2015-16 Sustainability Report
This report provides a summary of the activities VicForests undertook during the period from 1 July 2015 to 30 June 2016. It should be read in conjunction with VicForests' 2015-16 Annual Report and VicForests' Ecologically Sustainable Forest Management Plan, both of which can be found at www.vicforests.com.au.
This is VicForests' first on-line Sustainability Report.
Click on the headings below to expand each section.
VicForests was established as a State-owned business by the Victorian Government in 2003, commencing operations in August 2004.
VicForests’ purpose is to operate a responsible business that generates the best community value from the commercial management of Victoria’s State forests.
The business is responsible for determining the volume of timber that can be harvested from State forests across Victoria, and then planning and managing the sale, harvest and supply of timber, and regrowing the forest following harvest.
VicForests is a values-driven organisation. In everything we do, we aim to live out our values:
Safe. We aim for zero harm in all that we do.
Professional. We operate in an ethical, efficient and accountable manner.
Sustainable. We respect and care for our environment and the communities in which we operate.
Customer focused. We are responsible in our commercial dealings.
Respect. We treat others in the manner we would like to be treated
Our operations are managed from 13 regional Victorian locations, with a corporate support office in Melbourne.
During 2015-16 VicForests harvested nearly 600,000m3 of sawlogs, over 680,000m3 of residual logs (lower quality logs that do not meet sawlog standards), and over 19,000m3 of firewood and other products. These logs were sold to 34 sawlog and eight residual log customers who are located in regional communities across southern and eastern Victoria as well as one in southern New South Wales. The firewood was sold to over 100 customers who are located throughout regional Victoria.
Our operations are conducted in accordance with our Ecologically Sustainable Forest Management Policy which can be located at firstname.lastname@example.org
1. Regulatory Compliance
VicForests plans for its activities to be ecological responsible, socially acceptable and economically viable. Our forestry operations are conducted within a comprehensive legal framework consisting of a range of laws, agreements, policies, codes, plans and procedures that are developed and managed by the Victorian and Australian Governments.
The Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning regulates VicForests' operational activities and independently audits and enforces compliance with the Victorian Code of Forest Practice for Timber Production.
VicForests has committed to maintain an Ecologically Sustainable Forest Management System that aligns with relevant legislation and Government policy, and meets the Australian Forestry Standard and the Forest Stewardship Council's principles and criteria. VicForests released its Ecologically Sustainable Forest Management Policy and Ecologically Sustainable Forest Management Plan in late 2015 following extensive public consultation during 2014-15.
VicForests retained its certification to the Australian Forestry Standard (AS4708–2013) following a re-certification audit conducted against the revised standard during December 2015.
VicForests' Ecologically Sustainable Forest Management System has been developed to align with the Standard, including the processes involved in the planning, harvesting, haulage and regeneration of native eucalypt forests. The recent revision of the Standard includes additional consideration of stakeholder expectations, additional criteria for the management of biodiversity, and changes to international expectations relating to sustainable forest management.
The re-certification lasts for three years, during which time VicForests will undergo nine-monthly surveillance audits.
A gap audit against the Australian Forestry Standard was also undertaken in western Victoria in December 2015. VicForests addressed the identified gaps and passed the certification audit in September 2016.
Due to the work of the Forest Industry Taskforce, VicForests decided to delay its pursuit of certification to the Forest Stewardship Council until the release of the Taskforce's findings.
1.2 Compliance with the Code of Practice for Timber Production
VicForests monitors the compliance of its forestry operations with the Code of Practice for Timber Production through coupe monitoring records and the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning's Forest Audit Program.
1.2.1 Coupe Monitoring Records
VicForests conducts a detailed monitoring program for each timber harvesting operation. This includes monthly coupe monitoring audits which enable VicForests to assess, manage and report against safety, environmental and financial risks.
During 2015-16, approximately 82% of monthly coupe monitoring records were completed. The average score for the environmental criteria was 99%.
Key results were:
- Total non-compliances in 2015-16 were 6% lower than 2014-15;
- Wet weather non-compliances decreased by 4% compared to 2014-15;
- Non-compliance relating to rubbish remained relatively high at 10%; and
- Non-compliance relating to fuel and oil, which includes inadequate bunding as well as spills, increased by 15% to 29%. This will be a focus for improvement during 2016-17.
1.2.2 Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning Forest Audit Program
The Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning conducted three compliance audits during 2015-16, focusing on in-coupe roads, waterway crossings and mandatory exclusion areas. The audit results have not yet been made public.
The Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning requested VicForests produce a Corrective Action Plan to address the recommendations from the 2015-16 and the 2014 audits. VicForests is preparing a ‘Roading Manual’ and creating a register of roads and crossings for maintenance purposes. These documents will address a number of the audit recommendations.
Forest Audit Program Audit
No. of Recommendations
Construction and maintenance of in-coupe roads
Construction and rehabilitation of waterway crossings
Protection of mandatory exclusion areas
1.3 Improvements to VicForests' Ecologically Sustainable Forest Management System
The key improvement to VicForests' Ecologically Sustainable Forest Management System was the development and release of the Ecologically Sustainable Forest Management Policy and Plan in late 2015. This Plan aims to communicate clearly the policy settings that VicForests operates under, describe our responsibilities and invite ongoing collaboration with stakeholders to help us continually improve the way we manage Victoria’s native forests.
The five-year plan details strategies and objectives across 11 focus areas which have been developed to achieve VicForests' goal of being an ecologically responsible, economically viable and socially conscious forest manager and service provider.
1.3.1 Objectives and Targets
VicForests conducted a review of the Ecologically Sustainable Forest Management objectives and targets listed in the Ecologically Sustainable Forest Management Plan. The outcomes of that review have been used in the development of this report.
