Forest Enterprises’ determination to improve health and safety and environmental performance is driving its implementation of mechanised harvest systems.

Mechanised harvesting means fewer foresters on chainsaws. It’s safer. Plus, it causes less disturbance to the land and improves productivity.

“Such practices are part of a new era for harvesting in New Zealand”, says Dan Fraser, co-owner of Forest Enterprises and Chair of the Eastland Wood Council Environmental Focus Group in Gisborne.

What is ‘mechanisation’, and why

Mechanisation is about using machinery and remote-controlled equipment for harvest processes like felling trees and pulling logs onto landings, even on steep hillsides. An example is a Tether-Assist system, where a downslope machine is harvesting under the winch-control of an upslope machine.

Mechanisation is safer for forestry workers, with reduced need for, or reliance on, high-risk manual techniques like using chainsaws and breaking out near tensioned cables.

Mechanised harvest operations enable crews to produce a greater volume of timber, with less wood waste and less soil disturbance.

Innovative contractors

In the first trial of its kind in New Zealand, Forest Enterprises’ Gisborne harvest contractors trialed a new low-impact wheeled skidder system coupled with a remote-controlled winch-assist system.

This configuration allows the skidder to traverse steeper terrain safely with less reliance on tracking. It is capable of harvesting areas previously deemed suitable only for cable systems.

Less environmental impact

The skidder-winch-assist system is reducing the skid and road infrastructure required by conventional cable systems, and it has reduced the road and landing footprint overall.

It also provides the ability to harvest trees away from waterways, so many more waterways are being fully protected compared with conventional systems.

Contractors are switching to alternative, lighter machines to reduce rutting and soil disturbance.

Industry recognition

Testing and implementing new techniques attracted a lot of interest from New Zealand’s forestry sector.

Forest Enterprises hosted open days to demonstrate its positive actions to other forest owners, contractors, Gisborne District Council staff and officials.

The Council’s monitoring team has been supportive of the operational changes. Similarly, Department of Conservation staff have praised the level of technology involved and the extent of planning undertaken to improve environmental performance.

This year, Forest Enterprises won the environmental management award at the 2021 Eastland Wood Council Awards. The award recognised the company’s support of contractors to implement innovative harvesting systems, and for its leadership in harvest catchment management.

Photo: Dan Fraser (left) and guests at an open day in the Emerald Hills forest, with the Tether-Assist system in action behind the group.