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4613.0 - Australia's Environment: Issues and Trends, Jan 2010  
Latest ISSUE Released at 11:30 AM (CANBERRA TIME) 28/01/2010   
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Contents >> Landscape >> Forests

This document was added 02/05/2010.


Graph: Area of native forest by state, 2006
Note: ACT native forest area (123,000 ha) too small to show.
Source: Bureau of Rural Sciences, 2008, Australia’s State of the Forests Report 2008.

Forests are classified as land with trees with an actual or potential height greater than two metres and 20% crown cover.

It is estimated that when Europeans settled Australia in 1788, forests covered one-third of the continent. This had fallen to less than one-fifth (19%) in 2006.

In 2006, Australia’s forested area totalled 149.2 million hectares (ha). Native forests accounted for 147.4 million ha and plantation forests covered 1.8 million ha (Endnote 1).

One of the most important uses of native forests is their significance for biodiversity conservation. More than 16,500 plants and 3,800 animals have been identified as forest-dependent (Endnote 2), and 1287 forest-dwelling species are listed as threatened (i.e. vulnerable, endangered or critically endangered) under the Australian Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act) (Endnote 3). Sixteen per cent of Australia's native forests were formally protected in nature conservation reserves in 2006 (Endnote 4).

Another value of native forests is their economic worth to the forestry and wood products manufacturing industries.


Graph: Native forest cover as a proportion of area, 2006
Source: ABS, 2008, Year Book Australia 2008 (cat. no. 1301.0);
Bureau of Rural Sciences, 2008, Australia’s State of the Forests Report 2008.

The Australian Capital Territory and Tasmania had the smallest area of total native forest of all states and territories in 2006, but the largest area of native forest as a proportion of the state/territory area (52% and 46%, respectively).

Graph: Hardwood and softwood plantation forest, 2001 to 2008
Source: Bureau of Rural Sciences, National Plantation Inventory Australia, 2002, 2004 and 2005;
Bureau of Rural Sciences, Australia’s Plantations 2006, 2007 and 2009;
Bureau of Rural Sciences, 2003, Australia's State of the Forests Report 2003.

Plantations are “intensively managed stands of trees of either native or exotic species, created by the regular replacement of seedlings or seeds” (Endnote 5). Hardwood plantations are chiefly composed of eucalypt species, while softwood plantations are mainly pine species.

In 2006, plantations accounted for only 1.2% of Australia’s total forest cover. However, new hardwood plantations are being established. Between 2006 and 2008, the area planted to hardwood species increased by nearly 18%.

The area planted to hardwood and softwood species varies greatly between states and territories. In most states and territories the area planted to softwoods is greater than that planted to hardwoods. However, in Western Australia, Tasmania and the Northern Territory, the reverse is the case.

Graph: Hardwood and softwood plantations by state, 2008
Source: Bureau of Rural Sciences, 2009, Australia’s Plantations 2009 Inventory Update.

Although the major purpose of plantations is to produce wood for harvest, plantations do have a range of environmental benefits, just like native forests. They can help improve water quality, mitigate dryland salinity and contribute to carbon sequestration (removal of atmospheric CO2 for use in photosynthesis). They can also provide important habitat for Australia’s native plants and animals.


1. One hectare (ha) = 10,000m2. 100 ha = 1 km2. Australia’s land area is approximately 768,800,000 ha.
2. Bureau of Rural Sciences, 2007, Australia's Forests at a Glance 2007.
3. Bureau of Rural Sciences, 2009, Australia’s Forests at a Glance 2009. See Biodiversity section for more information about Australia’s threatened faunal and floral species.
4. Bureau of Rural Sciences, 2008, Australia’s State of the Forests Report 2008.
5. Bureau of Rural Sciences, 2009, Australia's Forests at a Glance 2009.

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