1.3.2 Inclusion of community forestry operations and processes into the Ecologically Sustainable Forest Management System
VicForests intends that all of its operations, including those undertaken in western Victoria, are conducted in accordance with its Ecologically Sustainable Forest Management System. VicForests' Ecologically Sustainable Forest Management System was successfully certified in western Victoria in September 2016 and VicForests will continue to incorporate all aspects of community forestry operations into the remainder of VicForests' systems and processes.
2. Science-based Decision Making
2.1 Enhance capacity to deliver research programs
During 2015-16 VicForests created a position to manage biodiversity conservation and forest research. This role is responsible for providing expertise and on-going advice in the development, implementation, and continual improvement of VicForests' biodiversity and forest science policies, programs and processes. Key aspects for this role will be to further develop conservation plans that balance the protection of biodiversity with sustainable forest management.
2.2 Undertake research to inform improvements to biodiversity management
Two collaborative research projects funded by the Australian Research Council have continued into their second year in 2015-16. One of these projects, undertaken in collaboration with the University of Tasmania, Forestry Tasmania and the University of Melbourne, seeks to identify the underlying patterns and processes that determine how forest biodiversity is distributed across the forest landscape.
The second project, undertaken in collaboration with the University of Melbourne and the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning, focuses on investigating the development of a range of stand-scale silvicultural prescriptions that can accelerate the development of key features of Leadbeater's Possum habitat.
Both of these projects will provide VicForests with a range of adaptive management tools to assist with conservation planning and approaches to manage threatened species, leading to better forest management outcomes. Much of the field work for these projects will take place over the spring and summer of 2016-17.
Current research projects supporting Leadbeater’s Possum recovery aim to inform future policy direction and the refinement of prescriptions. These projects will investigate areas such as:
- Strategies for biodiversity assessments for species at landscape scales;
- Supporting landscape planning efforts;
- Biodiversity conservation in young forests stands to support the maintenance of various forest age classes across multiple scales; and
- Regeneration of Acacia in young stands to support Leadbeater’s Possum habitat development.
During 2015-16 VicForests also continued investigating the use of LiDAR technology, to improve the method VicForests uses to identify areas of high conservation value, as well as increasing flexibility for forest management planning decisions.
2.3 Cultivate new research and advisory partnerships
VicForests became a member of the Leadbeater's Possum Recovery Plan Implementation Committee in June 2014.
The newly created biodiversity conservation and forest research position is also responsible for building relationships, seeking partnerships for biodiversity conservation research with non-government agencies and increasing VicForests’ research position and reputation among government and academic organisations.
3. Biodiversity and High Conservation Values
VicForests recognises that conservation of biodiversity (including threatened species) values is critical to maintaining the natural function of Victoria’s native forests and is one of the most pressing issues for many of our stakeholders. VicForests’ planning and operational processes are fundamentally based on supporting the dedicated and informal reserve system in public forests and implementing management rules to ensure biodiversity values are appropriately identified, protected and managed. VicForests’ overarching philosophy on the conservation of biodiversity, ecosystem, cultural and social values stems from the core principles of sustainable forest management that are within the National Forest Policy Statement.
3.1 Maintain and implement a High Conservation Value Strategy
VicForests defines High Conservation Values as values or forest attributes of considerable conservation importance that face substantial threat of severe or irreversible damage. The concept of High Conservation Value was developed by the Forest Stewardship Council in 1999 to guide land managers in achieving sustainable forest management through recognition that some values demand a higher degree of protection than others.
Work is underway on developing a definition and assessment procedures for the identification and management of old growth forest in eastern Victoria.
3.2 Incorporate stakeholder perspectives relevant to biodiversity conservation
VicForests has improved its processes and community involvement initiatives to ensure stakeholder feedback and suggestions are appropriately considered in biodiversity and High Conservation Value management. The most effective way for stakeholders to engage with VicForests regarding biodiversity or High Conservation Values is by responding through VicForests High Conservation Value Strategy or Timber Release Plan consultation processes.
VicForests also welcomes third-party reports of biodiversity or High Conservation Values to help inform decision making about our operations. We also investigate all credible third-party reports of threatened species within areas proposed for timber harvesting.
During 2015-16 VicForests received 41 third-party reports, compared to 22 during 2014-15. All third party reports were reviewed by both VicForests and the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning, and where threatened species were verified, required protection measures were implemented in the field.
3.3 Assess and protect biodiversity values at operational and landscape scales
Complete risk-based pre-harvest fauna surveys for key threatened species including the Leadbeater’s Possum
Victoria's world-class parks and reserves system has been designed to protect important environmental values including threatened flora and fauna species and habitat. More than five million hectares of native forest in Victoria is formally protected in National Parks or other conservation reserves.
VicForests uses a risk-based approach to manage threatened flora and fauna species and communities which may be found in areas planned for timber harvesting.
Each area planned for harvest undergoes a pre-harvest assessment to identify and manage key biodiversity values. This assessment includes:
- Desktop Assessment (all coupes);
- Coupe Transect (all coupes); and
- Targeted Species Survey (high-risk coupes).
A desktop assessment is carried out on any area that is planned for harvest. The desktop assessment is designed to identify the potential presence of key biodiversity, cultural, social and timber values within the proposed coupe boundary and within 500m of the coupe.
The desktop assessment considers the best available information from Government spatial datasets, and summarises the presence and proximity of known values to the proposed coupe. Values flagged within a 500m proximity of the coupe may require further investigation during the field-based coupe transect stage of the pre-harvest survey, or trigger an additional survey process, such as a targeted species survey for threatened species.
Values such as rainforest, detection records of threatened flora and fauna, historic and recreation sites, protection zones, water catchment areas, streams, and potential areas of habitat for threatened species such as the Leadbeater’s Possum (Gymnobelideus leadbeateri) can all be identified during this stage.
A coupe transect is undertaken on every coupe by VicForests planning staff, who are trained in the identification of tree and plant species, key threatened ecological vegetation communities such as rainforest, and in the identification of specific habitat features for a range of fauna, including large forest owls, gliders and the Leadbeater's Possum.
