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Three wood councils bringing small-scale forest owners together

Hamish Levack, Trevor Helson and Brent Apthorp, New Zealand Tree Grower February 2015.

New Zealand already has two successful wood councils – the Southern Wood Council and the Eastland Wood Council. The Southern Wood Council was set up in 2001 to promote, encourage and coordinate the sustainable economic development of the forest products industry in the Otago and Southland regions. The Eastland Wood Council, which was set up in 2006, grew out of the East Coast Forestry Industry Group also established in 2001. It is similar to the Southern Wood Council, but with the aim of providing a collective voice for the forestry industry in the Gisborne and Wairoa District Council areas. Early in 2014 the Southern North Island Wood Council was set up.

The following articles explain in more detail how these wood councils work. They deal with issues of common interest where collaboration across the forestry sector will be mutually beneficial. Examples include −

  • Interacting with local authorities in preparing and finalising regional and district plans
  • Improving the community and political perception of forestry as an industry
  • Improving energy and transport efficiency
  • Ensuring that forestry is not unfairly disadvantaged by rural fire control reforms
  • Supporting institutions which provide forestry skills and training
  • Preparing resource information and assessments of the regional economic and environmental effects of forestry
  • Supporting health and safety measures, including testing workers for drugs and alcohol
  • Acting as a central point of contact for the forestry industry

Southern North Island Wood Council

The extent of the southern North Island region is shown on the map below. According to the Ministry for Primary Industries the region encompasses 165,800 hectares of plantation forest with an area-weighted average age of 18 years and a standing volume of 58 million cubic metres.

Early in 2014, David Hilliard chaired a meeting at Masterton’s Juken New Zealand Limited office, at which it was agreed that a Southern North Island Wood Council would be set up. A board was established made up of David Hilliard (chairman), Steve Couper (Ernslaw), Bert Hughes (FEL), Marcus Musson (FOMS),Wayne Mulligan (NZ Forest Logistics), Mike Hodgson (PF Olsen), Myles Guy (Ministry for Primary Industries), Hamish Levack (NZFFA representative) and Geoff Copps (Grow Wellington). Grow Wellington, the economic development agency which exists to accelerate growth in the Wellington region and make it more internationally competitive, has agreed to provide administration services over the first year.

Plan and objectives

The objectives of the Southern North Island Wood Council are to −

  • Improve the business environment for commercial forestry growing and processing in the southern North Island region, as defined in the map, which includes all the area described as the southern North Island wood supply region by the Ministry for Primary Industries
  • Establish a collective voice for the wood industry to achieve the industry’s aims collectively rather than individually
  • Provide a forum for members to jointly develop strategies and action plans on matters of common interest
  • Encourage political and community support for the wood industry in the southern North Island wood supply region
  • Be involved with research, science and knowledge development around the Southern North Island wood supply region
  • Encourage and promote best practice in all aspects of operation within the sector.

Core funding will be from members. However, it is possible that outside funding may be available for projects from government sources or from commercial sponsors.

During 2014/15 the Southern North Island Wood Council intends to develop a long-term strategy, promote and communicate this and recruit more members. In addition it will implement a consistent testing policy for drugs and alcohol across all participants in the industry, influence the revision of the Greater Wellington Regional Council regional plan to ensure the rules do not disadvantage forestry, and collaborate with the NZFFA to identify and contact all forest- owning entities in the southern North Island.

Coordinating a large number of forest owners

The region contains the third largest standing volume of timber in New Zealand. However, an even more important reason to have a wood council is the fact the southern North Island contains more forest-owning entities than any other region. These exceed 3,000 in number, and 64 per cent of the plantation area is held by those owning less than 1,000 hectares. It is going to be a challenge to get those involved in such a large fragmented body to understand the risks they face.

In particular is the fact that their forests are reaching maturity quite soon but there are limitations in the current infrastructure. The establishment of the Southern North Island Wood Council is a first step towards working together to reduce costs, improve revenue streams and more encourage local processing.

Safety in forests

Forest safety is an emerging risk of particular importance. Last December, Lincoln Kidd from Horowhenua was a forest fatality. This has resulted in the first case in New Zealand where a crew boss has been charged with manslaughter over a forestry death. Tim Hunt, the manager of the crew boss is facing charges of non-compliance. The forest owner is facing charges as well, and the Health and Safety Reform Bill, which will be enacted in 2015, will carry even tougher penalties than the current legislation.

This is all very much a serious concern.According to sections 171 and 177 of the Crimes Act 1961, manslaughter in these circumstances is culpable homicide not amounting to murder, and anyone who commits it is liable to imprisonment for life. The Southern North Island Wood Council will have a role in helping to educate small-scale forest owners about their forest safety obligations and responsibilities, but will also help defend members who are charged if it feels that they are being unfairly made into scapegoats by Worksafe NZ.


The Eastland Wood Council

In 2004 the EastlandWood Council morphed from the original association, the East Coast Forestry Industry Group which was started in the mid-1990s by a small group of forest owners and managers. In those days one or more of the members undertook any activity or initiative required, but often their day job got in the way. When the Eastland Wood Council was incorporated the decision was made to appoint a Chief Executive Officer.

