Monthly Archives: January 2012

“Greater than the sum of its parts”

It’s great to see someone finally come out with a positive vision post-TFIA. It’s long overdue, but better late than never.  The report commissioned by Senator Bob Brown and authored by Naomi Edwards and Jamie Hanson (EHR) outlines potential areas where the TFIA regional development money ($120m) could possibly be spent to build a stronger, more diverse Tasmanian economy. There’s just one problem…

There’s no mention of any future forest industry. Or rather it says that “the IGA provides for the existence of a sustainable forestry industry going forward.” This is clearly not true! The IGA merely defines what remaining public native forest will be available for harvesting. That is not a vision of a future prosperous forest industry.

The EHR also indicates that none of the IGA regional development money should be used in forestry-related projects. Why?

Just because commercial access to public native forest is declining doesn’t mean the end of the forest industry (although curiously the TFGA would have us believe this to be the case). There is already a significant private forest resource (both native forest and plantation) existing in the State.  With proper policy and support this could grow and be a major contributor to the State’s economy (Jan Davis where are you?). My own proposal for a blackwood growers cooperative is just one of a range of private forestry initiatives that could see Tasmania become a major private forest grower and processor.

At the risk of being repetitive and boring I will remind readers that New Zealand has a thriving, sustainable, privately-owned, profitable forest industry that is a cornerstone of their economy. There is no reason why Tasmania cannot follow the New Zealand example if it wants too. Why is such an option deliberately excluded from the Edwards-Hanson report?

Deliberately excluding the forest industry from the EHR will just enflame those who support the forest industry, who will see the EHR as merely a political document reflecting Bob Browns own political agenda. The IGA doesn’t need more antagonists. We already have a surplus of those (with little or no commercial potential).

Using the New Zealand forest industry as an example Tasmania could have a thriving profitable private forest industry, producing a range of wood products from high-value to commodity. A good foundation already exists. Why deliberately exclude this option from the EHR?


Share, learn, understand and grow


A big part of the blackwood cooperative (if we get funding) will be sharing experiences in growing blackwood. Only by sharing can we gain greater understanding and confidence. Here is a great 11-year-old blackwood plantation in north-west Tasmania. I’m writing this blog from just the photo and the owner’s emails. I’m looking forward to visiting the plantation in 2012.

Site selection and establishment

Red basalt soil in a relatively high rainfall area at an altitude of 300m provides pretty good conditions for growing commercial blackwood. I’m not sure what protection from browsing was used but it was obviously successful. Like much of north-west Tasmania the site is an exposed windy ridge. This exposure has been overcome by planting a windbreak on the western side and appears to have been effective so far, although the blackwoods are now getting above the windbreak.


The trees are obviously being pruned.  But the plantation is definitely due for a thinning. At final stocking this plantation will have somewhere between 18 and 24 trees, so clearly a lot of the existing trees will have to go. Once the green crowns close (meet) then the lower part of the crown starts to die due to lack of light. This means the trees are seriously competing with each other and growth is slowing.  It is better to stay ahead of this by thinning the stand to ensure there is no crown die-off and that growth remains at its maximum potential.

The intensive management of blackwood plantations means that competition between trees is not needed to control branching and improve stem form. Instead branches and stem form are managed by pruning. So the focus for commercial blackwood is to prune and keep the trees growing as fast as possible. So a lot of pruning effort here has gone onto trees that will become firewood. Some early expert advice may have helped optimise the management.


A site visit will tell how effective the management has been in creating trees that will continue to grow into valuable sawlogs. Nevertheless it is one of the best examples of blackwood plantation I’ve seen in Tasmania. This is a great example of using shelterbelts in what would otherwise we quite an exposed windy site. There is a lot of exposed ridge-top country in north-west Tasmania that could grow commercial blackwood provided shelter was available. Here is one example of how it can be done.

Thinning the plantation down to final stocking of ~200 trees per hectare will allow the crowns of remaining trees to fill out and maximise the growth potential of the site. The trees are now rather tall and thin so thinning may need to be done in two stages over 2-3 years to minimise the risk of windthrow.

Once I’ve visited the site I’ll provide an update. Thanks to the plantation owner for allowing me to share this story.