Forestry: Portable slice of sustainability

In November 27, 2017

When Hamish Randle moved to Whanganui from Rotorua two years ago, he landed a new line of work that he loves; now all he needs is some land so he can start planting his own trees.

He works for forest owner and timber merchant Richard Thompson and on any day might be found collating timber orders at the MacBlack yard in Peat St, pruning at Papaiti Forest or running a portable sawmill on the back corner of an outlying farm.

Hamish has quickly developed an abiding love of wood and he’s impressed by the high-value, continuous cover forestry model exemplified by Papaiti Forest.

Richard and his wife Laurel Stowell began planting their 16 hectares of steep hillside in 1991. They focused on high-value alternative species: Tasmanian blackwood and macrocarpa at first, then silver wattle, poplar and gum.

“This way of doing things [selective logging and continuous canopy cover] means … you’re not putting the pressure on rural roads. It’s low- impact, it’s sustainable and it can create decent, ongoing jobs.”

he forest is in the Permanent Forest Sink Initiative, meaning it will never be clear-felled. Instead, individual trees or small coupes will be selectively logged and immediately replanted.

Richard realised that they’d reap little reward for their labour and patience if the trees were sold as logs. That’s when he bought a portable sawmill and brought in his old friend Ross Greenbank to run it, and set up a timber yard to market the end product himself.

Learning the business

It takes Hamish and Ross just half an hour to set up the Lucas mill, which requires remarkably little space to operate and can be transported by a Hiace van. Once milled into sawn timber, up to 16-inch wide boards, it’s usually Hamish who will stack it.

“Being involved with the whole process gives me a lot of appreciation for the care that’s required at every stage to produce good timber,” he says. “We’re always trying to optimise the use of each log, to get the highest-value sawn timber from every tree. When we’re milling, I can see the impact of pruning, whether it was done at the right time or not.

“The timber is mostly air-dried, so there’s a bit involved in stacking it. Some of the timbers we work with are not forgiving the way pine is. Gum is well known for warping, so we have to take a lot of care in the way we dry it. There’s no point ruining good timber at that late stage.”

Learning from the elders

Hamish is a member of the Farm Forestry Association and has just returned from field visits in Masterton organised by the association’s Indigenous Forests Section.

He is particularly interested in ground durable gums and the potential for harvesting roundwood. Vineyards and organic farms need alternatives to CCA-treated posts. Selected varieties are already being trialled around the country through the New Zealand Drylands Forestry Initiative, he says.

Hamish and his partner are looking for a small block near Whanganui where they can replicate the diverse, high-value plantings that Richard and other farm foresters have proven to work. Hamish has an investor to back him as well as Richard to mentor him but the land is proving hard to find.

“Twenty hectares of bare land rarely comes up for sale – even though there’s plenty of hill country around Whanganui that is marginal for grazing and slip-prone and would be better off under permanent forest cover.

“This way of doing things [selective logging and continuous canopy cover] means you only need tracks big enough for a small machine. You don’t need to build big roads to give access to logging trucks, or huge skidder sites.

You mill onsite and only take out sawn timber. You’re never clear-felling with all the risk of erosion and loss of habitat and you’re not putting the pressure on rural roads. It’s low-impact, it’s sustainable and it can create decent, ongoing jobs.”

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