Timber's dark days as contractors look to salvage industry after fires

The race is on to salvage as much usable timber as possible following widespread bushfires across the South East.

SCORCHED: Trucks carrying loads of blackened plantation timber line up at AKD Softwood at Tumut, indicative of the challenges facing the industry after the bushfires.

SCORCHED: Trucks carrying loads of blackened plantation timber line up at AKD Softwood at Tumut, indicative of the challenges facing the industry after the bushfires.

Blackened trees litter the landscape wherever you look, but all is not lost say those working hard to keep the industry alive. There are unique challenges though.

Long-time Bombala and Far South Coast logging contractor Norman Wilton said there would be around 1000 cubic metres of sawlogs "lying around" the district, but close to half of that within national park boundaries.

He said there were discussions taking place over whether contractors would be allowed in to salvage that timber before it deteriorates any further.

However, there is plenty of red tape in the way of such a move, which is likely to have its opponents.

"If it comes off that we can go in there and salvage it, that would be a first," Mr Wilton said.

"However, I firmly believe that it's a one-off - it won't set a precedent.

"What do you do with it otherwise? Leave it there to rot away or provide piles of fuel for the next fires?"

Mr Wilton said having plenty of fire-salvage timber outside regular hardwood logging coupes was a bureaucratic headache for now as contractors like him all await outcomes of assessments and government discussions.

Chief among the concerns is the usability of blackened timber.

"If the wood's clean, it's fine. The big problem is the bark," Mr Wilton said.

"ANWE [Eden's chip mill] won't want it if there's any charcoal present.

"And it's very hard to get this black bark off hardwood."

Mr Wilton said he believed sawmills would be happy to take it even with some bark on, and some chips are going to Bega Cheese as fuel for its boilers.

However, the sawmill industry is also in challenging times, with Blue Ridge Timber at Eden just last week confirming its imminent closure and laying off of staff due to diminishing supply and contract changes..

Meanwhile, softwood plantations are scrambling to salvage as much as they can as quickly as they are able before the pine deteriorates further. Operators including Dongwha Australia and AKD Softwoods in Tumut are already looking to increase staff levels in the short term to cope.

"I really feel for pine contractors over the next 12 months, while there may be some light at the end of the tunnel for hardwood - it's going to be tough times for us all.

"It's certainly a sad state of affairs for the economies of Bombala and Eden."

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This story Timber's dark days as contractors look to salvage industry after fires first appeared on Bega District News.

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