Today it is an incorporated society with 10 members looking after about 150,000 hectares of plantation forest in the Gisborne and Wairoa districts. Approximately 2.5 million tonnes of logs are produced annually, with another million tonnes coming on stream over the next few years. The Ministry for Primary Industries forecasts this region to be capable of sustainably harvesting 3.4 million tonnes annually by 2020. Included within the membership are the Eastland Port and a couple of mills.

The aims of the Eastland Wood Council are to −

  • Operate at the regional level from Wairoa to Hicks Bay
  • Be the voice of the commercial plantation forestry industry
  • Be the forum for consolidating the views of the members
  • Encourage a positive image in the eyes of the community.

The strategic aims fall into four main areas – common focus, health and safety, industry image and the industry as a workplace. Looking to the future, work is being done to extend the membership so that there is a single entity which speaks for the wood industry in the Gisborne region. The main groups now at the table include contractors, transport and farm forestry. People from these sectors are not representatives of their industry, but provide a point of view so the decisions being made are more robust and come from a better knowledge base.

Benefit to farm foresters

Because forestry is such a vital part of the district’s economy, it is the single largest generator of revenue and gross domestic product, followed closely by sheep and beef farming. A combination of tourism, horticulture and viticulture make up the other main contributions. This means that forestry is very visible to the community, especially the transport sector. Public perception of the industry is mainly influenced by the image of trucks on the roads and reports of accidents in the forests.

The other component which also needs to be heard is the small-scale forester because the bulk of volume growth over the next decade will be coming from woodlots owned by farm foresters. It should be of real benefit for woodlot owners to become involved with the Eastland Wood Council because in the next year, legislation around workplace safety will mean that ‘persons conducting a business or undertaking’, will be more accountable for the health and safety of forestry workers.

This group includes forest owners, even if they have contracted out the management responsibilities to a forest manager or contractor. We are already seeing examples of where people are being held accountable because they did not have proper processes in place. It would not be unreasonable to assume many woodlot owners would also not have the required levels of documentation and oversight.

Drug and alcohol programme

The various focus groups established by the Eastland Wood Council – health and safety, environmental, drug and alcohol and training – will all be useful for all parts of the wood industry to participate in and to benefit from. The drug and alcohol programme is far reaching and provides an important way to protect the workers and the forest owners. The main element of the programme is the existence of a register which records the names of all forestry workers who have been found positive for drugs.

Before any member of the Eastland Wood Council will allow a new employee or contractor on to their property a check is made of the register. If they are found to be on it then specific actions are taken. These range from no job offer, exclusion from entering the site or entering a rehabilitation process. It is believed that this feature is probably unique in New Zealand. Groups who are not members of the Eastland Wood Council do not have access to the register and therefore they are probably unaware of any drug habits of new employees. This may be important if there is an accident.

Other initiatives

The health and safety focus group is carrying out some good work to get the message over about what is required by each and every worker. Nutrition, hydration, sensible eating and watching out for each other are some of the messages which need to be reinforced. Safety is paramount.

The Gisborne region has one of the worst erosion problems of anywhere in New Zealand and this is visible to the public whenever it rains. Wood slash from harvesting waste in waterways is a part of that same problem. The environmental focus group works closely with the contractors and the local council staff to solve these problems.

Various other programmes are undertaken such as the Share the Road initiative where primary school children are visited at their schools by drivers with their log trucks. The children are given information about the safety features of large trucks and how they should behave when near one. Work is being carried out with secondary schools around career choices, and the Eastland Wood Council is active with career days and taking interested students into the office and out to the field.

The annual awards scheme, now in its sixth year, has been a success with over 400 attending the 2014 gala evening. The recognition given to those in the field has been a real bonus to their mana and prestige. Many of the award winners have gone on to win at the national awards held in Rotorua each year. The event has grown and has taken on a life of its own.

Wider involvement

The Chief Executive Officer is active with a number of local council committees and other groups such as the regional transport, fresh water advisory, environmental and forestry forums. It is important that the industry has a voice and can be heard whenever there are discussions which might affect the industry.

Submissions are made whenever formal public consultation is undertaken. There is also active participation with other organisations such as the Chamber of Commerce, a regional labour force discussion group, the stakeholders committee of the Eastern Institute of Technology and a couple of charitable trusts. All of these activities are opportunities to be heard by the community and to improve the image of the wood industry.


The Southern Wood Council

The Southern Wood Council is the longest standing independent regional forestry grouping of its type in New Zealand. Set up in 2001, it is still going strong after more than 13 years. It was established after the industry joined forces to apply for regional development funding to develop a strategy for the forest products industry in the lower South Island. When this was unsuccessful, the forestry industry decided that setting up a regional grouping was still important because an increasing number of regional initiatives and problems were not being covered by national industry associations.

The Southern Wood Council missed out on regional development money, but was successful in accessing early funding from a new initiative, the Cluster Development Programme run by Industry New Zealand. It was one 13 pilot projects and the only forestry-related one which was selected in the first funding round.