A coupe transect involves walking a minimum of 200m per 10 hectares through the areas planned for harvest to verify the presence of values flagged during the desktop assessment process and to record opportunistic sightings of flora, fauna and habitat features that may trigger prescribed management actions.
This field assessment stage is an invaluable part of VicForests planning and biodiversity management as in many cases additional biodiversity values, that may not have been identified during the desktop assessment stage can be identified.
Targeted Species Surveys
Targeted species surveys are another step in the hierarchical risk-based approach to the management of biodiversity across VicForests' proposed timber harvesting operations.
A targeted species survey is conducted when results from the desktop assessment or coupe transect stages trigger the coupe as 'High-Risk'. Risk is determined from desktop or field-sourced information that indicates the likelihood of a coupe to support a targeted set of threatened fauna, including various birds, frogs, mammals and invertebrates.
During 2015-16, VicForests continued undertaking pre-harvest fauna surveys, with the following species detected:
- 22 Long-footed Potoroos;
- 2 Greater Gliders;
- 1 Euastacus Crayfish species;
- 1 Sooty Owl;
- 1 Galaxiid fish species; and
- 33 Yellow-bellied Gliders.
For each of these species, VicForests creates a Special Management Plan that aims to ensure that the detected species is adequately protected from timber harvesting operations.
The table at the top of this section provides a summary of the VicForests Reserves created for particular species in areas previously available for timber production.
Protect a minimum of 30% of the Ash forests in each Leadbeater's Possum Management Unit to allow these areas to mature into future old growth forest
The Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning will review the Ash reservation target in each Leadbeater's Possum Management Unit at the conclusion of the action items arising from the Leadbeater's Possum Action Group process. This review is expected to commence in 2018-19.
4. Long-term Economic Development
4.1 Diversify and maximise timber product recovery and associated services
VicForests aims to recover the highest value wood products possible from each coupe, taking into account customer needs, contractual requirements and market availability. Log sections cut from trees are each graded according to their quality and potential end use. VicForests audits log grades at every coupe to ensure the highest possible grade and product recovery is realised.
VicForests continues to pursue market interest in utilising residual wood for veneer, pallets, biofuel, biochar and firewood. Further, innovations in the sawlog market are leading towards small diameter log lines to improve E grade utilisation and overall maximisation of product recovery.
As our customers diversify their product range and invest in value-adding processes and infrastructure such as finger joiners, edge matching and set lengths, VicForests will be well-placed to provide the required log specifications to meet this demand.
4.2 Meet commitments to customers and contractors
During 2015-16 VicForests harvested just over 1.3 million cubic metres of timber. All contracted commitments to customers and contractors were met. The volume harvested comprised the following grades:
|Ungraded salvage sawlog||4,794||1,103||1,137||5,985||3,464||54,342||23,554|
During 2015-16 VicForests conducted one Request for Proposal process for harvest and haul services and negotiated new and/or replacement contracts with several individual contractors. Approximately 130,000m3 per annum of contracts were awarded via six contracts, with tenures between two and five years.
The new harvest contracts include provisions for satellite tracking devices to be included on harvesting and extraction equipment. This will allow for the development of machine positioning and tracking systems within harvesting sites to improve management of coupe boundaries. The physical marking of coupe boundaries by VicForests staff is often associated with slip, trip and fall hazards. It is hoped that the development of this technology and related systems will reduce the extent to which physical marking of boundaries is required.
Ninety–nine per cent of haulage contracts now require additional equipment including satellite tracking capacity and electronic braking systems fitted to trailers, as well as annual roadworthy certification.
4.3 Demonstrate benefits from our activities to Victorian economy
A study commissioned by VicForests and undertaken by Deloitte Access Economics was released in July 2016. The study found that timber harvesting in Victoria’s native forests north-east of Melbourne generates $573 million worth of economic activity each year as well as over 2,100 direct jobs. The study focused specifically on the Central Highlands Regional Forest Agreement area which covers 623,000 hectares of public land to the north-east of Melbourne. The study found that $573 million in revenue is generated as a result of timber harvesting operations on 0.3% of the public land in the region each year.
Other studies suggest that in addition to direct jobs, there are thousands more jobs in secondary processing and further downstream manufacturing that rely on timber from this region. Deloitte Access Economics modelled the impact of the native timber industry in the Central Highlands Regional Forest Agreement area on Victoria’s economy using its Regional General Equilibrium Model which predicts changes in measures such as Gross Domestic Product, employment, export volumes and investment. Deloitte Access Economics is Australia’s pre-eminent economic advisory practice and this study used conservative assumptions to ensure the findings were robust and able to be widely distributed.
Another report recently released by Price Waterhouse Coopers on behalf of a third party suggested it costs $5 million to create a single job in the native timber industry in Victoria. This report ignored the revenue generated by primary processing of native timber in Victoria, as well as the thousands of associated jobs that are required for processing timber after harvesting and haulage operations. The Price Waterhouse Coopers report was drafted relying only on selected publicly available information and no clarification or further detail was sought from VicForests or any timber industry body.
A full copy of the Deloitte Access Economics report is available to view at www.vicforests.com.au/about-vicforests/economic-report.
VicForests is currently working with Deloitte to undertake a similar study in other areas of eastern Victoria.
5. Social and Environmental Services
VicForests aims to positively contribute to communities that depend on, or benefit from, Victoria’s State forests. VicForests’ social responsibility extends beyond employment and economics to social development that is inherently linked to ecological sustainability, ecosystem health and environmental services.
VicForests has made a commitment to being good neighbours, supporting community and cultural endeavours, and maintaining environmental function, accessibility, recreational and visual amenity of native forests for the enjoyment of all.
