Women in forestry ushering in a new era for sustainability
Women working towards a sustainable future
Honouring the theme for the 2024 International Day of Women and Girls in Science – a new era for sustainability – we look to some of the women leading the field in forest science with Queensland’s largest sustainable plantation grower, HQPlantations.
For Tracey Grigor, being a forester is in her blood. Hailing from six continuous generations of timber workers in her family since the 1800s, Tracey initially became involved in sustainable forest management as part of a school-based traineeship. Now a Lead Forester with HQPlantations, she is focused on leaving a legacy for future generations.
“I grew up learning about forest management, renewable resources and sustainability,” says Tracey.
“I always knew I wanted to be part of the timber industry, I just needed to find my niche. After work experience in the Beerburrum plantation forest, I was encouraged go to university and pursue a Bachelor of Applied Science Forestry degree,” she said.
Tracey began work as a graduate forester at Yarraman in 2007 and now plays a crucial role in the planning team, developing and overseeing tactical and operational evidence-based planning for HQP’s sustainable Inland and North Queensland plantations.
“Every day at work can be quite different, which is something I really love about my job. My role is diverse, interesting, challenging, fast-paced, and has the flexibility I need with a family. I continue to learn, grow and develop in my role which is very fulfilling and I enjoy working with knowledgeable, skilled and like-minded people.”
Tracey works closely with other HQP teams to ensure best-practice management and protection of the plantations forests and surrounding environment from the NSW border to Kuranda north of Cairns. The sustainable plantations managed by HQP vary in species, location and terrain which brings its own set of challenges as no two areas are exactly the same.
“It’s about making sure what we do is backed by good science and we’re good custodians of the land,” says Tracey. “I’m proud to be part of a team who is sustainably managing quality plantations. Watching small seedlings grow into a timber plantation ready for harvesting and then replanting is truly rewarding.”
When thinking about the future and leaving a legacy, Tracey leads by example and strives to live a balanced, self-sufficient lifestyle.
From the first mentors who advised Tracey to pursue a tertiary qualification to those who have helped her develop and grow in her role at HQP, Tracey understands the importance of passing knowledge on to the next generation.
“Personally, I just want to be the best mother, partner and forest steward that I can be to continue the generational legacy of sustainable plantation forestry, not just for my own children, but for generations to come.”
A rewarding mid-career change
Women are typically under-represented in sciences, particularly field sciences, and none more so than forest management. Entering the industry can feel daunting for those who don’t come from generations of foresters and aren’t forest or environmental science graduates. However, North Queensland forester Nicole Prajbisz shows even a mid-career change is achievable.
Nicole loved the freedom of growing up on the Gold Coast but as she watched the area change, she also saw her kids missing out on the relaxed childhood she had enjoyed. This prompted Nicole to relocate her family to Ingham in 2004.
Soon after moving to the sugar town, Nicole commenced working with HQP as an admin officer in 2009, very different from her previous work with a local accountant. A career in forest management was far from her mind at the time but seeking a challenge, Nicole transitioned from administration to forester and now supervises teams of forest contractors.
When the opportunity arose, Nicole had no qualifications in forest science so she took advantage of HQP’s internal training opportunities gaining a Certificate IV in Forestry in 2017 and her diploma three years later, an achievement Nicole cites as one of her proudest.
“It was outside my comfort zone so I was nervous and a little apprehensive but thought, ‘What have I got to lose?’” she said.
“It was great to have that opportunity to study and upskill, especially because our team here in NQ is very small, so our roles are very diverse. We have to work across many different aspects of forest management and multitask a fair bit. It’s good because it means I’m not pigeonholed into one role specifically.”
When Cyclone Yasi left a shattered landscape in its wake after smashing into the Hinchinbrook Coast in February 2011, Nicole was part of the team that got to work re-establishing the pine plantations, an important local economic resource.
More than a decade later, Nicole and the NQ team continue to repair the damage and restore this renewable resource and a proud legacy of forest management in Far North Queensland, something she finds quite meaningful.
“Replanting the cyclone-affected areas is a very satisfying part of my job. Many of these areas have been essentially untouched for 12 years. After overseeing the planting, it feels great to look back over a fully stocked, carbon sequestering pine plantation and it gives me a real sense of pride to see these areas growing again.”
Nicole knows working in forest management gives her opportunities outside the everyday, opportunities that contribute to a more sustainable future by growing renewable wood. It’s one of the reasons she's in the industry for the long term.
“I was looking for something that was going to challenge me, and I definitely found that at HQP,” said Nicole. “I like to say I didn’t choose forestry, forestry chose me! I really enjoy what I do, there’s never a dull moment.”
Nicole also sits on HQP’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion committee, something that’s very important to her.