The main aims for the SouthernWood Council are to −

  • Promote, encourage and coordinate the sustainable economic development of the forest products industry in Otago and Southland
  • Improve communication between forestry companies within the region, forestry and wood products companies and other groups and the community in the region, and forest products companies and national bodies.

Structure, funding and operation

The Southern Wood Council is set up as an incorporated society, originally opting for charitable status. Since then the ground rules have been
changed and it is now operating just like any other company structure. Innovatek, an Australasian events and industry association management company, was selected as manager and secretary for the grouping and has continued in this role. Meetings are held every three or four months. As part of its role to improve communication for the industry in the region, Southern Wood Council meetings are also linked to evening meetings and a dinner in which all those involved in or associated with the forest industry in the region are invited.

Apart from the early government funds received, income is now directly from members of the Southern Wood Council. Most projects are fully funded, but some with a specific focus such as the earlier wood energy audits have been paid for directly by its wood processing members.

Membership does not include NZFFA

The membership represents a wide cross-section of the forestry industry. Current members include −

  • Major forest owners Ernslaw One, Blakely Pacific, Wenita Forest Products, City Forests, Rayonier, SouthWood Export and PF Olsen
  • Wood processing companies SouthWood Export, Craigpine Timber and Dongwha Patinna
  • Port authorities Port Otago and South Port
  • Local agencies and councils Venture Southland and Clutha District Council
  • The Ministry for Primary Industries.

The NZFFA and small-scale forest owners, wood processors and manufacturers are currently not members. It was felt that to keep numbers at a manageable level to get consensus on decisions, encourage trust and ensure information is being supplied freely by larger companies, membership would be maintained at around 20 people. Chief executive officers or senior managers for each company attend meetings, usually one person for each company.


A number of projects have been undertaken. As with any new grouping with extra help from the government, some large projects were carried out in the early years. As an indication of the scope, past projects include those outlined below.

A group of companies were involved in an energy management programme consisting of seven sawmills and one veneering company, with a total input of 540,000 cubic metres of wood. It was the first regional programme of its type for the wood products industry. Help was received from the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Authority and energy audits identified savings of over $535,000. The first audits recommended were implemented a year later and the eight companies made significant savings by working together.

An economic impact assessment was the first one undertaken for the region by BERL. Their report, commissioned by the forest products industry, detailed the social and economic contribution which the forest products industry was making to the regional and national economies.

A separate coordinator was appointed to carry out skills and training before Competenz, formerly FITEC, set up and moved into this work. The coordinator organised careers days, setting up school and industry relationships, produced the first industry video for schools aimed at attracting students to the sector, and established a new cadet scheme for the region. The Southern Wood Council has since worked closely with Competenz to help with training initiatives within the region.

The Modern Apprentice of the Year Award was established in conjunction with the annual FITEC Regional Awards. In 2011 another new award was
set up – the Southern Wood Council Forest Products Scholarship. It is valued at $4,500 over the last three years of study of a University of Canterbury forestry or forest engineering degree or wood-related discipline. There is also the regional training awards programme and about 150 people attend these annual training awards evenings.

Communications and initiatives

To improve communication, a journalist has been employed to produce articles about initiatives and success stories for the industry from within the region. There are also detailed industry profiles including wood flows and ownership of the industry in the region.

Three profiles have been completed for use in regional planning and the promotion of investment opportunities. Investigations have also been carried out into regional branding and improving transport and logistics efficiencies using centralised dispatch as well as into collective insurance purchasing.

There are two new initiatives. One is setting up a scheme for annual health and safety audits for all forestry contractors in the region. It is aimed at those harvesting smaller woodlots but who will not initially be covered by WorkSafe. By introducing the first audit scheme it means that if small woodlot owners want to sell logs, particularly for export, they need to have an audited contractor working for them. This project will partly dependent on the results of the independent safety review.

The second initiative is sharing expertise for accident investigations such as near misses and lost-time incidents. This provides independence and training for accident investigations within the region.

Lessons for other regions

It is important to have a cross-section of the main people involved, such as chief executive officers and general managers. There also needs to be involvement by senior managers along with their attendance at meetings. Keeping group membership numbers at a manageable level of no more than 20 has also worked well.

The group has to have a manager and secretary from outside the membership to steer it, rather than having company members volunteering their time to manage the group. This job has to be funded because in our experience the voluntary model does not work. With the best of intentions those in the industry volunteering at a meeting to undertake work outside their normal company business will, in most cases because of their workload, be given a lower priority. There has to be an independent individual or company to organise meetings and activities.

The manager and secretary should be an independent individual or company, has a good knowledge of the industry, with good organisation
and project management skills, and is trusted by group members. The timing frequency of meetings should be flexible and interesting by having outside presenters who influence member companies’ businesses.

A real benefit of the SouthernWood Council meetings is the networking available for chief executive officers within the region outside normal business or industry association gatherings. Most meetings still attract around 20 of the most important decision-makers from within the Otago and Southland region.


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