LOOKING FOR A FUTURE: Sam Slack, Tom Capewell, Brett Emmerton, Shane Schneider and Myles Polzin at Slack's Hardwood.
LOOKING FOR A FUTURE: Sam Slack, Tom Capewell, Brett Emmerton, Shane Schneider and Myles Polzin at Slack's Hardwood. Alex Treacy

Why there are grave fears for timber industry future

SAM Slack is 38.

He started Slack's Hardwood when he was 17.

His parents and siblings all work in the business, which has around 40 full time employees and supports another 20 contractors, making it one of the biggest private employers in the North Burnett.

"I have encouraged a lot of young people to come into the industry,” Mr Slack said.

"My average worker is probably 30 or so and on average they've worked 10 years for me.

"A fair few young people and we've managed to get them by convincing them the industry does have a future.”

But that future is under jeopardy, Mr Slack said, because of proposed changes to the Managing a Native Forest Practice code which governs his business.

The code, last reviewed in 2014, holds that harvesters must leave a minimum of 150 hardwood timber trees per hectare of native forest.

"We would like to take few more but it is feasible to grow timber (under those conditions),” Mr Slack said.

But following a meeting earlier this year between industry body Private Forestry Service Queensland (PFSQ), the Queensland Herbarium, the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries, and the Department of Natural Resources, Mines and Energy, there is a belief the Herbarium wants to increase that limit to 300 trees per hectare.

Slack's Hardwood owner Sam Slack.
Slack's Hardwood owner Sam Slack. Alex Treacy

"They (trees) won't grow at that rate, it's big trouble for us potentially in the long term,” Mr Slack said.

"If timber can't grow, we haven't got resource over long term.

"It's got us pretty worried.”

PFSQ modelling on 15-year-old growth plots shows that, should a target of 300 trees per hectare be adopted, the mean annual diameter increment (how fast trees trunks grow annually) would fall from around 1.1cm to less than 0.4cm, as more trees are competing for nutrients and sunlight.

Mr Slack argues that having a fewer amount of more mature trees is more beneficial for the environment than a greater amount of smaller trees.

"The trees are healthier, they grow better, and already with our code of practice, we have got to leave habitat trees,” he said.

"We want to be properly sustainable.”

PFSQ are apprehensive of several other mooted changes, all of which they say add up to a lack of long term security for private native forest landholders, meaning they are less likely to invest in production from their forest, due to concerns they may lose that investment because of further restrictions.

These partnerships with private landholders are vital, Mr Slack said.

"We only go back every 20 years and take 5-10 per cent, thin it, kill a few substandard pieces but then it grows, which is a benefit to nature as well,” he said.

"We've never (made) a species extinct, we're poking around in the back ground.”

Overall, Mr Slack wants to challenge the notion that hardwood timber harvesting is necessarily detrimental to the environment.

He said there is a common perception they are land clearing, which is emphatically not what they do.

Mr Slack has been a driving force in organising an industry rally at Granville Soccer Club in Maryborough on Sunday, August 18.

"We're not very good at selling ourselves and we need to work on it,” he said.

A DNRME spokesperson said the code is being reviewed by Queensland Herbarium and the CSIRO, including a scientific assessment.

"As part of the review DNRME is also consulting with stakeholders such as Queensland Timber, Agforce and forestry groups,” they said.

"DNRME will consider the scientific assessment and feedback from stakeholders as part of revising the draft code.

"DNRME will then seek further public feedback on the revised draft code later this year.”


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