Setting about lifting the industry’s image
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.