5.1 Support Regional Communities
VicForests' contribution to supporting the communities in which we operate is achieved using a number of mechanisms:
- VicForests’ Community Support Program provides approximately $50,000 in annual grants of up to $2000 to charity groups, sporting groups, educational and community groups located across the Central Highlands, Gippsland and East Gippsland. Where particular projects or causes demonstrate long-term merit, VicForests may commit to ongoing partnerships with organisations to ensure these benefits continue to be realised. These include being a major sponsor of the Alexandra Truck, Ute and Rod Show, and supporting a number of wood chop events across eastern Victoria, the largest of which is the Royal Melbourne Show.
- Ad-hoc timber or financial donations to community projects and initiatives. In 2015-16 these included donations of:
- Firewood to the Alexandra Football Netball Club for fundraising
- Logs to enhance a sustainable garden at Alexandra Primary School
- Timber for a playground project at Yarra Valley Grammar School
- Timber to the Lake Goldsmith Steam Preservation Society.
- Conducting field trips with a wide range of community groups including primary and secondary schools, university students, 4WD groups and other interest groups, introducing them to the forest and VicForests' forestry activities.
5.2 Actively contribute to bushfire management and suppression
An important but often unrecognised component of VicForests’ business is the contribution our staff and contractors make to bushfire fighting in Victoria. Bushfires not only pose a significant threat to Victoria’s communities, but are also a major risk to the native timber industry, biodiversity, water, and other environmental values.
VicForests contributes to the suppression of bushfires to protect communities, assets and the environmental, cultural and economic values of Victoria’s forest estate. Every year, VicForests’ highly skilled staff and contractors commit their time and resources to bushfire fighting and suppression, as part of our membership of the Networked Emergency Organisation (comprising the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning, Parks Victoria, Melbourne Water and VicForests). To ensure our ongoing contribution to firefighting, VicForests has committed to ensuring 50% of our staff are accredited for various firefighting roles.
In addition to fighting bushfires, VicForests and the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning continue to work collaboratively to deliver both organisations’ prescribed burning and regeneration burning programs each year.
In 2015-16, 48 VicForests staff participated in firefighting activities, 50 staff members were accredited for one or more firefighting roles and a further four were available for other fire support roles.
5.3 Maintain the capacity of the forest to service non-wood products and values
VicForests recognises the importance of maintaining the capacity of the forest to produce non-wood products and values. Non-wood products and values include water, carbon storage, recreational opportunities, visual amenity, roads and other public access and products such as honey. Such products and values are critical to the environment and livelihoods of people and, in future, may also provide market opportunities in their own right, such as through non-timber forest products and carbon farming initiatives.
Through the maintenance and delivery of services that support the environment and communities directly, VicForests demonstrates that active forest management and timber harvesting provide more than just sustainable timber products to communities.
By implementing adaptive practices, VicForests aims to maintain or enhance the direct and indirect social and environmental values from forests, ensure the ongoing provision of ecosystem services and accessibility to communities and industries reliant on these. In particular we aim to mitigate any negative impacts we may cause to forest amenity and maintain options for the development of forest economies other than timber harvesting.
During 2014 and 2015 VicForests worked with researchers from the New South Wales Department of Primary Industries and Melbourne University to determine above ground carbon in Silvertop Ash forests in New South Wales, Blackbutt forest in New South Wales and two different aged stands of Mountain Ash in Victoria.
The resultant report "Carbon stocks and flows in native forests and harvested wood products in SE Australia" was published in January 2016. In the harvested stand the research showed that approximately 78% of above ground tree biomass was commercially utilised, mainly for sawlog and paper production. When considering substitution impacts, there is a far greater benefit managing some of Victoria's forests for timber production than simple reservation and sourcing less carbon friendly substitutes such as steel, concrete and non-certified imported paper.
The report provides some important results with the assessed 1939 regrowth harvested site yielding 753 tonnes per hectare (dry) comprising 32 tonnes per hectare of bark, 61 tonnes per hectare of tree crowns, 34 tonnes per hectare of retained stumps, 38 tonnes per hectare of other woody understorey and 588 tonnes per hectare of utilised logs.
These figures assist in understanding the total carbon budget and where potential improvements can be made to manage overall carbon sequestration and storage in Victorian State forests used for timber production.
During 2015-16 VicForests used it's small scale catchment model to determine the harvesting regimes that would minimise any detrimental impact on local catchment users in the Glen Wills Catchment in north east Victoria.
6. Landscape-scale Resource Planning
VicForests’ business is underpinned by our commitment to manage Victoria’s native forest timber resources in a manner that ensures they are maintained in perpetuity, without compromising the future environmental and social amenity of Victoria’s State forests. To achieve this, VicForests has committed to Landscape-scale Resource Planning that determines sustainable harvest levels from the forest resource made available to us through the Allocation Order. As part of this, VicForests accepts responsibility for:
- Improving timber resource modelling methodologies and resource data;
- Calculating sustainable harvest levels;
- Determining the locations and timing of harvest operations;
- Preserving the long-term productivity of the areas we operate in; and
- Being open and transparent about our modelling process.
The Allocation Order provides high level guidance on how much forest is permitted to be harvested within broad forest types.
VicForests' resource modelling takes into account a range of forest attributes that impact on the area of forest available for timber harvesting. These include species composition, timber yields, forest condition and age, slope and rock factors, road access, and regulatory exclusions. The inclusion of these factors preclude harvesting in certain areas and hence reduce the area of available forest that is actually available for harvest. Once Code of Forest Practice for Timber Production exclusion areas, VicForests Reserves and other constraints are implemented, approximately 6% of the public land, or 490,000 ha, is suitable for VicForests' operations over a 100 year time frame.
To enable VicForests to appropriately account for these constraints to timber harvesting, plan for the future and provide certainty to our customers, contractors and other stakeholders, VicForests implements a hierarchical planning framework that incorporates short-, mid- and long-term planning processes, as well as a risk analysis of future impacts on resource availability. These processes are informed by adaptive modelling approaches that incorporate current and future estimates of the forest and the timber resources within it.
