Set­ting about lift­ing the in­dus­try’s im­age

Australian Forests and Timber - - Tca Profile - By Amanda Fisher

Plant­ing 15,000 trees in three days is a re­mark­able achieve­ment but with a troop of en­thu­si­as­tic vol­un­teers from around Aus­tralia keen to get their hands dirty, any­thing is pos­si­ble, ac­cord­ing to Michael Dent.

Michael be­gan his forestry ca­reer in a tree-plant­ing and reveg­e­ta­tion role with the Depart­ment of En­vi­ron­ment, Water and Nat­u­ral Re­sources in South Aus­tralia which in­volved work­ing with school stu­dents and the broader com­mu­nity.

Although Michael’s role has since de­vel­oped to Dis­trict Forester with HV Plan­ta­tions in Gipp­s­land, he is once again work­ing with school stu­dents to ed­u­cate and chal­lenge per­cep­tions about the forestry in­dus­try and pro­mote ca­reer op­por­tu­ni­ties, as an alum­nus of the Tim­ber Com­mu­ni­ties Aus­tralia Young Am­bas­sador Ini­tia­tive, which he grad­u­ated from in 2016.

Michael has hosted and pre­sented to groups of school stu­dents from Mir­boo North Se­condary Col­lege, open­ing an op­por­tu­nity for them to see first-hand what hap­pens in lo­cal tree plan­ta­tions and pro­mot­ing the pos­i­tive so­cial and en­vi­ron­men­tal as­pects of forestry.

As Michael learnt about mod­ern en­vi­ron­men­tal prac­tices, through work and study of forestry, he re­alised that pub­lic per­cep­tion was right out of step with prac­tice. This in­spired him to join the Tim­ber Com­mu­ni­ties Aus­tralia Young Am­bas­sador pro­gram – part­nered with the op­por­tu­nity for pro­fes­sional de­vel­op­ment. “The per­cep­tions and ideas the pub­lic has are not very ac­cu­rate at all. As a young forester, I see this as part of the role to ed­u­cate the pub­lic and change per­cep­tions of our in­dus­try.”

The ben­e­fits of Aus­tralian forestry ac­cord­ing to Michael are plant­ing trees, car­bon stor­age and pro­duc­ing sus­tain­able prod­ucts. He hopes that pos­i­tive ini­tia­tives such the work done by Planet Ark and the pro­mo­tion of for­est and wood prod­ucts cer­ti­fi­ca­tion will ex­pand, so there is aware­ness among the broader com­mu­nity of good en­vi­ron­men­tal prac­tices here in Aus­tralia, com­pared to some im­ported prod­ucts from un­sus­tain­able forests over­seas.

To chal­lenge per­cep­tions, Michael has sought to en­gage with the me­dia and com­mu­nity through the school vis­its. The TCA Ini­tia­tive al­lowed him to gain skills in those ar­eas. He feels that, “the pro­mo­tion of the forestry in­dus­try to youth is crit­i­cal for its fu­ture growth and sus­tain­abil­ity”.

When he grew up in Mt Gam­bier, South Aus­tralia, de­spite his fa­ther be­ing a forester and mother work­ing for the Depart­ment of En­vi­ron­ment, he didn’t ini­tially con­sider forestry as a ca­reer when he fin­ished high school.

In­stead, he packed his bags for the city to study his dream of architecture. As it turned out, architecture wasn’t the right fit for him and city life was even less ap­peal­ing. He headed back home. Life took a dif­fer­ent di­rec­tion with a role in forestry and en­rolling part-time in a forestry de­gree with South­ern Cross Univer­sity. Michael dis­cov­ered the ap­peal of an out­door life­style among the ben­e­fits of a forestry ca­reer, dur­ing the next eight years of study.

His role at work in­volves over­see­ing plan­ta­tion ‘ca­ble’ forestry. This skilled tech­nique is re­quired in steep ar­eas. He de­scribes the role as 20 per­cent plan­ning in the of­fice and 80 per cent out­doors vis­it­ing sites and over­see­ing work and crews. The work in­volves plan­ning en­vi­ron­men­tal, health and safety prac­tices for forestry and ‘au­dits’ to en­sure that plans are fol­lowed by con­trac­tor crews. Usu­ally he over­seas three forestry crews and a road crew which es­tab­lishes the es­sen­tial road in­fras­truc­ture prior to the be­gin­ning of works. He en­joys the va­ri­ety and says that its con­stantly chang­ing, with chal­lenges of rain in win­ter and manag­ing fire risk in sum­mer.

“Forestry is a car­bon pos­i­tive in­dus­try that pro­vides a re­new­able and ver­sa­tile re­source. The in­dus­try plays an im­por­tant part in the lo­cal econ­omy, pro­vid­ing jobs on all lev­els of the value chain. In the past, our in­dus­try has been poor in pro­mot­ing it­self and this needs to change. I hope that by vis­it­ing lo­cal schools and ed­u­cat­ing young peo­ple on tim­ber and the forestry in­dus­try we will be able to in­crease aware­ness and al­le­vi­ate the false im­pres­sions some peo­ple have of the sec­tor”.

In Can­berra with other TCA mem­bers at the gala in­dus­try din­ner at Par­lia­ment House, in Septem­ber, Michael said, “Win­ning the In­no­va­tion in Train­ing award was great recog­ni­tion for Tim­ber Com­mu­ni­ties Aus­tralia’s ef­fort to pro­mote the tim­ber in­dus­try through the Young Com­mu­nity Am­bas­sadors Ini­tia­tive.”

With an eye to the fu­ture, Michael is study­ing an MBA ex­ter­nally and he hopes that will as­sist him to­wards a more se­nior role, when the out­door life­style stops hold­ing the same level of ap­peal. “I en­cour­age young peo­ple to con­sider a ca­reer in our in­dus­try as there are lots of op­por­tu­ni­ties.”

Michael loves liv­ing in a re­gional com­mu­nity with na­ture at his doorstep. He bal­ances a busy job with his part-time stud­ies but outof-hours he finds time to keep fit and fol­lows his pas­sion for mar­tial arts in the form of Kyokushin, with train­ing morn­ing and night. He trav­els na­tion­ally and over­seas, pur­su­ing his com­pet­i­tive drive to achieve in mar­tial arts.

To chal­lenge per­cep­tions, Michael has sought to en­gage with the me­dia and com­mu­nity through the school vis­its.

■ Michael Dent con­grat­u­lated on his TCA Young Am­bas­sador grad­u­a­tion by guest Diana Lloyd.

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