Forestry is not just about burly men and women wielding chainsaws and driving big yellow machines. It’s an industry that provides scope for a broader range of involvement than most others, with opportunities in a wide range of disciplines from technology to biotechnology, business, finance, and people, land and environmental management,” says Russell Dale.
And he ought to know. Recently retired from both the Forest Owners Association (FOA) and Forest Growers Research (FGR), his career in forestry spans close to five decades and a world of knowledge.
Looking back, he has no shortage of notches in his belt. His involvement in the Forestry Corporation of New Zealand led to the resolution of long-term supply contracts and the sale of the business, with “an exceedingly good return for the Crown”. He is proud of his role in building “a high performing and successful forestry and wood processing company”. Then there was the establishment of a new forest management company for the Central North Island Forestry Partnership (CNIFP) that enabled receivers to sell and bring in new owners with the right resources and interests, adding value to NZ’s leading strategic forest asset.
And over the years, Russell has never backed away from industry involvement on all levels. “The reorganisation of industry research activities, taking a more strategic approach to R&D investment and helping our research organisations become more focused on industry priorities and delivering outcomes of value,” is just part of the legacy he can be proud of, in not only recommending, but having the opportunity, to implement those changes.
Back to basics
But where did it all begin? In the bush of course. Russell first became interested in forestry through school geography studies and an interest in tramping and the outdoors gained through an active involvement in scouting. This is what he credits with his “early learnings in leadership, self-reliance and being able to look after myself and others in the outdoors”. Growing up in Christchurch, access to mountains and the outdoors was easy. This led to a degree in forestry science at Canterbury University School of Forestry. Though his initial interest was in mountain land management, Russell quickly became aware that there were more opportunities in commercial forestry.
There began a fascinating journey encompassing much of the recent history of the New Zealand forestry industry. His first job was during the school holidays pruning trees at Bottle Lake Forest on the edge of Christchurch. Then he secured a four-year cadetship with New Zealand Forest Service (NZFS) to train as a forester. After graduation Russell was posted to the King Country, spending time at Pureora and Te Kuiti working on a range of indigenous forest management projects including conversion of indigenous cutover to exotics. This also involved introducing riparian margins in indigenous harvesting areas and working with Forest Research Institute scientists to set aside scientific reserves to protect podocarp forests.
He also worked on the introduction of selective logging trials at Pureora, the team’s enthusiasm not dampening even after a TV crew in a helicopter declared “but we...