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Industry award a bright spot for forestry

New Zealand Institute of Forestry (NZIF)
Te Pûtahi Ngâherehere o Aotearoa Inc.

April 21, 2006

Industry award a bright spot for forestry

A phone call to tell Piers Maclaren he was to be awarded the Thomas Kirk Horn Award for forestry could not have come at a better time according to the Cantabrian forester.

“It was wonderful because I was thinking it’s not a good time to be in forestry and it’s possibly the lowest point New Zealand forestry has been at in history,” he says.

Mr Maclaren says as an independent forestry consultant, there isn’t much work coming up and the work that is around is generally related to property valuations.

“I was thinking I may have to hitch my wagon up to something else, but I do believe this is a short-term glitch in the industry.”

He says he believes the worst days for wood are almost over and as a nation that can grow wood sustainably and grow it well, the long-term future is bright for forestry in New Zealand.

“I think this for one reason – you could run New Zealand’s vehicle fleet off biofuels from radiata pine forests. I think we will really have to look at doing that in a few short years too.”

Mr Maclaren says we already have an “oil well” on the hills with our radiata pine forests, and it’s a renewable oil well at that. With petrol prices continuing to rise he believes this is the way of the future for New Zealand transport.

“That’s the thought that gives me a great deal of optimism,” he said the day before he was presented his award at the New Zealand Institute of Forestry’s Annual Conference dinner at Te Papa Museum on 21 April.

The Thomas Kirk Horn Award is the NZIF’s top award for science and is awarded biennially. NZIF President Jaquetta (Ket) Bradshsaw says it was being awarded to Mr Maclaren in recognition of his significant contribution to science as well as his abilities as an excellent communicator of science concepts.

Mr Maclaren’s entry into forestry came relatively late through what he calls practical but misguided experience.

“I first got into forestry by planting my own pines and eucalypts in some manuka-covered pakihi land in Golden Bay. In the six continents where I have looked at forestry, my own woodlot must be the poorest example of a plantation I have ever seen,” he confesses.

However, this attempt drew his interest in the profession and at the age of 30 as a so-called “mature” student, he gained an honours degree in forestry at Canterbury. He eventually began work at Rotorua’s Forest Research Institute (FRI) where he worked in the agroforestry team.

Mr Maclaren went on to explore the silviculture of radiata pine and as a result has written approximately 100 scientific and popular papers during his career on the subject, some of which were somewhat controversial.

“I argued that early selection of trees is ineffective and that a random number table would be almost as good. I also showed that contrary to several hundred years of European thinking, stocking does indeed affect the height growth of trees – particularly at wide spacings.”

In fact his 17 final crop stocking trials helped lay the groundwork for FRI’s Productivity 300 Index, a growth model which is predicted to supercede all others.

“We used it in Australia at one point and it measured product growth better than their own index.”

He says his biggest claim to fame would be his popular publication The Radiata Pine Growers’ Manual which has sold 10,000 copies nationally. It was published in the 1990s when people wanted to get involved in trees for things like superannuation investment.

He has also written several other publications such as The Environmental Effects of Planted Forests in New Zealand, How Much Wood Has Your Woodlot Got? and Trees in the Greenhouse. He has written reports on realistic alternatives to radiata pine and wood quality on farm sites and was recently commissioned to write a book on the originating history of Medium Density Fibreboard. This book, The Leading Edge, has achieved rave reviews overseas and involved his making the book “slightly more digestable than the product itself”.

Mr Maclaren was presented his award at the NZIF Conference dinner along with six other awards.

The other awards were for Forester of the Year, awarded to Forest Owners Association president Peter Berg in recognition of his leadership and excellence in the forestry sector; John Balneaves Travel Award to Scion research economist James Turner; Undergraduate Scholarship to third year Canterbury School of Forestry forestry degree student Daniel McCallum; Frank Hutchinson Student Award to third year School of Forestry student Jeremy Mansell; and the Mary Sutherland Scholarship to Waiariki Institute of Technology Diploma of Forestry Management student Ross Cumberpatch.

ENDS

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