6.1 Understand the available forest resource
Of the 1.82 million hectare Allocation Order, a total of just 490,000 hectares of available and merchantable forest is used in VicForests’ Strategic Wood Supply Model. The remaining forest not included in the model is either:
- Reserved – in VicForests Reserves or other exclusion areas such as riparian buffers and slopes greater than 30°
- Not suitable – due to species composition, low yields, timber quality, poor access and other factors, or
- Potentially suitable – not included because they are currently uneconomic.
Of the available and suitable forest area, approximately 134,000 hectares is Ash Eucalypt forest – primarily in the North East and West Gippsland regions – and approximately 360,000 hectares is Mixed Species forest spread across the entire Forest Management Unit, primarily in East Gippsland.
To improve modelling accuracy, VicForests has spent significant effort developing new timber yield tables to support the Strategic Wood Supply Model. These timber yield tables were built by incorporating the following data:
- Victorian Government Strategic Forest Resource Inventory
- VicForests Permanent Growth Plots
- Forest type
- Percent of overstorey that is non-eucalypt
- Current forest condition and structure
- Site characteristics, and
- Event histories (for example bushfire and harvesting)
The yield tables allow estimation of future timber volumes from Ash and Mixed Species forests and take into account the effect of past practices and the current state of the forests. In particular, recent forest fires resulted in huge ecological and economic losses across Victoria. To account for this, parameters describing different fire conditions experienced across forest types are incorporated into the Strategic Wood Supply Model optimisation process.
The most recent Resource Outlook was published in 2014 and is available at http://www.vicforests.com.au/planning-1/resource-outlook.
6.2 Effectively manage risks and uncertainties in timber resource modelling
One of the purposes of the Resource Outlook is to guide allocation of timber into the future. VicForests generally uses a declining allocation model which aims to allocate on contract a declining profile of the forecast available timber quantities, so that:
- The market is provided with future opportunities to acquire additional volume;
- New customers have an opportunity to enter the industry;
- The market has the opportunity to establish price points for various products; and
- The risks to supply due to future changes in the type, location and availability of forest resources due to events such as bushfire are mitigated.
6.3 Maintain production in accordance with sustainable harvest principles
Once the forecast timber is allocated and Timber Sales Agreements entered into with customers, VicForests identifies the areas to be harvested over the next five years in the Timber Release Plan.
VicForests aims to balance the distribution of harvesting operations across the entire available resource. Determination of proposed harvest areas includes consideration of:
- The areas identified for harvest as modelled by the Strategic Wood Supply Model;
- Area and volume targets by forest type and geographic unit;
- Sawlog yield distribution targets that aim to reflect the modelled targets; and
- Contracted sales commitments.
These targets guide the development of the Timber Release Plan which is a 5 year plan that identifies the specific harvesting units (forest coupes) to be harvested over a 5 year time frame.
The aim of these targets is to ensure VicForests' operational harvest schedules are aligned with the modelled output of the Strategic Wood Supply Model, taking into account sales commitments and operational factors.
The Timber Release Plan is implemented through rolling Operations Plans, which ensure that VicForests meets its annual contractual obligations with customers and contractors while considering operational, climatic, regulatory and wood supply constraints.
7. Adaptive Practices
7.1 Implement timber harvesting systems that balance silvicultural and ecological objectives
VicForests implements a range of silvicultural systems and techniques to optimise forest management outcomes. These include clear-felling, seed tree, regrowth retention harvesting, uneven-aged harvesting and thinning. A brief description of each is provided below:
- Clearfell – silvicultural method of harvesting a coupe whereby all merchantable trees, apart from those to be retained for wildlife habitat, are removed.
- Seed-tree – a silvicultural system used for harvesting and regeneration. All merchantable trees are harvested, apart from those specifically retained for regenerating the coupe by natural or induced seedfall and those retained for habitat purposes.
- Uneven-aged – this system is not defined in the Code and was developed following a 2006 trial of harvesting mixed aged, mixed species forest in East Gippsland. The system allows for a mixture of seed tree and thinning operations on the same coupe, with the intention of retaining the best growing stock for the next rotation while harvesting the existing mature stands. The 2010–11 year was its first full year of operation.
- Thinning – the removal of part of a forest stand with the aim of increasing the growth rate and/or health of retained trees and, in commercial thinning, obtaining timber from trees that would otherwise eventually die before final harvesting.
- Regrowth retention - involves the retention of forest patches so that more than 50% of the harvested area is located within one tree length of retained forest. The area within one tree length of the retained forest is termed ‘Area of Influence’ and the area that is retained is termed the ‘Retained Area’.
The choice of silvicultural system depends on the forest type and age, the safety of forest workers, timber production objectives, biodiversity conservation objectives and landscape amenity objectives.
In 2015-16 VicForests harvested the following areas of forest in eastern Victoria:
Ash eucalypt harvest
- Clearfall - 1,051 hectares
- Seed-tree - 43 hectares
- Regrowth retention - 364 hectares
Mixed Species eucalypt harvest
- Clearfall - 104 hectares
- Clearfall salvage - 7 hectares
- Seed-tree - 1,271 hectares
- Uneven-aged (thinning) - 15 hectares
109 coupes were harvested in 2015-16. The majority of these were harvested using the single-tree selection method of harvesting.
Implementation of Regrowth Retention Harvesting
During 2015-16 VicForests continued to implement the Regrowth Retention Harvesting silvicultural system in appropriate stands of Ash forest in the Central Highlands.
The Leadbeater's Possum Advisory Group recommendations included the adoption of Regrowth Retention Harvesting on at least 50% of the Ash forest types in the distribution range of the Leadbeater's Possum. Regrowth retention coupes are to have forest influence over more than 50% of the coupe, to facilitate rapid re-colonisation of the harvested area. The silvicultural system also supports a number of other objectives:
- To protect and enhance old-growth forest structures such as future habitat suitable for a range of forest dwelling species, especially species dependent on mature forest. Specific mature forest features that are targeted for retention include large diameter coarse woody debris and stags with hollows, as well as large living trees.
