Fifteen-year-old eucalyptus nitens stand in line side by side, like little wooden soldiers. Their rustling leaves whisper of promise.
The rows of green and brown plantation represent the future of Tasmania’s once-mighty forestry industry.
The forest industry in Tasmania has left its troubled past behind and is heading for a calmer, more profitable future according to the government and forest operators.
A combination of factors are being credited with a resurgence in the industry, after years of strife.
A falling Australian dollar is providing a more conducive market for exports. Coupled with a favourable political cycle and investment in the industry there is increasing stability for a new generation of foresters.
“The Hodgman Liberal government welcomes new figures from TasPorts which show that the export of wood products has passed three million tonnes, for the first time in five years,” Minister for Resources Guy Barnett said.
“As a result, the industry's fortunes are turning around. Investment, employment, exports and earnings are all rising.”
Forico has seen exponential growth since starting in 2014 when, under parent company New Forests, it took over Gunns’ abandoned assets.
“We’ve grown our business in two years from very, very low levels ... This year we’ll do 1.6 million green tonnes of export of chips,” Forico chief executive officer Bryan Hayes said.
Arbre Forest Industries Training and Career Hub project manager Colin McCulloch said: “The most significant thing I've seen is investment in the forestry industry, which has brought a stable atmosphere allowing people to develop their own business.”
In the past few years, the industry has seen a $15 million investment from Ta Ann into its Plywood mill, $10 million by Forico to get the Surrey Hills mill operational and $4 million, with the promise of a further $6 million in the next 18 months, into Forico’s Long Reach mill.
Mr Hayes said Forico also invested heavily in their plantations.
“This year we will ... spend around $16 million on replanting and looking after plantations,” he said.
Mr Hayes believes the future of the industry lies in plantation timber, which he said is instrumental in the current upturn.
“I think native forest forestry will always have an issue because we do have so many unique endemic flora and fauna in Tasmania,” he said.
Forico’s operations are completely plantation based. The company owns 80,000 hectares of native forest, which it has reserved for its ecological values.
Both Forico and Ta Ann have adopted a long-term approach, investing heavily in research and development.
Ta Ann director Evan Rolley said the key to ensuring the industry’s continued progress is a forward focus.
“In the end it’s ideas and innovation that will take the industry forward,” he said.
Mr Rolley is encouraged by the slow and steady growth he’s seeing in the industry, which he says is a good sign for stability.
“It doesn't need to be spectacular … Spectacular growth leads to a bubble that bursts,” he said.
He said the emphasis should be on building a credible long-term industry through steady improvement in developing a skilled workforce, sustainable supply and research and development.
The industry has had a chequered past in the state.
Previous Tasmanian forestry giant Gunns went into voluntary liquidation in 2012 after a prolonged battle to establish the controversial Tamar Valley Pulp Mill.
Gunns was a key partner of Forestry Tasmania, operating the three major woodchipping plants in the state and accounting for almost half of Forestry Tasmania’s sales.
The collapse of Gunns coupled with the global financial crisis, which saw the Australian dollar soar and exports slow to a virtual standstill, left Tasmania’s Forestry industry only just clinging on.
In 2012 a deal was brokered between the forestry industry, unions, environmental groups and the community to resolve the decades-long forestry conflict.
It expanded the area of native forest that was to be protected from logging.
When the Liberal government won office in 2014, one of its key focuses was repealing the forest peace deal, which it did in September 2014.
Mr Rolley said it was time for stakeholders to look beyond prior differences and work collaboratively towards a sustainable future.
“There has been lots of decades of conflict ... And it’s certainly a time now not to run into that space, but to focus on making a difference,” Mr Rolley said.
Mr Hayes said lessons had been learnt from the recent downturn, which was the biggest he had seen in 44 years in the industry.
“I think the important learning out of the downturn was that it's very important to keep our communities on side and to be part of our communities and work with them … Because we are a part of the community,” he said.
The echo of the forestry downturn can still be heard, however. During the decline many skilled labourers relocated, which has left a skills shortage in the state that is evident today, Mr Rolley said.
Mr Rolley believes investment in forestry needs to be coupled with an effort to train and attract skilled workers into the industry.
Mr McCulloch said the next generation of forestry workers needed to be equipped for the future, where technological advances are revolutionising the industry.
“The forestry industry has changed how they do their work and we need to change how we train the people to do that work,” Mr McCulloch said.
A common theme among forestry professionals is there is an optimistic future for the industry.
A future based on collaboration, driven by societal needs and continually improving through innovation.