Saw mill operators, who have been struggling for years to secure supplies of saw logs, are also hoping to take delivery of tonnes of trees felled in road and trail clearing with much of the high quality wood still usable for saw logs if it can be obtained in time.
Millions of tonnes of NSW plantation timber from the Tumut and Tumbarumba areas are expected to be salvageable but in East Gippsland, the salvage figures from native forests are expected to be in the tens of thousands of tonnes.
The salvage yield will be higher in plantations, which need to be completely cleared to allow replanting, than in native forests which regenerate naturally after fires, ruling out clear-felling of burnt native logging coupes.
But there is a tight salvage timeframe with burnt timber deteriorating and pests and diseases emerging as major risks for damaged and dying trees.
Plantation softwood trees will only last months as usable timber after being burnt but durable native forest timber can be salvaged for up to two years after a fire has swept through.
Australian Forest Products Association chief executive Ross Hampton said the salvage operation would be “enormous” and the industry was asking for help from state and federal governments to ensure it was successful.
“It is vital that the State and Federal governments turn their minds to the enormous bushfire recovery harvesting task that lies ahead,” Mr Hampton said.
“The sheer scale of the operation required in the coming weeks and months will require careful planning and government support to ensure as much as of these burnt trees that were already designated for timber production can be recovered and delivered to mills in time, so that they don’t simply add to the fuel loads in the landscape or become a safety hazard.”
VicForests, the state logging agency, said it was still fighting fires and preparing for fresh outbreaks and had not yet been able to turn its attention to “fire recovery harvest operations”.
“VicForests has not conducted any fire recovery harvest operations at this time,” a spokesperson said.
“We are involved in emergency road clearance, to support the restoration of community access and movement, where this is possible.”
“This fire response work is part of a broader effort that includes firefighting and firebreak works.”
“The aim of emergency roadworks is to clear trees that are dangerous or have fallen or likely to fall following the fires.”
Noel Towell is State Political Editor for The Age