- To support the dispersal and movement of forest faunal communities by enhancing connectivity across the landscape.
- To support habitat heterogeneity across the landscape, and to ensure that areas retained have the lowest likelihood of being impacted by disturbance such as wildlife and wind throw.
A monitoring program to gauge the success of the Regrowth Retention Harvesting silvicultural system is currently being developed to ensure that the success of both operational and ecological goals are measured. The requirement to adequately regenerate harvested sites is significantly more complex for regrowth retention coupes, because of the increased interface between harvest area and retained forest. This higher level of interface affects the ability to conduct suitable post-harvest regeneration burns.
In addition to implementing Regrowth Retention Harvesting, VicForests has been investigating alternatives to high intensity regeneration burns. This project is considering the impact of burns on pre-1900 Ash trees, Leadbeater's Possum Zone 1A habitat, rainforest and associated buffers, and community values such as visual buffers.
During 2015-16, VicForests monitored 16 Regrowth Retention Coupes. These coupes had a total gross planned area of 490 hectares, of which an overall total of 230 hectares was planned to be retained in stream reserves (130 hectares), other retained habitat (42 hectares), rainforest buffers (19 hectares), Leadbeater's Possum Zone 1A habitat (12 hectares) and other reasons such as slope (27 hectares). Retained areas are planned to reserve the highest quality habitat values such as pre-1900 Ash trees or large stags which are difficult to protect when isolated in the harvest area. Regrowth Retention Harvesting sites require significantly more complex burning techniques which are generally undertaken by hand crews using a staged ignition technique, rather than using aerial ignition as on larger and simpler clearfell sites. Staged ignition involves burning the harvested coupe over multiple days, or over a far longer period during a single day. This allows protection of values higher up the slope by burning at a lower intensity, and therefore a slower release of heat. The challenges with staged burning is the limited number of days with suitable weather, and the greater amount of resources required to undertake the burns.
The results for 2015-16 indicated a protection level of 98% for retained areas, with 5 hectares out of the 230 hectare total impacted by the regeneration burns. However, the reduced intensity of burns has led to additional mechanical disturbance where burns were of insufficient intensity to create a seedbed suitable for germination and establishment.
8. Regrowing Forests
Regrowing the forest following harvesting is a key part of ecologically sustainable forest management. VicForests aims to use regeneration processes that most closely replicate natural processes to ensure that forest cover as well as forest biodiversity is maintained.
Ash eucalypt forests generally grow in damper and more elevated parts of the landscape, where bushfires are less frequent than in the drier mixed species forests. However, under certain conditions, these forests burn, commonly killing all of the trees, as was the case during the 2000s when three very large bushfires burnt over 2.5 million hectares of eastern Victoria, including many Ash eucalypt stands.
Following a fire, the standing trees shed their seeds, which germinate over the coming months. The new stand that results from this germination and growth is a single-aged stand.
VicForests aims to replicate this process through applying a high-intensity regeneration burn following harvesting operations. This burn leaves an ash-bed similar to that left following a bushfire, which is ideal for seeds to germinate. Soon after the regeneration burn, preferably within a few days, seed is spread from a helicopter, to replicate the natural seed fall process. The seed used is collected either from the same or nearby harvesting areas.
The seed germinates over the next couple of months, usually before winter, and then grows. Ash eucalypts grow quickly, achieving between one and two metres of height growth each year.
Unlike Ash eucalypt forests, mixed species eucalypt forests generally grow in mixed-aged stands. Mixed species eucalypts are not normally killed by fires, but seeding does occur after fires, which, following germination and growth, result in a mixed-aged stand. To replicate natural processes, VicForests normally retains a higher number of trees when harvesting mixed-species stands, commonly using seed tree or selection harvesting systems.
Hand-planting is only undertaken when regeneration using seeding is not possible or not viable, such as if the regeneration burn was not effective, or if the area requiring a regeneration operation is too small. Usually only a very small area is hand-planted.
Regeneration Results 2015-16 - Site Preparation
- Self-regenerated: 209 hectares (East Gippsland 102 ha, North East 107 ha)
- Burnt: 2,163 hectares (East Gippsland 476 ha, North East 1,036 ha, West Gippsland 651 ha)
- Mechanically disturbed: 605 hectares (East Gippsland 92 ha, North East 464 ha, West Gippsland 49 ha)
Regeneration Results 2015-16 - Site Establishment
- Self-regenerated: 209 hectares (East Gippsland 102 ha, North East 107 ha)
- Aerially sown: 2,055 hectares (East Gippsland 138 ha, North East 1,284 ha, West Gippsland 633 ha)
- Hand sown: 134 hectares (East Gippsland 26 ha, North East 103 ha, West Gippsland 5 ha)
- Planted: 28 hectares (North East 28 ha)
8.1 Maintain a sufficiently stocked viable and representative seed store
Seed collection is undertaken annually to maintain adequate seed stock to facilitate future site establishment of harvested areas.
The amount of seed collected by VicForests during the 2015-16 year by forest type and method of collection is shown below:
- Ash eucalypt seed - 2,658kg
- Mixed species eucalypt seed - 1,660kg
The collection of this volume maintained sufficient seed stock for two-year's worth of regeneration.
8.2 Minimise risks to known values during regeneration
VicForests identifies and records values to be protected within Regrowth Retention Harvesting coupes during the coupe reconnaissance process and during harvesting operations in the Forest Coupe Plan. Identified values are protected during regeneration operations.
In 2015-16 there were no escapes of regeneration burns that were declared a wildfire.
8.3 Maintain forest health and vitality
VicForests carefully plans the regeneration of harvested coupes, including the preparation of the site and the establishment of the new trees - either by spreading seeds or by planting. Regeneration planning also considers factors which may affect the survival of the young trees or whether they can thrive. This includes consideration of threats by browsing animals or the introduction or spread of noxious weeds.
