Forest innovators take to the skies (and the soil)

13 October 2016

Scientists are scanning our pine forests from the sky to learn more about tree growth and are peering under the roots to find beneficial microbes. Now they have been rewarded for their efforts by appreciative forest owners.

At the 2016 Forest Science Awards dinner held in Napier last night four Canterbury and two Rotorua-based scientists were awarded for the innovation they are bringing to the sector.

The award winners were Steve Pawson, Scion, Rotorua; Robert Hill, Lincoln Bio Protection, Canterbury; Euan Mason, Canterbury University School of Forestry; Ian Hinton, Timberlands, Rotorua; Keith Raymond, Future Forests Research, Rotorua; and Brionny Hooper, Scion, Christchurch.

Hill said his award was a tribute to the tremendous contribution many very good people have made to the biological control of pests and diseases over the years.

"When we first started back in the 1980s we were considered to be on the lunatic fringe. The prevailing view was that a good spray would fix anything. Biological control is now seen as the ideal fit with forest sustainability."

Hooper, who won the inaugural young scientist's award, said she firmly believed that if industries looked at the way humans are programmed to see accidents and risks, and learnt from that, then there would be fewer accidents.

"It's a matter of understanding intuitive and evolutionary behaviour in humans, instead of just treating safety in a structured and regulatory way."

Forest Owners Association research manager Russell Dale says the science awards were initiated in 2011 to recognise the extremely important contributions scientists and innovators make to the profitability and sustainability of forestry.

"In forest growing, everything we do is underpinned by research and successful innovation. We benefit today from the research investments made by both government and industry in the past.

"Since 2014, when a commodity levy on logs was introduced, I'm pleased to say research investment has increased. By innovating and investing in our future, we will stay ahead of the competition and all things being equal, forest owners will prosper and New Zealand as a country will reap many rewards."

Steve Pawson was recognised for doing "an outstanding job in communicating and engaging with the industry" in his search for alternatives to methyl bromide, the gas used to fumigate export logs and lumber. This has involved NZ-wide surveys to define the periods when forests are free of the insect pests that pose export biosecurity risks.

Dale says Pawson has also been a champion of public science, developing a biosecurity mobile phone app and encouraging its use by forest owners.

Robert Hill was awarded for his innovative and sustainable approaches to boosting tree growth and health, through the use of beneficial root fungi. This work was also recognised in the prestigious 2016 Kiwinet Innovation Awards, where Hill was runner-up. Dale says preliminary results from Hill's research indicate that inoculation with trichoderma fungi will give a 20% increase in initial radiata pine tree growth and a 33% drop in mortality. "If applied widely, this technology could give forest owners a value gain of $50 million a year."

The award for science of international quality went to Euan Mason, whose work is widely published in international journals.

"With levy funding assistance he is working with a group of New Zealand companies to apply growth modelling techniques to NZ forests," says Dale. "His work has the potential to result in a step change in forest management and profitability."

Ian Hinton was awarded for his participation on behalf of all forest growers in industry-good research and its implementation. He is a member of the Forest Research Committee and has recently been appointed chair of the Biosecurity Research Committee.

Dale says Hinton has been instrumental in the application of new technologies to site assessment, inventory management and improved productivity. Among these is LiDAR – an aerial radar system that penetrates the foliage, enabling forests to be measured and monitored remotely.

"His support of research extends to the hosting of field trials within the Kaingaroa Timberlands estate. He is also very effective at bringing a forest manager's perspective to the application of research findings in a commercial forest."

The fifth award went to Keith Raymond for his contribution to the Future Forests Research steepland harvesting research team.

Dale says the steepland harvesting programme is highly regarded and widely promoted by MPI and the government as an example of a Primary Growth Partnership success story.

"Raymond has been involved with this programme since its inception in 2010. His clear direction and programme management skills have been key ingredients in the success of this research and its commercialisation," he says.

"The programme has been a catalyst for a new wave of innovation in harvesting and has led to a step change in industry practice. Mechanisation has increased from 23% of the harvest in 2009 to 54% today – a period that has coincided with a halving of serious harm injuries."

For his part, Raymond dedicated his award to Peter McElvie, his professor at the University of Canterbury School of Forestry for "giving me a second chance, instead of booting me out."

A new award this year was for young scientists, with Brionny Hooper the inaugural winner. Dale says that the 18 months Hooper has been in the forest industry she has been very successful at building relationships at all levels of the industry. "She is able to identify key issues quickly and offers solutions for industry partners. She is an outstanding communicator, is passionate about her work and has the potential to develop a very successful science career."

To contact the recipients:

Dr Steve Pawson Scion Christchurch 027 440 0727
Dr Robert Hill Lincoln Bio-Protection 03 423 0813
Dr Euan Mason University of Canterbury 03 367 2587
Ian Hinton Timberlands Rotorua 027 466 4141
Keith Raymond Future Forests Research 027 438 5233
Brionny Hooper Scion Christchurch 03 364 2987

For more about the awards and the overall forest research programme, contact:

Russell Dale, Research Manager, Forest Owners Association, Tel 027 493 8061 or
Don Carson, Communications Manager, Forest Owners Association, Tel 027 537 9488