‘I am a forester, that’s what I am.’

Peter Volker began school holiday work in the forest industry in Scottsdale as a teenager in the mid ‘70s and—after a long and illustrious career dotted with academic and professional achievements—he will step down from the role of Chief Forest Practices Officer in November.

Peter playing in the 1981 grand final for the winning ANU team

“In 1975 I commenced working as a teenager in forest industry in Scottsdale with school holiday jobs at French’s sawmill.  After being invited to do some work experience with the Forestry Commission at Scottsdale, I decided that I would do a forestry degree,” Peter said.

He progressed to the University of Tasmania to complete the first year of an agricultural science degree before successfully applying for a scholarship to Australian National University. It was here—in 1979—that he met his friend, Tony Price, who said Peter made a “good first impression”.

“If I could go back and give advice to my 20-year-old self, I’d tell him not to go to the pub with Tony and his rugby mates,” Peter joked.

After graduating in 1981 Peter was employed as a graduate forester for the Forestry Commission, based at Retreat under the guidance of Peter Watson.

“I then went to Hobart to take on the tree breeding and eucalypt plantation development program in the Silviculture Branch,” Peter said.

“That posting shaped the next few years of my career as a researcher in forest genetics and plantation silviculture.  It was the early days of eucalypt plantation development and there was a lot to learn and plenty of people around Australia and overseas sharing ideas.”

It was this work that inspired Peter to complete a thesis exploring the genetics of hybridising eucalyptus globulus and nitens.

Peter Volker in 2008

“At the time we didn’t know too much about the genetics of hybridising these species and were keen to look at how we could establish a more frost resistant species that would grow well in certain areas of Tasmania.”

Following the completion of his PhD, Peter moved into operational forestry at ANM Forest Management (now Norske Skog).

“We had a thriving farm forestry joint venture program in place, which really focused on meaningful engagement between the landowners and the company,” Peter said.

Seeking change, Peter decided to move into forestry consultancy—first with Serve-Ag and then as a sole operator.

“There was an opportunity to do more work in the farming sector, particularly with industrial forest companies at that time.”

However, with his children starting school and a need to secure steady work and income, Peter decided to return to Forestry Tasmania in 2002 as Plant Research Manager; a role once held by his boss, who had decided to retire.

Peter has been active in industry associations throughout his professional career, and it was while president of IFA – now Forestry Australia – from 2005 – 2011 that he connected with Senator Richard Colbeck, who at the time was opposition spokesperson for forestry.

Peter and Evan Sheild in an 18-year-old eucalypt plantation in Uruguay

“I joked with him that if he got into government and was given the forestry portfolio, I would work for him,” Peter said.

As fate would have it, that’s precisely what happened.

In 2016 Peter secured the role as Chief Forest Practices Officer, heading up the Forest Practices Authority in Tasmania; a role he has enjoyed but will farewell later this year.

What’s next for Peter Volker?

“While I look forward to playing more golf, riding my bike and continuing to coach rowing, I hope to carry on in the industry in some capacity and pass on some of my knowledge, just as I benefited from so many mentors and advisers throughout my career,” Peter said.

“My job has taken me around the world, and I’ve had the pleasure of meeting exceptional foresters and going off the beaten track in many countries.  It’s a career that I highly recommend.”