Following establishment, VicForests monitors the regeneration status of each harvested coupe to ensure adequate regeneration is achieved.
Although every coupe harvested must be adequately regenerated, VicForests has set a target that 95% of coupes are regenerated at the first attempt.
In 2015-16, 86% of coupes were regenerated at first attempt. The two main reasons that 14% did not were browsing and inadequate regeneration burns.
9. Cultural Heritage
9.1 Implement improved processes for cultural heritage management
VicForests is committed to protecting Indigenous and European cultural heritage values. We also seek to improve transparency around processes for managing cultural heritage and demonstrating respect for customary land rights and uses.
There are a range of specific legislative cultural heritage and land use rights requirements that are relevant to VicForests, including the Native Title Act 1993, the Traditional Owner Settlement Act 2010, the Aboriginal Heritage Act 2006 and the Heritage Act 1995. VicForests’ processes for recognising and managing land use rights and cultural heritage have been developed in context with these Acts.
VicForests has designated Cultural Heritage as a High Conservation Value within our Draft High Conservation Value Strategy.
VicForests will exclude or enact adaptive harvesting practices to protect registered and un-registered cultural heritage sites from the impacts of harvesting, roading and regeneration activities in accordance with the Management Standards and Procedures for timber harvesting operations in Victoria’s State forests. The identification of cultural heritage values occurs through desktop assessment of planned harvest areas and field assessment of all coupes, in consultation with relevant stakeholders and authorities.
If VicForests identifies unregistered European cultural values at any point during coupe reconnaissance or operations, those values are reported to the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning who then submit the information to Heritage Victoria. The Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning, via Heritage Victoria, then provide advice to VicForests on the appropriate management of any unregistered European cultural heritage sites.
9.2 Strengthen relationships with Indigenous groups
VicForests acknowledges and respects the traditional owners of the land on which we operate, including Registered Aboriginal Parties, Native Title holders, and other Aboriginal communities. We acknowledge that our operations occur on land that Indigenous communities and their ancestors have been custodians of over many generations and on which ceremonies of celebration, initiation and renewal have been performed.
VicForests is dedicated to respecting and accepting our responsibilities to promote and protect Indigenous culture, heritage and significant sites, as well as the European cultural heritage values that have been established more recently. Not only do these values hold spiritual or sacred significance, but cultural heritage sites are also important scientific and educational resources.
Increasing the level of engagement with local Indigenous groups is a key objective for VicForests. We recognise the important role strong relationships can play in helping us manage cultural sites, improve land management and develop regional opportunities. We are keen to develop our processes and initiatives for Indigenous engagement into the future in collaboration with our stakeholders.
During the Timber Release Plan planning process in 2015-16, VicForests engaged with Indigenous groups to provide feedback on VicForests' proposed harvesting coupes.
VicForests also prepared a draft Indigenous Engagement Policy which is yet to be publicly released.
10. Stakeholder Involvement
VicForests aims to foster productive relationships with our stakeholders, ensuring they are provided sufficient and equal opportunity to be involved and provide feedback on our forest practices.
Stakeholder involvement is a key component of VicForests' operations and significant importance is placed on using stakeholder knowledge in reviewing and refining our planning, systems and operational approaches. Regardless of their viewpoint, VicForests engages with all stakeholders who want to be involved.
10.1 Increasing opportunities for direct engagement
In 2015-16, VicForests’ stakeholder engagement activities continued to support our efforts to improve our understanding of timber harvesting operations including the economic and social contribution made by the industry to the Victorian economy. A range of different methods were used to share this information from online and web-based channels through to face to face engagement with stakeholders and community members.
Some of the engagement activities undertaken by VicForests in 2015-16 included:
- Promoting the outcomes of the “Economic assessment of the native timber industry in the Central Highlands RFA Area” study by Deloitte Access Economics. The study considered the economic contribution made by VicForests and the broader native timber industry as a result of harvesting operations in the Central Highlands Regional Forest Agreement area. The study found that an annual harvest area of approximately 1,600 hectares (or less than 0.3 percent of the public land across this region) generated $573 million in economic activity by VicForests and its customers, and generated more than 2,100 full time jobs;
- Engagement with Environmental non-Government Organisations occurred directly as well as through the Forest Industry Task Force;
- Stronger links were created with a number of local governments through the Wood Encouragement Policy, including the Latrobe, Wellington and Baw Baw Shires;
- Seeking input from the community in 2015 regarding proposed amendments to VicForests’ Timber Release Plan. This included presentations to various local councils and field trips;
- Significant engagement around harvesting activities in the Rubicon and Strathbogies areas;
- Hosting field trips with a wide range of community groups including primary and secondary schools, university students, 4WD groups and other interest groups;
- Speaking with thousands of community members at various regional events across eastern Victoria as well as at the Royal Melbourne Show;
- Continuing to distribute a monthly e-newsletter to stakeholders and increasing the number of recipients via an online subscription option on VicForests website; and
- Increasing VicForests' presence on Twitter via the @vicforestscomms handle.
10.2 Using stakeholder feedback to improve practices or processes
Throughout 2015-16 VicForests invited stakeholder feedback in relation to the development of VicForests' Ecologically Sustainable Forest Management Plan, High Conservation Value Strategy and during the Timber Release Plan consultation period. All feedback received was reviewed and where appropriate, implemented into our sustainable forest management system.
Changes included the development of a special management plan for small catchment areas where the community have expressed interest in how the small scale catchment is managed.
VicForests seeks open and transparent dialogue with our stakeholders to help increase understanding about how we operate. Through this dialogue, VicForests hopes to encourage a culture of positive discourse and inclusion of stakeholders in managing Victoria’s State forests.
VicForests believes openness and honesty is the key to dispelling the considerable amount of misinformation that currently exists in the public sphere, and will allow VicForests to meaningfully connect with stakeholders as our attention is focused on implementing good forest management.
