Lochiel forester and conservationist on Honours List

Andrew (Rob) de Fégely of Lochiel, has been made a Member of the Order of Australia (AM).
Andrew (Rob) de Fégely of Lochiel, has been made a Member of the Order of Australia (AM).

Andrew (Rob) de Fégely of Lochiel, has been made a Member of the Order of Australia (AM) for his "significant service to the forestry industry through business and advisory roles".

His passion for conservation and forests remains undiminished through more than 40 years as a forester.

Forestry covers a broad spectrum of activities and interests from National Parks to managed forests, agro-forests which provide bio-diversity and shelter in farming systems, and urban forests, which can help offset the urban heat island effect.

Mr de Fégely's expertise has been called upon for a wide range of projects, by forest related industries and in many countries. From a community project in Bombala, to the Far South Coast National Parks and Wildlife Service, he has also worked as a forestry consultant in all states, in New Zealand and Asia and continues to advise the Australian government.

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"I went to ANU in 1975 and wasn't really sure what I wanted to do. I grew up on the family farm in Victoria but farming was in the doldrums. I had a bent towards conservation and in forestry they were doing a suite of things I was interested in," Mr de Fégely said.

He started his career in Bombala working on a softwood plantation.

"One of the highlights from that time was the Bombala urban forestry community garden which was developed between 1985 and 1988 for the bicentenary.

"I was the project manager and people weren't overly keen to begin with. It taught me a lot about community consultation. It was a town of farmers, shearers and forestry workers and they didn't do the touchy, feely stuff," he said

But the project got underway with all service clubs building a section and school kids planting trees.

He went back in 2018 after 30 years and was pleased and impressed by how the garden had developed and the community had added to it with extra landscaping and planting.

In 1988 Mr de Fégely was fortunate to win a Rotary Foundation Scholarship and completed his masters degree at Aberdeen University, Scotland.

You are there to provide frank and fearless advice to government under Chatham House rules.

Rob de Fégely

"It was a great experience and really confirmed my career as a forester. There were people from all over the world there. I have a huge amount of respect for people and what they are challenged with in developing countries," Mr de Fégely said.

In addition to his role as a consultant to the forestry and agricultural industries, Mr de Fégely is chair of the board of Sustainable Timber Tasmania, and has been chair of the Forest Industries Advisory Council (FIAC), since 2014.

"You are there to provide frank and fearless advice to government under Chatham House rules. There's a wide range of age groups and experiences on the council," he said of FIAC.

"I didn't make a submission to the Bushfires Royal Commission but I hope FIAC will comment on the recommendations," he said.

Back in the 70s people like Bob Brown were a catalyst for change for the good, but now there's a perception that all forests should be in the national park.

Rob de Fégely

"I am a conservationist by heart, I think most foresters are. Forest management is misunderstood. Back in the 70s people like Bob Brown were a catalyst for change for the good, but now there's a perception that all forests should be in the national park.

"Forests are degrading in front of me. We have areas with no forests but a lot of scrub which builds up and explodes. It's happening because we don't manage our forests," Mr de Fégely said.

He said forests should be thinned out to allow the best trees to survive.

"They are overstocked and suffering and not the home to wildlife that they should be," Mr de Fégely said.

"The two biggest threats to native wildlife are feral animals - and fires - which I suspect is the bigger threat."

"For 60,000 years the Indigenous people managed the land with fire."

He believes there should be a lot more cool burning, something he said the landscape had relied on in terms of the microbiology of the soil. .

"We have 2000 threatened species but we're not doing anything about it. Let's have a more dynamic management system.

"It's about the whole landscape; we can't manage it for one species. The native flora and fauna have relied on this level of disturbance, and forest harvesting can do this by careful disturbance.

"Thinning levels can vary; there is a lot of science around how a forest is harvested. They grow very well especially after a cool burn."

He said that Australia is a net importer of timber to the tune of $2bn a year - that is 800,000 cubic metres of timber a year.

"But Australia is the 7th most forested country. We have more forest for every man, woman and child than any other country with the exception of Canada and equal to Russia. It's not an economic argument, it's a moral one but we have to learn to produce sustainably," he said.

Returning to the bushfire issue, he said that forestry no longer has the fire fighters it used to have.

"Currently forests are allocated between $30-40 a hectare but funding needs to be fives times that to be managed properly."

And he questions the outcomes of National Parks.

"What did all the parks protect, what did we achieve? We don't do ongoing monitoring and checking of National Parks.

"In a productive forest there would be auditors, watching and monitoring.

"We're making assumptions about these parks and as a forester, I believe unless we are prepared to manage them, we shouldn't be locking them up."

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