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Tasman Pine Forests: Utilising the Whole Tree

Tasman Pine Forests (TPF) has been operating since 2016, occupying a large amount of forest land in the Nelson-Tasman region whilst dedicating time and resources to producing and extracting high-density radiata pine for its suppliers. Steve Chandler is the executive director of TPF and has been in the role for five years, surpassing 50 years working in the forestry industry.

TPF is owned by Sumitomo Forestry; originating in 1691, this long-standing business has nearly 20,000 employees worldwide and is the third largest housing company in Japan, the eighth in America, and the third in Australia, with large investments in Southeast Asia too. TPF is their New Zealand venture, and of the 36,600 hectares of forest land, 28,000 hectares are planted in radiata pine, while the rest is native conservation which include native forests, riparian areas and wetlands.

“Plantation forest owners in New Zealand, alongside DOC, are one of the largest native forest managers in the country. Native estates are connected with plantation forests, and Tasman Pine is also among those estates, managing 8,000 hectares of natives,” Steve said.

“Our forests are FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) accredited. Our main species is radiata pine, and on the estate that we manage, we are up to our third rotation now and are not seeing any decline in productivity. In fact, our productivity is improving as each rotation goes by because of the genetics; we don’t take anything out of the soil. When we harvest, we try to leave the duff layer, the needles, and the smaller branches. This combines with the topsoil as it decomposes, enhancing the microbiome and tree growth for the next crop, as long as you protect it.”

Steve started his forestry career when he was just 18 years old as a forest service recruit. He moved into corporate forestry with Carter Holt Harvey and Rayonier Matariki Forests. Steve also tried his hand at private consulting. “The career progression over my time working in forestry makes me really enjoy the role that I’m doing. It brings together 50 years of various roles into one, and I’d like to think that I can provide guidance to our team with that experience,” he said.

Within a team of 17, TPF has two Japanese expat representatives, operational field staff and accounting staff – including a health and safety coordinator and environmental forester. They also have a contract workforce of over 120 people.

The health and safety and environmental management systems within TPF are very comprehensive with regular reviews undertaken to ensure best practice is maintained. All TPPF contractors are required to meet these standards, in addition to their own management systems with regular audits undertaken to confirm compliance.

“We work with our contractors to achieve common objectives, supporting them to be successful. We expect that they will raise any issues they have with us, so we are able to address them. It is a collaborative relationship that we seek to build with our contractors. In terms of sustainability, our cut is at a sustained level and still increasing. We produce 500,000+ tonnes of harvested logs each year, which is increasing to 600,000 per year. As for sustainability going forward, we want to make sure that we comply with our resource consents and the national environmental requirements. We want to do a good job and leave the land in better condition, minimising the soil disturbance and having a gentle footprint on the land when we harvest.”

“When harvesting, we try to avoid breaking our trees for a start, because when you break your trees, bits get left behind. So, we try to keep our trees intact. When we extract, we try to keep trees suspended as much as possible so they’re not disturbing and damaging the soil. And when they’re on the landing, we have computers on all our processing machines that help optimise the recovery of the trees.”

“What’s left on landings are the small pieces that can’t fit on the truck. We have a company that picks through the biggest of the pieces and turns those into wood pellets. For the rest of the material, we either stablise on landings to decompose – nothing is pushed over the edge of landings – or else we chip it and use it as mulch on bare soil. We’re also investigating the use of that material as fuel for boilers and talking to our sister company about utilising that material for chip as part of the MDF (medium-density fibreboard) process.”

TPF prides itself on being a medium-sized forest in New Zealand, small enough to be flexible and address situations effectively, whilst also having a good forestry location base within the region. Their markets are also in close proximity to them, so they don’t have to cart logs over long distances, reducing the carbon footprint.

The New Zealand forestry industry has high potential for local wood processing growth, with Steve emphasising the need for increasing marketing efforts to international markets, not only for lumber, plywood and MDF, but in paving the way for speciality wood-based products such as pharmaceuticals and biofuels.

“We need more market diversity overseas and more value added. There are 34 million metric tonnes of radiata pine produced every year, and only 13 million of that is processed domestically. Radiata pine is essentially carbon, and it has huge potential; we just need more research and investment into those options.”

A point of focus for TPF moving forward is the continuous improvements relating to the environment. “We have Kea breeding in the forest. We’ve got a lot of falcons too, and it’s common to see them every day. We have an active pest management programme, and we’re making sure fish can go up streams by doing fish passage work. We’re really trying to enhance not only our native areas but also our exotic forests, where native species can breed and thrive as well, and they do.”

For most people getting into forestry, the number one thing that they love is being in an outdoor environment. A lot of young people that work for TPF are intergenerational, meaning that someone in their family has worked, or is still working, within the industry. “Forestry is not only just planting trees and cutting trees down; there’s also a huge technical workforce required in mapping, analysing data, growth modelling, and marketing the trees. When people get into it, they are blown away by how much is going on in the industry.”

Steve emphasised that the feeling of a hard day’s work in the office can be cured by driving out to the forest and having a moment of peace in nature. “It’s also about the camaraderie as well. In the New Zealand forestry industry, everyone is generally prepared to share information on their environmental management and how they work. So, it really is a very good group of people to work with as an industry. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed my time in forestry; I’d do it all again if I had my time over again,” Steve concluded.