In 2015-16, VicForests’ stakeholder engagement activities continued to support the organisation’s efforts to improve understanding of timber harvesting operations including the economic and social contribution made by the industry to the Victorian economy.
A range of different methods were used to share this information from online and web-based channels through to face to face engagement with stakeholders and community members.
11.1 Provide stakeholders with progress against VicForests' Ecologically Sustainable Forest Management objectives
This Sustainability Report is VicForests' key means of reporting on progress against the objectives listed in VicForests' Ecologically Sustainable Forest Management Plan.
Previously VicForests has reported against the Global Reporting Initiative's indicators, but now considers reporting against the objectives listed in the Ecologically Sustainable Forest Management Plan to be most relevant to our stakeholders.
VicForests has aimed to report against each of the target/actions listed in the Plan, although some are 'ongoing' or 'business-as-usual' targets, while others have a completion date later than 30 June 2016 (i.e. this reporting period).
11.2 Be responsive to stakeholder enquiries
VicForests aims to acknowledge enquiries and requests for information by stakeholders within three business days.
In 2015-16, 91% of the 581 stakeholder communications registered were responded to within three business days. A further 2% were not required. The 7% of responses that took longer were for a variety of reasons, including adhering to Freedom of Information process timelines and waiting for appropriate staff members to be available for meetings.
11.3 Provide public access to VicForests information
There are a number of channels through which VicForests stakeholders can seek information about VicForests' activities:
- VicForests’ website is our hub and the primary tool through which we disseminate information to the public. The website is constantly being updated with news, upcoming events, opportunities and reports, and provides comprehensive summaries of VicForests business and operational activities.
- ‘The View’ is VicForests' monthly e-bulletin through which we share business and forestry-related news;
- Direct contact may be undertaken by VicForests to connect with stakeholders on a range of project or issue specific topics, such as Timber Release Plan consultation, the Community Support Program or any serious media issues that require public address;
- Media releases are used by VicForests to inform the community of operations, advertise opportunities to provide input and provide responses to criticism; and
- VicForests fact sheets are used to communicate key messages on various aspects of VicForests operations to stakeholders.
VicForests also seeks opportunities to use all forms of social and other media in order to widely share information and provide the opportunity for the public to access well-informed and balanced discussion around key forest management issues. We currently have a presence on Twitter (@VicForestsComms) and on LinkedIn and encourage stakeholders to follow our activities there.
VicForests maintains a publicly-accessible Timber Release Plan (including maps) on the VicForests website, as well as copies of past Annual Reports and Sustainability Reports.
VicForests determined not to maintain a publicly accessible Harvesting Schedule (Rolling Operations Plan) on VicForests' website, due to the difficulty of maintaining currency. Instead, VicForests publishes the Timber Harvesting Safety Zones that are created under section 77B of the Sustainable Forests (Timber) Act 2004. A Timber Harvesting Safety Zone applies to:
- A coupe (that is the gross area designated within the Approved Timber Release Plan coupe boundary);
- Any road that is within that coupe and that has been closed for the purposes of timber harvesting operations (a public road located within a coupe that has not been closed for the purpose of Timber Harvesting Safety, is still accessible for use by the public); and
- Any area of State forest within 150 metres of the boundary of that coupe.
Active Timber Harvesting Safety Zones are identified in the forest by signs on roads which may provide access to the zones. Unauthorised access to a Timber Harvesting Safety Zone is prohibited from the date specified on the sign and penalties may apply to persons within the zone, unless they are on a road that has not been closed.
Locations of VicForests operations to which a Timber Harvesting Safety Zone may apply can be identified via maps of VicForests' Timber Release Plans and a notice specifying the location of the Timber Harvesting Safety Zone and commencement date of timber harvesting operations.
12. Our People
12.1 Occupational Health and Safety
One of VicForests' values is 'Zero Harm'. Although we are aware that there is a level of injury associated with our activities, we will strive to reduce the number and severity of injuries as far as reasonably practicable, and we will always consider OH&S risks in operational and commercial decision making.
One highlight in 2015-16 was a fifty percent decrease in contractor Lost Time Injuries. Achieving this level indicates that ‘Zero Harm’ is a realistic and achievable target. Significant work by contractors on their safety management systems and operational safety performance drove these improvements. Responsiveness from VicForests’ managers to third party audits and incident investigations also contributed to this result.
VicForests’ commitment to responding to audits has also led to the development of a lead indicator for safety in regard to corrective actions from audits. Using lead indicators is challenging but VicForests considers the effort to be worthwhile.
During 2015-16 the level of ‘Near Miss’ reporting remained at industry-leading levels, with staff submitting 153 reports and contractors 195. Both of these numbers represent the second highest on record for VicForests. The hazard awareness and openness of incident reporting is propelling VicForests to our goal of being an industry leader in safety culture.
VicForests’ Contractor Consultative Committee was active during the year, analysing incident investigations and establishing corrective actions. The Committee also reviewed issues relating to machine maintenance, personal protective equipment and made recommendations in relation to road closures and the VicForests audit program. This committee also drove the project to transition to ratcheting binders on log trucks. This success of this project has led to a significant reduction in injury risk to drivers.
12.2 Incidents and Injuries
Two ‘Lost Time Injuries’ from walking-related slips and trips occurred during 2015-16.
In accordance with our strategy, 100 percent of slips and trips were investigated in addition to all single vehicle incidents.
The number of contractor incidents remained similar to previous years, with the six recorded injuries arising from walking and vehicle accidents. The severity rate increased due to a number of broken bones suffered by truck drivers.
12.3 Employment Summary
Full time equivalent
* Senior Managers are employees at a Career Level 6 or higher.
Learning and Development
During the year 1,356 training entries were recorded, across areas including drug and alcohol prevention and education, rainforest identification, road construction and maintenance, chainsaw use, leadership and management, records management, stress management and refresher courses on VicForests’ values, code of conduct and performance planning.