Forest Management Innovation Working Group Update

Proposal: Centre of Excellence for Forest Stewardship

29 March 2023

The Future of Orbost and District project began in March 2021 with a Regional Context Analysis conducted. A total of nine innovation opportunities were identified, culminating them into five through the Entrepreneurial Discovery Process with Forest Management being one of them. Whilst Forest Management is clearly an important opportunity for the Future of Orbost and district, we didn’t at that stage have a clear handle of what that the specific innovation opportunity was. We needed to better understand and really search what that opportunity might look like, which was the point of bringing government, business, academia and community together to form an innovation working group. The innovation working group first met on 13th July 2022 and set out to really interrogate what sits under this this idea of forest management for the future and what that might mean for local forests and local prosperity.

Importantly, the innovation working group was not brought together to try and change the Victorian Forest Plan, rather to develop and consider an innovation proposal with sustainable competitive advantage.

We worked collaboratively to explore various opportunities in the forest including fire management regimes, we learnt more about the Gippsland Forest Management Plan development, the Gippsland Forest Dialogue and Community Forestry. We sought information on the development of a new forest contractors’ strategy and learnt about the roll-out of various elements of the Victorian Forestry Plan.

An innovation statement had not quite crystallised by our fourth meeting in October 2022, but an idea around a Centre of Excellence for Forest Fire Management was raised focusing on training operations for forest fires.

At the next meeting, using the Design Principles as a framework we started to flesh out the concept more broadly and with the WA Bushfire Centre of Excellence as an example thought about what Orbost might offer to future forest management.

Local harvest and haulage operator Warren Fenner described the broadening of focus as Forest Stewardship, a neat way of expressing the groups thoughts about where the concept was heading. Through our DEECA representatives we discovered that there are currently over 50 research projects underway in our local forests from a range of organisations and institutions, with unfortunately none of these centred in the forest they work in. It was found that researchers visit the district to do the research and that there local economic and outreach footprint is very low. The question was posed, is there a potential opportunity for a research and knowledge hub?

The innovation working group then explored the role of the University of Melbourne Creswick Campus, whether an accommodation and conference element might be needed in Orbost, being mindful that ‘build and they will come’ isn’t going to work with universities. It was felt that there is a market there and the potential for a Knowledge Hub which would keep research and testing local – near to the forest. Potential areas of specialisation were discussed such as fire, cultural knowledge, waterway management, threatened species and the role of carbon.

The innovation working group agreed that we were keen to ensure that the research and knowledge built locally would inform local forest management practices and result in best practice evidence-based forest management in our region.

We next commissioned Emma Shortis, RMIT to undertake some research on forest stewardship activities globally. The concept was to build an evidence base by looking within Australia and Internationally to test if the proposal as it was forming would be unique and valued. A list of centres that might provide a model was discussed and it was found that those facilities that are looking at opportunities for learning and innovation are mostly based in universities. The group continued to value the opportunity for activities and outputs to provide community benefit. Emma also identified to contacts to engage with across major educational institutions in Australia to test the model.

Interestingly, it was described how Orbost previously had the Eastern Research Centre in the 1980s with both office based and field trial work undertaken - Orbost was seen as a leader in forest research. With this in mind it was agreed that the scope of a dedicated forest stewardship facility would require various trial sites to enable fast tracking of forest research and demonstration.

By Meeting No.7 in February 2023, a Forest Stewardship Centre of Excellence concept for discussion was tabled. It provided an overview of what we think the Innovation Opportunity was and how the innovation working group would test the opportunity.

Broadly the concept had incapsulated a range of research and analysis using Orbost’s location adjacent to the forest as the key asset. The opportunity arises from:

  • research already taking place in the forest,
  • the timing of the FMP development, the recovery from the 2019-20 fires,
  • the cessation of logging in native forests and
  • the focus on having an evidence based research, education and innovation centre formed to bring together divergent views, competing interests and centralised decision making – to enable a place for forest stewardship to be researched, debated and used to inform good forest stewardship both locally and abroad

A Forest Stewardship Centre of Excellence located in Orbost, immediately adjacent to 1million hectares of forest, would provide a unique opportunity to bring together expertise from government, industry, academia and community to undertake research, knowledge, and outreach activities. Bringing together the quadruple helix would be unique to other centres established elsewhere. 

The Centre would showcase innovation and best practice and encourage the adoption of evidence-based practices and solutions.

Areas of focus may include:

  • Forest Fire Management including traditional burning
  • Carbon opportunities
  • Nature based tourism
  • Pest management
  • Provide recommendations on future forest policy
  • Commercial forest activities - carbon, biomass, nature-based tourism, floral resources, pest control, roading and fire management.
  • Community Forest Management
  • FMP engagement and delivery
  • First Nation involvement and aspirations are important, could it incorporate a First National knowledge hub
  • University engagement critical 

The facility would provide research and laboratory services, education and learning spaces, residential opportunities for visiting researchers, staff and clients and establish clear arrangements to utilise its strategic location to conduct research, build knowledge and conduct a series of outreach activities in the forests. This may be a series of dedicated trial sites throughout the forest including an outreach facility located near to community.

Collaboration to address Contested Use and future Social, Environmental and Economic Opportunities.

The Innovation Working Group next plan to meet on Tuesday 4th April in Orbost to really crystallise the Forest Stewardship Centre of Excellence innovation opportunity through a half day design workshop. This should provide the foundations for the building of a business case for investment into a sustainable, future focused enterprise based in Orbost.