperative:


[The fate of] Forestry Tasmania hangs in the balance, with its chairman telling staff the company’s immediate future is entirely in the government’s hand.

In an email sent to Forestry Tasmania staff yesterday, chairman Bob Annells [pictured above] responded to mounting concerns that the cash-strapped company may be dissolved and folded into a government department.

[“folded into a government department” What an absolutely terrible idea! What Government department would it fit into? And what would be the point? It would fix none of the existing problems, and create even more new problems. A classic case of duck shoving!]

This article in today’s The Examiner tells us that things are pretty grim at the Government forest management agency.

While no official announcement has been made it now seems clear that FTs application for FSC Certification has been rejected. FSC auditors SCS Global were due to deliver their report last month.

View original 250 more words

An invitation to participate in the Special Species Timber Management Plan

stsmp email

This email arrived in my inbox on Friday from Minister for Resources Paul Harriss. This may be interesting. Or else it will be the same old stuff we’ve seen before – or worse!!

I am not holding out much hope.

But I do pity the poor consultants who sign up for these jobs. Imagine helping to justify logging the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area at taxpayers’ expense whilst we are sacking teachers and nurses. How on earth do you keep any sort of professional integrity or reputation in all of that?

I’m looking forward to having a discussion with “Mr Blair Freeman or one of his team”. I wonder if they understand that forestry is a business not a division of Centrelink Australia?

This management plan is not due to be completed/released before 2017 in time for the next State election.

One thing is absolutely guaranteed. This management plan will not contain any discussion of commercial issues. Nor will it consider the possibility of Tasmanian farmers growing special timbers.

The idea that Tasmanian farmers are already growing and harvesting special timbers, and would likely grow more if given the right market signals, will be completely ignored in this management plan.

The fundamental assumption will be that special timbers can only come from taxpayer-subsidised Tasmanian public native forests.

In other words it will not be a business plan but a glossy political/marketing document, like the 2010 Special Timbers Strategy.

I shall keep you informed as this proceeds.