Forestry contractors appear poised to hit the ground running once Covid-19 alert level 3 comes into play on Tuesday.
The Government's move to end level 4 meant many parts of the forest supply chain can start moving again including forestry management (including aerial spraying, weed and pest management), nursery operations, planting, and seed collection, log harvesting and haulage, log sales and wood products processing.
John Turkington, owner of John Turkington Forestry based in Marton, has a hand in many of these pies and was confident of a relatively smooth transition. "To be fair the industry has been involved in helping to set the protocols for a return [under level 3 regulations] and the discussions have been going for several weeks, so I am confident we have a very robust set of protocols in place," Turkington said.
Just last week it was announced that several forestry sector businesses were able to begin a phased restart under level 3 while still under alert level 4.
This included activities such as loading and cartage of existing log stockpiles in the forest, and other points of the supply chain.
Sawmills were also allowed to start production to support the supply of domestic essential service inputs (for example, pallet material). Dispatch of goods to support essential services was also allowed.
Turkington said his immediate staff of about 20 and wider group of more than 200 subcontractors were preparing for the return.
They could clear, unpack and sort freight, clean premises and rearrange workplaces for physical distancing between workers.
Operators could also move harvesting equipment into place and start it up to ensure it was ready to operate under alert level 3 if it could be done safely and with the minimum number of workers.
Hickford Logging owner Dave Hickford said he and key players in his small band had done just that during the week.
His company was just about to start harvesting a new block in the Paraparas when the country went into lockdown a month ago.
"This week we have moved the hauler into place for a restart on the new block on Tuesday," Hickford said.
Employers and workers could travel to their workplace to prepare for the drop to level 3 if the workplace was in the same region as their "bubble".
However, when alert level 3 kicks in, people can move between regions to get back to their home or place of business.
"There are still restrictions though. Only two workers can travel to work and home in the same vehicle, one driving and the other in the opposite back seat wearing a mask. The boys are going to have to use their own vehicles for the first few weeks.
"We've been busy buying heaps of sanitiser and wipes to make sure all our equipment is safe to use and staff are clean. Forestry is an extremely safety conscious industry anyway, but we have implemented a number of other features to avoid any potential spread of Covid-19.
"We work in remote areas with little contact with outsiders, but in the event of people arriving on site we have sign-in procedures to ensure people can easily be traced if need be," Hickford said.
Both Hickford and Turkington were confident production would be up to full speed relatively quickly, even under alert level 3.
Turkington said the latest market report he received on Wednesday was encouraging.
The report stated New Zealand ports would be clear of forestry stocks before level 4 ended and the industry set up for full production.
Supply in our major markets had decreased and demand was increasing and that meant only good things for New Zealand players now they could return to work, albeit under certain restrictions, Turkington said.
Hickford said his team was just itching to get back to work.
"It won't take long and we will be at full speed again."