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Forest Biosecurity – What are we doing to help reduce the risk?

Acknowledgement to Sarah Orton, PF Olsen’s Environmental Forester who provided the substantive majority of this article.

This week three members of the PF Olsen team attended the FOA Biosecurity Conference on “Operational Biosecurity” in Rotorua. Many different primary sectors were represented including kiwifruit, beef and lamb, while MPI also had a strong presence at the conference.

One of the key messages from the conference was the idea that everyone is responsible for biosecurity in New Zealand. ‘Ko Tātou – This is us’ is the current vision for our biosecurity and its mission statement is as follows:

“We’re kaitiaki. We’re guardians. We’re all responsible for protecting Aotearoa from pests and diseases”.

The aim of this initiative is to get 4.7million kiwis actively looking out for and protecting Aotearoa from biosecurity threats. Unfortunately, unless an industry has had a recent incursion response that directly impacts an industry (think PSA for kiwifruit, or Mycoplasma bovis for Dairy/ Beef), people are unlikely to take biosecurity seriously. And this includes the forest industry.

At the present time the forest industry does have a high-level operational biosecurity plan, which has just been reviewed by Dr. Karyn Froud who identified several gaps, including the need to ensure that machinery was cleaned before moving between forests, especially between regions, along with the requirement for logging these cleanings. However, what the forest industry really lacks in Dr Froud’s opinion is practical guides that help foresters, contractors and forest owners understand our biosecurity risks, and the steps that we can all take to minimise the risk.

Over the last 18 months, PF Olsen have developed their own in-house biosecurity processes which focus on machine cleaning, and minimising the spread of Mycoplasma bovis, kauri dieback and didymo. The reality is that we have clients whose properties are a diverse matrix of farming, forestry, (exotic and native) and other land uses, and while some clients have already reviewed their biosecurity measures with us and made changes (and expected us to do the same), the majority have not. Therefore the potential impact a biosecurity incursion could have is amplified significantly.

In addition, PF Olsen is also looking at several other mechanisms to reduce risk including the ‘Find A Pest’ app and the Jacson Cube. The Find A Pest app allows users to easily report and identify any possible pest species they find simply by taking and uploading a photo of anything suspicious. It also provides users with a list of industry and region-specific biosecurity threats. The Jacson Cube is a portable device that allows users to clean and disinfect their boots before they enter or exit a property. Our current challenge is working out how to clean vehicles to an acceptable standard. Whilst this may seem over the top, if we asked farmers that had their livelihoods destroyed by MB, or if this was the difference between a thriving forest industry creating thousands of jobs versus no industry, it might be that over the top is acceptable?

Biosecurity is everyone’s problem, and everyone can be part of the solution. Up front, the government and border security can’t be allowed to be complacent. Nor can we siphon money away from the area to serve political expediency at the expense of risk to our industry. We may not be able to prevent every pest or disease from having an impact, but perhaps by taking simple steps like cleaning machinery and equipment (including clothing and boots) before relocating to a different site, we have the opportunity to minimise incursions before they are spread. This will likely result in increased costs although when weighed against the potential costs to the industry, they would appear as insignificant.

This article is not intended to advocate cleaning boots and vehicles before moving around other forest owners’ forests, the intent is to challenge ourselves to examine your own systems and processes, and ask if our systems and processes are sufficiently robust to minimise the spread of pathogens and pests. If not, what reasonable and practical steps can we take to reduce the risk?