Australia — THE timber company worst hit by last year’s Black Saturday bushfire disaster has begun a $50 million, five-year replanting program.
Most of the work will be done on the foothills and slopes of the Strzelecki Ranges, where HVP Plantations’ timber assets were wiped out by the Churchill bushfire on Black Saturday. Just a few days earlier in the same region the company had incurred substantial losses from the Delburn fire.
About 300 seasonal workers have been hired to replant in Gippsland throughout winter. Other workers are replanting blocks hit by Black Saturday fires in the Myrtleford, Kinglake and Marysville districts.
It’s a race against time to capitalise on the wetter conditions of winter, because research shows that survival rates are considerably poorer for trees planted before June or after the end of August, says HVP’s external relations manager Stephen Wentworth, as he stands in the company’s Tong Bong coupe in Flynn.
Last week there and in the nearby Red Hill Road coupe at Callignee, the workers were planting trees at a swift pace. On a good day at the Red Hill coupe, a block rated as ”very steep” by HVP, a ”good planter” could plant about 1600 trees.
Assuming a good planter works for eight hours a day, he or she is planting 200 trees an hour, excluding breaks.
Mr Wentworth says that the quickest planters barely break their stride as they walk along a row planting, with spade in hand.
With about 12,000 burnt hectares in Gippsland to replant, and given a planting rate of 1200 trees a hectare, HVP will be planting about 14.4 million trees in the region. Overall, 16,500 hectares of HVP Plantations were burnt and need to be replanted.
Company chief executive Linda Sewell says HVP is now in the second year of its five-year $50 million replanting program.
”Every other time we’ve had a fire, because we have had other fires, we’ve been able to salvage and then replant within a 12-month period, and then you pick yourself up and move on,” she says.
”This is the first time we’ve had a fire where we haven’t been able to replant the following winter.
”It’s just too big, it’s just too big an area,” she says.
”You only have a narrow window over winter where you can plant; you need the right weather conditions.”
Surveying planting in the half-finished Tong Bong block, Mr Wentworth says the weather conditions have been unusually favourable so far this year.
”It’s been a good year, it’s been a wetter lead-up to planting this year, than probably the last decade in general. ”We don’t water our trees in, so we’re dependent on soil moisture for them to survive And it also makes the soil conditions easier for the planters; it’s softer soil to be able to dig in,” he says.
Quick of hand the planters may be, but it will still take HVP a long time to rebuild after last year’s fires – especially when the normal annual planting program must also be implemented.
”It will be almost 10 years before our operations get back to normal. And that’s assuming we have no other fire,” Miss Sewell says.